Richard Stengel has a favorite euphemism for flatterer: lickspittle. ”So many of these words have to do with licking or kissing,” explains the author of You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. In addition to providing a five-page appendix of slobbery synonyms, Stengel (managing editor of TIME.com) traces flattery’s evolution from primitive chimps to present-day Hollywood. Which isn’t much of a stretch, but we interviewed him anyway.
Entertainment Weekly: If I tell you I enjoyed the book, will you think I’m flattering you?
Richard Stengel: That’s the unintended consequence of all this. I can no longer praise anybody or get praise without questioning it.
Is there more flattery today than ever?
I don’t think so. We’ve become ironic about flattery. The old Merv Griffin you’re-the-greatest flattery is seen as too earnest.
Does Ed McMahon prove you can make a living as a flatterer?
Not anymore. There are no more late-night sidekicks. In a weird way, it’s a sign of show-business adulthood that these guys don’t need little brothers laughing at their jokes.
Who’s most guilty of flattery: Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, or Larry King?
Oh, man, now you’re hurting me, because I’m in this desperate promotional mode. I’d be so happy to be flattered by any of the above.
Why do you call Leave It to Beaver’s Eddie Haskell ”the model of the modern flatterer”?
He’s a young fogy. He has this oleaginous, smarmy way that alienates other kids but endears him to adults.
Where would Eddie’s flattery have gotten him today?
He’d be an executive vice president at Warner Bros.
Great, I think that just about covers everything.
Well, I just want to tell you this is the best interview I’ve ever participated in.
Did I mention that I enjoyed the book?