Andy Robin and Gregg Kavet have written for film and television, including Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld. They were nominated for three Emmys and won the 1997 Writers Guild Award for outstanding comedy. Read an excerpt from their book, "Saving Face: How to Lie, Fake, and Maneuver Your Way out of Life's Most Awkward Situations," below:
Chapter Five: Friends and Family: Keeping your worst from those who know you best
You can't choose your family. You have a bit of choice when it comes to friends, but it's more a history of choices than anything relating to who you are today or what you want for your future. So it's no surprise that you're surrounded by annoying losers who cramp your style and ruin your fun.
Nonetheless, you're lucky if you have any friends and family at all. Based on all the times you've blown them off, failed to support them, manipulated, lied to, and hurt them, you're lucky they didn't abandon you years ago. And that's exactly what makes it so tough now. You've already used your best lines on them. They know all your tricks, and they're sick of giving you third and fourth chances.
So study this chapter like JFK Jr. on his final attempt at the bar. Because, lame as these people are, they're the only friends and family you've got.
1. skipping out on an event Maybe it's a hassle. Maybe you'd forgotten about it until just now. Maybe you'd rather be playing golf. Whatever the reason, you've decided not to attend Aunt Jennie's eightieth birthday party. Screw her stupid son and his uptight wife and those snotty cousins whose names you can't remember. Now, if you could just keep them from plucking your guilt strings...
Recall how you were invited. Was it by phone? Mail? E-mail? Because, short of an in-person or over-the-phone confirmation, you can plausibly claim ignorance. Sometimes mail gets lost. Have you recently moved? Were you out of town and using a neighbor to hold your correspondence? Perhaps someone's been stealing your mail. (After you fail to show, you might ask your hosts if they noticed a strange person at the event.) Have you had problems with your answering machine? Does your voice mail system have some bugs? Does your spam filter go hog wild? Every one of these is a credible excuse, particularly for "save the date" events.
A key to employing this tactic is the angry follow-up phone call. Make sure to beat your disappointed hosts to the phone. Act peeved and hurt. Sarcastically say, "Thanks for the invitation. Did you forget to mail it, or do you just hate the sight of me?" When they insist that they did send it, turn your anger on your predetermined scapegoat: "Damned junk e-mail filter! When is Bill Gates gonna finally get that software right?"
This wonderful method convinces others that you had a tremendous desire to attend but were confounded by extraordinary circumstances totally beyond your control. And it does so without even requiring you to think of an excuse!
Whenever someone mentions your absence from an event, move on to your excitement about the next get-together. When your Dad complains, "We didn't see you July fourth," tell him, "I'm just glad I'm going to see you at Thanksgiving. Now that's something to be thankful for."
call their bluff
Tell others you can't attend because you have no money or nowhere to stay. The ball's in their court: Unless they're willing to shell out for your transportation or put you up themselves, you won't be able to make it.
The risks are obvious but the potential payoff is huge. If others fail to come through, you'll have a guilt-free weekend. They, on the other hand, might be too guilt-ridden to invite you to the next gathering.
With once-in-a-lifetime events like christenings and funerals, you need something rock-solid: the grave illness or death of an immediate family member or, possibly, yourself. After missing your aunt's funeral, tell your relative, "I was deathly ill. It's lucky you didn't have two funerals to go to."
2. being asked to appraise someone's boyfriend/girlfriend If a guy asks you for your opinion of his girlfriend, it's a bad sign. Nine times out of ten he's looking for a reason to dump her. But that one time can really bite you. Even if you've been pals for twenty years, if he sticks with this loser chick you'll never water-ski at his summer house again.
There's always "damning with faint praise," but for most of the dumb or weak-willed types who want your opinion, such subtlety won't cut it. You'll need something stronger.
ask leading questions
Strike a disinterested, professorial tone and tell your friend you need more information before you can render an opinion. Then begin a barrage of leading questions that paint a picture of the girlfriend as a miserable pain in the ass. Try, "Have you ever known her to be a skinflint?" and "Has she won any beauty contests?" and "Does she ever, ever get you upset?" After each reply, shake your head and murmur gravely. Do not make verbal judgments. Your silence will speak volumes.
i could be wrong
Cover your ass by praising the girlfriend but note that your opinion is not widely shared. Say, "I think she's wonderful, but frankly I'm mystified that nobody else does. Why does everyone else hate her? I don't get it." Bolster the majority opinion by conceding that you're usually wrong on these matters.
the judge of character
Strongly recommend that your friend talk to somebody else, someone who is a better judge of character. "Brainstorm" to come up with just the right person to ask, and then pretend to come up with someone you've secretly been thinking about all along...someone who hates her like the devil. "Hey, what about Jim? Jim's a great judge of character. You've got to talk to Jim."
the positive negative
Praise the girlfriend for all her unflattering qualities: "She tells it like it is. When she told off your mother the other day, I was so impressed." Or, "She's classy. She spends money like an heiress." Or, "She's so independent. She's totally cool with having no friends."
3. getting caught regifting It's 5:30 and you're already late to your friend Samantha's birthday party. No time to hit the stores. And who needs to when you've got closets full of potential presents from thoughtless or tasteless gift-givers past? There's the vomit green blender, the stinky Brookstone cashew pillow, the "found objects" frame, the cruddy bottle of Merlot, and that dusty copy of Oh, the Places You'll Go! that hasn't gone anywhere. Until now. Happy birthday, Samantha!
Unfortunately, at the party another guest notices the inscription in the book. It's made out to you, and it's dated last year.
i liked it so much...
Tell everyone it's your favorite book (or pillow or Merlot or whatever). It means so much to you that you've made it your standard gift. You've bought so many copies over the years that you must have accidentally switched one with your own. To back up your story, dash to the bookstore immediately after the party and purchase another copy. Wrap it in week-old newspaper before delivering it so they think it was purchased days earlier.
save a tree
Act as though your regifting is part of a master ecological plan. Tell your friend she can enjoy the book for a while, but add, "Please, just as I did, pass it on to someone else when you're done." Tailor your party etiquette to match your "green" attitude. Collect discarded wrapping paper, carve your initials into the bottom of your plastic cup for reuse, and talk about the miracle of the composting toilet.
the good ol' days
They don't make 'em like they used to. At least not the gift you just gave. Sure, you could've run out and bought a brand-new one. But those are made in China now. They're mass produced, disposable crap. Yours was made in Japan, where they practically invented Total Quality Control. It's built of reinforced, overbuilt metal. And even though it's got some wear and tear, it'll last ten times as long as a new one.
4. not calling when you're in town
You and your husband have been planning a romantic trip out west for some time. On the agenda: the finest museums, the best restaurants, and a great hotel room. Not on the agenda: Aunt Frieda and Uncle Nat, who have kind hearts but a musty guest room and endless, dull stories of swap-meet plunder. Unfortunately, walking out of your five-star hotel, you lock eyes with the septuagenarian swap-aholics on their way to a downtown flea market. They are confused and hurt. Why didn't their favorite niece call to say she'd be in town?
Sadly inform your relatives that you are not, strictly speaking, visiting. The windows blew out on your plane and they had to put you up here while they dealt with the problem. But the airline has finally boarded up the windows and you're back on your way to your original destination: a small resort between Shangri-La and Atlantis.
"i knew it!"
Scream with glee, embrace your relatives, and turn to your husband, saying, "I knew if we hung around downtown long enough we'd see them!" Explain that you've been planning this for weeks. "We just wanted to see the looks on your faces when you ran into us. Priceless."
"where the hell am i?"
Act disoriented. Say, "Where the hell am I?" and "What are you two doing here?" When they insist that they live there, rebut their contention, using an archaic or alternate name for the locale. For example, when in San Francisco, you might say, "But this is the Bay Area. You live in San Francisco. When they explain, stick to your guns. Shake your head and furrow your brow. Eventually, allow yourself to be convinced that they are right. But angrily blame the city for "not standardizing its damned nomenclature."
Explain that you haven't called because you'll be in town for a long stretch and you've set aside lots of time to visit with them. If they insist on your staying with them, tell them you don't want to be a burden, since you expect to be around for a very long time -- months, possibly longer. At the very end of your trip, call them, feigning distress. Explain that an emergency has come up at home, something vague but scary: a septic backup, an electrical fire, or the levee needing more sandbags.
Refuse to acknowledge that you are yourself. Talk in a foreign language, contort your face, and walk with a hunch. If your relatives confront you, shout at them in badly broken English: "I not him! I dream of a man who look like me but he from America. That is the man I want to be!" Shake their hands vigorously and move on, muttering, "Yes, yes, I love America."
Excerpted from "Saving Face: How to Lie, Fake, and Maneuver Your Way out of Life's Most Awkward Situations," by Andy Robin and Gregg Kavet. Copyright © 2005. Excerpted by permission of Simon Spotlight Entertainment. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.