Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Is There a Sign on My Back?

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jennifer lawrence2

It’s not often that somebody can make Jon Stewart speechless. He and his “Daily Show” have a reputation of enrapturing guests and audiences with Sam Kennison like screams, Alvin the Chipmunk like squeals, Vincent Price like whispers and Buckwheat like wide-eyed stares. He uses them in series and parallel, like rotating shield frequencies of the Enterprise-D fending off the Borg. He is, for all practical purposes, invincible …

… except on November 21, 2013. That was when he had Jennifer Lawrence as a guest. Jennifer Lawrence of “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” fame. And she apparently brought some of her own A-game as a fem gladiator to Comedy Central that day.

She warned him. At the outset, she said she was tired and was glad that her interview with him was the last one before 10 days of peace and quiet. And he put his own foot in his f*cking mouth by calling her media tour a “crapfest” which was apparently all she needed to start taking his interviewing style apart like a medical examiner at an autopsy. She called him out vis-a-vie his staff, remarking that she was warned that, “He’s not really going to know a lot about a movie or about you.” In fact, she seemed astounded that they seemed particularly proud of that.

She asked about a pre-interview and could not believe that nobody prepared bullet points for him about her film. The pre-interview is what gives the interviewer the questions to ask in the main interview. David Letterman had a pre-interview with Lindsey Lohan but that didn’t stop him from essentially ignoring it – https://dmassociates.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/we-didnt-talk-about-this-in-the-pre-interview/.

And, Ms. Lawrence noted that several of his staff offered her tequila and other hard liquour that they apparently had stashed under their desks, which along with everything else, led her to ask, “What kind of-what’s going on here?”

This wisp of a woman at barely 23, slammed Mr. Stewart in front of God and everybody. After a few years of watching, I have never seen him unintentionally speechless. But it was an interview that clearly didn’t get him what his face-in-face, yell to establish rapport, rapid fire witticisms usually produce, which is the rapt attention of the interviewee and roaring call and response with the audience.

When it was over, he did his usual lean in, as if to let the wide-shot say to the guest and the audience, “We’re cool, right?” But Ms. Lawrence so efficiently kicked his ass, I could imagine he was whispering and squeaking in bug-eyed freeze face, “Forgive me, please. Please?”

Every interviewer has his or her own style. And for 99% of people they talk with, it probably works just fine. But there is always somebody for whom a conversation with them is like fingernails on a blackboard. There is always somebody who sees the master as a dolt.

Nobody is better than Jon Stewart. We want him to chop down those twisted f*cking trees that seem to be everywhere. We want him to eviscerate the snorters, the ego problems, the sociopaths. But every now and then, after so many wins, even Superman has to get punked. And after, OK, … we love him again.

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Written by Interviewer

November 25, 2013 at 11:52

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