The Worst Kind of Story to Lie About

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Comedian and actor Steve Rannazzisi is best known as a cast member of FX sitcom The League, but he had an even more compelling story to tell: escaping death on 9/11, when he was working for Merrill Lynch in the Twin Towers, running downstairs from his 54th floor office and fleeing Manhattan. He repeated this story on popular podcasts like “WTF with Marc Maron,” but as he admitted to the New York Times today, it was completely made up—indeed, Merrill Lynch didn’t even have an office in the World Trade Center.

The question with these things is always the same: why? Rannazzisi sought a career in public, yet told a lie that was so easily disproven over and over again. The only reason it didn’t come to light sooner was because no one would think to poke holes in such a harrowing story, but now, Rannazzisi’s career might be over.

Comedy Central may pull the premiere of a new stand-up special, and a bizarre Twitter interaction with comic Pete Davidson (whose father died on 9/11) did not help matters. Rannazzisi is a stand-up comedian by trade—he has to take the stage and charm a sometimes-hostile crowd. With this news now at the top of his Google search results forever, could he ever pull that off again?