The Conversation Rulebook, Part 2

...get it?


Los Angeles is full of people doing shitty, menial jobs who wish they were doing awesome, usually highly artsy and creative jobs involving music or acting or some shit like that. Frequently I’ll find myself in conversation with these people.

Now, sometimes the conversation is going swimmingly – they’ve held off on all but the absolute best facts about themselves and they’ve been appropriately interested in all my awesome whorehouse stories. Other times it’s halfway through a rambling story of unrequited love set in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. No matter what, eventually we wind up at a line a lot like this one:

“…my dream is to be a [DERP] – as a matter of fact, I’m [DERPING] at [INCONVENIENTLY LOCATED VENUE] on [INCONVENIENT EVENING]. You should come! It’ll be really awesome. The cover charge is [AN AMOUNT OF MONEY I AM UNWILLING TO PAY.]”

I am then left holding a poorly made flier and trying to look interested while actually trying to gauge when I’ll be out of this guy’s line of sight so I can throw it away.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote yourself; I’m saying that when you do it within a few minutes of meeting someone it immediately devalues their role in the conversation. Even though we all know nobody cares about what we have to say as much as we do, we enjoy pretending that it’s true, and when you abruptly shove a flier with your face on it into our hands we come to the uncomfortable realization that you’re only talking to us because you want us to do something for you.

The only flier I have ever taken seriously was for a DJ duo called Reaganomics back in Eugene, Oregon. All they played was pop hits from the 1980s. I heard them one night at Fathom’s, physically approached them, and said, “You guys are awesome. Can I have a flier?” They then gave me a flier for their show at Fathom’s the following week, and a week later I came back with my friends and had the best Wednesday ever.

So when is it acceptable to promote yourself to someone? Tough to say. I hung out with a PA for the better part of two shooting days before he gave me his rap CD, and I didn’t feel at all used. Also, since he set me up with a job in advertising, I feel obliged to tell you that his name is Jonathan Denmark and you should all buy his album, so clearly he’s got the hang of this conversation thing.

See? He did it right, and as a result, now I’m promoting him.


I once went on a first date with a girl in which she wound up telling me a two hour long story about her struggles with drug addiction, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and sexual abuse. Prior to this story I had had one brief phone conversation with this girl, along with the 20 minutes of the date prior to the part where she opened the floodgates of dysfunction.

I’m not saying that you should bottle up your problems and not tell people about them. Civilization is here so that people can help each other. What I’m saying is that when you first meet someone, you should definitely bottle up your problems and not tell that person about them, because you put them in the absolute weirdest and most uncomfortable position because once they’ve said sorry, there’s really basically nothing else they can say, short of sorry a second time.

Again, this all comes back to empathy – when you meet somebody you want to try to gain some understanding of their nature. What do they like? What don’t they like? You want to know if they’re like you. You want to know if they’re the sort of person you can invest time and energy in caring about.

But when the first thing somebody tells you when you meet them is that both of their parents died on 9/11 while on their way to finalize divorce proceedings as a result of the stresses of raising a child together, you don’t know the person well enough yet to say much beyond, “Sorry,” except perhaps, “Bummer.” Before you have any inkling of whether this person is going to be in your life more in the future, you find yourself feeling sorry for and counseling them. That’s an awkward first impression.

So what’s too personal and what’s all in good fun? I made another chart to help you find out.

As you can see, there are really very few personal details you should be sharing with a person when you first start talking to them. Anything much more intimate than “I’ve got a cold” is way over the line.

PROTIP: Just because an illness isn’t particularly severe doesn’t mean it’s automatically okay to tell people about it. Like pinkeye, for example.


Months ago I was PAing for a camera crew at a celebrity’s wedding, and, during some of our downtime, was sitting on the back of a golf cart with a cute female PA who was inexplicably talking to me. We were talking about Mad Men and I was almost ready to drop my awesome Mad Men pickup line* when a lanky, funny looking assistant cameraman a couple years older than us shuffled over.

*”Actually, they shoot Mad Men on the Sony lot in Culver City, like two miles from my apartment! Speaking of my apartment, you want to get out of here? Maybe go to my apartment? It’s close to where they shoot Mad Men, y’know.”

“Hey, what’s up?” He asked, conversationally.

“We’re just talking about Mad Men.” The cute PA said.

The assistant camera guy nodded rapidly. “Yeah, I can’t really watch Mad Men, because I know so much about how advertising in the 1960s started utilizing studies by Sigmund Freud to make people think they needed stuff they didn’t, and it just pisses me off.”

Taking our bemused silence to mean, Tell us more! There’s nothing we’d rather hear than your half cocked amateur psychology you found on the Internet, he continued.

“Yeah,” he said, reacting to himself. “See, Freud basically published all these theories that were really big in Europe, and then this ad guy in New York started reading them in the 1920s, and so he started using the theories at his agency and their profits…”

Long story short, he yammered at us for about 20 minutes and I never got that girl’s number, something which I blame entirely on the assistant cameraman since I am normally quite successful in that department. Point is, what this asshole did was clumsily hijack our conversation because he wanted to stroke his own ego over how he read a thing about psychology once.

Look, if you want to tell a bunch of people about how great you are, do us all a favor and just be upfront about it.

Hello, ladies and gentlemen – may I have your attention please? I just wanted to let you all know that I can run REALLY fast. Thank you.

I mean, we’re still going to think you’re a douchebag for interrupting our conversation so you can brag about yourself, but on some level we’ll respect you for being comfortable enough with yourself to just come right out and brag about it without having to hide behind some sort of fake modesty.

Truman Capps hopes that this improves every conversation you have in the foreseeable future.