Mind The Ego: Lessons I Learned From James Lipton About How To Stay Grounded

In my years working the trenches of red carpet reporting in New York, I had the fascinating experience of observing and interviewing the most famous personalities in the world. It was sometimes a bit jarring to meet a celebrity I admired, only to be steamrolled by their ego. It also added to the challenge of retrieving a genuine sound bite about the show they were promoting.  But for every self sabotaging star whose personal life made them the scandal of Page Six, I met many more hard working artists who kept the focus solely on their craft.

One of my favourite stars to speak with on the red carpet was the late James Lipton. I’d grown up watching him on Inside the Actors Studio, and it was evident that he always made the interviews one hundred percent about his guests. He never seemed to bring attention to himself. This can be surprisingly tough to do when you’re the host in charge of carrying the pace and tone of a show. Every time I had the chance to interview him, he was confident, yet unassuming, and spoke passionately about the work of other artists.

This past March, when he died at the age of 93, Andy Cohen remembered Lipton as “a warm, meticulous man with a great appreciation of the arts.” Actor Jeff Daniels said, ”he made you want to tell him everything.” Lipton’s curious nature and ability to constantly look outside himself were the keys to his success. Inside the Actor’s Studio was committed to examining the creation of art and the actor’s process, unlike most entertainment talk shows of that time.  One of his biggest gifts as an interviewer was his ability to shine a spotlight on the most unique creative aspect of each actor.

Lesson 1- Confidence And Ego: Know The Difference

Lipton was a prime example of the importance of having faith in how the work makes you feel, not in how it makes you appear. It may seem like common sense, but many of us can forget that when we’re comparing ourselves to others or looking for ways to measure our successes. As self help has now become a staple of mainstream publishing, the market is saturated with books on how to escape the ego. However, some artists would argue that you need an ego to create. Case in point with George Orwell, who stated, “all writers are driven by sheer egoism.”

For most creatives though, it seems the ego can cause more harm than good, and overcoming it comes down to self awareness. We’re all students of life. Nobody has all the answers. With all his success, Lipton always kept that growth mentality, where he was learning and absorbing as much as he could well into his advanced years. Another tool of the artist’s self awareness kit is getting to know your audience. This can also keep your ideas grounded as you create. Though he had a strong vision, Lipton also paid close attention to the response of his viewers and created content they could digest and enjoy. This built an ever-growing fanbase for 23 seasons.

Lesson 2- Take The Risks That Hold Meaning For You

When Inside the Actors Studio first aired in 1994, tabloids and gossip entertainment were running rampant in the media industry. The world’s biggest movie stars graced Lipton’s set every week, yet not even a hint of scandal or tell all was mentioned during interviews. Discussing the show, Lipton said, “we would not deal in gossip, we would deal in craft, which of course might make us dry, and off the air in a year.” With his love of the creative process, he was willing to go against what was ‘popular’ at the time and follow his own vision, which of course, paid off in spades. The audience felt his enthusiasm and tuned in to appreciate the craft along with him. Choosing to have faith that your work will find its audience can be nerve wracking, but it can eventually yield a big return. If you feel passionately about your project, use those feelings as a guide, regardless of how they align with current trends. Go where the water is warm. Another bonus here is that you’ll create timeless content. A cheap gossip story always loses its shock factor with time. But when an artist bravely puts their unique approach out there, people are more likely to tune in for years to come.

Lesson 3- Work Hard But, Don’t Take It All Too Seriously

Lipton knew who he was and didn’t apologize for it, but he also didn’t take things to heart. His distinctive manner and the seriousness of his show, which was presented more like a master class, was easy to parody. He was animated on the Simpsons and Will Ferrell regularly impersonated him on Saturday Night Live. Some could have taken offense to this, but Lipton embraced it. Of Ferrell’s comedy sketch, he laughed, “We’re good friends — and I think he’s got me cold, the rat!” Lipton knew how to be flexible in response to the different interpretations of his persona. That healthy balance is useful when dealing with criticism as well. Pour your heart into your work, but be willing to take in constructive feedback when it comes from a reliable source. This will strengthen your work and help your creativity soar. The same goes for accolades and positive feedback. Hold it all close to your heart, but don’t let it go to your head.

2 Comments

  1. Marina Shepaksov says:

    Great advice for any creative or professional!

    1. Thank you Marina! And, thanks so much for reading!

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