Bernard-Henri Levy did not take his first pie-ing gracefully.
Ambushed in Brussels in 1985 by Noel Godin, an eccentric comedian who has made a career out of throwing pies in celebrities’ faces, the French-Jewish philosopher knocked Godin down to the ground and, after cleaning the cream from his face, screamed about kicking him in the ribs in front of cameras.
This violent meltdown by Levy — who has cultivated a public image of a thinker and moral authority — exposed him to criticism that it showed his “real face.” But it has done little to deter similar attacks: Godin has pied Levy at least seven times since then – most recently last week during a debate at the Saint-Loup church in Namur, Belgium.
The attack began when Godin stood up and yelped his signature, high-pitched battle cry. Bracing for oncoming pastry, Levy uttered a faint “non” and assumed a defensive posture. But it was all too late: A young female accomplice of Godin struck the philosopher from behind, slam-dunking the pie on his head while the operation’s mastermind stood up to gloat.
This time, however, Levy displayed much better anger-management skills. Wiping Godin’s cream from his face, Levy merely remarked: “This is getting tiresome.”
Godin — who has incurred only one conviction for assault for his use of baked goods — has pied a succession of celebrities from France and beyond, including Bill Gates, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft, but Levy is clearly a favorite.
“He has always reacted extraordinarily badly, with uncontrollable arrogance,” Godin told Le Soir in 2001 when asked why Levy deserves special attention.
Godin is not the first to fault Levy for arrogance. This perceived trait, along with Levy’s celebrity status and center-right political outlook, has made Levy many enemies.
“It’s beautiful to watch how this guy, with his beautiful haircut is undone in an instant, his true nature emerges from the shell of the new-media philosopher, and there he is, threatening to bust someone’s head,” comedian Pierre Desproges said in an interview in 1996 of Levy’s multiple encounters with Godin’s pies.
Back in France, Levy tried last week to explain during a primetime interview on France3 why he reacted so violently to some of Godin’s attacks.
Exhibiting trademark elitism, Levy advised talk show host Marc-Olivier Fogiel to “reread Emmanuel Levinas,” the late Lithuanian-Jewish philosopher, to understand that “a human’s face is their most holy place.” Hitting another person in the face, “even with a pie, is a para-fascist action,” Levy added.
But when pressed by Fogiel, Levy abandoned the party line and recalled his life as a Jewish boy growing up in Paris.
“When I was a child and adolescent, I used to fight anti-Semites,” Levy said. “And that’s what I was taught: That there’s no point arguing, that you needed to hit. So I hit.”