5.19.2009

The Skip-Raid Interviews Jonathan Goldstein

Today we're sitting with one of my favourite writers and humorists, Jonathan Goldstein. If you're American, then you will know him from NPR's This American Life and if you are Canadian you know him from CBC Radio 1's Wiretap. Either way, he has a new book out called Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! Our sincerest thanks for being a great sport and answering all my Qs.

Full name: Jonathan Goldstein

Occupation: Writer, radio producer

Where you live: Montreal

Do you mind that I shorten the title of your book, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! to LAGTB?
Lag Tuberculosis. Go right ahead.

I heard you read the “David and Goliath” section of LAGTB on Wiretap and it was very funny. When I bought the book I went home thinking “This is going to be high-larious”.
I hope it was. Seriously. I’ve read Robert Altman say that if someone's not seen one of his movies, he always feels up for screening it just for them, to watch them watch it with virgin eyes. I’d love to watch someone reading the book and asking them what they thought was funny every time they laughed. Or even snorted.

On the reverse cover of LAGTB, David Sedaris gives you some pretty lofty praise, calling you “the funniest and most original writers I can think of”. May I ask you why, after reading that, you didn’t up and leave your wife for him? I’m not saying you have to force yourself to be gay, I’m just saying it wouldn’t kill you to pretend if it meant getting with Sedaris.
David Sedaris is gay?

Do you ever get jealous of Ira Glass’ Jewwy good looks?
I’m too beautiful to live, but he is, too. And he’s taller. And such a head of hair! Here comes the pain…

I don’t know if you read Amazon reviews, but I do (I love them) and, in general, your book Lenny Bruce is Dead has very positive reviews. Although I did find one person who hated it and wrote:

“This book was not funny or interesting. It is sort of like those columns Larry King used to write..... I want a pastrami sandwich,.....isn't the Godfather a great movie,..........I remember when the Yankees won all the time....”

You have to admit, that’s pretty funny.
My dad can be a very funny guy. Funny and cruel.

Your beard looks fantastic, by the by. Do you ever put on black Wayfarers and pretend to be MC Bedbugs (Joaquin Phoenix)?
I think Joaquin Phoenix pretending to be Joaquin Phoenix is more than enough for everyone.

In the Wiretap episode “Fake It Until You Make It”, you get into an argument with a fact-checker over a radio interview you did. Do you understand how neurotic that made me?
No. Are you a fact-checker? I just read Dan Baum refer to New Yorker fact-checkers as being like soldier ants. In a good way.

It’s not easy to interview a writer because you keep second-guessing yourself “Is this question too lame?”
Not at all. Wait, what’s the question?

Do I come off sounding like a goon?
You sound nice.

When is the last time you really second-guessed yourself around someone cooler than you?
I second guess myself all the time. Third and fourth, too. Even while I’m first guessing myself. Even right now. And now. I’m sure you’re way cooler than me, I mean, look at me— I’m a complete mess.

In the same Wiretap episode you are interviewed for an oral report by your nephew Zak. This is a two-part question, I suppose. Do you really have a nephew Zak?
Define “really” and “nephew.”

Are Zak and Jake from Two and a Half Men the same person?
I’ve only watched that show a couple times. Are Zak and Jake the two men of the two and half men equation? Oh…. And you’re wondering if it’s like the fight club? Where one is hallucinating the other? Or maybe the little boy is hallucinating them both and really he lives in a Chechnyan orphanage. That would be so awful. It would make an interesting final episode, though.

Have you seen the trailer for the film Year One? You should try to piggyback LAGTB on its success like a remora on a shark.
I have seen it, and it looks so incredibly funny that I find it painful to watch. Maybe I could stand outside the theatre with copies of the book, looking like a Hare Krishna.

What is your one sacred cow, the one thing you won’t dare make fun of?
Someone else’s real pain.

A regular feature on The Skip-Raid is when we play the game Do, Date, or Dump with popular television shows or movies. And, like it or not, we’re playing it now (with some familiar CBC Radio 1 faces). Please cite why you have chosen either ‘do’, ‘date’, or ‘dump’ for each person:
Do, Date, or Dump:

Andy Barrie

Andy Barrie’s gay?

Stuart McLean
Do. It would be so folksy. I’m imaging it taking place during a hay ride.

Randy Bachman
Do then dump the instant he started talking about coming up with the riff for “No Sugar Tonight.”

You grew up in both Montréal and Brooklyn , but you are neither a French-Canadian Tam-Tams Juggler, nor Rosie Pérez. How did that happen?
My father is from Brooklyn. My mother is from Montreal.

What is your favourite animated show on TV right now?
I always have to say The Simpsons. But I love South Park, too. And I was sad to hear King of the Hill is going off the air. It can also sometimes be great.

What's the last fight you got into?
I was walking home from work a couple of weeks ago and some drunk guy on the street threw a can of Coke at me and we both stopped and yelled at each other chest to chest. He was obviously wandering around looking for a fight. It was really weird. You learn a lot about yourself in such situations. I knew it was stupid to be allowing this crazy person make a stupid decision for us both, but at the same time, I felt like if I backed down I’d regret it. So I stood there taunting him and at a certain point it became clear to me he wasn't going to throw the first punch. This emboldened me and I started calling him out more. At a certain point I realized he wasn’t actually looking to hit someone so much as he was maybe looking to be hit. That wasn’t something I felt ready to do, though-- throw a first punch-- and in the end, I walked off and went into a Mexican restaurant and ate a plate of tacos and drank beer. I was intending to go home and have some leftover tofu stir fry but I passed the place and felt like I’d earned tacos. I ate them with gusto.

The best kind of people in Montréal / The worst kind of people in Montréal:
I don’t know if I’m equipped to answer this. I don’t get out much. But generally speaking I love people who indulge me.

This is Jonathan's newest book, LAGTB. It can be purchased at almost any book store or online, so honestly - you have no reason not to buy it. I'd give you mine, but, you know...then I'd be out $20.

Something I’ve never understood was the desire to meet an author and have them sign their own book. It’s like if someone brought you a bottle of wine and you asked them to sign the label. Do you think it’s cheesy, or do you get flattered when someone approaches you with a copy of Schmelvis and a Sharpie?
I always get flattered. And a little embarrassed.

In other news…I see that you will be in Toronto as part of your book tour for LAGTB. Will you sign my copy of LAGTB? (Editor's Note: this was a week or two ago, so don't start saving your pennies and planning a road trip to Toronto).
I’m so sorry. I’m so late handing in these answers that I already met you and I did sign your book. Please think of me as the kid who gets extra time to hand in his test because he has some sort of deficit disorder.

Back in 2006, it seemed like more homes had copies of Lullabies for Little Criminals than they did the goddamned phone book. After much scoffing and plenty of snide comments like “pfft…why don’t I just go read The DaVinci Code” I finally read it. Wow. I’m an asshole. It’s a terrific book. Will you please apologize to Heather for me?
I don’t believe in making apologies for other people.

Your ideal sandwich:
A smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. Man. It’s after midnight in Montreal and I’m wondering if it’s still open…

No comments: