Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Colbert

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.

Written by Interviewer

October 20, 2015 at 14:52

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