Interview Technique

I once had a rather odd dream in which there was a reforming of Cluub Zarathustra: a comedy cabaret set up by Simon Munnery and Stewart Lee circa 1993. In the dream I was allowed into the launch event as a journo and given the job of capturing a few interviews for some zine or other.

For some reason, the version of Simon Munnery I’d dreamed up seemed to develop a genuine disliking of me: whether it was specifically me to whom he objected or to my status as a journalist, I’m not sure but he didn’t seem to have much time for me at all.

This was probably inspired by an occasion in which I threw him a friendly heckle at one of his slower gigs in The Stand at Edinburgh, but it seemed to catch him off-guard and throw him off his rhythm entirely. I remember feeling terrible about this. So this must have been his revenge: he was prowling my dreams like a Freddy Krueger, but instead of murderising me with his knife fingers, he just forced me to endure some uncomfortable social faux-pas.

I remembered this dream yesterday as made my way to London’s Crystal Palace district to interview Stewart Lee before his spot at Josie Long’s Sunday Night Adventure Club. What if the same thing happened? I love Stewart Lee. He’s my favourite comedian who isn’t dead. Bizarrely, I’d just bought the DVD of his Jerry Springer – The Opera as research and the booklet that accompanied the DVD included an article written by Stew called “Never Meet Your Heroes”. I was anxious to say the least.

Actually, the interview went OK and I was happy to discover that Stew is a friendly and charming bloke with enough time for idiots like me. You should be able to read the interview in an upcoming issue of The Mind’s Construction.

But throughout the interview, I was regretting my status as a journo. I had to be the press guy, scribbling away on a pad and he had to be the talent, giving as many interesting and publishable answers as possible. In reality, I wanted to say “Stew! I’m a comedian too! I’ve loved your standup since I was twelve. You’re my hero. Show me how to be like you!”

I’m also not 100% happy with my interview technique. The thing about interviews is that you have to learn to be uber-reflexive. I’d planned a list of questions in advance, which I hoped was quite well constructed and not just a rubbish stream of consciousness. But when the answer given to you for Question 1 isn’t quite what you had in mind, Question 2 – in spite of all its relevance originally – now seems like a boring non-sequitor, void of any real significance. It’s difficult to be so reflexive when it’s not a proper two-way conversation and one of the parties is writing everything down. I don’t think my interview had the proper ecological validity I was hoping for due to this. With an email interview, it’s all asynchronous so you can go away and construct a clever next question with all the time in the world.

So I’m not sure I want to be a journo anymore. I’ll stick to theory-writing and librarianship and saying funny things with my mouth. I’m good at those things. Sort of.

Incidentally, the gig itself was pretty good. Cafe ABC is really rather cool and Josie Long has created an excellent little enclave for non-confrontational and interesting stand-up comedy.

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