Why can't show business people answer "yes" or "no?|

(I’ve noticed this primarily with celebrities, so I’m putting it in CS. If a mod wants to move it to IMHO, go ahead.)

What’s the deal with nobody being willing to answer “Yes” or “No” to a yes-or-no question anymore? I’ve been noticing this for the last couple of months and it’s starting to bug me. The examples below are totally made up, but not entirely exaggerated, just to give you an example:

Interviewer: So did you enjoy going to Italy to make your latest film?
Actress:** I did!** It was beautiful there!

Interviewer: Do you think you can get Meryl Streep to play the role of the cyborg?
Director: **I do! **It’s such a great part, and I think she will do it!

Interviewer: Are you happy with the way your union is being treated?
Representative: We’re not, and we think they need to be reminded who does all the work in this town.

I don’t think it has anything to do with sound bites. Who coaches these people to answer this way? Has anybody else noticed, and when did it start? If you haven’t noticed, listen for a while. Red-carpet interviews, etc. I think at least 80% of show-business people can’t say “yes” or “no.” What’s with that?

I don’t think it’s new… it’s actually a technique similar to one I taught people when I was in HR, so it’s been around a while. I think there are three main reasons behind the behavior…

  • One, anyone being interviewed isn’t going to want to be cut down to a 2-second soundbite. If they answer with a simple yes or no, they don’t get as much air time. So, vanity.

  • Two, monosyllabic answers will quickly get you a reputation of being a difficult or boring interviewee. Reporters who follow celebs don’t want to work too hard- they want someone who’s going to take their question and ‘run with it.’ If all you can come up with is a one or two word response, you won’t get many interviews. Thus, again, vanity (and a healthy amount of paranoia for job security).

  • Three (and this is where it ties in with my HR work), it’s a very simple technique to ‘buy time’ while coming up with an interesting/detailed/funny/whatever answer. Look at it this way:

Interviewer: So did you enjoy going to Italy to make your latest film?
Actress: Yes! (pauses while she thinks about something nice to say that isn’t going to make her sound vapid, xenophobic, or worse)
Interviewer: (assumes she’s done, moves on to next question/interviewee)


Interviewer: So did you enjoy going to Italy to make your latest film?
Actress: (little gasp for air, perhaps a hand on the arm of the interviewer to show excitement… all buying time…) I did! (big smile, draw out ‘did’ just a little, maybe a small laugh, thinking quickly…) It was beautiful there!
Interviewer: (pulled in by her excitement/followup comment) What did you enjoy most?

Make a bit more sense?

That doesn’t seem any different from normal conversation. If a co-worker asks me “did you have a good vacation?” I’m not going to say “yes” and then nod thoughtfully.

I occasionally skip the “yes” and just nod thoughtfully.

I find people who just say “yes” or “no” to a question annoying as hell in the context of a conversation – and that’s what interviews are. By spinning out your answer, you move the conversation along.

Imagine this scenario:

Q: Did you like Italy?
A: Yes.
Q. Did you visit Rome?
A. Yes.
Q: Did you go to the Vatican?
A: Yes.

Geezus Christo, at that point I want to smack the answerer silly for not participating.

Do you mean why would they say “I did” instead of “yes,” or that you think their entire answer to the question should be “Yes”? If you are a celebrity being interviewed, people want to hear what you have to say. Answering in a monosyllabic “Yes” or “No” makes the interview boring and the interviewee looks standoff-ish and unintelligent. In your example, the underlying assumption is of course they enjoyed Italy. No one needs to ask if they did or not. The question is a way for the subject to talk about their experiences. Blame the interviewer, for not saying “Tell us about your experiences in Italy” rather than the celebrity for *not *coming across as vapid & uninteresting.

In addition to what others have said, I suspect that answering with things like “I did” or “We’re not,” as opposed to just “yes” or “no,” makes it easier to give clear and accurate answers to ambiguous, multi-part, or trick questions.

Funny, I’ve noticed this primarily with…lawyers, politicians, corporate executives, White House Press Secretaries…

If you want to see a celeb that is really bad at interviews, watch Robert DeNiro. He just about says yes or no and nothing more. He’s a great actor but a horrible talk show guest.

You must be fascinating on dates.

“Did you grow up here”?


“Did you like the movie”?


“Can I see you again”?


As opposed to:

“I’m from St Louis originally and moved here when I was 11”.

“I enjoyed it, but it was a little sad because it reminded of my late father”

“That would be nice, I had a great time and enjoyed talking with you. My last boyfriend just spoke in monosyllables.”

I don’t think the OP is necessarily opposed to multi-syllabic responses (though I did cover that possibility in my response), but rather the sort of ducky-weavy-wibbly-wobbly impression one initially may receive from such a response. I’m reminded of Dave Barry’s classic column on ‘Why can’t Japanese people say no??’ which is sort of similar to what the OP is saying. Perhaps the question can be more accurately summed up thusly:

Why do people intentionally want to come across as pussies during interviews?

The OP wants the interviewee to COMMIT TO SOMETHING, DAMMIT! STOP BEING SO PC! Something like this:

Interviewer: Are you happy with the way your union is being treated?
Representative: No, and we think they need to be reminded who does all the work in this town.

I posited that they’re using the wishy-washy technique to buy themselves time/keep from being interrupted, but I also suggested it keeps them from being cut down to a 2-second soundbite. Like this:

Interviewer: Are you happy with the way your union is being treated?
Representative: No. (editing snip)
Interviewer: And there you have it, PersonInStudio- harsh words from the union rep…

But we won’t know til the OP pops back in to clarify…

Thank you, bobkitty. Of course I don’t mean that interviewees should answer only yes or no as if being cross-examined in court; it just came to me the other day that this seems to be a new style of interview response and I can’t figure out when it started or why. Twickster, what is wrong with answering “Did you enjoy your trip to Italy” with “Yes, it was so beautiful, and the food was awesome!”? But nobody says “yes” anymore. It’s always “I did!” There really isn’t anything PC or non-PC about that; it’s just kind of a Yoda-speak. Enjoy my trip to Italy I did!

Maybe you are good on dates after all. What are you doing Saturday? :wink:

It’s hardly Yoda speak. There are more ways to indicate agreement or disagreement than the specific words “yes” and “no”. The examples in the OP flow perfectly naturally to my ears.

Tuba conference. http://www.usarmyband.com/tuba/tubaeuphonium_conference.html

Yeah, if the first few words of the answer clearly indicate an affirmative or negative response to the question – then quitcher whinin’! :slight_smile:

You have to ask the right questions, like “Did you wrap the whole place in saffron fabric?”

LOL. I resolve to try this at the next opportunity.

Hey, I’d be happy if we could get politicians to answer “yes” or “no”…

That’s funny. Because when it comes to new employees, I rarely care about anything they have to say other than or after the word “yes”.:smiley: