Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Fresh Air

He’s Gone, Oh Why, I’d Pay the Devil to Replace Him …

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She's Gone

It’s cheesy, I know.  But song lyrics often tell the story.

I somehow knew, when Stephen Colbert ended the Colbert Report that Jon Stewart would not be long for the Comedy Central world.  And last night, he confirmed my worst fears.

I had only started watching this dynamic duo within the last two years.  Up until then, I had known of them both as part of American culture for years but never saw them, mostly because I didn’t have cable.

But like a good soup, you don’t need to eat the whole pot to know it’s all delicious and every time Colbert and Stewart came on, I was there.  They sprinkled their profanity as a sign of their indignity with the deftness of a French chef deploying saffron.  The provided the pistols with which more than one clueless politician blew their foot off.  They skewered ignorant pundits by engaging them on two levels of conversation; the one those pundits thought they were having and the one God and everyone else was hearing.

I heard an excellent interview Mr. Stewart did with Terry Gross of Fresh Air back in November 2014.  He was very proud of his work on his film, Rosewater, the story of an Canadian journalist that was imprisoned by the Iranians.  Mr. Stewart devoted much time and attention to telling that story.  And his response to questions Ms. Gross asked were probably the first hints he might not be at the Daily Show much longer.

“[T]he minute I say I’m not going to do it anymore, I will miss it like crazy,” as reported on the website TPM Livewire. “And I will consider that to be a terrible mistake that I have just made, and I will want to grab it back.”

“Maybe you’re a little, you know, restless,” Gross said. “On the other hand, you’re so darn good at doing ‘The Daily Show.'”

“I don’t know that there will ever be anything that I will ever be as well suited for as this show,” Stewart said, “That being said, I think there are moments when you realize that that’s not enough anymore, or that maybe it’s time for some discomfort.”

Stewart said later in the interview …

“You know, there are — you can’t just stay in the same place because it feels like you’ve built a nice house there. And that’s really the thing that I struggle with,” he said. “And it is unclear to me.”

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have made America more honest by giving voice to the frustration the American people sometimes feel with the system within which we live.  With all of the problems “journalists” sometimes have had since, well since forever, they may have been onto something all those years ago when they decided to tell serious stories in a funny way.  Sure, they were comedians, but as comedians know, comedy is often the fastest way to mainline truth.  I spent all of last year interviewing candidates for Oregon political office, and I can say that if there is any part of American culture that both is full of comedy and needs comedy, it’s politics.

Thanks very much to you both.  And to John Oliver and Larry Wilmore, Comedy Central’s newest babies, time to grow up fast kids.

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2015 at 03:42

An Impossible Question

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I am listening to Terry Gross’ interview with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Terry asked her, did she think she would be as successful as she was if she had had children?

I want to talk about the question for a minute, then about Justice Sotomayor’s response.  The question asks the interviewee to speculate on an alternative reality that doesn’t exist and because it doesn’t exist, no answer is possible.  It’s the kind of question most interviewers, most of the time avoid like the plague.  Rather than asking the interviewee to relate an anecdote based on personal experience or share a fact based on professional training, “What if” questions make the interviewee address a decision about a ship that has long since sailed.  And although their process might be valuable to a listener facing a similar choice, it asks something that is to some extent unfair.

Justice Sotomayor paused a long moment. In fact, the pause was so long that Terry realized she couldn’t answer it because, as they both simultaneously acknowledged, it was “an impossible question.”  It is a question in the current tortuous vein for women, “Can you have it all?”  Justice Sotomayor noted that there have been two women on the court who did have children.  So she said she would like to think that she would have been just as successful with children as she has been without them.  Her logic caused Terry to acknowledge and admit, “Exactly.” [NOTE: When I first wrote this post, I seem to remember hearing in the interview an audio response of “Of course”.  But now the audio is “exactly” so I have changed it to that].

But she also reinterpreted Terry’s question, saying “Can women have it all?” is the wrong question, and substituting it with “What makes you happy as a person?”  Success, she inferred, was dependent on what a person has the will and drive to do regardless of circumstances.  And she was totally gracious with the rest of her response, which led Terry to move on to a different question about her earlier work in a District Attorney’s office.

Sometimes, an interviewer comes up with a list of questions, and they all look good.  Then, they cut the list down to what they think are the best questions.  But sometimes, the don’t realize that there’s still a klunker among them.  A question that, if they were to hear someone else ask it, they might think to themselves, “That’s an impossible question.  How could anybody ever answer that?”  A question that attempts to group groups, not by desire and capability but societal expectations.  Is it a question that puts interviewees in a box or gives them the chance to bust up the box?

And the ultimate test of the question is, would it have been asked of a man?  You can hear Justice Sotomayor’s hesitation after the question is asked here at about 32:04.

Written by Interviewer

January 14, 2014 at 11:40


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jimmy fallon

I just listened to Jimmy Fallon’s interview with Terry Gross. I heard it the first time back in 2011, and it was a pleasure to listen to it again for what I missed the first time. The main thing I got from it, besides the fact that Fallon’s impressions are really good, is that he comes across as sincere.

There was just something in the way he talked; kind of excited, kind of geeky, that just made me think. “This guy is being who he really is right now.” And Terry Gross was just as enamored with him. I listen to Terry Gross a lot, and I haven’t heard her that happy to talk with someone since she interviewed stars from “The Wire.” But, getting back to about being sincere, Jimmy Fallon said as much. He said something like if you come across insincere, it’ll show, people will know. He’s so right.

People want sincerity. There is lots of it in the world, but it’s out of sight. It’s around the corner from the hucksters and the sociopaths; the loud mouths and the control freaks. Sincerity is there, speaking at the same volume it always has, and people are hungry for it. Interviewing is a constant struggle between being your true self and holding back a little because you tell yourself, you’ve got to maintain that level of “professionalism” when really, you aren’t sure if you want people to know you THAT well.

He said he had never done interviewing before he started doing interviews on his show. To me, that says sincerity is what lifted him up. His creativity and the willingness of people to take a risk on something they see in him was all based on how clearly they could see it. When I talk to people, I sometimes edit out my stumbles, but listening to Fallon, I wonder if I should leave more of them in. I don’t know.

Listening to him be honest with me was what I aspire to be and do.

Written by Interviewer

August 30, 2013 at 10:17