Monday, November 17, 2003
Post Show Critique
Well, I'm back from Al Franken's speech at Vanderbilt. Shockingly, very few Dittoheads in attendance. No protests to speak of. I was on the aisle, and I was plotting out my Rosie Grier scenario in the event of any untoward activities.
I'll be writing about my experience getting to interview Al Franken. The blog is about me and the things I do to keep from getting real work done, for those of you who don't recall, so that's what this will be about. For those of you who want to hear about the speech, feel free to read the book or watch his current speech on C-SPAN whenever it airs. It's funny, and it gives more light to the fun side of the book, which can be a little earnest. If you're reading the book, my suggestion is to picture Al reading it to you and then laughing in the right places. The Vanderbilt difference is that you get Tipper Gore in the audience. So insert her into your mental picture.
I worked my way into the press pool before Al's speech by connecting through his book publicist, who connected me to his assistant, who connected me to Vanderbilt's events coordinator. So, I got to be one of the dozen or so media folks who got to ask questions before his speech.
As exciting as it sounds, I've decided, based on the responses and the subsequent speech, that these interview sessions are a chance to practice the material before the speech. Not that it needs practicing, but it gets the juices flowing. Like batting practice.
Some other wag beat me to the punch in asking about the Al Franken Decade, and I didn't get to do a follow up about the Joe Franken Decade. A few standard questions about Rush and the Democratic nomination process. Perhaps I've been under a rock, but apparently people want Al to run for the Senate from Minnesota. Not that I think he'd do a terrible job; in fact, I think it'd be great and great fun, too. Just find it odd to be planning that far ahead. I mean, he'd have to move back to Minnesota from New York, and then, ugh, move to D.C. if he won. I'm not sure the job pays enough to be worth that.
I asked my question, with Bush-esque articulateness, about whether political point of view can get in the way of comedic point of view to the point where the material isn't funny and you end up being a liberal P.J. O'Rourke. I'm sure he thought, "What a douche bag," and probably thought I was being critical of his book as not being funny. I didn't think it was unfunny, just dangerously close to becoming unfunny. But he answered politely, and moved on to a question from the legitimate media about FCC rules and such.
After he was given the warning that he had to go next door for the speech, I asked whether he would be available for an email interview about comedy writing and such, because I'm a nerd for this kind of stuff, and he said email would be terrible, so why don't you walk with me over there and ask what you want.
So now I'm on the spot having to recall all the questions I wanted to ask but never thinking I'd get the chance to ask during the next five minutes as we wander through the Vanderbilt labyrinth to what passed for a green room. Al was great to let me come back stage with him and stand up to the VU coordinators to let me ask my ridiculous questions.
I seem to approach interviewing like I'm going to be hosting Later with Bob Costas, only I end more like Inside the Actor's Studio, with even worse results. It goes like this: Prefatory statement or clause; qualifying clause; convoluted question; and, expectant lean in for Wisdom. Invariably the response is, "Yeah, I guess so" or "I'm not sure I understand that" or "No, it's nothing like that." Whatever the response, it always reveals what a suck up wannabe the questioner is and how absent of insight the questioner is in spite of his supposed knowledge. This is pretty much how my experience with Neal Pollack went, though I got to spend enough time with him that he was friendly to me and gracious about my wannabe-ness and I got some great stuff from him.
So, I proceeded with the same m.o. with Al, despite my previous failure. I asked about getting started at Brave New Workshop and what he felt he still carried from that time, and he had good stuff about that. I let him go to the bathroom, and then he gave me a few more minutes in which to ask a little more about writing ("I don't understand the question"), the differences in writing in early versus more recent SNL seasons, and the evolution of Dennis Miller.
My new motto is to prepare and forget, then rely on instinct instead of preconceived questions. Of course, I already know all this. I do it all the time for presentations. I used to do it for improv, but somehow I want this to be different and under my control. I want to just download the wisdom from these folks rather than suffer through my own inarticulateness.
Anyway, having probably more than overstayed my welcome, I made my way out, he shook my hand, and I snuck into the auditorium to watch the speech. It's definitely not the experience that anyone else had at this speech, and I'm grateful that Al was so good to help me out.
Post Script: I was thinking about this some more while going to sleep, and I realized I'm not half this obnoxious when I'm interviewing people I don't know about or have any pre-existing interest in. So, I'm probably just inept in the areas that I'm most interested in.
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