The auditorium is dark, heavily air-conditioned, and emptier than I expected. Something around here stinks. It’s a mixture of fried pork and burnt hair, maybe. I can’t be sure. People shuffle in their seats, check social media, check emails, check social media again. Repeat.
Two runners approach the stage carrying chairs, one for Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and another for Tyler Mathisen, co-anchor of CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. A third runner comes out with a large pail of what appears to be grilled meat, and sets it down alongside the larger chair.
Then the MC announces the guest speakers as the lights come on. Only faintly. Both men enter the stage from opposite sides of the auditorium.
Kevin O’Leary waltzes into view wearing a pair of frayed jorts and flip-flops, with a matching jean-jacket, and a piano tie. He waves and pumps his fists. Mathisen hobbles in a gimp suit with both hands cuffed together and a microphone cord wrapped around his neck; the mouthpiece dangles at his midriff, echoing feedback.
The audience whistles and claps for them. Welcomes these men as heroes. As leaders of the free world, as charmers of numbers and conjurers of profit.
The background screen shows off a giant image of O’Leary’s cover shot from the latest Inc. Magazine, which includes the tagline, “Go Ahead, BE EVIL.”
O’Leary takes a seat, crosses his legs, and reaches into the pail of meat. He lifts out a human hand, charred and crispy, with a wedding band on the appropriate finger. The smell of burnt flesh suddenly takes shape. There’s a string of blood hanging off the wrist, which he shakes a few times before raising it to his mouth.
Mathisen plops down in his chair. “Ladies and gents, welcome!” His voice muffled by the tight mask covering everything but his eyes. “It is my esteemed honor to be in conversation with Kevin O’Leary, or Mr. Wonderful as you know him on Shark Tank.”
O’Leary waves the bloody hand at the audience and winks a milky eye. He spits out the ringed finger and puts the wedding back in his jacket pocket. “Kevin, let’s get straight into it,”Mathisen says, “you recently said that business owners ‘have to be willing to fire their own mothers.’ Can you speak to this, for people who think that is an overly harsh way of looking at things.”
Kevin O’Leary inhales, grunts, and spits on the stage near his interviewer’s feet. “Sure, Tyler. You have to be able to fire your own mother, and eat her. It’s simple. When you are the leader of a business, your responsibility is to the success of the whole organization, not any one individual, including yourself.”
Mathisen nods, gives a thumbs up to the audience, which looks something like a seal flipper in his fingerless suit.
“I’ve done it, too – not my mother but people close to me,” O’Leary carries on. “This hand belonged to Stevie Canoe, a childhood friend of mine. He worked for one of my 5 billion-dollar corporations and wasn’t cutting it. Wasn’t hitting targets. Wasn’t performing, as we say in the industry.” He takes another bite of the hand and gets stuck on some bones, which takes a moment to chew through. “I called him aside and said ‘Hey Stevie, what’s the problem?’ And he couldn’t give me a straight answer.”
“So you fired him?” Mathisen said.
“Damn straight. Sent the little weasel straight to my special firing room and grilled his weak touchy in BBQ sauce. My wife ate his other hand with mash potatoes and gravy. The dog got his cock.”
“Tough, but fair,” Mathisen notes.
“I could go on,” Kevin O’Leary continues, tossing the bony remains of Steven Canoe’s right hand behind him and looking back into the pail. “There’s more down here. I’ve got golf buddies, husbands and boyfriends of my most promising female associates.” He pulls out hands and passes them to Tyler Mathisen, who drops each one into his slippery lap and watches them fall to the floor. “Really, anyone who isn’t performing,” he says, using a fresh hand to make inverted commas.
Kevin O’Leary chews on three more hands while waxing lyrical about leadership and operational logistics, and I do my best to take notes. He talks aggressively, silencing his host, and mostly about hollow, inflammatory, soap-box horseshit we’ve heard from other reality television icons who play the same cardboard hard-ass. You know, like Simon Cowell (the Godfather of Reality TV hard-asses), Gordon Ramsey, and the orange turd currently vying for republican votes. Be mean. Make money. Strive for excellence. Kill weaklings. That type of thing.
The time for Q & A arrives. A marketing exec near me is selected. He stands up identifies himself, his company. “Yeah, so, my question is for Mr. Wonderful. Sir, how do you know you’re doing the right thing? Do you ever doubt yourself when making hard choices?”
“Firing people isn’t always easy. But you’ve got to trust your gut feeling and be confident in it. Once you know that someone isn’t making you enough money, it should be obvious that they deserve to die. That’s what I tell myself when decisions are tough.”
After a two more questions, both equally wooden, it is time to break for lunch. I walk out early, wanting to get some fresh air and cleanse my nasal passages of that awful stench. O’Leary, being the busy man that he is, makes a reference to needing to leave early. Some important deal that needs his attention. Pharmaceuticals, if I’m not mistaken.
As I head towards the playground nearby, the top of the auditorium blasts open and a bat-like figure flies out, headed towards the Needle. In its mouth, I’m almost sure I see Tyler Mathisen wearing a gimp suit.