This new gig as the back-page editor and interviewer at Time Out New York is more fun than I expected and I feel pretty lucky to have it. I mean, just the other day I managed to get Patrick Stewart to say both “Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra” and “meatballs are delicious” to me over the phone. (I will link to the Q+A when it’s up next Tuesday.) But it also comes with the small but real risk that you’re totally going to blow an interview when you least want to blow it — as I did with a certain incredibly influential public-radio host yesterday. For some reason my goddamn phone hookup malfunctioned and not a single word of what would have been the greatest interview ever published is audible. Total disaster.
Now, I’ve had tapes snap on me before, like when I interviewed David James Elliott over lunch a while back for TV Guide — and seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten a meal opposite TV’s JAG while he chatters on about training for triathlons. But snapped tapes can be repaired. Malfunctions of the kind that happened to me yesterday, though, can’t be fixed; the only thing you can do is hope they’ll consent to do a second interview with you. Surprisingly, something on the order of this magnitude of failure has happened to me only one other time in the literally hundreds of interviews that I’ve done with celebrities since I began doing them back in 1996. (First celebrity interview ever? Lee Majors, for Entertainment Weekly.) That disaster happened about six years ago, when I was assigned by GQ to interview actress and noted Scientologist Juliette Lewis. I met her at a Jewish deli in a strip mall opposite the Scientology headquarters in L.A., where my stupid questions about her “religion” and career totally bewildered her — which means, of course, that it went perfectly. But I had to fly to Vegas later that day to — and I’m not making this up — hang out with an Elvis Presley impersonator (he preferred the term “Elvis entertainer”), and my flight home to New York was stupidly booked for the next morning at around 6am. Because the interview with the Elvis guy lasted until around 2, I decided that it would be better not to go to sleep and instead hit the tables for a few hours before heading to the airport. The lack of sleep or possibly a few drinks caused me to forget that upon arrival I’d dumped the contents of my bag onto the bed of the hotel room (the room I spent a grand total of five minutes in) and also not to pack the Lewis tape upon departure; by the time I noticed it was missing, I was already back in New York and the tape was in a trash bin somewhere behind the Imperial Palace. Even though I was later able to get Ms. Lewis back on the phone, and the Q+A did run in GQ, the published article wasn’t nearly as good as the original conversation because Lewis was much more guarded the second time around and seemingly perturbed that she had to spend another half hour doing something she wasn’t really getting paid to do.
I’ve always seen that snafu as one of the low points of my career, which is sad because it involves Juliette Lewis, whom I have no feelings about one way or another. But this new problem is a disappointment of real significance.
Still, I’m sure he’ll agree to a follow-up. And my plan this time is to ask better, more hilarious questions, one of which is definitely going to be about burritos. I’m viewing the “lost” interview as one of those pre-interviews you always hear late-night talk show guests alluding to. I’m trying out optimism for a change, although, yeah, it isn’t going to last.
WHY I’M ANGRY TODAY
Sellers and Corndogs … at Tanagra. Okay, I’m not angry about that, but I felt you needed to know.