Today I chat with a friend I met originally through John Green. I knew him then as a humor columnist for Chicago's RedEye and frequent contributor to Funny Ha-Ha. Now he has his own show at the Hideout, the very entertaining "The Interview Show" which has featured guests like Rhymefest, Stephanie Izard, Steve Conrad and my husband. You can catch him next, guess where? At the Hideout on January 16 at the next Funny Ha-Ha.
What inspired you to create the Interview Show?
I'd been searching for a while for a platform in which I could ride on the talents of others. At the end of the day, letting people I admire talk while I sat next to them on stage and grinned as wide as I could seemed the best way of doing that.
Who have been some of your biggest 'gets' so far?
Probably Salinger. I haven't gotten around to putting J.D.'s interview up on YouTube yet, but I will sooner or later.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced putting the show together?
We do the show at the Hideout, which, as you know from your Funny Ha-Ha shows, is the greatest bar/venue in Chicago. But the couch we use for the guests to sit on was located upstairs at the Hideout, in a corner where it perfectly fit. Every time I went to move the couch downstairs for the show, I'd have to dislodge it from its spot and, in doing so, take a piece of the Hideout wall with it. Not destroying the Hideout and thus becoming possibly more hated in Chicago than Rod Blagojevich became the biggest challenge each show. Fortunately, they have since moved the couch.
What have been some of the highlights for you thus far?
Some of the performances we've had have been incredible. Robbie Fulks singing Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." Rhymefest and Schadenfreude doing a sketch together. Stand-up Hannibal Buress killing both times he was on. In terms of interviews, honestly, one of my favorite moments was when we had your now-husband Steve on the show to discuss his amazing short films. I asked him why he didn't make longer movies, and he said, "I don't like to be married to anything," or something to that effect. Which was great, because at the time his wedding to you was only a couple of months away.
What are some of your favorite talk shows?
I used to love the old Jon Stewart show he had on MTV. Of course, I love The Daily Show, too, but I think my favorite part of it is when he interviews guests. He's both funny and real, and has an honest discussion with his guests. The Dick Cavett Show, which I watch on DVD, is kind of what I modeled parts of The Interview Show on. And the greatest talk show of all time is a fake one -- "Fernwood 2Night" starring Martin Mull.
When and how do you come up with column topics? What do you do when you're strapped for ideas?
I hate to admit it, but most of ideas come when my deadline is fast-approaching. Usually, I draw from the news, but I think the best ones -- and this may go against what should be a newspaper column -- are the columns that exist apart from the news, that could run anytime. When I'm strapped for ideas, I have a backlog of 1,000 columns or so that I wrote when I was a child, and I just use one of those.
You write about family life in your columns--do you ever ask your wife for the go-ahead on the personal columns?
I used to run them by her. I also used to write more about family life. But by now I pretty much know my limits. Calvin Trillin, one of my favorite writers, has a great rule. He calls it the Dostoyevsky Test, or something like that. Basically: If you can't write as well as Dostoyevsky, you have no right to embarrass your family.
You have one of the best Facebook profile pictures ever. Even though I know the answer to this, care to explain it?
We (meaning Steve) was filming the video that we play to open every Interview Show. The idea was to do an homage/parody of the old Carson intro, which, of course, The Larry Sanders Show already did, but let's forget that small detail. Anyhow, we'd never done a show before, so the idea was to create scenes from past shows that, of course, never actually happened, including one of an animal trainer, who, instead of bringing some wild animal to show off just brought his house cat. Was that a run-on sentence? Anyhow, the cat in the photo was my old cat; she now lives (and at the time of the video shooting lived) with a friend. I try to visit her as much as possible with handfuls of Whisker Lickens, though. She's the sweetest cat I've ever met.
Tribune Media Services describes you as "A new-generation humor columnist". what does that mean?
It's marketing language -- it's not supposed to mean anything. But if I had to guess, I think it means I'm not as funny as older humor columnists like Trillin, Russell Baker or Dave Barry.
When you're doing a reading of your own work, how do you pick what to perform?
I used to always want to pick something different, but then I realized that was crazy. So, now I like to pick one or two pieces I'm pretty confident will go over well because they have in the past and then try out some new ones. Also, I've learned that the pieces that have more jokes in them seem to go over better in a live reading than the ones that are bad.
Do you get stagefright ever? How do you get over it?
I get it a lot. I'm not an actor or a stand-up, and being on stage is still relatively new to me. But once I get it up there and start going, things settle down.
Explain the Hideout and its appeal to those who have never been there for a literary-type event.
Everyone there, from the performers to the owners to the staff to the guests, are just good people. The place is small and intimate without being insubstantial. It's communal without being Kumbaya-ish. Before I started doing the show, I felt great being there, which I think is true for most people who visit. And the place is wonderful when it's packed to the gills or when it's empty. One of the best show I ever saw there was Mark Eitzel, of American Music Club. It was a really cold, snowy night, and the crowd, as a result, was sparse. For all I know, Eitzel was pissed he had traveled all the way to Chicago on such a crappy night, but it made for a very personal performance.
You graduated from Northwestern University--do you have any entertaining stories about now-famous people getting drunk at frat parties or anything? Zach Braff passed out on the quad?
Just of Zach Braff passing out on the quad. Over and over again. In fact, he did it so often we had a saying for when anyone passed out on the quad: "So and so Braffed." Actually, I didn't know him, don't think I ever saw him, which is surely his loss. So, I guess my answer is: no entertaining stories.
How does it feel to be the 222nd person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
Claire, I feel like I've been pretty forthcoming in this interview, but some things should remain private.