Correction: Earlier versions of this article misspelled the name of reality-TV personality Tareq Salahi. This version has been corrected.
A couple of thousand people were held hostage by Charlie Sheen’s ego Tuesday night in an auditorium named after the female descendants of the American Revolution, half a mile from the World War II Memorial in the capital of the free world. This prompts an icky existential question: If the abusive ex-star of a CBS sitcom can compel a legion of citizens to pay $104.25 apiece to be doused in cultural bile, is the free world a little too free?
The answer, of course, is no. Mostly no. No, except for the five seconds after Sheen seemed to imply that he believes President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, triggering boisterous applause from the mostly young, near-capacity crowd at the 3,700-seat DAR Constitution Hall. Sheen seemed to toy with the idea of running for president (with Nicolas Cage) and noted that his birth certificate was not “Photoshopped.”
The man has become so unreadable that it was hard to tell whether he was joking or serious. He was, though, noncommittal about running and occasionally circumspect.
“Every day is just one day,” Sheen said at the top of the show. “Tomorrow is not here yet.”
It was the end of a long day for Sheen, who deployed his lawyers to two court hearings in Southern California on Tuesday morning, charioted himself in a black Rolls-Royce to the Van Nuys Airport that afternoon, and blazed across the continent in a private jet to walk onstage 67 minutes late for his show in downtown Washington, the halfway point in his 20-city tour titled “Violent Torpedo of Truth: Defeat Is Not an Option,” a kind of Sherman’s March of the male libido.
Washington as a whole greeted Sheen with a feisty, inebriated bear hug, but there was some wonky thoughtfulness in the crowd.
“I came here to see Charlie Sheen on an extended loop and be both horrified and entertained,” said a 34-year-old lobbyist who declined to give her name because she’s a “professional girl” who “cares about my future.”
“Not often can you see a public figure implode in front of your eyes — usually you can only see that through the media,” said her 40-year-old lobbyist friend, who was also too embarrassed to be identified.
“We perpetuate this image that is fake and a lie, and we put it on television,” railed a TV reporter into her cellphone — presumably to an editor — as she prepared to do a spot from outside the venue before the show started. “That’s how I feel as a journalist.”
Me, too, but here’s the straightest scoop deliverable: The show began with a stream-of-consciousness monologue about Sheen’s hatred of ex-wives and his failure to secure sole custody of his children earlier in the day. It lurched onward to a dry sit-down interview — led by much-booed WBIG (100.3 FM) host Tommy Griffiths — about the first time Sheen met Marlon Brando. The crowd quaked with catcalls whenever Sheen wasn’t talking about doing drugs or manhandling women.
“ENTERTAIN US,” boomed a male voice as Sheen waxed philosophical on the hard living of Dennis Hopper.
“SHUT THE [EXPLETIVE] UP AND SAY SOMETHING WEIRD,” demanded another.
It has been less than two months since Sheen outed himself as a warlock who is capable of ingesting “epic” amounts of cocaine, vanquishing addiction with his superhuman mind, shrugging off his nearly $2 million-an-episode job with Warner Bros. and orating on national television about the vague, seemingly mutable bylaws of nature and space-time (Google “winning” and “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA” and so on).
In the first week or so of his renaissance (or breakdown, depending on your standards), it seemed as if Sheen was onto something, as if he were imbued with a spiritual clarity reserved for prophets, as if he were pulverizing and remolding the very notion of celebrity.
That notion of celebrity now seems to belong to his audiences — or at least the one at DAR, whose restlessness guided the rhythms of the show and whose outbursts were often more entertaining than the ramblings of Sheen or his better-received guest, stand-up comic Jeff Ross.
“Curiosity about exploitation” was why 33-year-old Arlington salesman Johnny Champane came with three friends at the last minute. “Exploitation of himself. Of us. We bought tickets, didn’t we?”
Since this was Washington, Griffiths asked Sheen how he’d handle Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi (“I’d make him marry [my ex-wives] Brooke and Denise”) and about what he’d defund to balance the budget (disband the Fed and “send the IRS to prison”). The crowd veered between boos and applause so frequently and quickly that one was indistinguishable from another.
“Geez, you guys hate everything,” Sheen said at one point.
Recognizable Washingtonians in attendance included Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the infamous White House gate-crashers and erstwhile reality-TV personalities, who signed autographs in the lobby, where they inadvertently created the event-horizon of a cultural black hole.