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Actor / Entertainer - LiveI just interviewed 16 of the world's greatest interviewers. Ask me anything.

Aug 11th 2017 by JesseThorn • 19 Questions • 5758 Points

After my brothers girlfriends bus got hung up while trying to find Schenectady and presumably needed to be towed to get free, I realized just about everyone who's ridden Greyhound has had a shit experience on Greyhound. I'd love to shed some light to anyone who's curious about some behind the scenes stuff or what being a motorcoach operator for the nations largest carrier is like.

My proof: 22 yr old me deadheading back up the Atlantic City Expressway, taken by my friend who I invited to ride with me that day https://imgur.com/gallery/hxZ8s

Q:

When you're interviewing, how much of your mental bandwidth is taken up with your own agenda as a broadcaster versus the simple pleasure of a conversation?

A:

Tell me about this "black dog". Is it some urban tale?


Q:

What an interesting question. I think in my case, I'm always about 20-30% on the logistics: what I've got to cover, how it's going, if I need to pivot somewhere else, what I'm going to ask next. The rest is just enjoying the company of my guest. Like yesterday I interviewed Louie Anderson, and it was easy as pie. I just asked him what I was curious about and listened to him be the hilarious genius talker he is.

The tricky bit for me I think is that I get migraine headaches pretty chronically, so often - say 1/3 of the time - I'm either in pain or on medication when I'm doing the interview. That makes it a lot tougher to double-track my brain. But I manage.

A:

There's a movie with Patrick Swayze, Meat Loaf, Randy Travis, and Gabriel Casseus where Patrick Swayze is a truck driver. He talks about the black dog you see after you've been on the road for too long and start getting too tired. It'll come out of nowhere in the middle of the night and dart out at you, and you'll think it's real and try to avoid it. I thought it was just some made up movie plot til the first time I saw it when I was really tired on an overnight. Not necessarily a dog, but any hallucination of something darting out in front of the bus. Happened quite a few times, very scary


Q:

Hey Jesse!

I've been loving the Turnaround this summer, but I have so many episodes that are still in my queue. Why the choice to release 2x per week rather than stretching them out over a longer stretch of time?

(Great job on these by the way...they're fantastic, and you've proven yourself to be among the ranks of every interviewer you've interviewed)

A:

Ooooooh that black dog. Yeah I can definitely tell you that's real. To give my tale some context, I'm a push over when it comes to sleep deprivation (Lasted a month in a grave yard software support job) and my girlfriend and I love going on road trips within our island home, Cebu, using only a Honda Wave 110CC motorcycle. Long story short, we had to cut off an overnight trip because of some complications with our accommodations in a certain place down south so we went home at night nearly at about 9PM. I know 9PM is very early for people but for me, it's already time to hit the sack. My eyes got heavy after an hour of driving but we were already near the major city and I decided to book it. Unfortunately for me, my sleepiness got the best of me and I managed to doze off for about a split second but thank goodness I still had the consciousness to remember that I was driving and managed to open my eyes. Upon opening them, I thought I saw an animal so my heart jumped but I never thought of swerving because that'd be the end of us, if we did.

TL;DR Saw the black dog in one of our road trips.


Q:

We just wanted to make it feel like a cool event that was only happening this summer. I actually think that we achieved that feeling - the audience was much larger than we anticipated, and the feedback's been awesome. Also, ultimately this is a limited project, we're really trying to provide an archive more than a continuing show, so we wanted to get the stuff out there.

A:

That's exactly the reaction I would have. Makes you jump.


Q:

Mr Thorn, I have been a fan of you since 2009 and I have a profound respect for you.

Once or twice a year, you spend a weekend with fans of your network at very fun conventions.

Is this an event you look forward to? Or do you dread it as a very stressful time?

A:

When you get to your destination, do you get to just hang out in that city for a while or do you get right back on the bus and go on your next drive?


Q:

Both! It is completely exhausting and sometimes I go and hide in my room, thanks to my weird combo-extrovert-introvert personality, but every year it's totally amazing. It's harder if I have a show or something like that.

A:

It all depends, no 2 days are ever the same unless you have enough seniority to bid a regular run. Sometimes it's load up right away to either go back or to somewhere else, some days you have to wait around for a few hours to find out what you're doing next, some days you know what you're doing next and have some free time to kill and can walk around cuz you don't need to be at the yard or terminal for them to tell you what you're doing next, some days they put you to bed and you can kinda enjoy an hour or two out waking around, and sometimes they leave you up there for days and kinda forget you exist. It also depends on the city. Philly, Harrisburg, Montreal, you're right there in the heart of town so it's easy to go walking around. Atlantic City 9 times out to 10 you have to park at the yard in Pleasantville which is 20 mins outside the city and the only thing worth walking to is Wawa. If they put us to bed in AC it was a mile to the nearest bar (and believe me, we'd walk it!). Cleveland is walking distance to downtown and the dorm is at the terminal, so I got to explore there. Boston we would stay in Dorchester and we couldn't really go into town to hang out because if they call you to report in, you only get an hour and if you're in town you're not gonna make it from downtown back to the hotel and then back to the yard in time. Montreal was the place I consistently got the most free time to really enjoy the area.

TL;dr: getting to hang out and walk around town happens less often than not, except for in Montreal


Q:

Is there any chance for a season 2? I think Charlie Rose could be your finale.

A:

What do you mean by put you to bed?


Q:

If we did season two, it'd be with all the people who said no to season one, so it'd be a ton more work, and I already spent too much money on this thing :).

A:

Going to bed means going to either the hotel or the dorm (Richmond VA, Cleveland OH, NYC, and some others have forms at the terminal or close by, other cities they use a hotel) to get a minimum of 9 hours off duty before they call you back in. Sometimes they call you exactly 9 hours from when you pulled in, sometimes you'll be sitting there for days. That's when it really sucks because you'll go to sleep, wake up and stay up all day, then finally when you're nice and tired and ready to go back to sleep, they're like hey come in and do this 8 hour overnight run. You can look at the board for that city online and try to guess when they're going to call you, but often times something comes up that messes up what time you think they're gonna call you. Often times I'd keep myself cooped up in the hotel room trying to match my sleep to what I was reading on the board so I'd be ready to work a 15 hour day, but you can only force yourself to sleep so much. That's when the job starts getting depressing and messing with your head.


Q:

Would you do an interview for me? I'm interviewing interviewers who interview interviewers.

A:

So they only require you to be off duty for 9 hours between shifts? They don't require that you get some sleep in that time? And they expected you to be ready to go within an hour when there's the possibility that you'd been up all day waiting and would be driving when you normally should be sleeping? Doesn't sound very safe.


Q:

I did this with Woody Battaglia, a nice comic from New York state, and he's publishing it later today on his podcast which is (believe it or not) a minute-by-minute breakdown of My Dinner With Andre. And my former colleague Thomas Matysik is a freelance journalist now and did a great interview with me, though you'd have to ask him where it'll end up.

A:

Yup. When in the hotel or dorm, it's 9 hours + 1 hr to report. At your home terminal is 9 hours + 2 hours to report, except NYC which gets 3 hours to report. And no, they can only mandate you be off duty, they can't mandate that you sleep during that time off. They urge you to sleep, but we've all got things that need to get done sometimes during our time off. And then yeah, the varying schedule means your bodies internal clock is all fucked up. One day I could get a 3pm report, the next day a 5am report, be in the hotel for the next 36 hours playing blues clues with the board, then get 2 days of 9pm report, and I may not have even gone home at all in that time. There's a reason most of Greyhounds severe accidents are fatigue related. You can of course always call out sick or fatigued and they'll book you off for another 12 hours or so, but you can only do it so much before it starts causing problems with management.

Edit: the craziest part of all this, Greyhound is actually one of the best in terms of time off between jobs. The federal minimum is 8 hours and most charter companies, in my experience, go by the bare minimum. For me it's just a matter of learning when to say no


Q:

Hi Jesse,

First I want to say how much I love what you do. From PTO to all the shows at MaxFun you are consistently the impetus for some of my favorite things.

Now for my question: Have you ever done an interview where you were physically uncomfortable or scared because of who you were interviewing?

P.S. If you do ever get a way to interview Nardwar please take it. I'd love to hear his perspectives on interviewing.

A:

Gosh that must have been so stressful for you. Would they generally be understanding if you said no and explained why?


Q:

We invited Nardwuar, and he declined, but he recently emailed me again, so maybe it will end up a bonus episode, along with Dick Cavett, who was under the weather.

The most physically uncomfortable is usually when I'm with someone REALLY good-looking and/or charismatic. Eva Mendes I interviewed once, for example. Ru-Paul. Terry Crews. Mark Duplass. I mean, it's fine, I just don't talk to anyone who's insanely beautiful in my regular life, and that's weird. I've never been afraid, really, but I pretty much only invite people I like on my show, and I'm not into scary people.

Oh, and sometimes when I'm interviewing people who are EVERYTHING to people I know but aren't exactly my thing (Elvis Costello comes to mind), I feel like I'm going to fuck it up and disappoint the people who love that person.

A:

Not really, if I can go I'll go. If I can't, I'll tell them no. There was one night in particular, I reported in at 5pm and at 9:30pm they finally told me to go to Cleveland. I told them hell no, so they tried to send me to Montreal, which is hardly any better when you're already tired. I told them I'll go to Albany and they can find another driver there and the only reason I made it that far was because there was an intense storm that night that kept me focused hardcore


Q:

At some point in the show, you spoke about this being a course in interviewing for you in some way. At the conclusion, do you feel you've learned significant lessons about the craft?

I just wish I was as clear in my convictions and defending them as Audie Cornish.

A:

Come on man. Just let it loose. What's that one story you always tell?


Q:

Hah, me too. I asked Audie about that stuff because I knew she'd thought about it and would have an answer, and boy did she.

It's funny, one of the things I've learned from The Turnaround is actually from the process of making the show rather than the content. Because this was a non-paying side project, and because I was talking to people I really admire, I decided to do very minimal preparation for the conversations. I mean, a lot of folks I talked to I know, and others I did do some prep for, but essentially I decided to let myself off the hook for these. Lower the stakes. Because I have seventeen other jobs and because when I stress myself out I give myself migraine headaches, and because it is really something that I've prepared for with my work all my adult life. The reaction to the show has been immensely positive, and it makes me think of my Bullseye work in a new light. That's not to say I've quit preparing, but more that it has spurred me to surrender more control over the conversation. Or more of the illusion of control. To listen more actively and respond more authentically, and not be afraid to sound like a person.

Of course there are some iTunes reviews about how unprepared and amateurish I am, and that stings a bit, but I think it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

A:

Pick your poison. There's my last night of training driving blind through a blizzard (16 inches of snow, zero visibility) all night long on an interstate that was shut down at 25mph for 10 hours. Had an inch of ice frozen onto some parts of the windshield.

There's the time I was doing NYC to Boston and the destination sign was stuck on Tijuana so in my thickest Spanish accent I announced "okay ladies and yentlemen gwelcone aboard the Greyhound lines to Tijuana Mexico making the one stop in boson Massachusetts, uhhh mi nombre Javier, okay we go" and then burnt out the brakes trying to follow another bus that was flying in the rain because it was my first time going into Boston

Or there's post Greyhound where I worked for this one company in Austin TX where I had to outrun a tornado while driving across Louisiana. Or my first ever job with them which I'll post below tomorrow

Or the sketchy Russian company I used to drive for where the AC went out in Orlando in May and my boss told me to go to Walmart and buy as many fans as I could plug into the outlets and drive back to NYC. I asked him if he wanted me to buy the ones that spray mist too.


Q:

How was the experience of The Turnaround different than you expected it to be?

A:

He's keeping an eye on it.


Q:

It took a lot longer and was a lot harder than I expected. But probably the biggest surprise of the whole thing was how positive the reaction was. I figured it'd just go out to a thousand Jesse Thorn fans and three thousand journalists, and it's found quite an audience and generated a ton of positive feedback and even some press.

A:

Lawn Care is important


Q:

Maximum Fun has QUICKLY become my favorite podcast network. There are so many tremendously good shows, and the production value is next to none. My question, and I hope it doesn't get you in trouble, what is your favorite podcast to listen to on the network?

A:

Why do you think Greyhound kind of has a bad reputation? I've heard only negative things about Greyhound buses and stations. I live in Europe and travel with a bus all the time and have never had a bad experience but I'm a little nervous to ride with y'all because of all the negative feedback I've heard about Greyhound.


Q:

Right now, Stop Podcasting Yourself. But it changes.

A:

The clientele. Even in training they tell us we'll be driving the nations bail jumpers, fleeing felons, ex cons, pimps and prostitutes. In my experience though, most of my passengers were pleasant and just wanted to get from A to B. A lot of the stations are a hub of homelessness, beggars, and especially in NYC, the mentally ill. The ones Greyhound owns though largely employ some sort of security that keeps it restricted to ticketed passengers and those waiting for them (Philly for example), but again, not always the classiest of people. Between riding and driving, I've never had an issue that was truly concerning.

The bad rep also comes from the way they operate. Just because you have a ticket with a specific time and specific date, it doesn't mean you're guaranteed a seat on that bus. They just keep selling tickets regardless of how many seats are available. At the larger terminals like NYC they'll often bring out another bus or two to handle the overflow, but only if they can find a bus and a driver (they are perpetually short drivers). At a lot of the smaller stops, like Wilmington DE, If there aren't enough seats, you gotta wait for the next one which can be several hours. You also hear of drivers getting lost a lot. That's because they give us these paper directions that are often wrong or haven't been updated since god knows when (best one I had was telling me to take a road to the 2nd casino entrance marked hotels, but the road had since been turned into a highway and the exit to access the casino was actually 2 miles back). Even when they are right, we're trying to drive the bus, read the directions, and watch for the street sign signs. They train us on as many stops as possible for the city that we work out of, but it's impossible to cover all of them in the time they spend training us, and for the ones we do go to, it's impossible to remember them all of one visit. To give you an idea, an NYC based driver has a typical range they'll send us to of Bangor ME, Montreal QB, Cleveland OH, and Norfolk/Richmond VA, with dozens of stops in between, but drivers have ended up getting sent as far as Minneapolis, Florida, Atlanta, etc. Oh and sometimes we cover other companies schedules and have to do their stops, like Peter Pan and Adirondack Trailways. It's honestly a miracle getting lost doesn't happen more often


Q:

One thing that struck me was how few of the people you interviewed had anything like the training or experience you'd need to even start on the ladder for a job like theirs today. Do you think talented, passionate people are still able to find a way into journalism if they didn't go to j school, work on their school paper, etc?

A:

That's super interesting about the instructions. Is there anything stopping drivers from just getting their own gps or using google maps? (Since the company doesn't seem to be interested in upgrading.)


Q:

I think more than ever you don't need any of that shit to get into journalism. I mean, maybe to get a JOB job right out of college, but the internet has completely changed the game. I've never taken a journalism class or worked at a journalism institution. I made stuff, put it up, promoted it, people liked it, they stuck around, repeat. For about 15 years.

A:

Greyhounds policy in routing. That and they frown upon having any type of distracting devices, such as a GPS


Q:

Did you (or any of the people you interviewed) study anthropology at all? I took an ethnographic interviewing course in college for my anthropology degree and sometimes I recognize those techniques when I listen to radio interviews.

A:

Are you not allowed to bring a smartphone?


Q:

Not that I know of, but that's interesting. What techniques in particular?

A:

The problem is that the mapping software on them will often send you ways that buses aren't allowed to go (look up any video of an 18 wheeler on the Northern State Parkway on Long Island and see what happens) and also that Greyhound has their own in house company prescribed routing they want you to take. If you get into an accident off route, it's instant termination. They also follow you on GPS and sometimes by car and will call you if you're off route (even though we aren't supposed to talk on the phone while driving). The terminal manager in Albany was notorious for that shit. There was a shortcut that everyone knew to take and if he caught you on it he'd call you and tell you to turn around and go back the way you're supposed to go


Q:

Do you agree with Werner Herzog that truth and fact are not the same thing?

A:

What's the nastiest thing that's happened in your bus?


Q:

Yeah, sure, but I also agree with Brooke Gladstone that that doesn't mean you shouldn't have both. Her co-host Bob Garfield has been doing a great podcast series within On the Media's podcast feed about documentary practices, and I think they often benefit from the audience's expectations, which are built on the stricter practices of print journalism, when the documentarians are sometimes playing fast and loose.

That said, I don't think anyone goes to a Herzog doc expecting to see anything other than Truth told by any means necessary.

A:

Towards the end of my training, probably the 5th week or so, I was doing a schedule from NYC to Harrisburg PA. Before we even got to Easton PA some guy threw up the entire big gulp of kool-aid he was drinking when he boarded all over the 2nd row.

Post Greyhound as a charter driver I was driving a travel camp and the girl sitting on the right side in the first row behind me projectile vomited out of nowhere. The camp counselor got most of it but a bit did get me


Q:

Hi, Jesse! I work at an imploding community newspaper. Is there any room in the podcast lifeboat for me? Seems like it's getting pretty crowded in there 😬

A:

What made you want to become a greyhound driver, convenience or you wanted to travel?


Q:

We're already pretty close to cannibalism in here, please find your own means of flotation.

A:

I had always been fascinated with the road and big trucks. All throughout college I knew I was gonna at least try out some sort of job where I could just have the road and my music, a sort of place of peace for me. After I graduated a financial situation came up that was ultimately what pushed me into filling out the application. I got the job and fell in love with the daily adventure and how soothing the combination of the highway and my music really was for me.


Q:

who is someone you want to interview but is of essentially no interest to your wider audience outside of maybe 10-20 people? which of your past interview subjects were basically people you wanted an excuse to interact with?

A:

I've broken down in places with no reception

What do you do then?


Q:

All of my past interview subjects are people who I wanted an excuse to interact with. That's like the premise of my show :).

We do an occasional episode about baseball and a big swath of the public radio audience hates sports, so there's that. I mean, I did an hour with Swamp Dogg once. He was and is amazing, but nobody knows who the fuck Swamp Dogg is besides me (and, fun fact, Nick Hornby).

A:

This particular instance was in the Adirondacks on I-87 heading south from Montreal to New York at about 2am. There are emergency phones every 2 miles on the highway. I was getting ready to start walking when I saw the headlights of the northbound bus approaching. He pulled over and we were shouting across the highway some ways to troubleshoot. It's absolutely desolate up there and many nights all you'll see for an hour or so is is the bus headed in the opposite direction, so it was quiet enough for us to hear each other. Fortunately it was easily solved, I just had to use the switch in the engine compartment to restart the bus.

Additional background on that story: That bus had started giving me problems the moment I got into the Villa Marie tunnel in Montreal, making a loud screeching noise through the windshield and the sign constantly beeping as it reset itself every few mins. Then about 3 km to the border I lost all throttle power and coasted into the border. While immigration processed my passengers I sat on hold with maintenance trying to get another bus brought down to me. After being on hold for 45 mins I said fuck it and kept going. Coming up a hill it happened again and the bus just coasted to a stop. Engine was still running but it was in neutral and wouldn't rev up at all, just idle. Ended up that supposedly the tracking system for the bus, Cadec, that each driver had to sign into before they can put the bus in gear was cutting me out. Shutting it down and rear starting it would fix it for some reason.


Q:

What do you think of the YouTube interviewer Nardwuar?

A:

What is the worst thing to happen to you with a passenger?


Q:

I think he's great. We hoped to have him on the show, but it didn't work out.

A:

As in? Like what's the worst thing that's happened to me on a bus with passengers, or what's my worst interaction with a passenger?


Q:

In a bunch of your Turnaround interviews, you ask about the context of the interview (live vs. taped, TV vs. radio, famous vs. ordinary people). In the end, how much of a difference does it make what we're using interviews for? Or, is the art of interviewing generally the same, and the same techniques work in all these different settings?

A:

Whichever you deem worse.


Q:

It makes an IMMENSE difference. I mean the most-practiced form of journalistic interviewing is what a reporter does. Whether they're on a beat, or write longer features like Susan Orlean. That is really informational - the interview is the tool to learn the basic information on which the story is built. You may also need to pull quotes, but that's very different from what, say, I do - interview public people about their work, where 75% of what we say will end up in the consumer's ear.

I've never been a reporter (and it always seemed unpleasant and hard to me), so I was pretty rapt hearing about how that works from folks like Ray Suarez who've done it for realsies.

A:

Never really had a truly terrible interaction with any customers. Worst thing I've ever gone through with passengers on board was probably the time I accidentally roasted the entire bus. The switches on the dash of one model of bus are interchangeable, so you have to memorize where each one is because the 4-ways switch might actually open the door. I was doing Atlantic City-Mt Laurel-NYC. I hit the switch for driver AC which was placed where it should be, but the wires must've been crossed in the panel because after about 2 hours of trying to figure out why the hell the cabin felt like the center of the sun and fucking with all the switches, I flipped driver AC off and the passenger AC came on. Turning it on had turned on the passenger heat.

Others were just frustrations, like breaking down and getting lost. Outside of Greyhound, while driving charters my worst experience involved a fatality and a fellow driver who will never walk or speak again.

Edit: it wasn't my bus, but a bus in our convoy


Q:

Being a reporter is great! You get to chat with interesting people and learn things first, and no one ever knows how dumb your questions were or if you said um a lot or blanked out halfway through.

A:

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen on your travels?


Q:

Yeah, sometimes someone interviews me for print and I feel like they've never spoken to another human being in their life :). Then I realize that's MY hangup/problem, not theirs.

A:

Aside from the multiple times I thought I saw something dart I out in front of the bus...I watched what looked like an 18 wheeler approaching in my mirror very fast. It was a blizzard, dead of the night, up in the Adirondacks. I kept watching him cuz I thought he was gonna rear end me. The headlights got closer and closer and all of a sudden they were gone. There had been no exit ramp or anything. Idk if he went into the ditch or what. I never found out.


Q:

What guests did you try to book but weren't able to? Who was at the top of your wishlist?

A:

Stupid question - why is the steering wheel so big? Does it really make a difference when driving?


Q:

At the top was probably Howard Stern. But a lot of others would have been wonderful. Nardwuar. Oprah. Barbara Walters. Jake Tapper. Charlie Rose. Maybe Conan O'Brien? He's probably the funniest in an interviewer that I can think of. We got an email full-on offering Krista Tippett, who's brilliant, and we hadn't thought of the first time around, but we had to be like, "sorry, we're done." Hopefully we'll be able to round up Dick Cavett soon, he was nice enough to agree, but then had some minor health trouble and had to cancel.

Who do you all think we should have included? I'm interested to hear.

A:

On the older buses it's really big, the newer ones not so much. I think it's to be able to manipulate the buses movements more gently. The smaller the wheel the greater the reaction it will have on the vehicles trajectory. You don't want a 20 ton vehicle easily being sent shooting off in some other direction at 68mph. That's just my guess though, I don't know the actual scientific answer


Q:

I was thinking it would have been great to get a late night host on there. Conan would have been great. Letterman, Jon Stewart, Colbert, Kimmel. The long form interview is my favorite type of podcast and there are a lot of interesting people doing that. Marc is great and I think Joe Rogan would have been interesting too.

A:

Can you smell when a passenger takes a shit?


Q:

Stewart is a pretty amazing TV interviewer. What he was able to pack into that little segment - jokes, insight, context - is pretty amazing.

A:

Considering all the buses smell like someone took a shit, no not really


Q:

I was scrolling to see someone ask if you tried to get Howard Stern. Can you go into any more detail on that? We all know he hates doing interviews but was it just a simple "no" from his people? Did they show any interest? As a Howard fan and especially of his interviews it was great to see him at the top of your list

A:

We asked his reps, got a no back. Pretty straightforward.


Q:

Was there anything your subjects said that made you go, "damn, I'm gonna have to start using that?" (I'm thinking about when you mentioned Scott Simon's question from the TAL comic book; that's one of my big go-to tricks too.)

A:

I wanted more of that than I got. What I got, really, was a lesson in kind of higher-order stuff. The kind of big feelings and big aspirations that sometimes as a pessimist I am afraid of engaging.


Q:

What did you think making the podcast would be like, and how was the reality different?

A:

Cute.


Q:

Hi Jesse- thanks for creating the Turnaround, it's quickly become one of my favorite listens and I'm sad it's over- I was hoping for a Krista Tippett episode.

If the tables were turned, which of your guests would you like to be interviewed by?

You spoke about Sound Reporting on the show- are there any other books you'd recommend or that have had a particular influence on your life or career?

A:

Books that have had an influence on my life is a long list :). I'll just say everyone should read more George Saunders.

But career-wise, there isn't much. Jessica Abel has made a great comic about how This American Life is made, along with a onger book about their broader eco-system of narrative radio documentarians. They're great.

This David Foster-Wallace piece totally changed how I think about talk radio.

Uhm... Transom.org has a lot of great stuff. I'm hoping to find some time to write a piece for them about what I've learned from this show.


Q:

LOVED the show. Was wondering if you'd consider releasing as a companion an unedited Bullseye interview with some commentary from you and your producers on how you prepared for it, why you asked follow-ups, editing decisions, etc?

A:

That's an interesting idea. Maybe we should do that for a donor drive sometime. I think you'll generally find that the unedited interview just includes some parts that are 20% less interesting than the parts that are in there. It's not like I'm getting in a fight with the guest and then we edit that out :). THough maybe I should, it worked for Marc.


Q:

You've always been an empathetic interviewer. To what extent does that come naturally to you, and to what extent did you have to cultivate empathy as a skill?

A:

It might be fake. I'm not sure.


Q:

Sincerity aside, it's obviously served you well. Was there a time you can think of where you really had to work on connecting with a guest? Or a hypothetical future guest who would present a challenge?

A:

I find it harder on the phone, almost always. Trying to think of a time it was tough. I'll see if I can come up with a specific example.


Q:

I love #TheTurnaround for all the insight it provided from all the great guests who have decades of experience, but what advice would would you have for younger journalists who interview younger guests with obviously not as much of a career as a well established name? How do we make those interviews interesting for a larger audience?

A:

Well, this is sort of the story of my career. Everyone I interview, I'm trying to put over to an audience of people whose lives have been changed by their work - while at the same time putting over to people who've never heard of them and say, "why should I care?"

The main way to do this is essentially to narrativize it. To say: here's a story you're gonna want to hear. You can also connect it to things that are really important to people - their finances, or their communities. In our case on Bullseye, we really say, "these are the best people," and hope that the person who tunes in for Ani Defranco stays for Aidan Gillen and vice-versa.


Q:

One striking thing in this series is how different everyone's interviewing technique/style/approach/process is. As an interviewer yourself, whose approach felt most similar to your own and whose felt most foreign and in what ways?

A:

Marc Maron probably does the show that's closest to my show, but he does it very differently than I. Probably Terry Gross is the closest to what I do technique-wise, though I'm maybe in between Terry and Marc.


Q:

And, what is your most "Gene Simmons on Fresh Air" moment in your career?

A:

I haven't had much like that. Once Screech from Saved By the Bell told a bunch of cruel and off-color street jokes. That sucked.


Q:

I believe you won the award for most meta thing ever done. What's Larry King like? He's always seemed good natured and funny when he's appeared on Conan for skits or interviews.

A:

He's extremely good-natured and funny, and he is extremely efficient. He sits down, he's there with you, 1000%. He thanks you when you're done, and leaves to get a sandwich. It's amazing. He just does the thing in front of him to the MAX.


Q:

Are there ever questions you are--for any reason--afraid to ask an interview subject and, if so, did that happen in any Turnaround interviews?

A:

Yes, all the time. Mostly about intimate stuff, their emotional lives, stuff that I'm not sure it's my right to ask about, that feel like impositions. I'm usually wrong, by the way, they're almost always glad to.


Q:

Did you have any trouble getting any of the interviewers to agree to talk to you? Did it get easier to book people when you could say you had Larry King already, etc?

A:

I was SHOCKED at how many people said yes. We wanted to do eight or ten of these, the reason there were so many was because like 80% of the asks came back yes. My producers Nick and Kara did a great job, and I think people genuinely want to share their expertise.


Q:
  1. Others than Katie Curric going on a date with Larry King, what answer surprised you the most.

  2. How has the expresience interviewing interviews changes your approach to interviewing?

  3. What is something you hope normal people like me can take away from The Turn Around?

  4. Is there a thread, explicit or not, that ties all of these folks together?

A:

That's a lot of questions.

1) That Jerry Springer only knows the names of his guests and what it says in the prompter, and approaches his show like a weirdo detective. 2) See every other answer :) 3/4) All of them are sincerely curious about the experiences of others. And that is a good thing to be in any career or walk of life.


Q:

Who is the best dressed interviewer (excluding yourself)?

A:

Bob Costas always looks quite good, I think. Hmm, I like Charlie Rose's suits.

Oh, wait, duh... Gay Talese.


Q:

Were there any answers you were surprised by? Also which interview was the hardest?

A:

Hardest was Terry Gross, because I didn't know her and she was a hero, and I wanted her to like and respect me.

And there were too many surprising answers to count :)


Q:

Was the interview with Terry Gross already in the can when you interviewed Marc Maron? It sounded like you had some serious envy regarding his interview with her, but I didn't get a hint that she would be coming up in the queue for The Turnaround.

A:

I did TG first, I think, though I'd have to clook at my calendar. I listened to his interview with her, though it was hard to hear over the steady hum of professional jealousy ;).


Q:

which comedians have you seen come up do you feel never got their due or success, and have basically quit comedy?

A:

Both have done just fine for themselves, and continue to work and so forth, but over the years I've worked a lot with Brent Weinbach and Jasper Redd, and they're both genuine geniuses. They may yet explode, or they may just continue to be successful working comics, but their skills are top-tier.


Q:

I also have to ask the obligatory: would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck? What about 100 duck-sized Katie Courics against 1 horse-sized Larry King?

A:

I would rather be the third wheel on Katie Couric and Larry King's REAL-LIFE ROMANCE DATE.


Q:

Should not go without saying that I found The Turnaround to be profoundly enlightening and affecting. Thank you so much for it and for letting me pretend I'm a feature interviewer for an afternoon.

A:

Thanks, Woody


Q:

Where is Howard Stern on the list? He is widely viewed as the best interviewer out there.

A:

He is on the list of people who were invited on the show and declined.


Q:

Do you think any of the other guests "hammed" up their performances for the sake of producing a better interview? I felt like Audie Cornish was maybe more combative because she knew it would be a better, more exciting interview. Errol Morris was a little more off the wall. Larry King was shockingly intimate. After all, these folks know better than anyone else what makes a great interview!

A:

I think everyone was excited to talk about the thing they care about most in the world, basically. They were pumped for that. Some of them (Ira, Terry Gross) are naturally low-key. Some are absurdly specific and clear (Audie, Brooke). I think everyone brought their A-game. I'd say the TV people, who I didn't know at all for the most part, were a little TV-ish, very polished but less forthcoming, but I did a pretty good job breaking that, I think.


Q:

Did you find any difference between what a big personality-interviewer can do in an interview versus a more introverted, smaller-personality interviewer can do? Do you ever feel that these interviewers adapt themselves to the person they're interviewing to get the best out of the interview?

A:

Yeah, I think sometimes guests try to match the interviewer's vibe, just as a natural social thing. So people on Fresh Air are kind of in their heads, people on WTF are agitated and emotional, etc. (Those are not intended as negative descriptions, incidentally). I think sometimes people tried to match say, Letterman, and looked like fools, because only he can do that.


Q:

As an interviewer, how do you handle it when the interviewee uses excessively fruity language?

A:

I usually try to cut in and restate more plainly. Sometimes as a question.


Q:

Having listened to all the episodes, I now find myself listening to interviews and wondering what I would ask. Have you ever consumed an interview and really wished the interviewer went a completely different direction?

A:

Yeah, mostly because they didn't cater to my own nerdinesses. But usually only for personal reasons like that :).


Q:

How do you feel The Turnaround plays into this weird moment where people are decrying journalism and journalists? Feels like an especially important time to put a face/voice to the people doing this job.

A:

Yeah, I didn't really conceive of it in that context - sometimes I'm uncomfortable even thinking of myself as a journalist and not an entertainer - but it certainly has been a perilous time. I usually kind of roll my eyes at reporters talking about how important reporting is, but it really does feel important right now.


Q:

What question do you always wish that your interviewer would ask you, but no-one ever does?

A:

I usually just want to talk about the San Francisco Giants.


Q:

Maron on mbmbam would be sublime, I bet he'd love to give advice that should never be followed.

A:

the fans would eat him alive


Q:

What is your favorite dinosaur?

A:

Triceratops.


Q:

I loved The Turnaround, and it was a great great treat this summer.

My question revolves around Werner Herzog. He seems like such a stern man, yet in the interview I found him perfectly lovely which was very refreshing. What interview were you the most surprised by between what you expected and what you got from the interviewee? In what way were you surprised?

Thank you for all your hard work bringing us MaxFun!

A:

I've interviewed him before. He's funny and brilliant and really cares about what he does, and is absolutely sincere, though I think he recognizes (and doesn't care much about) the absurdity of his work. He's really great to talk to.

I didn't expect Audie to beat me up like that :). But it's cool, we're cool. She's the best.


Q:

So this is an interview of an interviewer of interviewers?

A:

Yes, as well as an interview of interviewers.


Q:

Hi Jesse,

Love JJGO and really loving this series. Also thank you for creating the awesome Maximum Fun network. It's given me literally 1000s of hours of entertainment.

Question: Despite the revelation of him being a terrible human being, I always thought Jian Ghomeshi was a good interviewer. He got really famous for that incident with Billy Bob Thorton. As an interviewer, how did you feel about that incident, and has anything you've learned from the Turnaround made you change your mind about that (or any other things for that matter)?

A:

I was mad that that made Jian famous, frankly. I thought it was a good example of him doing a shitty job at his job. I think 85% of his success there was thanks to a great production team, who wrote his questions, wrote his commentaries... and he was a bit of a smug asshole. The world just found out.


Q:

Hi Jesse! Just finished listening to the podcast and you did a terrific job at making every interview entertaining and insightful. My personal favourite might have been the Audie Cornish interview. My question is - what was the most unexpected thing that you learned from doing this? Was this how you thought it would turn out? Thanks for the memories either way!

A:

I refuse to answer this question. I won't fall into your trap! You'll never succeed using my own magic against me!


Q:

To get to interview Stern the Director that made the George Takei documentary had to conduct the interview on HIS show to get it. If the offer back from his people had been "Yes, if you come on the Howard Stern Show and do it in studio live on the air." What do you think you would have said back?

A:

Of course I would have said yes. In an instant.


Q:

On a serious note, who did you find the easiest to interview and who did you find the most intimidating?

A:

I was most intimidated by Terry Gross, though she is pretty easy to interview. I love talking to Ira Glass and Brooke Gladstone, I just think they're both wonderful and such geniuses. And on my team :).


Q:

Which of your guests were you most surprised by, in terms of their changing your mind about what you thought you knew about them?

A:

Larry King for sure. I really didn't know much about him, and was absolutely charmed by him, and found him brilliant and insightful.


Q:

do you still have the henry kloss tivoli radio? any gear you recommend over that or is that still the best?

A:

I do! I have a couple of them, actually - they were on clearance at Target one time and a bought a few. They're great radios, and I use the one in my kitchen to listen to podcasts (through an AUX cable) when I'm cleaning up.

More recently, I spent a bunch of money on SONOS equipment, and it really is superb. Listening right now in my office to a record that's playing on my big stereo upstairs in my living room.