By far, the mass majority of media, entertainment, and reading that I consume are interviews. Magazines, articles, video clips, all the late night talk shows, Howard Stern, Oprah, Inside the Actors Studio, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes, – bored yet? Because I could keep going. I’m obsessed with the ways people signify themselves through language, and as a result, I tend to do far more listening than talking in social situations.
Whether or not I’ve ever heard of the interviewee, I pay attention to the way they respond to a question and what it says about the way they choose to carry themselves. Also the style of the interviewer – is he/she asking questions they know the audience wants to hear? Or questions that will help promote the interviewee’s agenda? Or are they just having a conversation?
Because of this fixation, I know a mass amount of very specific information about a lot of people. I could definitely write the entire Wikipedia page for Steve Carell. What is this good for? Probably nothing. But I think a lot can be learned from just watching interviews. It’s not a speech where a person is giving a rehearsed lecture. It’s not a book or a song where the person is presenting themself the exact way they want to be seen. With an interview, there’s slightly more risk and unpredictability involved.
Oprah describes interviewing as a dance. Prior to it, she privately asks her guest what they want to get out of the interview. Whether it’s Rob Lowe promoting his new book or Whitney Houston trying to cut the bullshit so people can understand the real truth about her, the interviewer is the facilitator and it’s her job to earn people’s trust and to leave her personal opinions at home. If she thinks the person has revealed something that they did not want to reveal, she will try to help them recover, because it is a dance that she is leading.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is someone like Howard Stern, who is the voice of honesty. He vocalizes every thought that goes through his mind, especially the ugly stuff, and he doesn’t apologize for it. His earliest professional instinct was to erase the line between private and public, which often mirrors the one separating discomfort and comfort.
“Discomfort is something interesting to explore.” – Howard Stern
What I love about him is that he talks to every person as though he is an interested fan. You know that he is genuinely fascinated by each guest he interviews. When you’re listening to his show, you feel like you’re hanging out with a bunch of friends without having to contribute to the conversation.
Howard Stern’s thirst for knowledge and a penchant for not taking himself too seriously has fueled a career unparalleled in radio, or anywhere else for that matter. And I think his success and style of speaking can teach us how to have worthwhile conversations with people in our day-to-day lives. Take the time to understand everyone you meet. Howard says that if you’re talking to someone and you can’t think of what to say, then say the most honest thing you can think of.