Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The art of the interview, maybe.

Speaking perfectly frankly, the art of the interview is something I'm still learning. I've done print interviews with writers and actors and artists, and I had the good fortune to moderate a Skype chat with Tom Baker for (Re)Generation Who. It's very much a thing I want to do -- the whole 'geek host' concept. Discovering there's a place for that in the world today, and discovering that I might have a knack for it, has been wonderful and inspiring and has given me something to strive for.

Right now, I'm being told that I'm quite good at it, and I do everything I can to pinpoint why. If I'm doing it right, I need to distill that for myself and make sure that any evolution I do in this field doesn't accidentally make me lose whatever it is I started with. And I came to the realisation that, as a fan, I've sort of been training myself for this subconsciously for a while now.

I've been a fan of Robin Williams (I refuse to type 'the late Robin Williams' in an actual narrative context, I just can't) since I knew what being a fan of someone even meant. I'm relatively sure I've watched every interview with him that the Internet can gift me with. Even at a young age, I knew that while I'd quietly set the VCR to record whichever late show he was on, there were some hosts that even my favourite actor couldn't get me to sit through. I didn't analyse why at the time, obviously. But I already knew in the back of my head that, no matter how big a fan you are, a host can make or break an interview.

I saw Robin live four times, the last being when a friend and I got tickets to what was billed as 'An Evening of Sit-Down' hosted by David Steinberg. It's probably the best interview or live show I've ever seen him do. It wasn't his usual frenetic water-bottle-fueled stand-up (although he'd occasionally hop out of his chair for a brief few seconds of such); rather, the two talked casually, going far beyond the usual interview talk and into stories I'd never heard from him and would never expect to hear from anyone publicly. I don't know if 'intimate' was the word, but certainly 'comfortable.' Likely because they worked in the same field, the questions and comments were guided in a way that made it truly conversational.

And here's the thing. David Steinberg himself has an awe-inspiring career, and could easily hold an audience for two or more hours with his own life story. He could probably match Robin point for point on anecdotes. But he took on the interviewer role, and he took it on in a way that truly made him the audience's avatar. Once in a while Robin might tell a story and say, 'Speaking of that, didn't something similar happen to you?' and lead David into an anecdote of his own. Which he would tell, and then fall back into the interviewer roll very smoothly.

In retrospect, that is mostly likely the best interview I've seen with anyone. Not just because of the content, but because of the interviewer. And it means a lot to me, having a very varied career and set of experiences myself, to see how someone who warrants a two-hour interview of his own demonstrate how to aim the spotlight at someone else.

Not everyone knows how to do that. I'll hear interviews where the interviewer will wait for opportunities to interject their own anecdotes into what the guest is saying, pulling the limelight over to themselves for a moment (or several moments). I feel, or at least observe, that a similar background with the guest helps to tailor the questions and keep the flow of conversation, but it also runs the risk of tempting the interviewer to flip the script and do as mentioned above. I've seen and heard it happen. It's very off-putting, and I'll admit my #1 terror when I get up to interview someone live is that I'll hear those words coming out of my mouth before I can stop them.

I'll admit, overall I watch and listen to a lot of interviewers for reminders of what not to do. (No, I won't give examples of people because that's not nice.) I cringe when I hear someone get too luvvy or try to pull attention, and then file it away as a reminder to not fall into that trap myself. And while it's been great to hear from people that I'm a 'natural,' I can't let myself rely on that. Because I want to learn and get better, and eventually be as rad as David Steinberg was up on that stage having a casual chat with someone who was never really known for casual chats.

I also, like, want to learn how to write concluding paragraphs for blog posts.