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Two and a Half Men

Charlie Sheen – bombed in Detroit <em>Picture: Angela George</em>

Charlie Sheen – bombed in Detroit Picture: Angela George

Detroit. Home to the “Black Bottom” area where Aretha Franklin’s father opened his first church and where Ella, Ellington and Basie played. Home of the greatest record label of all time. Home to the clubs where Marshall Mathers first started freestyling.

To that rich heritage of entertainment, the Motor City will now go down in history as the first-ever landing spot for Charlie Sheen’s Violent Torpedo of Truth / Defeat Is Not An Option tour.

Highlights included… well, you know very well by now that there were no highlights.

Sheen’s two girlfriends kissed each other on stage, the actor asked said girlfriends to burn his Two and a Half Men shirt, and he announced from the stage: “I am finally here to identify and train the Vatican assassin locked inside each and every one of you.” He also charmed the crowd with “Let me tell you a story about crack. Figured Detroit was a good place to try this joke.”

He finished the first night of the Refunds Are Not An Option tour 20 minutes early – or, if you asked many in the audience, 80 minutes too late.

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It’s tempting to wonder what the individuals referred to by the actor himself as “trolls” and who paid to see him were expecting – the ghost of Peter Ustinov? Or even how Sheen would have gone at the old Glasgow Empire.

The good news for Scotland is that the rest of Sheen’s 20 dates are in the US. The bad news for Sheen is that he joins the all-time least promising nights out. There are gigs that don’t sell out. Even Noel Gallagher admits Oasis played to empty pubs at the start of their career.

There are live entertainment events that are disastrous, but are fondly remembered by some, like Daphne and Celeste’s memorable Reading festival appearance. There are bold attempts, like Rick Wakeman’s King Arthur On Ice, which if nothing else achieve unforgettable status. And then there are these:

Anthea Turner’s Perfect Housewife Tour
Axed before it was begun, the former Blue Peter presenter charged £16.50 for punters to hear her talk about dusting skirting boards. Remarkably, it never happened.

Carrie: The Musical
A Stephen King novel, an Academy Award-nominated Brian DePalma film, and an RSC production headed for Broadway. And then Off-Broadway. And then just off. If critics could have drenched it in pig’s blood, they would have.

Whitney Houston’s 2010 tour
Whitney’s UK performance in Birmingham of 2010 was the start of the Nothing But Love tour. Or, as it was known in the international press, the Nothing But Unnecessary Costume Changes, Bum Notes and Early Walkouts tour.

John Cale’s 1977 “Croydon chicken” incident
There is a famous quotation, most often attributed to Brian Eno and often rewritten, that only 1,000 people saw the Velvet Underground play live, but all that number subsequently went and formed a band. Not everyone who saw the Velvs’ founder member at The Greyhound in Croydon on 24 April, 1977 went on to decapitate a dead chicken.

An Audience with Iain Duncan Smith
Every bit as promising as it sounds. Sixty-seven people can attest to the fact that not all politicians are sell-outs.

Wilde: The Musical
Radio One breakfast show host fights instinct to write musical about Kim and goes for the Irish playwright. What could possibly go wrong? One night after opening, he found out.

End result? I Have Nothing to Declare But My Bankruptcy.

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Twitter logo <em>Picture: Simon.hess</em>

Twitter logo Picture: Simon.hess

“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice,” Polonius advises Laertes before he leaves for Paris.

A good trick if you can manage it. Management guru Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people suggests as its number five “seek first to understand and then be understood.”

No one told Charlie Sheen.

The actor’s diatribe at Chuck Lorre, executive producer of Two and a Half Men, which led to his dismissal when domestic and drug abuse didn’t, looked like it would be the full stop in the sentence of his very public meltdown.

It was barely the semi-colon.

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After the Hot Shots! Part Deux star claimed he spent almost a decade “effortlessly and magically converting [Lorre’s] tin cans into pure gold”, there has been a stream of invective on commissioned interviews suggesting Sheen is solely in the tin-can industry.

This walking advert for scriptwriting and editing has scarcely been off TV (that was where the “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen” comment aired), with his own chat show Sheen’s-Korner on internet streaming site ustream.tv, and back on the radio endorsing Rob Lowe as his successor on the middle-of-the-road sitcom.

The T-shirt manufacturers have also been busy.

The mental and physical welfare of Sheen has been relegated to a mere sideshow. Pretty much every British newspaper long ago ripped off Vanity Fair’s compare-and-contrast with Colonel Gaddafi.

And now the centre-stage story is that – like Kriss Akabusi and Roy Castle – Sheen is a record-breaker.

Twitter is the culprit. The random stream of gibberish on Sheen’s ustream feed ended after an hour or so. The drivel spouted during his radio and TV interviews were broken up by commercials. But the stream-of-consciousness of the Platoon actor’s tweets is seemingly never-ending.

He doesn’t discuss the craft of acting, or former colleagues. He isn’t even sharing his idiosyncratic political views. Nothing but seemingly meaningless buzz phrases such as Tigerblood and “building the perfect torpedo”, the hashtags #winning, #fastball, #chooseyourvice, and references to himself as “The Warlock”.

The tweets mean something to the 2,453,377 (at time of writing) followers, who are the social-media equivalent of drivers doing 40mph on the outside lane because they’re gawping at a car crash on the other side of the dual-carriageway. And, like those drivers, they should soon move on.

This has given Sheen an injection of attention around the time of his life when he needed a different kind of medication. He is now applying for a social media intern (not the same role as his nanny, you’d hope).

What’s galling is the assistance he received from all at Twitter HQ. Twitter, famously, does even less customer service than Facebook, and no longer verifies accounts. But when Sheen contacted them, they kicked off a squatter on his previous site, gave him tips (clearly not enough) about hashtagging, and helped point him in the direction of how to attach photos.

This might be a Tipping Point, of sorts, for Twitter. It used to be known as the playground for polymaths such as Stephen Fry to tweet to his 2.3 million followers (yes, 150,000 fewer than Sheen after three years) about everything from the duck-billed platypus to the Test score to the latest production of Das Rheingold to being stuck in a lift.

Imagine being stuck in a lift with Charlie Sheen. The powers that be at Twitter went out of their way to enable and encourage Sheen by giving him a voice when they knew there were millions of ears ready to listen. Their customer service department was opened for the day, and only for a sitcom actor who pulled in around £700,000 per episode. This was at a time of his life when real friends would have shepherded Sheen away from the spotlight.

He might say “I got magic and I got poetry in my fingertips, man” – but not when he’s typing his 140 characters.

All this activity landed Charlie Sheen in Guinness World Records as having acquired the biggest number of followers in a short space of time.

If only his tastes stopped at Guinness.

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<em>Picture: Made In Hollywood</em>

Picture: Made In Hollywood

Whatever you think of his recent films in the States, Ricky Gervais wins Paul-the-octopus-style points for prescience. At January’s Golden Globes, the comedian introduced one presenter with the quip: “I like a drink as much as the next man unless the next man is Mel Gibson.”

How does an Oscar-winning actor, producer and director make sure he doesn’t get invited to the 2011 Golden Globes? Act as Mel Gibson just has – that’s how.

There used to be one way to torpedo your Hollywood career; in the past week, the man who was evidently channeling his calmer side to play Mad Max, just found about five. Here is what has happened to some who have made similar mistakes:

Suspicion of Domestic Abuse

As opposed to the professional tantrum Christian Bale famously threw on the set of Terminator: Salvation at a cinematographer, a temper tantrum directed at your nearest and dearest is way more toxic for your image than a work row. There’s no way Bale is “done professionally” after his hissyfit – he’ll be in the next Batman.

Alec Baldwin’s angry phone call to his then 11 year-old daughter, where he addressed her as a “rude, thoughtless little pig” was potentially more damaging when leaked online.

Charlie Sheen spent most of Christmas Day 2009 in a cell after an alleged dispute with his wife.

What Mel Gibson did: vile answerphone messages to your ex.

Verdict: Charlie Sheen remains the highest paid actor in US television, with another series of Two and a Half Men due soon. Baldwin, after a period of bad press, is now close to national treaure status as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, back in movies with It’s Complicated and accepted movie royalty by co-presenting the Oscars. It’s recoverable (unless you’re Mel Gibson).


The tables have turned since the days when coming out might be problematic for your career. It’s now more likely that your own prejudice, and not the audience’s, will endanger it.

Happily, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Russell Tovey and others are doing just fine as “out” actors. Comments about straight actors who play gay roles being “brave” may also soon be going the way of the dodo.

Homophobia is, sadly, alive and well judging from the comments of the new big-screen BA Baracus, Rampage “acting is kind of gay” Jackson and Isaiah Washington didn’t have his Grey’s Anatomy contract renewed after a much-publicised spat with gay co-star TR Knight.

What Mel Gibson did: made graphic references to what his ass wasn’t and was for (talking out of, clearly).

Verdict: In 2010, not smart. By 2015, could be a career-killer. Rampage Jackson may well find out that BA stands for Blacklisted Agent.


In a side-branch of showbiz, football on TV, Big Ron Atkinson’s off-camera use of the N-word in relation to Marcel Desailly saw him fired from ITV, The Guardian and never to reappear in mainstream telly punditry again.

Seinfeld comic Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer in the show) says he was in character when he made some pretty unsavoury slave references with a heckler at a stand-up gig but he quickly apologised. In 2007, he retired from stand-up.

Three years after his outburst, he got to try and make amends with an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. This time the audience felt more comfortable about laughing.

What Mel Gibson did: Too grotesque to recount here, but involves some pretty disgusting ranting. Here’s the link to the audio, which is decidedly NOT safe for the work-place. That’s your work-place and Mel Gibson’s.

Verdict: Very, very difficult to explain away. (Impossible if you’re Mel Gibson.)


Gary Busey attracted criticism for appearing in a Turkish film (Valley of the Wolves Iraq) where he played a Jewish doctor who cuts out organs and sells them to New York, London and Tel Aviv. This was in 2006. Later that year, he had a small voice part in Dr Dolittle 3. Two years on, three decades after his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, he was starring in TV’s Celebrity Rehab with Kenickie from Grease and Rodney King.

What Mel Gibson did: Short of playing Richard Wagner at full pelt from his convertible when he was arrested, it could hardly have been worse. He told a Jewish cop: “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

Verdict: Anti-Semitism + Hollywood = Next Film Straight to DVD. 2006 was when Mel Gibson’s career really hit the skids. Ari Emanuel, the brother of the President’s Chief of Staff and head of the Endeavor talent agency, urged everyone in Hollywood to disown him. When his agents, WME (the E stands for Endeavor run by Ari Emanuel), fired him last week, it was inevitable.

Drunken stupidity

Sadly, all too common. Kiefer Sutherland, Kelsey Grammer, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Shia Laboeuf all faced drink-driving charges. Prison has not harmed their notoriety or their earning power.

In terms of just being an admirer of the sauce, many of the great English actors of their generation from John Hurt, Ollie Reed, Peter O’ Toole and others liked the occasional tipple. They continued to work, although not always on chatshows.

What Mel Gibson did: Arrested for driving under the influence and displayed his usual charm by taking conversation off into a sexist and then anti-Semitic direction.

Verdict: Hollywood sees drinking as no big deal. And there’s always rehab – even for Mel Gibson.

It seems that you can survive saying, and doing, some daft and pretty reprehensible things if you’re an established actor. Homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and domestic ding-dongs – one may be bad. Two would be difficult to turn round. Mel Gibson, however, just landed the Royal Flush.