Billy Bob, non-Gricean

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Billy Bob Thornton gave a bizarre interview today on CBC Radio that could serve as a case study for Paul Grice's conversational maxims and how to violate them. Billy Bob was there with his band the Boxmasters, but he was upset that the host Jian Ghomeshi mentioned his acting career in the introduction to the segment. He proceeded to take a passive-aggressive approach to answering Ghomeshi's questions, finding the most uncooperative possible responses.

Right off the bat, when asked by Ghomeshi about the formation of the band, Billy Bob flouts the Maxim of Quality ("be truthful") and the Maxim of Quantity ("be informative") by claiming that he doesn't know what Ghomeshi is talking about. Later Ghomeshi asks him about musical influences, and he gives a long, rambling recollection of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, thus flouting the Maxim of Relevance ("be relevant") and the Maxim of Manner ("be clear"). It's truly a tour-de-force performance, sure to be appreciated by students of pragmatics everywhere.


  1. Troy S. said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 1:03 am

    There's also an excellent interview with James Brown (in pace requiescat) you can find on YouTube where he's so drunk he basically only speaks in his own song titles, or non-sequiturs like "I'm concerned 'cause there's nothing wrong."

  2. Michelle Glauser said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 1:44 am

    That is flabbergasting.

  3. Andrej Bjelakovic said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 4:48 am

    The ironic thing is, it seems to me, that if he were only a relatively unknown musician like his bandmates are, he wouldn't be in a position to make such sulky, childish demands. The interviewer wouldn't pussyfoot around him and tolereate his surly, juvenile behavior.

  4. Mark S. said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 4:55 am

    Billy Bob is the shy brother of a politician: they'll ignore the question and answer their own – he just acts confused.

  5. kip said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    What an asshole.

  6. Mark Liberman said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    There's an "almost complete transcript" here, and a review of his band's new album here.

  7. Gramsci said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 11:22 am

    Right, Andrej– it's something of a performative contradiction (not sure if that term is right in these parts). By objecting to being treated as an actor in the way that he did, he only underscores that his status comes from being an actor first and a musician second. And, despite himself, he turns the whole interview into an uncomfortable conflict over his status as an actor. If I were that interviewer I would have said that Tom Petty wouldn't have talked about monster magazines. I would have then asked if he was opening for Dogstar.

  8. Mike Aubrey said,

    April 9, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

    I've always has such a respect for Jian Ghomeshi as a radio host and after watching that, its only increased.

  9. Michael Moncur said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    Wow, that interviewer deserves some kind of award for keeping his cool and staying professional while Billy Bob acts like a spoiled child.

    Congratulations, Mr. Thornton. You gave an interview to promote your band, and instead it's going to be seen worldwide to promote the fact that you're a jerk. And an ACTOR.

  10. Janice Huth Byer said,

    April 12, 2009 @ 1:55 am

    Thanks for the transcript, Mark.

    When BBT interrupts to ask, "Would you say that to Tom Petty?" he uncannily channels Bob Dylan in the latter's iconoclastic Time Magazine interview. I wonder if BBT fancied himself to be coming across in a similar edgy way.

    Unfortunately, he's no Bob Dylan, to paraphrase Senator Bentsen. Dylan's tender youth, his social advocacy, and the stature of the journalist make his offense ultimately feel less like a personal attack than youthful artistic temperament. In contrast, BBT's age, experience, and self-absorption render his behavior merely rude.

  11. nomad said,

    April 21, 2009 @ 4:00 am

    it takes real skill to act as spacey and random as Billy Bob did in that interview…

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