The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Roger and Me: The Culture Schlub makes an attempt to meet the Skinny Ebert

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Today we look back at a favorite column from CC2K's resident befuddled pop-culture commentator, the Culture Schlub. 


Whether you prefer fat Ebert…

It has been a banner month for the Culture Schlub. Mere DAYS after my stunning mediocrity at the documentary film festival here in DC, my company of employment let me know that I was going to be sent to ANOTHER convention, this one MUCH more directly linked to my job. This convention would span several days, right in the heart of New York City. You can understand if I tell you that I was more than a little proud of myself here. For three days, I would be living in the most expensive section of the most expensive city in the world, as an official representative of my company. This time, there would be some people that I knew, and some official functions to attend. I didn’t have to know any more than that to see that this was going to be a success.

The convention WAS a success for me professionally. I attended a lot of sessions, and did a good deal of socializing with clients (which is arguably the most important part of events like this). I EVEN got to have lunch with the guy who is the voice of Raphael on the New Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles AND the voice of Duke on the New G.I. Joe cartoons.

However, this is not what this article is about. This piece is about the absurd excesses of this particular convention, and how it almost got me face to face with a CC2K icon who owes me an email.

From the very beginning of this conference, I was struck by the enormous amount of bells and whistles that were thrown at us. This was manifested in two ways: freebies, and special guests.

Now when I say freebies, I know I WISH I was talking about extravagant gift baskets like they get at the Oscars. However, there was nothing of the kind here. What I meant is that the host hotel was huge and luxurious, with a needlessly tricked out stage as a backdrop for the main events. At every break in the day, some sponsor had set up an elaborate spread of food and drink, and evenings were filled with open bar parties hosted by vendors. All this was just as great as it sounds, but you must also remember that such fun has a price. In this case, the price was early morning sessions that I had to attend to justify my presence, no matter how late I was up.


…or skinny Ebert…

  The other way that this convention outdid itself was with the speakers and guests that they threw at us. The convention was officially opened with a speech by Anderson Cooper. This in itself was pretty cool, but just for the hell of it, as a surprise, they had Stephen Colbert come out to introduce Cooper.  As the conference wore on, we heard speeches from Malcolm Gladwell and Maya Angelou, a song and dance number from Megan Mullally, and a panel discussion with Mike Wallace and Larry King. The closing ceremonies were even hosted by a my-contract-didn’t-require-any-enthusiasm Darrell Hammond.

But all this pales in comparison to what I discovered while flipping through the schedule of events. There, at that very hotel, on Wednesday at 3pm, would be none other than Roger Ebert, hosting a session with his TV co-host Richard “Stop calling me Siskel!!!” Roeper.  This would be a big day for Cin City.

Let me explain.

Two years ago, when the five original Cin Citizens decided to launch this website, we exchanged a LOT of emails debating what we should call ourselves. I remember something like fifty suggestions getting bandied about, with no consensus whatsoever. Then, someone threw out “Skinny Eberts.” Like a spotlight through the fog, we had our name. It was funny, and unique (believe it or not… was available!), and it explained clearly what we were all about. Then, once we found the shorthand “Skebs” with which to define ourselves, we were positively giddy. Tony went ahead and designed the site and masthead, and we were good to go.

However, right when we were ready to launch, one of us played the role of wet blanket (Dear God, I think it was me…) and wondered if the real Roger Ebert might discover our site, and be angry enough at our site name to order us to cease and desist. Once that fear was aired, we all became antsy about the name. After discussions, it was agreed that we had to take the bull by the horns, and ask Ebert himself permission to use his name. I wrote him a carefully crafted email, explaining who we were, and what we were trying to do. I took pains to make it clear that we were not mocking him, but rather using his name and the image it evokes to call attention to ourselves and what we wanted to do.  I then told him that if he said no, we would immediately change the name to Cin City, a name we had decided would do, although as a distant second to our first choice.

Within 24 HOURS, Roger Ebert himself replied. Obviously, you know what happened. Ebert told me that his name was his livelihood, and that he could not allow people to use it for an endeavor with which he was not associated. He then wanted to make it VERY clear that he was no longer fat, and as such, he too could be described as a Skinny Ebert. He closed with a very nice compliment, saying that we did not need to use his name to promote our site, since we were going to make names for ourselves.   Since his answer made it clear that he had actually checked out our site, I followed up and asked if I could keep in touch with him, and even ask him for a blurb once we launched officially. He wrote back again, welcoming this.

Well, we launched, and I wrote again to Mr. Ebert when we were ready for some press. Have you seen the kickass quote from Roger Ebert at the top of our masthead? Go back and check.


…the fact remains that he and I are not friends.

  Oh right. EBERT NEVER RESPONDED TO ME AGAIN!! Despite his offers of friendship, our relationship with him seemed to end as soon as he got what he wanted from us. In this relationship, it seems clear, Roger Ebert was the star quarterback (as hard as that may be to picture), and the Cin Citizens played the role of deluded co-ed who thinks that giving it up will make him fall in love with her.

And here, two years later at a work conference, I was to have my chance to speak with him again.

On the day of the Ebert session, I was giddy with anticipation. I imagined all the ways I could introduce myself to him, including:

“Hello Roger. I’m Rob. VAN WINKLE. Remember me?”
“You’re looking awfully Skinny, Ebert. Does THAT phrase ring a bell, sir?”
“Mr. Ebert, I wrote you an email two years ago. Why didn’t you reply?”

Oh yeah, they were all brilliant.

The time finally arrived, and I ran to the session. When I got there, I immediately discerned that there were two factors that might lead to my NOT getting to confront Roger Ebert after all:

1. The session was packed with thousands of people, and the speakers were on a large stage that provided them the opportunity to leave without speaking to any of us.

2. Roger Ebert was not there.

That’s right. Whether Ebert sensed that I was going to be there, and bowed out due to the abject shame of his unwillingness to help us out, or whether he actually had something more important to do, we might never know. All I can say is that, led by Notsiskel, the session was far less interesting, and in no way warranting of a full article on Cin City.