Bill Murray Wants to Play

Bill Murray on a piano
Ham on wry: Parodying holiday schmaltz in last year’s A Very Murray Christmas. The Kennedy Center will honor Murray with its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on October 23.
Courtesy Netflix

You are standing on a corner in New York City, waiting to cross the street. Lost in thought, you aren’t paying much attention to the world around you. Suddenly, a man puts his hands over your eyes and says, “Guess who?”

Nobody’s played this game with you since elementary school. It would be alarming, except that the voice is familiar. You can’t quite place the speaker, but you’re pretty sure he’s a friend.

You whip around and see, much to your surprise … international film star Bill Murray. He is taller than you expected, and his shirt is wrinkled. You sputter, groping for words, unable to process the unlikelihood of this situation. Bill grins, leans in close, and quietly says, “No one will ever believe you.”

Variations on this story began to circulate widely around 2010. Sometimes it happened in New York, sometimes in Austin, Texas, or Charleston, South Carolina. Sometimes Bill wasn’t blindfolding people with his fingers — instead, he was stealing a french fry off somebody’s plate or grabbing a handful of popcorn from a stranger at a movie theater. But the punch line was always the same, underscoring that this encounter was an eruption of surrealism on an otherwise ordinary day, meant to be enjoyed for a few flickering moments: “No one will ever believe you.”

For years, it was unclear whether this was something that Bill Murray actually did, as part of a personal campaign to make the world a better, odder place, or whether it was an urban legend that had grown large enough to have its own zip code. Asked point blank about it in a magazine interview, Bill artfully managed not to unravel the mystery. “I’ve heard about that from a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of people. I don’t know what to say. There’s probably a really appropriate thing to say. Something exactly and just perfectly right.” Bill considered the rhetorical tightrope he was walking, and then he smiled: “But, by God, it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Just so crazy and unlikely and unusual?”