Steve Rannazzisi (Getty Images)
It’s been just about a month since comedian Steve Rannazzisi admitted that his oft-told story about barely escaping death in the World Trade Center on 9/11 inspiring him to pursue a career in comedy was false. Since then, he’s been pretty much radio silent, but Tuesday he appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show to apologize to anyone his lies hurt.
“I know what I did was terrible, and I know that I hurt a lot of people,” The League star, 37, told Stern. “People that lost people, people that helped people survive. And those people, those are the people that I truly am sorry. That’s why I wanted to come on here because I wanted to talk to you and your audience. You are personified with New York, and your audience, those are the people I truly in my heart feel awful that my dumb mistake created a story that just hit a wound that should never have been touched.”
For years, Rannazzisi has repeated a similar story: He was at Merrill Lynch’s offices in the South Tower when the first plane hit the North Tower. The story went that he got out of the building right before the second plane hit the South Tower. As a result of his narrow escape, Rannazzisi said, he decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue his dream. However, the whole story fell apart when the New York Times uncovered that he’d not been working anywhere near the World Trade Center that day and, in fact, Merrill Lynch never even had offices there.
As he told Stern, the lie actually began in comedy clubs in L.A. when he was new to the city.
“It’s not like I moved to Los Angeles with this story, with the thought of, ‘I’m gonna go out and trick everyone out there and tell them this is what it is.’ It wasn’t calculated at all,” Rannazzisi said. “Sitting at The Comedy Store and people being like, 'You were just there at 9/11? You were there? You worked there?’ And it’s like, 'Yeah, I did.’ You have, like, 15 seconds I think, to kind of go, 'Wait. Hold on, I’m sorry. That’s not true.’ And if you pass that 15 seconds it becomes a thing where now I have to be the guy who is very strange and weird and say I lied about 9/11.”
It was actually Rannazzisi’s then girlfriend, now his wife, who was scheduled to work as a temp at the nearby World Financial Center on that day. As Rannazzisi told Stern, his wife knew about the lie all along.
“We talked about it, she did say, 'What is going on here? When I tell you, I was here, and I was downtown and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and I did witness, as many of us did…’” Rannazzisi recounts his wife saying to him. “And so, to me, when I took her story in a way — she worked on the 24th floor of the financial building — when I told her that, she was like, 'But why would you do that?’ I was like, 'I don’t know, it just slipped out, I don’t know what to do now.’”
Rannazzisi says he hasn’t talked to any actual survivors of the World Trade Center attack, though he did speak with Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, whose father, a fireman, died in the towers that day.
On the day the Times published Rannazzisi’s admission, Davidson blasted Rannazzisi on Twitter.
It’s ok @SteveRannazzisi people make mistakes … Can’t wait to meet my dad for lunch later
— Pete Davidson (@petedavidson)
“[Pete and I] spoke that day and I apologized to him and, you know, the thing that he said to me was, 'Well obviously people make mistakes, I’m 21 and will make a ton, but the one thing I want to make sure: I am the 9/11 comedian, you are not the 9/11 comedian, I want to make sure you understand that,’” Rannazzisi recounted Davidson joking.
In the days after Rannazzisi’s admission, he was fired as a spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings. He did keep his day job on FXX’s The League, which is currently airing its final season.
Rannazzisi says he told his entire family about the lie six years ago and has been in therapy since. “Last night, I was with my parents and my brother came over for dinner and we talked about it and laughed about other things and we became a family again and I said, 'As long as this is OK, I am OK. If I am never in another commercial again, I will be OK.’”