Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

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steel door

Sometimes, an interview reminds me of that scene from Top Gun where the jets are chasing each other through desert canyons. That was the one today between Janeane Garofalo and Jian Gomeshi.

Garofalo is a balls-to-the-wall stand up comedian with a long and impressive list of experience, from Seinfield to SNL. And she is a feminist and political activist with a passion for the free speech progressivism of Air America to the in-your-face activism of Code Pink. I walked by the radio and was caught by was seemed to be a building interview malestrom, so I dropped what I was doing to listen.

I came in on how she was adamantly refusing to let Jian praise or glorify her or her work. The impression I got was she felt it would seem pretentious and undeserved. I’ve talked to several artists, Squarepusher among them, who also want people to not focus so much on them but on what they are saying. I would guess that kind of self policing helps keep them humble and focused.

Jian stayed in there with her and was willing to take punches as well throw a few. And, it seemed for a minute like a mutual respect was building between them to where she started to see him as worthy of her because maybe she thought he “got” her. I don’t know if that meant he agreed to let her define the terms with which he would interact with her, or if it was simply because he knows she is professionally tough and doesn’t do weak. But whenever he pushed as is his style, she pushed back and harder.

Somewhere in the middle, she tries to throw him off by talking about how she breathes and how it sounds like asthma, and by saying she’s catching his HPV sounding breathing from him after he admits that he does, in fact, have asthma. At that point, the color of the conversation seemed to be getting a little dark, sliding a little downhill. But Ms. Garafalo seems to be not one for nuance. In 1991, she married a writer for the Ben Stiller show thinking it was a joke. She only realized it wasn’t when she tried to really marry somebody else. The fake marriage was dissolved in 2012.

When the conversation turns to peers like Sean Penn, she dismisses Jian Gomeshi’s assertion that Sean Penn worries about feeling respected as compared to her, a woman. She says she has always been fighting for her respect, at which point, she shouts him down from his rolling interactive style by telling him that although it’s his show, and she doesn’t want to step on his toes, she will (and does) because she feels he isn’t letting her finish her point. And when he makes a comment about lipstick and appearances, she reprimands him on his style sense of her like a grandmother reprimands a grandchild, saying,”Jian, Jian!”

At one point, he wants to play a clip of her standup and she protests, but weakly, saying replayed standup isn’t funny. He disagrees and, like a listener should, I waited for the seque to the clip. But in the meantime, he tells her that on stage, she is as much of an open book as she is being in the interview. She responds in what sounds to him like a condescending tone. He calls her on it and that’s when the interview turns. It seems to me that Jian has had enough, and an overly long stretch of dead air from him told me he was employing the interviewer silence. You can hear her try to recover the insult, but suddenly, the interview is over. He didn’t play the clip and he didn’t say his signature “Such a pleasure to have you here.” The next thing I hear is a utilitarian outro of the interview followed by his system cue for the network break. I don’t hear her voice again. It was very uncharacteristic of Q and speaks to how, yes, sometimes interviewers want it to be over.

And throughout it all, I was thinking, “My God, this is the edited version”. I can only imagine that Jian and his staff had gone through the time and effort to get Ms. Garofalo, had fit her into his production and broadcast schedule, and wasn’t going to omit the interview just because it was rocky. For sure, it let us all have a chance to experience her the way he did since what we heard was his edit.

It’s an example of how sometimes, someone known for stream of consciousness can be clueless and someone known for engaging can slam down a steel door – full stop. “Our next guest …

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Written by Interviewer

September 21, 2013 at 05:29

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