Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘SNL

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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 …

Written by Interviewer

September 21, 2013 at 05:29

Sincerity

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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

Joke’s on Somebody

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Dunce

This is about interviewing, AND it’s directed at Saturday Night Live.

Skit #1 – The Talkover
A Western media outlet anchor is on the phone with a subject, preferably someone with a noticeably foreign accent on a bad connection. In the course of the discussion, the person on the phone takes offense to something the anchor has said or implied. The person on the phone is defensive and tries to get out what they’re trying to say. But the anchor, when continuing the question or asking a follow up question, continues to plow through, and over, and under the person on the phone even as they are responding or trying to respond. The anchor makes sure they get their complete question asked even- when-their-speaking-speed-falls-to-one-deliberate-and-unyielding-word-per-second.

Would it be funny on SNL? Probably. Is it funny on the air? Not really, because it shows how arrogant anchors can be, though it’s understandable where this came from. It used to be that a bully interviewee could out talk the interviewer such that the interviewer looked and sounded like they didn’t have what it took to keep control of the interview. But as communication has advanced, with human nature being what it is, and journalism being the dark art it can sometimes be, an adversarial interview is a good excuse for a good interviewer to softly beat the hell out of somebody just like this. I mean, an interviewer is supposed to be asking the questions they think the audience wants to hear. But sometimes, these can feel and sound like poking the bear, appropriate to nothing.

Skit #2 – Splain Me
A Western media outlet anchor is talking to a subject and the subject makes a common, cultural reference, and the anchor inserts a verbal ellipse, essentially grinding the interview to a halt and says, “That means blah, blah, blah …” for that uninitiated audience member who just for the first time, cracked open the door of their 1953 bomb shelter. To wit;

Guest – Within about 25 years, the Earth will …
Anchor – And just to be clear, we’re talking about the third planet from the sun …
Guest – Uh, yeah, anyway …

This is sort of understandable too. Back in the 70s and 80s, was when we were just starting to hear about how American school students didn’t know state capitals. And that got news organizations worrying that Americans didn’t know basic geography. Sadly, every so often Conan or Dave Letterman, or Jimmy Fallon or Craig Ferguson show, that for some of us, this is still true. But back then, it wasn’t so funny. So the networks started using more graphics and maps, and taking more time to explain the basic connections to the story they might be in the middle of telling. But now, with as much instant communication and ubiquitous access to Google and Wikipedia as there is, I’m starting to think that if people don’t know, it’s a lot like non-smoking education; it’s not because the information isn’t out there, maybe they just don’t care. This is something similar from a comment board called “unfogged.com” from 2007:

Guest: “And then Franklin Roosevelt created . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “That would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.”

Guest: “Yes. Anyway, then FDR created . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “FDR being Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Guest: “Yes. Then FDR created the Works Progress Administration . . .”

Interviewer (interrupting): “Commonly known as the WPA.”

. . . and so on . . .
Posted by: Paul W. | Link to this comment | 02- 2-07 11:36 PM horizontal rule

OK, they may be a little less informed than you, but you’ve got them covered. So, maybe we can ease up on dropping the encyclopedia on the table in the middle of a good conversation.

SNL, these could be two new versions of your standard NPR skit setpiece. Pleeeeeze.

Written by Interviewer

April 30, 2013 at 04:10