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You’re not the first person to host a talk show, and you’re not the only one to do it in a bar. What distinguishes the Interview Show?
That’s a really great question. Let me now evade it. I know what I aim for with the show—something in between, say, Jimmy Fallon and Charlie Rose. My hero is Dick Cavett. The conversations he had were sometimes hilarious, sometimes deadly serious—usually both in the same interview. That’s the goal. Also, I sit behind a desk in which you can see my legs underneath. Most other talk shows can’t claim that.
How did you come up with the name? Couldn’t think of anything better?
How did you know? Yeah, the name was a placeholder when I thought up the show back in 2008. And then all of a sudden, it was time to promote the first one and it just stuck. Last year, I applied to trademark the name because I learned how to type the r in a little circle. Watch this: ®. Anyhow, the trademark office rejected me, saying the name was merely descriptive. But then I sent them an Interview Show mug and they quickly reversed their decision.
Do you talk to your interview subjects beforehand?
Only when I’m interviewing myself. The thing I hate most about talk shows is when the conversations sound staged. “So, have you done any vacationing recently?” “Why, as a matter of fact, I just returned from Fiji.” I still, of course, ask all my guests if they’ve done any vacationing recently. If they say no, I follow up with, “What if we redefined recently to mean in the last ten years?”
What’s a recent interview you really enjoyed?
We had Jeff Tweedy of Wilco on our recent fifth-anniversary show. I had wanted to have him on for, well, five years. Two minutes into the interview, the owner of the Hideout came marching toward the stage with two members of the fire department. You of all people can imagine what was going through my mind. Luckily, they didn’t shut down the show. They just had a loud discussion in the tiny space backstage, which Jeff and I could hear but nobody else could. It wound up making for a better interview.
You do the show each month in Chicago. Why come to New York?
Do you want me to say New York is better than Chicago? Is that what you want? Look, Mark, you may think that, but I certainly don’t. The reasons are: It’s a challenge, a way to interview new people, a chance to “get out of my comfort zone.” And I love Union Hall.
How did you choose your guests for your upcoming Union Hall show?
This is the greatest part of doing the show, asking people I admire if they’ll be a part of it. So we have one of the funniest—and one of my all-time favorite—fiction writers. And one of the smartest critics covering TV’s new golden age. And a musician who has opened me—and thousands of others—up to new ways of creating art and challenging stupidity and ugliness. And a performance of brand-new music by one of the best songwriters around. Man, I’m getting nervous. I may not show up.
The Interview Show: Union Hall, 702 Union St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, Park Slope, Brooklyn (718-638-4400, theinterviewshowchicago.com). Thu 16 at 8pm; $8.