As a kid I quickly learned how to get attention by asking, “Why?”
Mom: “Don’t put that in your mouth, honey.”
Mom: “Because it’s a plug. Plugs aren’t to be eaten.”
Mom: “Because they’re not food. They make electricity, which turns on the light.”
Mom: (getting exasperated) “Because we need light to see.”
Mom: “Because we can’t see in the dark.”
Mom: “Ask your father.”
The understanding that questions immediately gave me the mainlined attention that I craved led me to inquire about everything. Then, as a physically unremarkable teenager, I learned that people will like you more if you let them talk about themselves. Ever a slave to approval, I started trying to ask quirky questions when I met new people, that way — in my head, anyway — they’d both like me and remember me. I don’t know if it worked, but the eccentric inquisition practice soon became a habit. It also became a way to not seem drunk back when I was on the sauce. If my fellow bar patrons got off on a tangent about their recent voyage to Tanzania, or their most recent semester at law school, they wouldn’t notice that I was drinking their whiskey and one of my eyes was hooding. Down the hatch.
There are several types of interviews, and each serves a different purpose.
The Job Interview: The interviewer asks questions to make sure that the interviewee is halfway competent and not crazy. The goal of the interviewee is to get hired, get paid, get fed and ahead.
The Media Interview: The interviewer asks questions to get the interviewee talking about their latest endeavors and rumors. The goal of the interviewee is to sell their book/movie/diet plan/show/fashion line and to dispel any gossip about a sex tape.
The Legitimate News Interview: The interviewer asks questions that help document a certain slice of history. The goal of the interviewee is to either oppress a people, free a people, start a war, end a war, inflate the physical location of Russia, or unsuccessfully explain a tax policy and thereby lead to the downfall of their political party. And, like, you know, end their career.
There are others. Police interviews. Informational interviews. Behavioral interviews. Group interviews. College interviews. The list goes on, with or without a piss test.
You can learn a lot talking to people you admire. The trick is to broaden the definition of “admire,” and to widen the pool of people who impress you in some way. Sure, I’d give a toe (small one) to have a chit-chat with Maynard James Keenan, but a) he’s really famous and b) his publicist never responded to my interview query. The most interesting Q&A I’ve had was with a man who manufactures seatbelts for a living, namely ’cause he had a lot of interesting stuff to say, most of which made me think. That, to me, is the goal of a good interview. I believe it’s the responsibility of the interviewer to get the readers’ grey matter doing calisthenics.
Ever since I started tooling around for The Rumpus I’ve been able to do Q&As with people I really, really admire. Mary Roach. Robin Maxwell. Davy Rothbart. Tristan Taormino. This has been mind-blowing, as I was able to ask the questions I never thought I’d have answered. But as much as I enjoy interviewing people who are in the public eye, I think I get more from asking everyday people what makes them tick. So I present to you below a list of subjects and the #1 question I’d like to ask them. Feel free to add your own.
- Any bouncer who worked at The Roseland Ballroom in the mid-’90s. Question: What is the weirdest shit you’ve been bribed with to get someone backstage?
- Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and squirrel hunting enthusiast. Question: How do you usually cook squirrel? (This stems from his quote on Outdoor Central, “If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to hunt squirrels, or if you miss the great taste of the once-popular tablefare or even if you want to take your kid hunting, then you should really try to get out this year and hunt squirrels.”)
- Any Upper East Side doorman who has worked at the same location for over five years. Question: In the course of your workday, when do you have trouble keeping a straight face or not going postal?
- Takako Yoneyama, a middle-aged, female sushi chef who owned Taka Sushi, my favorite spot in my old neighborhood. Question: Did you face familial opposition when you began your journey to make sushi? (Bonus question: What’s more difficult, making sushi or owning a restaurant?)
- A first-year obstetrician-gynecologist resident. Question: What was going through your mind when you assisted your first delivery?
- And, of course, the pilot of any flight I’m on. Question: Are we going to crash? What was that noise? Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Is that rum?
I want to hear about you, drop me a line at AinsleyDrew at gmail dot calm. Thanks to everyone who donates and comments, you turn my question marks into exclamation points.
How can we work for you? Hire us.
[Note to readers: I’ll be heading to New York next week. For those of you in the area, The Rumpus is having a fundraiser on February 5th at 7PM. It’s at Crash Mansion on the Bowery. Contact me for details, AinsleyDrew at the gmail one. Hope to see you there.]