Weekly E-mail: Please Love It
April 22, 2024

If you had a talk show, who would you want to interview? I have a hard time deciding. Do I only get one night as the host? Then I'd better make it count. I would need to balance my own desires – interviewing people whom I find interesting – with the needs of the audience. Some of the people on my list would need lengthy introductions, because I'd want to talk with people who aren't well-known by the general public. Then again, it'd be amazing to interview Bruce Springsteen, and I think most of the people who watch talk shows know about him.

Here's a wrinkle: when does the show take place? If we've already decided that I magically get to interview whomever I want, why not stretch the boundaries and allow me to pick people from anytime in their life? If I could interview Bruce Springsteen as a 74 year-old grandfather, maybe I could also choose the 35-year-old artist who just released the album that would make him blisteringly famous.There's a lot to consider when answering this silly question. The one thing that I never considered: how my opportunity to play talk show host would benefit me outside of the studio. Sure, I hinted at the idea that this opportunity could last longer than one night – but my primary goal is creating a good show that people enjoy. If it only lasts for one evening, then...that's the way it goes. I'm already playing with house money – who cares if I go bust at my first time at the table?

Jackie and I saw Late Night with the Devil on Saturday. It's a horror film in which David Dastmalchian plays Jack Delroy, a talk show host in the '70s who is competing in the ratings against Johnny Carson. On Halloween 1977, Delroy invites to his show a psychic, a skeptic of the paranormal, a parapsychologist and her subject, a child who is supposedly possessed by a demon. Gang, it's a good film. It had me scared throughout – mostly because I spent two-thirds of the movie expecting someone to die in a surprising way. It's my usual hangup when watching violent dramas, and why I've avoided horror movies for most of my life. I know something bad is going to happen, but I don't know when.

A few years ago, I began watching The Kill Count from Dead Meat, a YouTube channel started by James A. Janisse. It was the beginning of an exploration of a genre that has so much to offer, but I've been too scared to engage with. James' videos provide an analysis of horror films' production, along with an overview of the plot and - obviously - a list of people or entities that are killed. For a person who doesn't want to be surprised by murder and destruction, it's a very safe way to learn about these movies. Then, last fall, I found The Morbid Zoo, hosted by Mariana Colín. Mariana is an academic whose insight into horror is probably my favorite thing on YouTube. Her videos have helped me understand that monsters serve a very particular function, both within the media that contains them and for the audience who watches them. I cannot say enough great things about her work, but for now I'll limit my comments to "Go watch her videos."

As I see it, the problem with Jack Delroy in Late Night with the Devil is that he doesn't want to interview people for what he can learn about them. He wants to create an event that will guarantee success in the Nielsen ratings. But if you want to be a good interviewer, you have to deeply care for the person you're talking with. You have to see them as a fully formed being, not a monster, and not a stepping stone to fame. If you invite someone into conversation, you have to be open to whatever they share.

It's something I wrestle with every time I sit down to write. I want to create things that invite people in to a conversation, but I'm afraid that I won't be understood – or that the reader will share a reaction that cuts me down. "Fear's a powerful thing," sang a man who grew from a depressed boy born in the mid-Atlantic. I remember that line, and I step forward onto the stage. We, after all, have a great show tonight.

-Paul



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