I never cared much for the late Rush Limbaugh. I didn’t know him in person, of course, so when I say that, I’m really saying that I didn’t like his performance persona.
I thought he was pompous and arrogant. He was overconfident and seemed to think he knew everything.
But I heard an interview Sunday with producer James Gordon — known on Limbaugh’s show as “Bo Snerdley” — that made me realize I hadn’t been evaluating a real person. Gordon worked with Limbaugh for three decades as a producer and call-screener — and he saw the man as something very different than the one on the radio.
Gordon described Limbaugh as humble and eager to help others. He told a story about Limbaugh giving him $5,000 early in their association, when Gordon was deeply in debt. The man he described sounded nothing like the bombastic personality that Limbaugh presented on the air.
And something clicked with me, maybe because it addressed something I’ve been wrestling with for myself. Limbaugh was playing a role for his audience. He was successful because of the public persona. He entertained his audience. In fact, I realized that he couldn’t have been the ultra-successful performer he was if he had shown his true self to the audience.
And that made me wonder — probably for the first time — whether someone performing for the public must play a role for the audience. Maybe he can’t be his real self.
Does this suggest that I need to play a role if I’m to be successful in the ways I’d like? Does it mean I need to invent a persona for myself — and save the “real” side of me for my family and friends?