Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

She’s More than That

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Card Tricks

Stephen Colbert, the new host of the Late Show, recently interviewed Malalla Yousafzai.

I’ve seen her in other interviews, most notably with Jon Stewart.  I remembered the story about how her brothers needed to mind her because she was a world famous activist and how they aggravated her because they ignored her.  I remebered the story of her being shot by the Taliban when she was 15 and how she had been advocating for girl’s and women’s rights since she was 11.  And although Ms. Yousafzai is supremely impressive in her work, I had a sinking feeling that Mr. Colbert’s interview would be a loose retreading of Mr. Stewart’s conversation.

As an interviewer, it can be a struggle to not ask the questions everybody asks.  When interviewing authors, for instance, promoters often send a list of questions.  I think that’s pitiful and ridiculous.  If an interviewer is interviewing an author but is too lazy to do the research to create some decent questions, they shouldn’t be wasting the guest’s time.

At the very least, it shows a lack of imagination.

But then, out of the blue, Stephen Colbert asked Ms. Yousafzai if she knew any card tricks and pulled out two decks of cards.  Apparently, she likes magic and knows how to do card tricks.  The Late Show did its due diligence and discovered that jewel in advance.  And he didn’t have to do much coaxing.  She picked up the cards, he made her laugh and she responded by doing a card trick that completely changed the  interaction between her and me, the viewer.

Suddenly, I didn’t see her as the world famous, UN addressing, Nobel Prize winning, Malalla Fund inspiring icon.  Suddenly, I saw her as a 17 young woman year old who could relax enough to have some fun and put one over on Stephen Colbert.

I have to thank Stephen Colbert for that.  He reminded me that the job of a good interviewer is to reveal a part of a guest that a listener or a viewer might not expect to see; a part of the guest the audience might not even know is there.  We can get so used to seeing people a certain way; a hero, a villain, a victim, a geek, an entrepreneur, we can forget they have layers. They have senses of humor and fears and joys and mischevious sides.

There are at least 141 references to that card trick online.  With so much at stake surrounding every little thing she does, how often does someone like Malalla Yousafzai get a chance to goof on somebody else?   So when a good interviewer lets them be a little less of what they’re known for and a little more of who they are, its great for all of us.

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Written by Interviewer

October 20, 2015 at 14:52

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