Brow Beat

The Point That Risks Getting Lost in the Rachel Bloom–Neil Patrick Harris Kerfuffle

Photos of Rachel Bloom and Neil Patrick Harris, side-by-side
Rachel Bloom and Neil Patrick Harris.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Brendan McDermid/Reuters, Lucy Nicholson/Reuters.

Former Tony Awards host Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t at Sunday night’s ceremony, but he was apparently watching attentively, if his Twitter commentary is any indication. One Tonys tweet in particular, however, got him into a bit of trouble:

The “woman in the top hat” in this case was Rachel Bloom, co-creator and star of the TV musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Bloom is ineligible to present at the Tony Awards because she has never performed on Broadway, but the self-described theater geek acted as a backstage correspondent this year, as she did during last year’s show. Harris, as a Tonys devotee, might have recognized her from that gig—or from the multiple occasions he has met Bloom in person, as she mentioned in her polite, but pointed, response.

Bloom elaborated further on the interaction when asked about it in a GQ profile, responding to theories that the exchange was so strange that it must have been some kind of joke between herself and Harris.

No, no, no. It wasn’t a joke. Basically… I saw that tweet. And I was kind of devastated. I was actually going to tweet, “This makes me sad.” But then I was like, “Ehhhhhhhhhh… I don’t want to give him that, necessarily.” Look. I’ve met him a couple times. Very recently, backstage in the dressing room of a Broadway show. And we hung out for a solid 15 minutes with the star of this Broadway show. It was just bizarre to me that it wouldn’t ring a bell. And also, that he wouldn’t Google it.

Harris apologized on Wednesday, and Bloom accepted.

It’s awkward for anyone, famous or not, when one party remembers the other but not vice versa, but what rankled about this entire interaction was not simply that Harris forgot who Bloom was. It’s that the amnesia came as Harris was, however obliquely, commenting very publicly on the way that Bloom, a woman who is not as well-known as he is, speaks. Women’s language is already overpoliced enough without a celebrity as big as Harris, who has more than 27 million followers, pointing out that she says “like” a lot, even via his young son. (Out of the mouths of babes, right?) And while Bloom freely admitted to GQ that Harris’ comment “wasn’t terrible,” she also noted that it is the product of the level of fame that Harris enjoys:

But look, he’s not a writer, so his version of a Twitter joke is to just kind of … live-comment to Twitter followers with kind of random, unformed thoughts. And fame does that to you—where you think every kind of random, unformed thought is a gem, because you get 10,000 likes from it. He has, like, 27 million Twitter followers. And that makes me scared about fame in general. The yes-men. Even if what you’re saying is, I don’t know, kind of weird or unoriginal, you’re still getting a lot of approval and dopamine surges for saying it.

That’s the problem at the core of the exchange, which both parties have now acknowledged, to an extent: Whether it’s fair or not, Harris is simply Too Famous to take a potshot at Bloom in that way without facing a backlash. It can be easy to forget that even among celebrities there are tiers of fame, but Harris has been in the public eye for almost 30 years; Bloom is a comparatively recent breakout whose show, while excellent, is consistently one of the least-watched on television. Bloom told GQ that she and her husband even have a photo of Harris on the wall of their home; he and his How I Met Your Mother character are obviously more important to Bloom and Gregor than they are to him.

That’s why when Harris starts tweeting shadily about “the woman in the top hat” to his millions of followers, it’s not the same as when he takes a shot at someone as famous as Bruce Springsteen. There’s a hierarchy even among celebrities, and Harris was punching down. Going forward, he’s better off leaving the “I don’t know her”s to Mariah Carey.