A First Step for Hollywood Harassers: "Say You're Sorry and Mean It" (Guest Column)

Sorry_Illo - THR - H 2018
Illustration by: Nazario Graziano

Janis Hirsch, who endured her own #MeToo moment on 'It's Garry Shandling's Show,' advises misbehaving men to apologize and own their blame: "I bullied you because my ego is as fragile as matzoh."

Last October, I went public with my #MeToo story in THR. Maybe you read my account of how, when I was a baby writer on Showtime's It's Garry Shandling's Show, an actor laid his flaccid penis on my right shoulder in an attempt to make Shandling laugh (and make me go blouse shopping).

Right after that, I got fired even though I had written two of the first six episodes and was mentioned in a favorable L.A. Times review — me, the only woman on the staff. It would have been a career-ender ?to sue, so instead I made this my go-to anecdote and told it in every single writing room I was in. More than 30 years later, ?two young writers — Jessica Goldstein and ?Chrissy Pietrosh, whom I had just met that night — thanked me for dealing with "the penis on the shoulder story" so they would never have to.

I cried when I heard that; it gave me closure. And I know my experience — devastating as it was — wasn't as harrowing as things that have happened to other women. What that penis' owner-operator did was in no way physically or sexually threatening. I was just a prop, like that hose Carrot Top puffs into and says "Amish blow dryer." Penis Guy never apologized. ?I never expected him to.

But then again, why not? At this point we have heard from so many brave women who have come forward to share their #MeToo stories, many of them horrific, all of them soul-crushing. But you know who we haven't heard from? Men.

Yes, Dan Harmon and Morgan Spurlock publicly apologized to the women they bullied, demeaned and harassed, and that's great. (Whether their apologies were accepted by the women in question is not the point.) So where are the rest of the ?guys whose bad behavior maybe hasn't been exposed (yet), but who know what they did and whom they did it to?

Two other writers from It's Garry Shandling's Show contacted me after my piece ran — one ?to say that he wished he'd known what was going on (he worked there only one day a ?week) and another to make sure that I wasn't implicating him, because he'd been my friend. I ended up having to assure them both that we were good, which was confusing because suddenly I was apologizing to them for causing them to doubt themselves. I reiterate: They were being sweet, but they couldn't leave it at that. They needed absolution. Not my job.

So, guys: If you've ever promised anyone a raise, a speaking part or a script assignment if they'd have sex with you, call them or write them and say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong," and then block out every impulse to ask for forgiveness. You can do it. You've already proven you're good at blocking things out: things like empathy and basic human decency.

If you ever had an assistant or an associate whose primary job was to have sex with you in your office, in your car or on business trips — even though she was well-paid and even though you and your wife were practically separated — call her and say, "I'm sorry, I was a jerk," and then hang the hell up. Oh, and maybe apologize to your daughters, too: That's why they never wanted to visit you at work.

If you've ever stuck your hand up or down anything a woman was wearing, ?if you ever patted, cupped or squeezed anything that wasn't fruit, you owe all those women apologies. Cut and paste the following: "I'm sorry I touched your ____" And no, adding, "But you have such a hot-looking ____" is not an explanation, excuse or compliment.

If you ever directly or indirectly implied that a woman's livelihood would suffer if she didn't meet your sexual demands, call or write that woman and say: "I bullied you because my ego is as fragile as matzoh," and then tell your therapist ?that you've finally figured out why your marriages broke up.

Guys, we women say "I'm sorry" at the drop of a hat. Literally, if we drop a hat we say "I'm sorry." To the hat. Try it. Start with haberdashery and work yourself up to those women you pretend you don't remember for those incidents you really can't recall. And this time, don't ask for anything in return.

Janis Hirsch is a writer-producer whose credits include The Nanny, Frasier and It's Garry Shandling's Show.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.