Friday, July 25, 2008

World's Weirdest Museums

11 Oddball Museums
Forbes Traveler July, 2008

If Night at the Museum had been set somewhere other than New York’s Museum of Natural History, it would be a very different movie. This 2006 blockbuster starring Ben Stiller made hundreds of millions of dollars and, reportedly, boosted museum attendance. But it could have been a much stranger beast. Instead of Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea, one night in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum could've led to a romance between Siamese twin skeletons and the corpse of an obese woman whose fat has turned to soap. At the Venthaven ventriloquist museum, the big laughs could've given way to the scariest Twilight Zone episode ever.

World-class museums aside, a lot of people find second-rank museums lacking. At best, they're hermetically sealed repositories of dusty culture; at worst, they're tourist traps teeming with children on field trips. Sometimes, you gotta take a walk on the weirder side.

Doug Kirby, publisher of the book series and website Roadside America, has catalogued bizarre museums and other attractions best avoided by elementary school field trips. By heading off the beaten path, he says, “you’ll see amazing things—but just duck your head and make sure your tetanus shot is up-to-date.”

There’s little chance of being physically injured at Kentucky’s Venthaven Museum, the world’s only public collection devoted to ventriloquism. Many visitors are unnerved by the hundreds of dummies that line bleacher-like seats, waiting to dredge up childhood nightmares inspired by the Twilight Zone and Poltergeist. According to curator Lisa Sweasy, who leads tours by appointment only, visitors are charmed by tour's end.

“There are no scary ventriloquists,” she says. “Some people will come in with a prejudice against them, but that always goes away once they've learned more.”

Venthaven’s exhaustive focus on dummies is unique, but the museum’s singularity of focus isn’t. The Museum of Toilets in New Delhi presents a complete history of the world’s commodes. Exhibits include a reconstruction of Louis the XVIII's toilet-and-throne combo and a microwave technology toilet that (they say) we’ll use in the future. Meanwhile, over in Iceland, the curators of the Phallological Museum focus on the symbol of the phallus from ancient times straight through to the present. There is also a sizeable collection of Icelandic animal penises.

Clearly, some museums are founded by men and women with an intense interest in one subject. Others are motivated by what Kirby calls water-cooler value. Because many small and strange museums lack the wealth and clout of larger institutions, they’re forced to become more creative in their exhibitions. “We don’t have the resources of the Museum of Natural History or MOMA," says David Wilson, founder and curator of the Museum of Jurassic Technologies in California. "So what we’ve done is look to the margins, to the edges of things. And we find an extraordinary body of stuff there.”

Wilson was awarded a MacArthur fellow “genius” grant for his work with the 20-plus-year-old museum, which "provides the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts" emphasizing things that "demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities." In other words, it's a whimsical but not frivolous collection of objects that interest Wilson, such as microscopic sculptures and a collection of trailer park art. One advantage of running your own museum, says Wilson, is "you can present pretty much whatever you want.”

Other weird museums have firmer footholds in history and science. And some, like their legitimate counterparts, strive to educate the public. The Glore Psychiatric Museum in Missouri grew out of State Lunatic Asylum Number Two. In the 1960s, asylum official George Glore began collecting and displaying artifacts and replicas of antiquated devices for treating mental illnesses, like a human-sized hamster wheel meant to treat patients suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. According to museum spokesperson Kathy Reno, the museum is intended to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

On the other end of the learning curve, there's the Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts, which is dedicated to mocking artists who erred in their attempts to create beauty. If you’ve ever been mad at Picasso for being a better artist than you—of if you've ever muttered "My kid could paint that!"—this is the place for you. In its own way, even the MOBA is trying to educate the public. “People who don’t know anything about art, and are intimidated by serious art museums and art galleries, like the idea of coming someplace where it’s okay to have a laugh,” says Louise Sacco, MOBA's Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director.

Whether you're looking for laughs, scares or a few moments of squirmy discomfort, somewhere in the world is an obsessive curator waiting to show you his or her collection.
Read more!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jon Stewart Interview

Faking Sense of the World
Hartford Advocate June 12, 2008

According to a 2007 Pew poll, Jon Stewart is one of the five most-respected broadcast journalists in America. It doesn't matter that he began his career not as a sleeves-rolled-up, coffee-swilling print journalist but as a comedian whose resume includes residency at Manhattan's Comedy Cellar, a cameo in Half Baked and three short-lived MTV shows.

The Daily Show started out as news parody, but with Stewart at the helm since 1999, it has grown increasingly sharp and political. Stewart is not just a smart-ass; he's actually smart. And while he can be glib, he's arguably one of the most moral people on television news.

One of the few people who don't take Stewart seriously these days is Stewart himself. When accused of committing journalism by Bill Moyers last year, Stewart countered that he's only a comedian. Stewart dismissed his own work as that of "a tiny, neurotic man, standing in the back of the room throwing tomatoes at the chalk board."

Stewart is amazingly punctual—he called exactly at the scheduled time—and extraordinarily nice. As a former chain smoker who went cold turkey in 2000, he gave me useful advice about quitting cigarettes and talked freely about every other subject—but still wouldn't admit to being anything other than a working comedian who happens to have one of the best TV shows on the planet.

Advocate: Is your stand-up work mostly current events-driven or do you use it as a chance to get away from what you do on TV?
Stewart: It's a combination: It's events material, or it's a story about something horrible that might have happened to me on the drive up. And obviously, bits I've been working on over the years. I weave everything in and out, and hopefully present a nice little evening of comedy.

I might do a Q&A, or maybe just be a sing-a-long. It could take all kinds of shapes: charades, Pictionary.

So it's like a traveling, troubadour kind of show.

That's exactly right. It's like a minstrel show, except without any conceivable musical talent.

Or blackface.
Right. It's the old-world style of minstrel show, not the modern racially driven version. I think it's a chance to make some larger observations—if I have any larger observations to make. It's not as tied to current events as the show, and it's a different format. I'll be standing, for one thing. It'll give people an opportunity to see what stumpy legs look like.

I'm sure you're sick of this question ...

Nice. I was going to ask if it's difficult to adjust to comedy in a post-Bush world.

Oh. As a comedian, as a person, as a citizen, as a mammal—in all of those areas, I am looking forward to the end of the Bush administration with every fiber of my being.

You're tired of the "subliminable" jokes?
Yeah, there are times when you play on the lack of erudite commentary from the President. But that's not the heart of what we do. I am sick of deconstructing their propaganda, because it's pretty much the same as it's always been. It's just repeating something over and over again until we believe it and we hope that you believe it.

[Comedian and Conan O'Brien writer] Robert Smigel said in a recent interview: "For Obama, it could be a John Kennedy situation where everybody is going to invest all this hope and optimism, idealism." He was saying that satire might be more difficult under an Obama administration. Do you think that's true?

I think that the satire of what that is would be tough. But certainly the interplay between that idealism and the established cynicism would work for satire. If someone was to introduce hope and idealism into our political system, I think the tension that would create in other areas would certainly be ripe. You would think that if you bring oxygen to the organism, the organism lives. But there may be other organisms in there that thrive in darkness and in a more anaerobic environment. Watching those creatures writhe will always be interesting.

Larry King asked you on his show if it would be terrible for you as a comedian if everything was good.
I was a little stunned by the question. It was a little crazy, the idea that I absolutely would cheer for the destruction of mankind if it would give me three to four minutes of jokes every night. But to be fair to Larry King, I don't think he was really paying attention. It was more like, "How long do we have left in this segment?"

That describes the last two decades of his career, doesn't it?
[Laughs.] Don't mess with the King, baby. You mess with the bull, you get the suspenders.

Is it fair to call The Daily Show liberal?
I think the metric by which television is considered liberal is literally based on the metric of liberalism in each person's soul. Peoples' senses of humor tend to go about as far as their ideology. There are people who believe I say things they didn't agree with because it's too liberal, and there are people who don't agree with things I say that believe I'm a conservative shill. I don't get wrapped up in peoples' definitions of what we're doing here.

You've said you're not a warrior for anyone's cause. I imagine that you get criticism from both sides.
I reject the idea there are just two sides. I think that with the amount of ideas and thoughts there are, it's not even going to be consistent with the same person. People can hold liberal and conservative dogma points at the same time. They're not living their lives via platforms. They're living their lives. The whole thing is an awfully tired construct.

I'm sorry I asked.
[Laughs.] You didn't make it up. It exists. Unless, are you the guy that invented it? Then this is an entirely different interview.

When you're interviewing someone like [neoconservative former Department of Defense official] Douglas Feith or [National Review Online editor] Jonah Goldberg, and are basically calling bullshit on them, is it difficult to keep yourself under control enough to have a civil conversation?

In trying to have a discussion, there are moments where I probably lose my cool or train of thought. Or my ability to blink. And it's creepy. But I think it's hard to have any conversation that has purpose to it on a talk show in front of an audience with commercial breaks. I think there are probably much better ways to accomplish that. A six-minute interview isn't the best place to make or debunk a case. So what people get are bastardizations of arguments and perversions of discussions. That's what we specialize in.

So you're saying that you shouldn't be doing what you do every night?
The format of the show suits me. But I think that if you're looking for the kind of discussion that's worthwhile to have, this is not the best format for it. I think there are better formats and better people to do that than me [laughs].

Do you find conservative writers are hesitant to go on The Daily Show? Is there anyone that turned you down you wish could have been on?
Oh, I'm sure. You know, it all goes so fast. We have a woman here that's in charge of getting guests. We make requests all the time. And people are out of town, or they don't want to do it or they want you to have lunch with them first, and you end up being like, "fuck that."
But I don't think it's necessarily conservatives who are avoiding the show. We have a pretty good representation there as we do in anything. I just think it's not a comfortable format for a lot of people.

But people have got to sell books, right?
Yeah. I think that's the only reason people come on the show. People have gotta sell books, people gotta get votes. I don't think anybody comes on the show just because they think it looks like fun. Well, every now and then, we get someone deluded.

Has Stephen Colbert taken the heat off you? There was that Rahm Emanuel memo warning Democrats not to go on his show—do you look easier by comparison?
I'm going to let you in on a little secret, here: Stephen's playing a character on his show. He might not admit this himself, but in real life, he's a very sweet, reasonable man. I don't want to blow anything out. I don't know if you want to put that in there. It might not be for public consumption.

Wow. I feel like Bob Woodward.
Exactly. I'm not going to say where you got this information. I'm just telling you. I'm an anonymous source. Take this to the bank.

But has having The Colbert Report on after The Daily Show changed The Daily Show?
We're definitely of the same genetic material. I think there's a nice complementary relationship. In some respects, it works in the way that the more staid news works with the cable-type news. They're parodies that are increasing the reach of the other parties. The shows paint in different colors, but use the same material.

When [Supreme Court Justice] Antonin Scalia called your show "childish," did that smart at all?

I can say this: he's childish. And shut up. No, that doesn't bother me. It does bother me when Antonin Scalia says he doesn't want to discuss cases like Bush. V. Gore anymore because, you know, we should just get over it. That upsets me more than comments that he makes about our show. You can make a better case that our show is childish than he doesn't have to discuss Supreme Court decisions he's made.

Do you see what you just did? You took on the appearance of childishness to make an astute, well-reasoned point. That's something you do on The Daily Show all the time, and that's why it bothers me, as a fan, that he referred to the show as childish.

Here's the difference: I'm thinking about him, but he's not thinking about me. What he said was reflective of nothing other than the glibness. And in some ways it reflects the seriousness with which he should take our show, which is not at all. What we wish he took more seriously are the decisions he made. But I don't think in any way, "How dare he say that, what does he think he's doing?" I get it.

You've been criticized for trying to have it both ways, acting as a media critic and then retreating by saying you're just telling jokes.

I think that stems from how my interviews don't live up to the standards I ask of news people. And what I'd say in response to that, is, "Why should I do their fucking jobs?" I have a job and my job is on Comedy Central. If I took a job at CNN, I think I'd to have a different perspective on what I do. But I don't do a news show.

It's not a news show, but it's pretty newsy.

I'm working with the tools that are the best for me. People would like to place a standard on our show that doesn't exist. We're not set up for reporting; we don't have an apparatus for that. We're discussing things that hopefully people might get something out of, but it's wildly inconsistent. Just because we hit on points that resonate, or people think are real complaints—that doesn't make us journalists.

You're seen as one of the most trusted names in journalism, according to a recent poll. On The Daily Show, you guys talk about how perception dictates reality. Do you think this is one of those cases?

I think we are so far up our own asses about our own importance. I think that people are arguing about something that doesn't matter. The real issue is that TV news can either bring clarity or noise. And it tends to not seem to know the difference between them. ... We do a show that doesn't try to bring noise. I think that we have a more consistent point of view than most news shows, I'll say that.

What's that point of view?

That theater doesn't make for authentic public
Read more!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

David Cross Interview

The Believer, May 2008

Quick note on the text: this was one part of a two-part interview. I interviewed Cross from the point of view of someone who hated him. Another writer interviewed him as a fan.

I have complicated and conflicting feelings about David Cross’s work, which is appropriate, as he’s a complicated, difficult performer. As I told him when we met, I think he’s talented. He has a nimble mind, great timing, and a knack for absurd humor. However, his performances often seem driven by an anger and smugness that overpower his appeal, particularly in his stand-up. I was managing editor of New York Press when he released his second CD, It’s Not Funny, which was the prime reason for his inclusion on the paper’s “50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers” list. We called him “meandering” and “not funny,” and wished that Andrew Dice Clay would inflict bodily harm upon him. Even though some on the staff, including me, were inclined to agree with his liberal anger, we thought Cross’s tone was alienating and shrill.

In addition, Cross has waged public crusades against seeming straw men like Creed’s Scott Stapp, Jim Belushi, and Larry the Cable Guy. I’ve always been confounded by the attention Cross paid them.

I chatted with Cross in late 2007 at his East Village apartment. He was extremely self-aware, willing to speak frankly about awkward subjects with admirable candor and introspection. Honestly, I came away liking him a lot. Also, he had embroidered towels in his bathroom. One read DAVID’S. The other read ALSO DAVID’S. I’m not sure what conclusions should be drawn from that, but it’s the kind of detail that as a reporter I would feel remiss if I kept to myself.

HATER: I understand that you were angry, and [your 2000-2001 stand-up act] was a free-flowing of expression. And, I feel like a dick for saying it, but did you forget to write punch lines?

What I’d say to that is that I’ve never written jokes. I mean, I’ll write things on a piece of paper and riff on them onstage. What I don’t think is fair, and what I think you’re implying, is that there’s nothing funny in it. That’s fine, that’s your opinion.

HTR: I’m not saying it’s not funny. I’m saying that it’s undernuanced at times. It could be more clever or well-constructed.

DC: Yeah, probably. You can continue to craft it and hone it. But that, for better or worse, is not what I do. It might read funnier, definitely, but it would feel false. I think I could have a funnier, more economic set. But that’s the comedy I do. And I understand if people aren’t interested in it and would rather listen to someone else. But I’ll never understand the anger people have toward me. And here is the rest of it.

For the rest of the interview, go buy the magazine. It's on sale at a bookstore near you!

Read more!

11 Unlikely Summer Movie Heroes

20 years after 'Die Hard,' heroes are coming in surprising sizes and shapes., May 8, 2008

1988 was a watershed year for explosion-laden, bullet-riddled action flicks. Chiseled body builder-types like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and Carl Weathers racked up massive body counts in Rambo III, Red Heat, Red Scorpion and Action Jackson. But that year's best-remembered action film announced the age of over-grown muscle stars had passed. In Die Hard, Bruce Willis's John McClane was a different kind of action hero. He was an unstoppable killing machine audiences could relate to — a wise-cracking, barefoot beat cop who needed every lucky break he could catch. Flash forward 20 years, and the lasting effects of the Bruce Willis-ification of the action star are evident. The girlyman heroes appearing in this summer's event movies include fresh-faced art house stars, doughy comedians and AARP members. This summer, it seems, almost any Joe can be a hero.

Read the rest of the article (laid out in a lovely slideshow format) here. Read more!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Which Rocky are we talking about, Sen. Clinton?

Scholars and Rogues, April 1

It’s time for Hillary Clinton to bone up on her classic ’70s cinema. Attempting to pander to a Philadelphia crowd, she compared herself to Philly’s most famous fictional son, the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa.

The AP reports:

“Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing a fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up. And neither do the American people,” Clinton said in excerpts of prepared remarks to be given Tuesday to a meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

It’s a hack reference, and it’s a little distressing that she included it in her “prepared remarks” — she needs crib notes for pop culture references? But what’s worse is that it’s an inaccurate one. In her attempt to appear more human by invoking the name of the scrappy underdog fighter, she revealed that there’s a good chance she’s never actually seen the movie. Mrs. Clinton evidently doesn’t realize that in the movie Rocky, the titular character lost the fight - to a black dude!

The victory he celebrates at the end of the movie is about how he “went the distance” in the fight and because he recently won the love and respect of his new girlfriend Adrian. It’s only in the shittier sequels that Rocky actually wins fights. So unless Clinton’s ready to go home and be happy that she tried her best and has gained Bill’s love and respect, she can only liken herself to Rocky II through Rocky V. Read more!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jonathan Davis Article

Got the Life
Inked Magazine March, 2008

Jonathan Davis is the last guy in America you’d expect to be well adjusted. Think about it: The guy’s whole career has been built on being a fuck-up. And here is the rest of it. For the last 15 years, Davis has battled and exploited his inner demons as the lead singer of Korn, gaining legions of fans that empathize with his tortured childhood and share his dark fascinations. Born with severe, nearly life-threatening asthma, Davis was abused by a family friend as a boy, ostracized and ridiculed by his classmates as a teen, and became a drug addict and a rock star in his 20s. By the time he hit 30, he was one of the most famous singers in the world, with a legendary reputation for drug consumption and skewed fixations. I spoke with Davis the day after he finished his first solo tour, a two-month slog he described as a blur of “shitty little showers and fucked-up shit holes.”Logically, a goth rock deity like Davis should have been clubbing baby seals for kicks or hiring a private detective to bury a bizarre sex video. Instead, he was resting at his Malibu home looking forward to the following day, when he planned to take two of his children camping on the beach. “I love it. I set them out there in the sand and a tent and that’s it,” Davis says.

What? No drugs? No sex? No blood? Sun, sand, and children? Frankly, it doesn’t sound like a day in the life of a rockstar. “I don’t give a fuck. What’s a rockstar? Trying to be a rock star is what got me in trouble in thefirst place,” Davis says.

These days, Davis spends his time off the road earning his World’s Greatest Nu Metal Dad coffee mug. Sober for almost a decade, he is a happily married father of three boys: 12-year-old Nathan, 2-year-old Pirate, and his newborn baby, Zeppelin. During our conversation, Davis’s voice rarely rose above a whisper, but he booms with happiness on the subject of his kids. “I really love my children. It’s the one thing in this world that makes me truly happy, other than music,” Davis says.

?sible that Davis could some day be too well adjusted to sing for Korn? “No chance. I got issues, bro. I’ll always have issues,” he says.

Davis might be living the straight and narrow, but his version seems wider and more crooked than most. His adoring wife Devon is a former porn star (for the record, she was only in girl-on-girl films, which is like the Coors Light of porn). He sings through a microphone set on a $50,000 stand designed by H.R. Giger (the Swiss artist who created the alien in Alien), he’s collaborating on an opera with Clive Barker (the sicko British horror writer behind the Hellraiser movies).

And as a former collector of serial killer art—a topic, he says, he now can’t ??storm lyrics. “I’ve gone to those places and I’ve written what I needed to write there,”Davis says. “I’m not going to go and try to repeat myself, write some fake shit. With each new record, I’m tapping into new things and just exploring different ideas.”

And while he doesn’t party anymore,well,he still kind of parties.“I’m at the parties and I’m chopping up lines of cocaine, rolling joints, and pouring drinks,”Davis says. “I can hang out with everybody, but it’s not for me. I just can’t do it.” When Davis grew up in Bakersfield, his hometown was about as close to the farm town in Footlooseas a southern Californian city can get. While its demographics have shifted a little since then, the town is still called the “buckle of California’s Bible Belt.”Not surprisingly, Davis had a tough time fitting into the sunny, Reagan-loving community, and his tattoos are a testament to that. He has a monstrous bishop on one arm, and HIV—the nickname his tormenting high school peers gave him—on the other.

Even though he grew up listening to English new romantic bands like Duran Duran—he didn’t embrace metal until hearing Pantera in his 20s—Davis was cautioned against becoming a musician by his father, a touring musician him­self. “My dad didn’t want me to be a musician because he tried and he went out. It was hard and he wanted to protect me,” Davis says. So he followed his father’s suggestion and, at 17, he became employed in a more wholesome profession; through a high school program, he got a job at a mortuary.

“It was a very fucked-up line of work,” Davis says. “I did it ’cause I really like dark, sick shit. It sounded interesting to cut up dead bodies.” He was in­terested, but not entirely prepared for the experience. “The first day … I was terrified. I went back to school and I was ghost white. I had just faced my mortality. The first guy I cut open was in a motor vehicle accident. The guy was smashed the fuck up. I’ll never forget the sound of the scalpel opening up his flesh. It still rings in my ears to this day.”

But despite finding success, or at least stability, as a coroner, Davis re­tained his passion for music. He formed the band SexArt, which gained the attention of two Bakersfield guitar players, James “Munky” Shaffer and Bryan “Head” Welch. Impressed by Davis’ stage presence and voice, Shaffer and Welch asked him to join their band. Loyal to his SexArt cronies, Davis con­sulted a higher power of sorts. “My aunt’s a psychic and astrologer. She told me all of this stuff was going to happen. It definitely impacted my decision to join the band,” Davis explains.

Welch and Shaffer were experimenting with new dissonant and down-tuned guitar styles. Davis started mining painful childhood memories for lyrics. Korn and the genre of Nu Metal was born. The music was gnarled and aggressive, the vision was dark and personal. Their self-titled debut album was some­thing increasingly rare in popular music: a truly original sound. The lifestyle the band’s success afforded them, while epic and dangerous, was stolen whole­sale from classic rock icons. “When I first started, I would watch that Doors movie. I wanted to be Jim Morrison, you know? I tried to be as fucked up as I could possibly be, all the time,” Davis explains.

By 1998, Korn had attained a new level of popularity. They headlined their first Family Values tour. Their album Follow the Leader debuted at number one on the Billboard chart. But the years of partying and touring had taken their toll on Davis, and he hit rock bottom in front of the worst possible audi­ence. “[My son] Nathan saw me fucked up, and two days later my grandfather passed away. That’s when I got sober. Two drastic, traumatic things in my life happened back to back,” Davis says. “I flew into Atlanta for a show. I sat down at the bar. I said it was my last Jack and Coke and my last cigarette. They all laughed at me, but I haven’t touched them since.”

Getting sober changed his life, but it didn’t make it perfect. In 2003, Welch left the band to become a born-again Christian. In his 2007 book, Save Me From Myself, Welch renounced his wanton rocker ways. Surprisingly, Davis has read it: “It could have been a lot worse. There are a couple of things in there he didn’t need to say, but he did.” But, Davis adds, while most of Welch’s accounts of rock star debauchery were essentially true, some aspects were sensationalized. “He never partied a lot like he said in the book. He never had chicks. That was never his style.”

Davis says Welch is now living in a Christian community in Arizona that main­tains a cult-like hold over the former Korn guitarist, and he also believes they prevent Welch from communicating with his former band mates. But despite the apparent rift, Davis wishes him luck. “I’m glad he found something to get him sober and make him happy. And the whole God thing, if he needs that, it’s fine. People need God and all that stuff to do something positive in their life. In my opinion he traded one addiction for another. But at least it’s a positive one.”

Welch’s departure didn’t stop Korn, but while on tour in Europe in 2005, Davis had a health scare that almost did. After noticing a series of mysterious bruises on his body, he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura, or ITP. His blood couldn’t coagulate, which posed a unique occupational hazard for a heavy metal singer; head banging became potentially lethal. The six-month steroid cure was as painful as the disease. “Steroids make you just go crazy in your head. You’re aggressive and your body aches when you’re coming off of them. You can’t sleep. And when they start weaning you off of them, your joints ache. It really fucks with you,” Davis says. Now completely recovered, Davis is excited to work on his solo projects and more music with Korn. But even more than that, he’s glad to spend time with his kids. “I’m not saying I’m some boring dude. I’m just an artist that’s a really good father. That’s rare. People trip out on that.”
Read more!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Steve-O Interview

Professional Jackass
Steve-O talks about taking his act on the road, thinning the herd, and how his finances are his own damn business
Hartford Advocate September 23, 2004

Somebody might have thought to staple their own genitals before Steve-O, but no one made a career out of it. As a cast member of MTV's seminal shock-reality show Jackass, Steve-O's innovative approach to self-mutilation -- like stapling his testicles to his leg or getting a tattoo while off-roading in a Humvee -- made America laugh, cry and cringe. His stunt nature show Wildboyz is in its second season.

A: What can we expect from your live show?

SO: Expect a horrifying display of alcoholism and self-mutilation. We get really drunk and hurt ourselves. We have a set list comprised of acts that censors won't let us do on TV. I'm not going to give away the whole show, but there's blood everywhere, there's vomit, a bunch of urine and broken glass. And also a bunch of testicular trauma. If people want to get kicked in the balls I can pretty much work that out.

A: Is there going to be another season of Wildboyz?

SO: Yeah.

A. How did you guys come up with the idea for the show?
SO: When we were doing Jackass we got tangled up in a lot of wildlife. I don't know. I guess we just wanted to travel the world. And we had Pontius (Chris Pontius, Steve-O's co-host on Wildboyz. He's also "party boy" fromvJackass). He has his homosexual influence and he's a nature freak.

A: Is Pontius gay?

SO: Is Pontius gay? No. but we both think it's funny to act gay.

A: Have you guys ever made out?

SO: We never made out. I mean, for the benefit of paparazzi one time we kissed each other. We only do stuff when there's a camera around. We're only gay on camera.

A: Do you watch real nature shows?
SO: I've never been a fan of nature shows. I mean, maybe a good Predators and Prey. I think everybody likes to watch one animal eat another animal. I did get my personal morals and values from watching nature programming. There ain't no monogamy in the wild, pal. Survival of the fittest. Go after the weakest of the herd. That's our motto. We slay the weakest individuals in the herd.

A: Aside from Pontius, are you still in touch with the other guys from Jackass?

SO: Oh, yeah. If we're all in the same city it's trouble. We all go out and party together. I saw [Johnny] Knoxville a couple of weeks ago at the Video Music Awards. We hung out and did a lot of drugs.

A: What kind of drugs do you like to do?
SO: I'm basically a big pothead. But I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

A: Especially if the gift horse has a bunch of cocaine.
SO: (Laughs) Yeah.

A: What's the dumbest thing you've done this week?
SO: Maybe I used a rubber or two. The dumbest thing I did was mess around with latex. I don't know. I had a family reunion the other day in Canada. Going to that was pretty dumb. I might as well have dressed up as the devil and walked into a church. Let's just say that my extended family isn't terribly proud of me.

A: I heard that you were the only Jackass cast member not to take a percentage of the movie's profits.
SO: That's not true.

A: OK. So what's your money situation like in general?
SO: I'm one lawsuit or injury from being in debt for the rest of my life (laughs). Hey, how unprofessional do you have to be to ask your interview subject about how much money they have? That's actually totally rude. How much money do you make, pal?

A: Oh, I make --
SO: -- I don't want to know. I'm not that rude.

A: What's life like for Steve-O these days?

SO: I'm enjoying myself. Touring really kind of wears you down. Probably the hardest thing is dealing with people all day long. When you got thousands of people coming to see you every night, you just start to hate people. Being onstage isn't bad, but everyone wants to engage you in some conversation you're not interested in whatsoever.

A: Do you kind of want to be left alone?
SO: Kind of. But then I think about the day when no one gives a crap anymore and that's even more depressing.

A: How long do you think you can keep being Steve-O?
SO: I think forever. I don't know if people are going to remain interested in watching me hurt myself for the rest of my life. I'll always be a big ham for attention.

A: Some of the stuff you do must take a physical toll on your body.
SO: I pick my battles fairly carefully. I'm not really interested in becoming paralyzed. I've never permanently injured myself. When I snorted that wasabi, whatever nerves I had in my nose were all so long gone from the cocaine that I didn't care.

A: You were on an episode of the show Blind Date and you poured lemon juice in your eyes. Would you recommend that guys squeeze lemon juice in their eyes when they've run out of stuff to say on a date?
SO: Yeah, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't squeeze lemon juice in your eyes for a date, if you get laid -- Oh God, I'm so hung over right now it hurts. And if you thought I was wasted last night wait until you see me tonight. I am gonna get trashed.

A: Do you get drunk every night?
SO: Pretty much every night, yeah. Recently I had a night where I couldn't deal with it and I didn't get drunk. But that was so creepy. I felt like I was possessed. Everything about not drinking that one night was really weird.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

NYC Libertarian Convention

I don't usually preface the articles I put up here, but I want to qualify this one a little. It was the first cover story I wrote for a publication. I was kind of green as a journalist at the time, and I think it shows in some parts of the article. I still like it a lot, but there are things I could have done differently.

Drugs, Guns & Smokes for the Libertarians.
By Adam Bulger
New York Press, 2004

"Excuse me, do you mind if I ask what you’re talking about?"
The voice belongs to Neil Saunders, a British performance artist with shoulder-length blond hair who is sitting alone at a nearby table, eating a salad. He’s politely interrupting my interview with Jim Lesczynski, the newly elected chairman of the Manhattan Libertarian Party.

Jim gives him a business card-size explanation of Libertarian philosophy and answers some simple questions. Saunders nods and returns to his table. It was a strange encounter: a pudgy middle-class man with a precision-cut beard giving a scraggly bohemian lessons in freedom.

Unlike Neil, most people have at least a cursory knowledge of the tenets of Libertarianism, especially those attending today’s Manhattan Libertarian Party Convention. The concept is basic and seductive when explained in broad strokes: less government, more personal choice. It’s a simple mantra that attracts, repels and splits people on every frequency along the political spectrum. Free marketers want government out of their business dealings and paychecks, but might not approve of gay marriage; marijuana decriminalization activists like the Libertarian drug stance, but probably don’t support relaxing gun laws. And the "right-wing" Libertarian position on abortion? As one Libertarian told me, "We’re pro-choice on everything."

With such a philosophy, you might expect a Libertarian convention to look like Beyond Thunderdome’s Bartertown. Or, at the very least, like the interrupting Neil Saunders. But aside from one tragically comic mullet (sparse spikes on top, ponytail in the back), Manhattan’s Libertarians are white, middle-aged, professional males. There’s one Asian man in attendance and, among the handful of women, one is the spitting image of Onion columnist Jean Teasdale. I can’t take my eyes off her.

The convention was held on a bitterly cold January afternoon at the 10/50 Restaurant on the first floor of the Skyline, a Midtown hotel whose concrete box exterior would fit nicely alongside an interstate outside Tulsa. Inside, the 10/50 has the ambiance of a country club bar or a cruise ship. Before the convention, 10/50 had recently hosted a few retirement parties and a christening. For today, a podium has been set up across from the door, behind which hangs a banner featuring the Statue of Liberty. The walls are lined with poster-sized enlargements of Libertarian press clippings.

I arrived during elections for state committeeman—the person who will represent Manhattan at the statewide meetings. Thomas Robert Stevens, an adjunct lecturer at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, is campaigning for votes, expressing his passion for Libertarian politics and describing his ethics lectures, during which he instructs, "Individual freedom is something that is desirable instead of government-supported morality." He would later win the vote.

Earlier, Joseph Dobrian had been elected media relations director. Dobrian is wearing a navy blue three-piece suit and a starched white shirt. His pale complexion and slicked-back hair smacks of a young Dan Akroyd reinvented as a Midwestern funeral home director. A native of the Midwest who moved to Manhattan in 1983, Dobrian has been active in the Manhattan Libertarian Party since 2001, though he has been "a Libertarian at heart for some time."

I ask if New York is a good place for the Libertarian party.

"It’s as good a place as any," he replies. "In large cities, you’re gonna get a lot of people who depend on government services, and that’s why they live in big cities. Traditionally, Libertarians tend to do their best recruiting in small towns, rural areas, in states where there are fewer government services and more personal freedom."

His Midwestern roots show when asked if the Manhattan Libertarians support the legalization of marijuana.

"Darn right we do!"

And crystal meth?

"You bet! I think it should be just as easy to get a fix at Duane Reade as it is to buy a tube of toothpaste."

I thank him for his time, turn the tape recorder off and ask him if he knows where the bathroom is. Turns out, he’s on his way there himself; I should follow him. (Not too close, though, ha ha.)

At the urinal, Dobrian spots an advertisement for a website selling cigars. He finds it ironic that such an ad would be placed in a restaurant/lounge where it’s illegal to smoke.

"This whole smoking ban," he observes, "is Bloomberg’s way of keeping the niggers down."

I look over at him, wide-eyed, as I wash my hands at the sink. This is the organization’s media rep talking. To a journalist.

"I mean that metaphorically—it’s about keeping the riff raff down," he adds.

Oh, I think. Thanks for clearing that up.

Jim Lesczynski is recognizable from his many tv news appearances. For the past few years, he had been the party’s media relations director and the public face of the Manhattan Libertarian Party. During his stint he promoted several high-profile, yippie-like publicity stunts designed to publicize the Libertarian philosophy in New York. The one that received the most attention was the "Guns for Tots" charity drive.

"As you may know, the NYC council introduced a bill last year to make all toy guns illegal," Lesczynski tells me. "We wanted to make a mockery of this, so we sent out a press release saying we’re going to collect toy guns and give them to poor children in Harlem. The press went out of their mind, obviously."

The reporters and cameramen weren’t alone.

"It got so much advance press, we had a whole counter-protest," he boasts. "A lot of activists were coming from outside that neighborhood just like we were; it was a big street theater scene."

Other media stunts followed. Outraged over the cost of cigarettes in New York, Lesczynski staged a cigarette giveaway in Bryant Park. "We had, like, 400 people show up. There ended up being a scuffle among the people there for the free cigarettes."

A more recent event took a turn for the bizarre. In response to the proposed construction of a Jets stadium on the West Side, the Libertarians hired a witch to cast a bad luck spell over any team that played on the grounds. Even though the woman was not a real witch and the hex was pointless—and redundant, as the Jets already have bad luck to spare—Lesczynski relishes the coverage. "We got a write-up in some of the community weeklies and stuff."

At today’s convention, Lesczynski is elevated to chairman of the Manhattan Libertarian Party, and he’s bubbling with enthusiasm.

"My goal is to give Gifford Miller and Mike Bloomberg ulcers," he declares. "I want them to be like Dean Wormer when the Animal House float is coming down the street in the parade and he says, ‘I hate those guys.’"

He predicts success as a political nuisance, though less at the ballot box. Their most recent three Libertarian candidates for city council posted in the single digits.

"We’re gonna run candidates, but we run candidates because it’s a free microphone," he says. "And at this point, it’s about getting the word out to people: Freedom is good, government is bad, we have way too much government in this city. We have too much government in this country and New York City is off the Richter scale."

Later that afternoon, Lesczynski takes to the lectern to introduce the guest speakers, starting with Bernard Goetz. In his introduction, Lesczynski mentions Goetz’s subway shooting and subsequent trial, noting that the "only thing Bernie was ever convicted of was exercising his rights as an American." (Goetz was sentenced to nine months at Rikers for two misdemeanor possession-of-firearms charges.)

Bernard Goetz never stops moving. He has a rare metabolism, as if his body holds an organ that naturally generates methamphetamine. When speaking, his ideas come in frenetic blasts; he uses the same words over and over, making the same points, shifting the phrasing only slightly.

After apologizing in advance for rambling, he gets to the topic for the night: jury rights. But first, he wants to say a few words about "media manipulation." The media he had in mind was New York Press—which he called the "worst form of yellow journalism."

A week earlier, I had promoted the Libertarian Convention in these pages. Goetz reads the modest item to the audience, granting some gravity to the part where I jokingly—and, yes, erroneously—referred to him as "former subway killer turned insane vegetarian."

"I didn’t kill anybody," Goetz emphasizes, eyes darting around the crowd. "And I don’t think I’m insane."

(Mea culpa, Bernie. Indeed, you are no subway killer, but a subway shooter. I hereby offer a rewrite: "Former attempted subway killer with bad aim turned questionably insane vegetarian, Bernie Goetz...")

The bulk of Goetz’s presentation concerns jury rights, but the scattered presentation makes it hard to grasp, much less locate, his thesis. Jury members, he says, are encouraged to vote with the law whenever their conscience is in conflict with it. He sees this as a rank injustice.

An audience member suggests that people lie to get on a jury and then later vote their conscience. "That’s what I’m saying," he replies emphatically. He believes that serving on juries is the easiest way to impact society. "If I were on a jury for drug sales, I’d vote not guilty," he says—to loud, resounding applause.

This is not only a noble act, Goetz claims, but a safe one. It’s not likely that the state would go through the expense of prosecuting someone simply for withholding information.

An audience member brings up the case of Colorado woman Laura Kriho, who had deadlocked a jury presiding over a drug case; it was later discovered that she has a prior LSD conviction and a history as a hemp legalization activist. She was then taken to court. Goetz, unfamiliar with the case, views her as an anomaly that didn’t impact his argument.

If legal precedence couldn’t hinder Goetz’s argument, technical difficulties could. When the room’s air vents threatened to drown him out, he opted to talk over them, noting that the sound was "not as bad as a subway train." (Unfortunately, he did not go on to say, "On a subway train, I can barely hear myself think over the sound of my own gunfire," or "Thanks, I’ll be here all week.")

Goetz ended his talk with a short discussion about his proposed 2005 mayoral run, reminding everyone that he ran as an independent in 2001.

Next was David Kaczynski, Ted Kaczynski’s brother. The Unabomber’s brother. The younger Kaczynski was thrust into the national media spotlight in 1996 when he squealed on his brother to the FBI. A practicing Buddhist, he speaks in soft, lulling tones that match his earth-toned sweater. Tonight, he gives a well-rehearsed speech about Ted, his own interactions with law enforcement officials and his thoughts on the death penalty. As the executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, he’s no slouch on the subject.

Kaczynski’s not a Libertarian, but he knows how to slant his schtick for the crowd. He begins by asking, "If we don’t trust [the state] to deliver the mail, we trust them with the decision of who should live or die?" Nods of agreement all around. He then segues into his life story and thoughts on capital punishment.

The cash bar had been open for a while, and its effects were apparent in the unruliness that met Goetz’s speech. But something about Kaczynski’s demeanor lulled the crowd.

The restlessness re-emerges when Tim Bailey, a representative of the NYC Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, speaks about the Patriot Act. Like Goetz, Bailey’s presentation is jumbled and full of false starts; unlike Goetz, he lacks the charisma and tabloid cred. When a long stretch of stuttering and dead air is capped off by Bailey’s inability to remember the name of the judicial branch of the federal government, the audience turns on him, volleying a series of hostile and often nonsensical questions. Joseph Dobrian shouts a request for the crowd to settle down. Amidst the crowd’s indifference and microphone feedback, Bailey ambles to a painful finish.

The evening is capped off with a speech from keynote speaker, Saying Yes author and Reason magazine’s senior editor Jacob Sollum. His speech concerns what he termed "voodoo pharmacology," or "the idea that drugs control people and force them to do evil."

This, he says, is "one of the central premises of the war on drugs."

I couldn’t agree with him more, but I’d also spent more than five hours at the 10/50. I bailed on Sollum’s talk. I bailed on the free steak. There’s only so long one can sit in a restaurant packed with Libertarians preaching about freedom. digg NewsVine
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tom Morello Interview

Rebel Music
Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello on rock 'n' roll, politics and kicking ass
Adam Bulger
Hartford Advocate October 27, 2005

Tom Morello has brought avant hip-hop punk metal guitar style to two of the mightiest bands of the last 20 years, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. While Audioslave -- composed of the instrumentalists from Rage, and former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell -- are less political lyrically than Rage, they still rock truth to power.

Advocate: How did Audioslave get together?

TM: When Zack [de la Rocha, former lead vocalist] left Rage Against the Machine, Tim [Commorford, bass] and Brad [Wilk, drums] and I spent a lot of time at [legendary producer] Rick Rubin's house, scheming about what we were going to do. The name that Rick brought up, again and again, was Chris Cornell. Actually, the fellows in Rage had all been huge fans of Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger particularly. So we called Chris and asked if he was interested in meeting.

I told him I wanted the next band I'm in to be the best band I've ever been in. I didn't want to do a project, a one-time, super group collaboration or anything. We want this to be the real thing. If you're up for that, jam. He was up for that. We got together and in the first 19 rehearsals, we wrote 21 songs.

A: I read that Chris Cornell opposed Audioslave being as political as Rage.

TM: That's misstated. Chris was not interested in being the singer of Rage Against the Machine. Which we did not want him to be. Chris had a long history of writing lyrics before he became acquainted with us. We've always been a fan of his lyrical work as well as his great voice. My twin passions are political activism and rock 'n' roll music. They intersect in various ways. And with Audioslave, while the band may be lyrically less political, we do things like go to Cuba, go to Live 8, play for hurricane relief. A portion of every ticket from this tour goes to various charities and activist organizations. We may do less talking the talk, but we do a lot more walking the walk.

A: Are you guys still playing Rage and Soundgarden songs at your shows?

TM: Very much so. We're going deeper into the catalogs of both Rage and Soundgarden. It's really exciting for us to play them and the room just explodes. When we decided to look at the material from our past bands, we didn't just decide to do it -- it had to sound great. Chris really owns those songs that we've chosen to do. It's not the least bit strange. It's just awesome. Every night when we make up a set list, we're able to draw from 11 multi-platinum albums. Very few bands can do that.

Chris also does a really cool acoustic set that he does all by himself. It changes pretty dramatically every night. It's some Audioslave songs, some Soundgarden songs, even some Temple of the Dog songs.

A: Audioslave played in Cuba in May. How was that?

TM: It was unbelievable. It was an incredible honor to be the first American rock band to play in Cuba. The performance, to 60,000 to 70,000 fans on a beautiful Havana night, it wasn't something we'll soon forget. We had wanted to do it for some time. Even back in the Rage days we had talked about it, but we hadn't been able to get it together. As you probably know, there's an embargo against Cuba. U.S. citizens can't travel there, let alone bring a rock band with a PA system and all that. It took a lot of perseverance. Finally, the U.S. Treasury Department and Castro himself had to sign off on it. It was billed as a cultural exchange. Before the concert, we were treated to seeing some amazing experiences. We saw Cuban artists, amazing musicians just jamming on the street. We went to this free music school that used to be an elitist country club before the revolution where there were these jaw-dropping jazz musicians. It really humbled us and made us want to give our all when we played.

A: Could you describe Axis of Justice and tell me what you've been doing lately?

TM: Sure. Axis of Justice is a non-profit, political organization founded by me and Serj Tankian, the lead singer of System of a Down. It does a number of things, from education to agitation. We're trying to answer the question that fans have been asking us for years, which is 'How can I get involved?' If you go, no matter where you live in the country, you can find Axis of Justice-endorsed local grassroots organizations that are fighting the power today.

It's easy to look at problems that confront communities and the country as big monolithic things that you have no chance of overturning. But the way progressive change always happens is when average, ordinary people stand up for their rights where they live, where they work, where they go to school. That's our motto: think globally, act locally.

A: I'm guessing you were disappointed with the results of the 2004 election.

TM: I was disappointed with the result, but not surprised. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I didn't hold out a great deal of hope that either of the millionaire candidates could take the country in a direction that would necessarily be agreeable. I was supportive of third-party candidates, but worked for the defeat of Bush. As I'm sure a lot of Americans now wish they had.

A: Right now, people seem mad at Bush and Republicans in general, but there's a perception that the Left is too fractured to be effective.

TM: I think that's an accurate perception. Even during the election there was little support for the Democratic candidate, but a tremendous amount of anger towards Bush. There was little alternative presented aside from "this guy is not Bush." And that's not exactly the most rousing rallying cry.

But that's not the way things change. If you're going to sit around and wait for the president or the government to come along and make your life or your country better, you're going to be waiting a long time, no matter who's in office. Democratic administrations have taken us into immoral wars as well. The way that things change is people standing up for their rights no matter where they are, not waiting for the president or the Supreme Court or whoever to wave a magic wand.

A: Do you mind when people call Audioslave and [Guns n' Roses/Stone Temple Pilots amalgam] Velvet Revolver super groups?

TM: I love those dudes in Velvet Revolver. Those guys were very frustrated by the situation. They just wanted to play music and couldn't with the guy from their previous band. So they brought in another guy who would show up. I think they were able to help him, too.

A: Who would win in a fight, Audioslave or Velvet Revolver?

TM: [Audioslave bassist] Tim [Commerford] alone could not only take Velvet Revolver but the entire staff of your paper.

A: We'll see about that. Were you really on Star Trek?

TM: More than once. I'm a super fan of Star Trek, and it just so happens that the executive producer's son happens to be a super fan of my band. That helped to build a bridge. I was on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager and then I was in one of the Next Generation movies.

A: Any word on Zack de la Rocha?

TM: No, you know about as much as I do. The five-year anniversary of Zack's departure from Rage was yesterday. He left to do a solo career.

A: Which seemed to have never happened.

TM: Like I said, you know about as much about it as I do.
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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Don Rickles Interview

The King Of Zing
A nearly lethal conversation with Don Rickles
Hartford Advocate, Dec. 28, 2007

Don Rickles has been Don Rickles for a long time. He was a satellite member of the Rat Pack and a personal friend of Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson and Bob Newhart. His act is a stream of harsh, hilarious observational humor about members of the audience. The man has 60 years worth of awesome one-liners in his front pocket.

In our phone conversation, I felt like I was at a Don Rickles show and the only person in the audience. I lost control of the interview early and often.

The 81-year-old comedy veteran is on something of a career roll at the moment. His autobiography Rickles: The Book was released to success and acclaim in the spring of 2007. Mr. Warmth, a documentary about Rickles directed by John Landis, the director of comedy classics Animal House and Trading Places, was broadcast on HBO in December, also to glowing reviews.

As the documentary illustrates, Rickles is beloved, both as a cultural figure and as a man. Offstage, he's sentimental, kind and shockingly loyal to the people close to him (for example, his publicist, whom I dealt with, is the son of his former publicist). A coterie of disparate celebrities and friends ranging from comedians like Joan Rivers and Chris Rock to directors Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese praise Rickles personally and professionally in Mr Warmth.

Don Rickles: Sorry to keep you waiting. I had my phone on "do not disturb." That should tell you how important this call is to me.

Advocate: Well, I uhh —

R: — I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

A: That's what you do, right? At least I know I got the right guy. I saw the documentary Mr. Warmth over the weekend. How do you think that ended up?

R: I thought it was great. I never had such great reviews in my career. I've had good reviews, but these were, on the majority, outstanding. Really outstanding.

A: All these people in the movie were filmed basically heaping praise on you. That must have been pretty gratifying.

R: Well, sure It was better than saying I was a son of a bitch and that they don't like this guy. Who would want that? If I said "Adam, I'm not crazy about you," would you let that in the paper? They're all friends and people that wanted to do it. I was very pleased that they came out and said such nice things about me.

A: People think of you as a hard-hitting performer. You're the most famous insult comedian in the world. They call you Mr. Warmth, which is supposed to be ironic, but it kind of seems like you're really a warm guy, and you're well-liked.

R: Well thank you. You know, it's a persona you take on. You take on this image and you're this raving guy. I got stuck with the word insult. And I tell anybody who's speaking with me that I don't like the word. Insult means someone who is mean, and I've never been mean or mean spirited.
But as for being an insult comic, well, that's the title I was given. What I do is exaggeration. I make fun of people, at life, of myself and my surroundings. I don't really tell a joke, I react to situations. The whole thing is just looking at somebody and showing all our weaknesses and exaggerat[ing] them, and that's how it becomes funny.

A: How did the movie come about? Did John Landis contact you?

R: Well, my son, Larry, — he's a terrific kid and a great producer -- said "Dad, it's about time." I had never had my act filmed before in my entire career. John Landis is a good friend. I met him when I did Kelly's Heroes. Landis, who, as you know, went on to be a very successful director, was an assistant director on that picture. He got wind of the documentary project and said, "Gee, Don, I'd love to be part of this."

A: Did you find the filming to be intrusive or unpleasant?

R: No, not really. They hit all the high points of my life, which was what I wanted, you know.

A: Have you noticed your influence on other comedians?

R: There are a couple of women and men who people say are performing in my style. If they're successful, I say more power to them. But my style is my personality. It's always been that way. Being a wiseguy and having fun. It's always been [that] way for me, when I was in high school, and in the Navy. It's not something I rehearse.
Everything I do on stage, I made up in saloons and stuff. I started doing it in front of people, and that became my performance. I never had writers — except for television shows — I've never had guys sit me down and say this is what you've got to do. It's my personality that makes me one of a kind, and I believe that.

A: You say you're not really a joke teller.

R: No, I'm not. I gather from your interview that you've never seen me.

A: No, I haven't seen you perform live yet. I'm looking forward to seeing you when you play in January.
R: Well, when you do see me, you'll get the idea from when you see me that it's all off the top of my head. A lot of it is a beginning, middle and the end. But it's different every night. I have a lot of jokes in my back pocket I've said over the years.

A: In the documentary, someone says they used to round up people you could make fun of before your shows and put them in the front row.

R: That was years and years ago when I worked out of the lounge of the Sahara hotel, following the great Louis Prima. I used to do three shows a night in front of a lot of people who were out of it, you know. It was tough going. This guy, Johnny Joseph, who just passed away, he was the MaƮtre d' at the Sahara.
He used to say "Hey, I got a skinny guy, I got a fat lady that's not too pretty," and they'd put them right in the front. That no longer exists. That was in the old days when you didn't have anyone, and you needed some props.

A: The legend about you meeting Frank Sinatra is that he wandered into a bar while you were performing.

R: He wasn't wandering. He wasn't out in the desert with Moses. Well the story is his mother was friends with my mother — it's in my book. Did you read my book?

A: I skimmed through it.
R: Don't skim through it. For crying out loud. How old are you? You better go to your goddamn room, put the covers over your head and read the book.
Jeez, I'm embarrassed. You're interviewing me like a personal friend and you haven't even read the goddamned book.

A: Shit, man. Come on.

R: Yeah, shit man. You better start reading it when I hang up. When I meet you in person, I'm going to quiz you and if you fail, you're in deep trouble. The book will tell you a bunch of stuff, so that you won't have to go back to your notes while you're talkin' to me.

A: OK, OK. Well, let's get back to Frank Sinatra —

R: — Well, his mother and my mother arranged it so that he would come in and see my show. It was the first time I had ever laid eyes on the man. I said "Frank, make yourself at home and hit somebody." All the wise guys who were with him laughed, and Frank was on the floor laughing. We became great friends after that. We toured for the last two years of his life.

A: That's when you performed in front of the Reagans, right?

R: Oh, yeah. That was the highlight of my career. Here I am a Jewish kid from the neighborhood, doing my kind of humor. All of a sudden, Frank Sinatra said you're going to be on the show. Reagan's cabinet said that was fine, and I got up there and ripped into him big time.

A: And you also performed for the Queen of England around that time, right?

R: No, I performed in front of Princess Margaret. The Queen of England was bombed in the Palace and couldn't make it.

A: Really?

R: No, it's a joke, you dumbbell! Yeah, the Queen was drunk. Oh, boy Adam, I got to meet you in person. I've got to slap you around a little. You probably don't even know what time it is.

A: You're on the West Coast, right? All right, well, I'm anticipating that you're gonna yell at me for this next question, but why exactly do you call people hockey pucks?

R: Adam, I swear to God, I have no idea. It started out in the early days of my career when I was right out of the service. I worked what were called strip tease joints — a girl came out pretty much dressed compared to today's standards — and did a little dance number. We had all kinds of goofballs in these joints, and I said, "Hey pal, don't be a hockey puck." That's all I can remember. I got hockey pucks up to my you know what.

A: Do people send them to you?

R: No, they come over and play hockey at my house. You, you. You're really starting to get to me, Adam.

A: I'm sorry, Mr. Rickles.

R: I'm kidding, I'm kidding.
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