As local media personality Riley White turned her Friday talk at the University of City to the Q&A section, she wasn’t expecting an attendee to stand up and give his own speech.
But Terry Fisher, student, did just that. Obviously inspired by White’s tale of five years reporting on the local arts scene, he rose from his seat, approached the microphone thoughtfully placed in the middle row, and began speaking.
“I just want to first say that I deeply admire your accomplishments,” the tragedy began, “your support for the community has been so meaningful. I should say that… as a… bit of an actor myself, I have a more personal appreciation for what you do.”
Onlookers describe having felt apprehensive at this point, always fearing any purported question that starts with “I just want to first say.” Fisher reportedly gave general praise to White for approximately two minutes, before finally moving along to a sentence beginning with “so what I wanted to ask about is actually two questions really.”
Another red flag, said Katie Schroeder, veteran question critic.
“First, the praise isn’t impressing anybody—not least the speaker, who just wants you to get to your question so she can answer it and give the next person in line a chance,” she said.
“But then two minutes in you drop the double-question bomb? Shit bro, everyone else has questions too. Ask one, rejoin the line. You can’t just monopolize everyone’s time.”
Fisher’s first question itself began not with what elementary school teachers describe as “asking words” but a lengthy preamble. He began by outlining in some detail several of his own life experiences that he seemingly deemed relevant to whatever he was eventually going to get around to asking.
“When I was seven,” Fisher was reported to have said, “—don’t worry, you’ll see how this all makes sense soon, but I had this blanket that I used to take everywhere, even to my acting classes…”
Bizarrely, not thirty seconds later, Fisher had somehow changed the topic of his preamble to vague accusations that White’s coverage of his cousin’s play had been “a bit unfair really,” before rollercoasting through a discussion of larger biases within the media around such varied topics as fluouride in municipal water supplies, following Toronto Mayor Rob Ford into donair restaurants too much, and reporters chumming around with oil company executives like they want a fucking swimming pool of crude or something.
Fisher’s voice had taken on a nervous, delirious tone at this point, and while White was keeping up her smile like a trooper, some members of the audience had begun shifting around in their seats uncomfortably. It was as if they were aware that this embarrassment would not end until someone stepped in, but weren’t quite sure if enough other people were yet sufficiently annoyed that they could get away with being the one to yell “cut the mic!”
By minute five, with no question in sight, Fisher was deep within a discussion regarding the existence of God—apparently thanks to a throwaway remark White made about God blessing you all. Her smile had curled a little closer to a frown, though she kept her polite nod rate somewhere in the once per five second range.
“White was holding up the best you can in this sort of situation,” Schroeder assessed. “Keeping calm and appearing as thought you’re engaged is the safest approach. The questioner had clearly lost control of himself—you could see it in his face, he had no power to stop what was happening.
“We’ve found out that what drives behaviour like this is the urge some people feel to make it very clear to entire rooms of people that no matter how interesting the featured speaker had been, they are still incredibly, incredibly intelligent themselves. What they essentially want to do is validate their misplaced feelings of superiority by claiming a good few minutes of somebody else’s talk so that they can parasitically feel as important as they imagine the speaker does by stealing the audience the speaker’s accomplishments have earned.”
The next person in line was at this point leaning awkwardly on the seat nearby, and one or two audience members had quietly left. There were pockets of murmurs here and there and one person was beginning to cough loudly. Some began to suspect that the organizers didn’t actually know how to cut the mic because university staff had set the sound system up for them and left earlier.
“Let me rephrase all that,” Fisher said at six minutes and 15 seconds, coaxing out a round of audible groans.
“I didn’t know what to do,” White said afterward. “Here’s this guy, who I assume wanted to ask me a question, and had the forty five minutes I was talking to formulate it, and he just kept going.
“I was paralyzed—I mean I don’t want to have to tell the guy to shut up. I don’t think the question of whether it’s ruder for someone to take forever to ask a question or to tell that person to knock it off is something many people have given much thought to.”
At seven minutes and 30 seconds, the room was reaching a breaking point. Fisher, rather than simply rephrasing minutes of incoherent, unimportant and irrelevant thoughts, had moved forward to talk about his expertise in the field of 18th Century piracy having played a bit of Assassins’ Creed 4: Black Flag. Visibly sweating and fidgeting, it appeared as though the 20-year-old was feeling the aching pressure of the room to get around to his question.
“The hardest thing to endure was seeing that he was self-aware of the social faux-pas he was committing,” said Schroeder.
“I almost started to feel sorry for him, but it was mostly because the only thing you can actually do with people like this is to euthanize them—it’s really sad when they know, you know?
“You gotta shoot them right between the eyes,” she added confidently, “it’s the only way to make sure.”
Eventually, at eight minutes and three seconds, Fisher ended a sentence and paused. He looked around, saw the room staring at him, and hastily brought the ordeal to an end.
“What do you think about that?” he asked.
Fisher was unable to speak to us due to euthanization, but Schroeder warns that while eight minutes was bad, she’s seen these episodes reach a horrifying height of a solid ten.
“That was a bad one,” she ached, “I swear he must have talked about his personal research into something he was calling cosmic neuro-hermanautics for seven whole minutes before he said anything at all related to what the speaker had said. And then he just sort of rambled to a close and wandered away from the microphone.”
Schroeder was tasked with taking both that guy and Fisher out herself—something she never takes lightly, she assured us while cleaning the student’s blood from her revolver.
And as for White, she had to undergo psychiatric treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, but she’s now allowed to go back to work covering local bands performing at dirty bars for pennies.