The Hot Seat: Christopher Hitchens

"'Early, sober and alone' is my motto."

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Illustration: Anne Emond


Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair columnist and virulent atheist, has publicly pummeled many people—from his best friend Martin Amis to Mother Teresa (see his 1995 book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice). Hell, Hitch even argues with himself—especially over his new memoir, Hitch-22. "I decided to leave a number of things out," he says. "I still wake up and think, Damn, I should've included that." We wondered what failed to make the cut, while reading about a certain former President's affinity for edible drugs. Or the time Hitch was rejected by a hard-haggling prostitute at a New York City brothel, which he visited with Amis ("I think he found it in the pages of Screw magazine," he tells us). Behind the brashness and belligerence, he confesses in the book, lies a fear of boredom. But one thing became clear in his talk with TONY: Hitch isn't getting sentimental anytime soon.

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We were surprised to learn you had a stutter as a kid. How did you become a grandiloquent God-slayer?
I had to train myself to think before I speak, which I think is good advice. You might as well engage the mind before the mouth. But really, I can talk as long as I like—preferably without interruption.

With your oft-documented attachment to a stiff drink, did you find it difficult to dredge up memories to write about?
Loss of memory is much more frightening than any other malady. I always say, "When you can't remember, you should stop drinking." I found my memory improved as I wrote the book, and remembered things I'd forgotten.

Like the image of Bill Clinton packing away the pot brownies while you were both students at Oxford.
As soon as you hear it, you think, Of course! That was the whole point of the "didn't inhale" thing. Yeah, he's a real ratbag. But I'd rather talk about me than him.

No love for Bubba, we see.
There are people that are almost nostalgic for his presidency.... But I guess there are also people who love Barry Manilow.

Many people have similar contempt for you. You've been called everything from a "neocon turncoat" to one who takes "unaccountable pleasure in word games of the most puerile variety"—and that was all in one Guardian article.
[Laughs] Sometimes you can tell when someone enters a room that they don't like your stuff. That kind of thing doesn't spoil my day. I've got very thick skin and a broad back.

Are you ever tempted to storm out of an interview la Russell Crowe, shouting, "Don't you know who I am?"
I did once walk off a show with [conservative Morning Joe host] Joe Scarborough. He had me on to attack Christmas. It was me, him and Pat Buchanan. He said, "How can you hate Christmas?" I said, "Fuck you, you can have an all-Christian show."

In your book, you write about becoming an American. I assume this means you watched the Lost finale last week.
I had never even known it existed until this morning. That quite often happens. I didn't find out about Cheers until everyone started crying about how it was over.

Does this memoir mean you're retiring from rabble-rousing? Or will we see Hitch-23 in a few years?
I intend to do this until I drop. Every time I go through the papers, I get pissed off—and I don't think that's going away.

We confess we found Hitch-22 somewhat disappointing: There were no instances of an alter ego! We had always assumed you dispelled myths and misunderstandings by day, and fought crime by night.
I'm afraid by night I'm blamelessly asleep. "Early, sober and alone" is my motto.

So what's your next project?
Right now, I'm writing a book on the Ten Commandments.

We sense an imminent smiting. Let's agree to meet a hundred years from now for a Scotch in Hell.
You're on.

Hitchens discusses Hitch-22 Fri 4 at 7pm at the New York Public Library.

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