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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Host/Guest Relationship

Last Thursday on "The Daily Show," Mark Ruffalo introduced a montage of clips showing the many times Jon Stewart has admitted that he hasn't seen a guest's movie. I suppose this was meant to jokingly embarrass Stewart, as if he's never prepared for interview.

To the contrary, in his 16 years on the show, Stewart has proven that he's always ready to take on any guest, ask intelligent questions, challenge obvious obfuscators, or play along with a semi-known celebrity who showed up to pitch a movie or TV show. He's particularly good with writers, and publishers push his guest bookers to put their authors in the chair opposite Stewart, because appearing with him gives them a tremendous boost -- probably the best in television since Oprah went off the air.

But back to that montage.

As an interviewer myself, while I do make the effort to attend a screening of a guest's movie ahead of time, it's not possible for me to see all of them. I find it arrogant of every guest to expect me to have devoted a couple of hours to seeing their movie -- or a day or two reading their book -- when all I'm going to get in return is 9 minutes of airtime.

In the case of an author, I can skim through the book in 15 minutes and come up with enough questions to fill any interview. The burden is then on the guest to be compelling and not respond to my queries with short, monosyllabic, boring answers. If I'm talking more than you are, you're not doing your job as a guest. After all, you're here to promote your project, not as a favor to me.

The absolute worst thing an author can say in response to one of my questions is, "Well, it's obvious you haven't read the book, or you'd know the answer to that." The fact is, you're right, I didn't read your entire book, but I looked through it and found this interesting anecdote or essay that I'd like you to share with my audience because they didn't even know your book existed until now. So just take my cue and run with it. Want to learn how to do that? Listen to any of my interviews with Dave Barry or Bruce Schneier or Carl Reiner or Gerald Posner.

Remember, you're not the only thing on my mind during the show, particularly during morning drive, when I may have more than a half dozen guests to talk to over four hours, not to mention all the other topics and little information segments I have to be prepared for. I'm changing gears about every ten minutes. When I was doing that on a daily business, my head was filled with so much detail that it was almost overwhelming, and in the internet age, when there's so much more news to follow, it's even more difficult. So forgive me (or Jon Stewart or anyone else whose show you're appearing on) if you're not uppermost in my thoughts that day. Because when I get through with you, I have to move on to my next interview, or the one after that.

That being said, there have been lots of occasions where, after my conversation with a guest, I did find some time to read their book, watch their TV show, listen to their album, or see their movie. I have often enjoyed them, especially if they were a good guest, and I have heard from tons of listeners over the years who thanked me for introducing them to something or someone they weren't familiar with before.

Which, when you think about it, is the bottom line. It's not about whether I experienced the end result of your creativity, but did we make others want to experience it. If so, I've done my job as a host, and you've done your job as a guest.