Alec Baldwin, who got kicked off a plane last week for playing Words With Friends, is maddeningly adept at playing games with fans.
It’s harder at times to get a handle on the liberal actor than it is to figure out his often-inscrutable conservative "30 Rock" alter ego Jack Donaghy, who once uttered, "Ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them to survive."
Baldwin visited Occupy Wall Street in a show of support a couple months back – never mind that he's a pitch man for Capital One Bank.
He portrays himself as a man of the people – yet he lashed out last week on Twitter at a flight attendant whose biggest sin appears to be doing her job.
And when the reports of his latest foolish displays of ego and temper threatened to turn off even his most loyal fans, Baldwin turned up on "Saturday Night Live" to cleverly mock his own inflated sense of self-importance and make us laugh again.
The only thing we can say with certainty about Baldwin is that he’s officially surpassed Tracy Morgan as the most unpredictable "30 Rock" cast member.
In his unannounced appearance on the latest "Weekend Update" segment, Baldwin played an American Airlines captain who apologized to the actor – essentially letting Baldwin apologize to himself. "Mr. Baldwin is an American treasure… Alec Baldwin was just too smart for us," Baldwin declared, under the thin guise of "Captain Steve Rogers" (in-joke alert: that’s Captain America's not-so-secret identity).
However dumb Baldwin's reported actions on the plane, the bit marked smart damage control – using faux pomposity to self-skewer a funny man who tends to take himself far too seriously at times.
It’s no surprise Baldwin picked "SNL" to offer the humorous rejoinder – he’s the show’s most prolific host and one of its strongest. The program established him as the best serious actor to go silly since Leslie Nielsen – and propelled him to "30 Rock," which is built around an "SNL"-like show and stars two former cast members.
But "SNL" also is a place where high-profile politicians occasionally show up to mock themselves. That's worth noting given Baldwin's musings about someday running for office – possibly mayor of New York (though, as history shows, being thin-skinned and quick to anger isn't exactly a disqualification for that job).
We're not sure whether we'd vote for Baldwin – or would even want to be on the same flight as he – but we're looking forward to the Jan. 12 return of "30 Rock."
The "SNL" spot may be the last we see or hear of him until then – especially since he's off Twitter. But with Baldwin, who knows? As he showed on Saturday, the game Alec Baldwin plays best is that of trying to have things both ways.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.