Interviews are an ever-present, but rarely illuminating, facet of our media culture. Especially in the entertainment world, interviewers persist on asking predictable questions that elicit predictable, cliche responses that interest nobody.
Even though I have an active dislike of these boring interviews, I still find myself drawn to them. After the game, I still click over to the press conference where Tom Brady will explain how that long touchdown was attributable to “just making a great play on the ball,” or the conversation with a rapper where he promises that his next album is “the best one of my career.”
Not everyone in the interviewing business is content with the status quo, though. My two favorite, Nardwuar and Matt Zaller, use diametrically opposing methods of questioning that each reveal more of the respondent’s personality and life story than pretty much any other interviewer I have found.
Right when you see “Nardwuar the Human Serviette,” the noted music journalist, you know you are in for a strange experience. The best I can describe his sense of style is colorful 1920s golfer-chic, with his trusty plaid flat cap trying to contain his long, stringy hair. His interviewing style consists of — to borrow a phrase from Pauly D from “Jersey Shore” — stalking your whole life. He will read every interview you have ever done, keying on early personal anecdotes like the first album you bought or which hometown venue you saw concerts at, and then bring these up during the interview.
Props play heavily in his conversations. He will bring a vinyl copy of that record you name dropped and whip the microphone in your face.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Some of my favorite moments are when he brings an artist a record that one of their family members worked on and seeing the shock on their face that he knew your Uncle Vernon used to be a jazz drummer.
Common questions involve famous food spots from the city they grew up in, other early albums that influenced them and records they’ve sampled for their own songs.
The interviews move at a fast pace, from vinyl to poster to toy to next prop, mainly because the musician is usually at such a loss for words that the little interview they had scheduled for the day has turned into a trip down memory lane — full of obscure personal details they are shocked to find Nardwuar knowledgeable about.
It’s evoking the person’s history that makes what Nardwuar does special. By watching his interviews —and you really should YouTube him — you will hear personal stories about the artist’s pre-fame life, the kind of stuff they rarely are asked about and are actually interested in. Who wouldn’t want to talk about their favorite bands as a kid instead of when their next album is coming out?
Now what Matt Zaller does is pretty much the complete opposite. He frequents the press junkets for upcoming movies where actors are trapped in a building all day and cycle from interview to interview, giving the same personal anecdotes movie plugs for about five minutes, then doing it all over again.
Matt, though, turns the process on its head. His interviews involve absolutely no research into the participants’ lives, and in fact rarely even incorporate the movie they are shilling for.
Instead, he prefers to conduct an improv comedy skit with the actor, only without telling them what is happening.
For instance, the interview with Zooey Deschanel starts by him saying, “There is corn syrup in the air we breathe,” and from there they talk about their corn syrup scholarly magazines of choice, her preference for goth-skaters as friends and form a plan start a pie shop that will be one-half bakery, one-half pie chart art studio.
In another, he explains to Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner that he isn’t wearing a shirt — since Matthew is always photographed shirtless — he wanted them to feel comfortable.
His interviews range from hysterical to interesting failures, since they are somewhat predicated on the actor playing along with his schtick.
When they do work, you see a side of the actor you don’t normally see — a playful personality usually reserved for their home lives that we get to see on camera because of the absurd situation Matt puts them in.
On one hand, both of these interviewers are more the stars of the show than the individual they happen to be talking to. But, because their styles are so unique and effective, you do feel that you get a better understanding of who the interviewee is, what their personality is like and what their interests are.
Though they use vastly different methods, there are two common refrains heard in both men’s interviews: “You are crazy,” and, “That was the best interview I’ve ever done.”
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org