Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ben Kweller Interview

The evolution of Ben Kweller
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

After signing with a major label at 15, Ben Kweller has spent 11 years of his life in the music business. Now 26, Kweller is married, just welcomed his first child, and has released his most personal album to date, simply titled "Ben Kweller," which brings his 60s influenced pop to a deeper level. This doesn’t mean that Kweller is ready to grow up. He still collects baseball cards and his shoulder-length hair could allow him to pass for a high school student. But Kweller’s catchy rock sound has established him as one of the leaders in his genre. As a testament, his song "Penny on a Train Track" was named one of Rolling Stone’s "Top 100 Songs of 2006." He brings his energetic show to the Vic March 1 and 2 with Gomez. Kweller spoke to The DePaulia with a soft southern accent about growing up, the state of the music business and hanging out with Brian Wilson.

The DePaulia (TD): How’s the tour been going?
Ben Kweller (BK): It’s been going good, man. First, I want to say I had a good gig at DePaul University a while back. I remember I played there last year or something. I’m out right now as a trio. It’s called "The Trio on the Train Tracks Tour" and its f**king really cool, man. I haven’t played as a trio in years. It’s really fun to hear these songs stripped down. The band that I have is so f**king good. This bass player that I have is Chris Morrison and the drummer Mark Stepro from Ohio. They’re just blowing my mind.
TD: What’s the best concert you’ve attended?
BK: One of the best concerts was Weezer when I saw them back in 1996 on the "Pinkerton" tour in Dallas. It was great.
TD: It seems like the new album is commonly described as a more grown up record in reviews. Were you trying to make more of a grown up sound?
BK: No, I just record my songs the way that the songs want to be recorded. Basically, the first song I wrote for the album was "Run" and I heard all these bells and piano and snare drum with reverb on it and I wanted to make a more layered sound. I guess since it’s more raw and loose than "On My Way" and a little more focused on detail, people think that means it’s a little more grown up. I am growing up, but everybody is. We’re all getting older every year and we all get another birthday. I hope that my music is growing somehow. I would never want it to stay the same. But I don’t think about it one way or the other because the media, they say so many things. Like I could go put out a noise record with electric guitars with feedback and they would be like, "Woah, he’s regressing to being 15 again. So maybe he didn’t grow up."
TD: Was playing all the instruments on the new record more of a challenge for you?
BK: It was a challenge. It wasn’t my idea actually. It was the producer, Gil Norton’s idea for me to do all the instruments since the songs were so personal and autobiographical. He was like, "If you put your fingerprints on every track, it will be 100 percent Ben Kweller and it will be really honest." So I thought that was a good idea, so I went for it. I’m glad I did, but I think I’m going to go back to playing with a band in the studio. I don’t want to try to compete with this one right away.
TD: What’s it like having your songs played live by other people?
BK: I’m not such a stickler for parts. There are certain parts in songs that I want them to play. I let them do their own thing. The live show is different from the album. With the trio, we’ve really had to pick the most important hooks because we can’t get every bell and tambourine in with three guys. You get a real simple, focused version of the songs, but I think it’s still really powerful.
TD: You’ve been in the music business for over 10 years, how do you see the business differently than you did when you entered it?
BK: It has changed completely, 100 percent. I feel really bad for so many people in the business. I feel bad for the record companies especially because they don’t know what to do. We’re dealing with computers and technology so quickly. More than ever, it’s important for a band to be as self-sufficient as possible and not rely on backing from a record company. Now it’s so important to build a fan base organically and be able to tour. Record companies aren't making enough money to spend money like they used to. It’s just really hard, you have to do it all yourself. The flipside is there’s MySpace and YouTube that are making it easier for your band to be self-sufficient, but then the double edged sword of it is there’s millions of more bands, so you have to sift through a lot of s****y bands. (Laughs) It all kind of evens out. It’s hard to be successful in this music business. It was hard in the 60s and I think it keeps getting harder.
TD: Do you feel like you’ve "made it" in your mind?
BK: I have been very successful, but I think that as an artist, you can’t ever be totally content. You always have to strive for more. I still have the fire burning in me to get my music out to as many people as possible. There’s always goals. I don’t even have a gold record yet.
TD: What has been the biggest thrill of your career?
BK: I’ve met some really great people. I got to go to Brian Wilson’s house. That was really cool, hung out with him. That was a big deal. I played him some songs on the acoustic guitar and he played me "God Only Knows" on the piano. That was probably one of the biggest thrills.
TD: You covered "Wait" for the "This Bird has Flown" tribute album to the Beatles’ "Rubber Soul." Why did you choose "Wait"?
BK: Well first of all, because there were only two songs left. I love that song "Wait." I’ve always liked the last half of "Rubber Soul," I think it’s got some real interesting songs on it. The harmonies are really funky. It’s got a cool vibe to it. I love the Ringo drum fill. (Makes quick drumming noise) Wait!
TD: Why do you have a Pete Rose rookie card on your MySpace?
BK: Pete Rose is one of my favorite baseball players ever and I’ve always wanted his rookie card. That’s one of my dream rookie cards. I can’t afford it, it’s like $800. It’s like $1,000 in mint condition, there is no way in hell my wife is going to let me spend that money on a piece of cardboard. But maybe one day.
TD: Do you have any goals for the future?
BK: I have a goal that I’d like to buy some land down in Austin, Texas and I want to have a barn and build a studio and just start making my records down in Texas and get out of New York for a little bit and be creative. Another goal is to start touring in South America and Mexico.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ralph Nader Interview

Nader critiques political apathy, personal values
Nader discusses his childhood in new memoir in relevance to today's youth
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

He is either one of the most heroic or villainous figures in America history, either loved or hated by Americans. But no matter how divisive, some feel Ralph Nader has made an impact.
Since his 1965 book, "Unsafe At Any Speed," that looked into the safety of the auto industry, Nader has dedicated his life to becoming a consumer advocate.

Lately however, Nader has been viewed in a less favorable light since his 2000 presidential bid that many believe cost Al Gore the presidency.

Either way, Nader’s importance cannot be denied. As a testament to this, he was named one of Atlantic Monthly’s "100 Most Influential Americans (Ever)," one of only three living people on the list.

Nader, 72, continues to be active with his new documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," premiering March 2 at the Music Box Theater. He has also released a new book, "The Seventeen Traditions," about the traditions and values that were instilled in him as a child. He will be appearing at the Borders on Michigan Avenue on February 21st to sign copies of his book.

For a man who made his career on investigative work, writing a memoir was a change, but he feels just as strongly about it.

"That is something I haven’t done before. I thought putting down the different ways that my mother and father raised their four children in a factory town in northwest Connecticut…would be of interest and helpful to a lot of parents today," Nader said. "A lot of the ways they raised us are very adaptable. It’s got a lot of relevance today," Nader said.

Nader decided to release the book because he is very concerned with the current state of American families, whom he feels are moving away from the very values that he cherishes.

"I think we need more self-consciousness from families around the country, so they preserve their generational experience and insight," Nader said. "This is not just sentimental, believe me. This is very important for nurturing children and giving them their own self-confidence and not letting external influences shatter the family the way they are at the present time."

Nader is also disturbed by the political apathy of many college students—people who were among his biggest supporters in his 2000 run for president.

"It’s more than just getting out the vote, it’s getting out smart votes, where students and young people do their homework and not just knee-jerk their way because their grandparents were Democrats or Republicans," Nader said.

Nader also feels that students should not only become more informed about politics but should be directly involved with the political process.

"I think it’s also important for students to think of running for election themselves in a few years at the local level. The political system is so corrupted by big money that it pushes out good candidates who don’t want to go through the dirty grind and compromise their soul," Nader said.

Nader, who has run as a third party candidate for the presidency in the last three elections feels that there is hope for third parties in America, in particular at the state and local level.
However, it may be a longer time before there is a third party president.

"If you’re asking about the national level, the system is terribly rigged against third parties right now with huge ballot access barriers and one or the other party can sue or harass and delay or get their own political judges to disqualify thousands of signatures on the petitions. Illinois has got a problem like that," Nader said.

Nader has been a vocal critic of President George Bush since his election, going as far as to suggest his impeachment. While he admits it does not appear that Bush will be leaving office before his term is over, he feels that American citizens should still take some steps to change the president’s political agenda.

Nader suggested supporting the organization, The World Can’t wait, which is demanding the resignation of Bush and Cheney.

"There are so many principles of impeachment that can be applied to him and have been written up by the Center for Constitutional Rights," Nader said.

He also suggested putting pressure on the presidency through the polls, demonstrations, student newspapers or student radio stations.

"The pressure is increasing and increasing, they are starting to feel it in Washington. Their polls are plummeting, and they know they are going to face a lot of subpoenas from the Democratic committee chairs in the next few weeks," Nader said.

In recent interviews, he criticized 2008 presidential candidate and current Democratic frontrunner, Hilliary Clinton as "a panderer and a flatterer." When he was asked about Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy, he took a more apprehensive approach.

"Well we have to wait and see. He’s obviously got great capacity, and he knows what the score is and he knows where the powers that be are," Nader said. "But in the two years in the Senate, he’s been reluctant to take strong stands against corporate power and I think that is the key measure of a presidential candidate because corporations dominate our politics, our elections. So we’ll give it some time and see how he does."

Nader has been an opponent of the Iraq War since it began. He feels that immediate action is necessary to deal with the war.

"I think there should be a six-month withdrawal, and during those six months, it will knock the bottom out on the insurgency because their only rationale is our military occupation and commercial occupation over their oil in Iraq," Nader said. "Ten officials in the Bush administration, at least, have said our military presence is fueling and attracting more and more people to train in terrorist areas. So it’s quite clear that it’s only going to get worse if we stay there."

Although Nader appeared on "The Daily Show" earlier this month, he feels that the show is not a viable news source and displays unease with the younger generations in America who have gravitated toward "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" at the expense of more credible news programs.

"They are better than nothing, but certainly not serious enough—not detailed enough. You shouldn’t have to giggle to get news," Nader said. "It’s nice to watch them, it’s very clever. But I think we have to ask young people to get more serious. They’re spending too much time in a world of entertainment and music, iPods, gossiping on cell phones, watching screens."
Nader feels that the youth of America should look to the past for inspiration in how to live their lives.

"It’s their country, it’s their world, and they should allocate more time to serious pursuits and do what their forbearers did in the 1960s against the war and for civil rights and the environment and so many other things that students today forget about," Nader said.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Greg Giraldo Interview

Giraldo’s world
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

Greg Giraldo’s path to comedy is one filled with unexpected twists and turns, and law degrees. After attending Columbia University for his undergraduate degree, he went to Harvard to get his law degree. After a brief stint as a lawyer, Giraldo has become a socially provocative comic, appearing regularly on "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn" and on Comedy Central Roasts. He can also be seen on the annual year end "Last Laugh" specials. This summer, he provided the vocals for the spoken word track "Underwear Inside the Pants," which reached number four in Australia and topped the iTunes download chart. He released his first CD, "Good Day to Cross a River" in the fall, and will bring his act to the Chicago Improv from Feb. 14 to the 18. Giraldo spoke to The DePaulia in his usual sarcastic and self-depreciating manner on topics covering love, not being a superhero and his international rock star status.

The DePaulia (TD): Are you taking any different approaches to performing on Valentine’s Day?
Greg Giraldo (GG): (Laughs) Yeah, I’m going to bring the love. I see my role as a Valentine’s Day performer as an opportunity to bring people closer together.
TD: Do you have any love advice?
GG: You’re talking to a guy who’s married with three kids, so clearly I’m not the one to give advice on how to live a happy, fulfilled life.
TD: What were you like in college?
GG: I had long hair, I was in a band, I was drunk a lot. I was an English major, so I did a lot of writing and I did okay. I was at Columbia, so it’s not like there were any hot chicks to chase. Pretty much get drunk and study.
TD: Why do you think a lot of comedians go to some really good schools?
GG: I don’t really know. I think there’s a lot of comedians going to a lot of shitty schools too. But I think you hear that comedians are generally above average intelligence. That’s not true though. But you hear it.
TD: At what point did you decide that you should try comedy?
GG: I didn’t do stand up really, but I did little sketches. I was always kind of screwing around with comedy type of performances. I don’t really remember that final decision. I was just writing down a lot of stuff, keeping notes and starting to think about what I would do with it, kind of write some kind of show. Then I decided to just do an open mic. I just went onstage and did the open mic and that was it. Once I did that first open mic, my career skyrocketed. Overnight.
TD: How do you like playing college audiences?
GG: I like it. I mean sometimes in the past, I’ve said I didn’t love them as much. It depends on the college and your level of success. There were times when I didn’t love doing colleges because there were a lot of things about doing colleges because of the student activity fee payment, you can’t really tell if the show is going to be good or not based on what you’re getting paid. Sometimes you’re getting a decent check and you think its going to be a great show and you show up and it turns out it’s in the cafeteria and there’s six kids there, foreign exchange students that don’t speak English. So that kind of thing would happen early in my career, but now with more and more people coming out that know me, it’s usually really great. Obviously you’re dealing with a homogenous group of people, everyone is the same age, everyone is going through the exact same experiences, and as I get old, it starts to get more pathetic trying to remember my college days to relate on some level.
TD: In the last episode of "Tough Crowd," Colin Quinn went on an angry rant about the shows cancellation. How did you feel about it?
GG: Well, I mean it sucked. With TV they do all kinds of horse***t all the time. It was frustrating, it was very annoying and it was the first really great thing that I’d been a part of that I really loved doing. So it was enormously frustrating. The show had been floating around on the brink for a long time. Nobody does you any favors on TV. It’s a miracle anything stays on at all, so anytime you’re on it, you feel like a big deal. It was frustrating because it felt like that show could have really worked, and the fact that it didn’t become a smash was annoying. But what are you going to do?
TD: What was your relationship like with the other regulars on the show?
GG: Hostile and fraught with sexual tension. (Laughs) That was pretty much it, depending on what guests were on. We were all pretty friendly. Basically you saw the dynamic that was our everyday existence.
TD: What about the whole Dennis Leary incident, when you called him out on the show for not being funny?
GG: Try to put yourself in my shoes and imagine answering this question, two years after the fact when Dennis Leary is the star and creator of one of the best TV shows ever on TV. It’s a little pathetic for me to be dwelling on the glory days of my big f**king clever rhetoric, one time two years ago. It was one of those moments. I don’t really feel like f**king dwelling on it. (Laughs)
TD: When you do roasts, are you ever afraid about going too far?
GG: Yeah, I mean you always write a bunch of jokes for your own amusement that are way extreme and ridiculously over the top and then you think, "Well are they? Maybe I could do this one." It’s a very fine line. I don’t worry about going too far if it’s funny, you worry about what exactly is going to kill. You’re trying to kill, you’re trying to be as funny as possible. Not to hurt anybody’s feelings, but the roasts are mean by definition. So if it’s too far, and by too far, I only mean too far in the sense that it wouldn’t get laughs, or they would get bad groans as opposed to good groans. Sometimes you just go for groans, not horrified groans, just kind of amused groans. It’s pretty easy to see in any given situation what too far would be.
TD: Do you feel like anything is really off limits anymore in comedy?
GG: There’s never been anything that’s been off limits specifically. Everything depends on context, how you’re doing it, why you’re doing it. But there are plenty of things you could say that would get you in trouble depending on the context. But then when you’re saying anything off limits, there are plenty of things that can be discussed. There’s nothing that you can’t, no area or topic that you can’t in some way make funny. But then again, you have to make it funny. Michael Richards found out there are certain things off limits.
TD: After being a panelist on "Tough Crowd," how do you like switching the roles and hosting "Stand Up Nation?"
GG: When I first started doing it, it was a very different thing. It was kind of a bulls**t, throw away thing I was doing for a little while until I could figure out what else I wanted to do with Comedy Central. Basically, it was supposed to be me hosting the whole night, which already existed in its current state and they tried to do some kind of wraparound show. Actually, shooting the show was fun and the segments we actually got to do were really funny given the budget and the time we had to do it all. It was never going to be like, "Here’s my show." It was frustrating in that sense.
TD: "Underwear Inside the Pants" went to number four in Australia, do you feel like you’re a rock star?
GG: (Laughs) Yeah. Whoo! I feel like a rock star! (Laughs)
TD: Do you have a lot of Australian groupies?
GG: I’m told I should go to Australia and capitalize on my big rock star status out there, but I think the nation still needs time to grieve Steve Irwin. Maybe when that whole thing has passed, I might go over there. I heard I could be the new Paul Hogan. I could be the new Yahoo Serious.
TD: What were the interactions with the other comedians like on the bus on the Insomniac Tour?
GG: (laughs) Man, it was wild! (laughs) I actually didn’t go on the bus, I drove around, I rented a Harley out on the West Coast with a friend of mine who has a bike and we just rode motorcycles.
TD: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the students of DePaul University?
GG: Drop out, man. College degrees are overrated. Take that loan money and invest it. In 20 years at 7 percent, get one of the young Asian kids to help you do the math on that one.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Scott Ellis Interview

A multitalented man
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

Since walking out of the Theater School in 1978 in his cap and gown, Scott Ellis was a determined actor with a dream. Now Ellis, whose play "Twelve Angry Men" runs through Feb. 11 at the LaSalle Bank Theater, returns with over 20 plays under his belt, four Tony nominations and as one of Broadways most respected directors. But Ellis is quick to attribute his success to his experiences at DePaul’s Theater School.

"I had great teachers and I was able to learn to get a backbone for having a career in the theater and that all came from the teachers and the classes and what they taught. I was able to walk away with that backbone that was able to serve me over the years. It’s a tough business and there are a lot of ups and downs, but if you have a strong base, which I got from going to DePaul, it makes things a lot easier," Ellis said.

Ellis grew up in Washington, D.C., but he was drawn to DePaul because of its prestigious theater school.

"The theater department was considered one of the best in the country and I auditioned for several schools. I went there for a day and I loved the audition and working with the instructors. With the school and Chicago, I thought that would be a great place to go," Ellis said.
As a student, Ellis described himself as being "very work-orientated." After graduating and working as an actor for about 10 years, he switched to directing.

"I got an opportunity to direct something in New York, something that I wanted to do, and it was successful. So I thought this would be something that I would be interested in exploring. I’m fortunate that what I learned as an actor served me well as a director, and hopefully a better director by understanding what actors go through, what the process is. I love actors and I think that is one of my stronger points."

As the associate artistic director of Roundabout Theater Company, Ellis has directed other plays such as "1776," "She Loves Me" and "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" starring Alec Baldwin. He says that his time at DePaul also helped him form his approach to directing.

"Part of it, I very much learned from the Theater School, which is really starting from the beginning and trying to find the truth of the character and the situation that the character is at. That’s the base of all good work and all good acting, and that’s where I always begin."

"Twelve Angry Men" was originally on Broadway, and earned Ellis a Tony nomination for Best Director. He is now touring the country with stars Richard Thomas from "The Waltons" and George Wendt from "Cheers."

Ellis was faced with a number of challenges bringing the classic story to life.

"It was a challenge to direct the play for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest was that I had to do it in a single room sitting around a table. So how do you get 12 people in one room and stage it in a way that is still interesting? A large part of the challenge is to explore that and find how to move 12 people in a room that still makes it theatrical and interesting…I think with something like ‘Twelve Angry Men’ there is certainly some expectations, whether it is from the film or a production of it that someone has seen, or an idea of what it is or should be. So you have those challenges too, to make it fresh and seem like you are not repeating something from another production."

Over his career, Ellis has also directed for television, including such shows as "Frasier," "30 Rock" and "Hope and Faith."

He says directing for television is a different world than theater. "Television is very, very different. First of all, it’s extremely fast. The storytelling is all out of order. You can shoot the final scene on the first day and the first scene on the last day. I think the biggest part is you don’t have the time to make strong choices about the characters and inspiration, you have to just hope they are right."

"Also, dealing with cameras, you learn that the camera can help tell a story. You’re going to tell the audience where to look. On stage, you don’t have a camera telling you where to look. It’s how you light it, it’s how you stage it, how you focus it."

Ellis is currently in rehearsals for "Curtains," a new Broadway musical opening on March 22 starring David Hyde Pierce. It was one of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s last musicals, who also wrote "Cabaret" and "Chicago." He also says that he’ll be doing more television, working on a film and then opening "Twelve Angry Men" in London before fall. However, Ellis says that he’s not overwhelmed by his projects.

"You realize when the work comes, you take it if it’s something you want to do. You have to balance a lot of things because that’s what you do in the profession. I’ve become involved with the DePaul Theater School because I’m very passionate about helping them and helping the students that are coming after me. I would like them to build a new Theater School because I think it’s a great school and a great university and I want them to get a better environment to create in a building. I’m very passionate about trying to make that happen."

Although Ellis has been nominated for four Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, three Outer Critics Circle Awards, and was the winner of a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Choice Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical, the accomplishment he is most proud of is much more humble.

"I think I’m most proud of continuing to work. I’m still doing what I love to do. I have this thing where I sometimes wonder about my career like, ‘What am I doing?’"
"Not in a hundred years would I believe that would have happened. That would have been beyond my wildest dreams as that kid walking out of that school. When I remind myself of that, I’m very grateful of the opportunities I’ve had, and I’m still happy to have the opportunities to work and do what I love to do," Ellis said.

As a famed graduate of the Theater School, Ellis offered up some advice for current and future theater students.

"There’s absolutely no guarantee for anybody for success or failure. No one knows who’s going to succeed and stay in the business. I remember when I auditioned for DePaul, the one thing that was said was that if you would be happy doing anything else, then you should go do it. I didn’t quite understand that at the time, but I do now. It means that it takes so much passion and work to have a career that you have to want to do it more than anyone else. I always tell students you should do it until you are not happy doing and if you want to do something else, you should go do it. The main thing is, it takes a lot of perseverance and it’s a lot of work. There are many highs and many lows, and you can’t look at it like that, you have to look at it more as the whole picture."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Christian Finnegan Interview

Best interview ever
Interview by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

You may not recognize the name, but Christian Finnegan is everywhere. He is the guy on VH1’s "Best Week Ever" that does the segment "What Your Purchases Say About You." He appears regularly on "The Today Show." He has his own "Comedy Central Presents" special. He hosts a game show on TV Land on Monday nights. And yes, he is Chad, the only white roommate from the infamous "Chappelle’s Show" skit, "The Mad Real World." But upon the Oct. 24 release of his first CD, "Two for Fliching," Finnegan established a firm identity as an up and coming comedian. He will appear at the Ryan Auditorium at Northwestern January 27. Finnegan called The DePaulia from a noisy New York Deli and talked about everything from his hatred of Star Jones to getting hit on by Katie Couric.
The DePaulia (TD): Are you excited for the tour?
Christian Finnegan (CF): I’m really excited about it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I don’t get to travel with other people very often, so I’m actually looking forward to that aspect of it as well. That, you know, I won’t just be by myself, which is usually the case.
TD: What were you like in college?
CF: I think college is a very evolutionary time for every person. It’s the last time in life when you get to reinvent yourself. In high school you might have been a band geek or you might have been this or that. But in college everyone tries to reinvent themselves as something different. Usually, after a semester or so you’ve given yourself up and people realize you really actually are a dork. That first semester of college is great when you are pretending you’re really deep or really athletic or whatever. I spent a lot of college trying to figure out who I was. That’s in a lot of ways what college is for. Most people haven’t ever lived away from home before and it’s only then they find out, "I am sort of a clean person" or "I guess I am a messy person" or "I guess I am a p**n hound" or "I guess I am an alcoholic." It’s kind of like at Chuck E. Cheese. The ball crawl, you know that big pit where they have all the balls? You can fool around and be an idiot and not worry too much about getting hurt in the safe environment. Once you get out of college, you can’t. You have to be a little more thoughtful about how you can hurt yourself (laughs).
TD: Do you think college crowds are different from your typical comedy club crowds?
CF: Yeah, they definitely are. The best audiences in the world are college audiences and the worst audiences in the world are college audiences. Sometimes you go to a school and they’ll have a beautiful theater with a really good sound system and other times you’ll go to a school and they’ll have a riser set up in the corner of the cafeteria. You’ll be performing and there’s people eating Quizno’s sandwiches during the show. Those audiences don’t tend to be very good, but it’s not their fault. Comedy requires a certain amount of ambiance. There’s a reason why the lights on the audience go out. There’s a reason why a theater has certain acoustics. Cafeteria shows just tend to be awful. But when a college crowd is great, there’s never going to be a more enthusiastic crowd. Which is great, but sometimes you have to change what you do for a college crowd. They’re kind of there for a party. They want to hear jokes and stuff, but they also want to scream "whoo." They don’t want your subtle stuff, they want you to kind of hit them in the balls.
TD: When did you know that you wanted to become a comedian?
CF: Any day now (laughs). It’s one of those things where I’d love to say I was not one of those kids who fantasized about it since I was 5 years old. Although I realize looking back, that I had all these comedy albums when I was a kid. I never really thought I should start doing it. Much more than my friends, I had Steve Martin albums and Woody Allen albums, and Eddie Murphy’s "Delirious" and all these things I was obsessed about. But I never really thought, "Hey, I want to do comedy." It was just something I liked doing. I hated stand up comedy when I was in college. My reinvention of myself in college was as a pretentious bastard. I was wearing black turtlenecks and reading philosophical books. In a lot of ways comedy was a perfect fit for me because you’re performing, but it’s your own stuff, it’s your own thoughts. I always felt that stand up comedy is a great career choice for someone who is egocentric, but has a short attention span.
TD: Do you feel pressure to be funny all the time? Do people expect you to be funny when they meet you?
CF: Only unlikable people. It does happen and I understand that. I understand that everyone likes to laugh, everyone wants to have a good time, everyone wants to hear a good joke. Everyone loves that. And so when they find out you do that for a living, I think it’s a natural impulse to want to see it in action. Like, "Come on, dazzle me!" If I told people I was a tax assessor, nobody would say "Hey, value my property." That said, it can be really fatiguing when people just want you to be funny. I can’t stand people who need to be funny all the time. A lot of people feel like they need to be the center of attention all the time, and they’re annoying ... Not everyone is a Robin Williams-type person, thank God.
TD: What do you think is the best and worst part about being a comedian?
CF: I would say the best thing is that there’s a feeling that you get; the feeling you get when you come up with an idea that you just know is going to work. When you just stumble on to a line or a premise, and it usually just happens when you're at home, at three in the morning when you’re flipping channels, or you’re on the subway and you pull a piece of paper out of your pocket and you write something and you’re like, "Oh my God." You just can’t wait to get up on stage and try it. I can’t even tell you how great a feeling that is. And secondly, the feeling that you get when it’s going well on stage, it’s so intoxicating. You really feel like you’re completely in control. I always equate it to the scene at the end of "The Matrix," when all the sudden you can see the matrix and you can stop the bullets and all that cr**. But then there’s other times when you’re on stage and you’re like, "Where am I? Who am I fooling? Why did I think people would think I was funny?" Those moments happen too. They both happen a lot.
TD: Is it tough for you to come up with jokes every week for "Best Week Ever?"
CF: It really is. I don’t mean to make it sound like it is rocket science, because it certainly ain’t, but it can be exhausting. It can be difficult, like what more do I have to say about Tara Reid? What could I possible say about the show "24" at this point?
TD: What was your favorite news story of the past year?
CF: I loathe Star Jones with such a burning passion, and so anything Star Jones-related I tend to enjoy. Not even necessarily making jokes about her, I just found it hilarious to watch. So I would say probably the whole Star Jones thing. And the Mel Gibson thing, just because it was so hilarious and weird, not just the whole anti-Semitism thing.
TD: Along the same lines, how did you feel about the Michael Richards thing as a comedian?
CF: I was troubled by this and I actually wrote about it on my Web site, which I do sometimes to figure out how I feel about something. I don’t remember who this quote is by, but I’m going to totally embarrass myself by misquoting this person and probably getting the person wrong. But I think Thoreau (note: actually E.M. Forster) had this quote, "How will I know what I think until I see what I say." The whole Michael Richards thing bothered me in a sense that, as a comedian, my initial impulse is to always defend the comic to always have the right to say what they want to say and to assume that an audience just isn’t getting it. But, in Michael Richards’ case, no. I think in the end what makes me feel like I do not need to defend him is that he is not a comedian. He’s a TV star biding his time until his next wacky neighbor role comes along. I think he was pissed and thinking people shouldn’t be talking during his set, and no comic likes it when people are talking during their set. There’s ways to deal with it and ways not to deal with it. But I thought he threw that out and that he was going to be able to get to the other side of it and make it funny. But he couldn’t because he doesn’t have the ability, because he’s not a comedian. He’s not a writer at all ... I’m not even saying that insultingly. But just because you’re good at prat falls doesn’t mean you’re good at stand up. I don’t feel like I need to defend that guy. For me, it just wasn’t him throwing out the N-word, just saying the N-word is so craven, it was all the other stuff that really was ugly ... There’s no joke there, that’s just ugly, that’s just vile, pure vile. So screw that guy, I don’t feel the need to defend that guy at all.
TD: Do you find yourself rooting for celebrities to do stupid things?
CF: What you find is you don’t have to. What I get excited about is when there are new kinds of scandals. That’s what was so great about the Mel Gibson thing, it was just so different, so weird. It’s hard to constantly make jokes about somebody getting into a catfight at a dance club. That sh** happens all the time. Sex tapes, things like that, those are done. They’re just over. But something like the Mel Gibson thing, or even something like the Michael Richards thing is just so "Wow!" and weird and out there. Those are the ones I get kind of thrilled with.
In a lot of ways, comedy can be just about button pushing. If you push the right button, people will have the physical reaction of laughing, and that’s great. You can get up and do 20 minutes of fart jokes, and Lord knows, I’m not above a fart joke. But I love a fart joke you remember two weeks down the road. That, I think, is the end goal. (Laughs) (Baby crying in the background) This baby totally needs a punch in the face.
TD: In your act you always talk about being a dork when you were younger. Do you feel that you are less dorky now that you are a comedian on TV?
CF: My life is not particularly exciting. I think a lot of times, especially in college students, you guys, and I don’t mean to sound condescending or anything, but you guys don’t remember a time before basic cable, when there was just NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. So to me, I look at what I do on VH1 as being like AAA ball. The people who are on "CSI," those people are playing in the major leagues, and I’m basically a pickup softball game. A lot of times, college students, when you’ve grown up and had MTV your whole life, TV is TV. To a lot of you students, I might as well be on "CSI" or "Seinfeld" because they just don’t understand I’m standing in a conference room in front of a piece of colored construction paper, and not getting paid particularly well to do it. (Laughs) Of course I had some issues growing up. My story was the story of a lot of kids though. Nobody is in third grade thinking, "Man, I am so popular."
TD: Did you think the "Chappelle’s Show" skit "Mad Real World" was going to be as big as it was?
CF: I had no idea it was going to be that big. I knew it was going to be that funny. When I read the script I was just blown away. I was like, "Aw, God, I can’t believe I get to do this." A lot of "Chappelle’s Show" is like when you see one of those really great episodes of "South Park" and you just wonder, why isn’t everything this funny? I remember reading the sketch and thinking, "I can’t believe how funny this is." I got really fortunate because I bumped into Neal Brennan, who is Dave’s writing partner, when he was in the process of editing the piece before it was on the air, and at that point it was 23 minutes long.
There’s a lot of stuff that was on the cutting room floor that I wished they would put out on the DVD because it was very funny. I’ll be honest with you, that part really isn’t that far from me anyways.
That character is probably me at age 15, in terms of I certainly didn’t have a lot of experience knowing a whole lot of black people growing up in suburban Massachusetts.
I mean, I wanted to. I loved the idea of knowing black people, but I didn’t actually have any experience with it. So I was able to tap into that very easily.
TD: Do people still recognize you as Chad from the sketch?
CF: It used to be insane, not a day would go by. For a while, it was probably five times a day. And it’s never like "hey." They’ll just either yell "Chappelle" or "white boy" or "you stabbed my dad" ... There are just so many lines, "What’s the square root of this apartment?" That’s the amazing thing about that sketch is there’s probably 20 lines that people can quote that most people would know what they’re quoting. I don’t even think Dave or Neal even knew it was going to be that big.
You can never predict a pop culture phenomenon like that. I can’t even fathom it. Sometimes you’ll get people who will recognize you half way through your set and they’ll start yelling, "You stabbed my dad" or "Chappelle" and it just brings everything to a grinding halt. If anyone is coming out to the show at Northwestern, please don’t yell out "Chappelle" things. What I always tell people when I’m off stage is when they tell me, "Hey man, I was the one who yelled out ‘Chappelle,’" I’m like, "In your mind, what did you envision happening? When you yelled that out, what was the best case scenario?
What was I going to say? You know what? You’re right, "Chappelle." What then? I can’t believe you’ve actually seen ‘Chappelle’s Show.’ You must be a special person." The thing is, I don’t take it lightly ... I can’t even fathom what it was like for Dave.
Dave Chappelle is not one of those people who did stand up so he could break into the acting game. He’s a stand up who happens to have had a TV show and has been in some movies. Chris Rock is the same way. So I think that’s one of the things that really contributed to Dave just wanting to pop that balloon.
People were not letting him do what he loved to do, which is to do stand up. I can understand the urge to be like, "You know what, f**k this. I’m going to go on the lam for a year, kind of start over again and make it smaller."
I’m not saying I would have done it. I probably would have stuck with it because I’m a p***y, but I can understand why someone would want to do that.
TD: Do you have any good Matt Lauer stories?
CF: I will say that Matt Lauer is a funny dude with kind of a dark sense of humor. Off camera, he’s kind of biting. He’s a little bit of a d**k, like in the best possible way. I remember the first couple times he had a couple of insults and I was like, "Wow that was a zinger."
It’s so funny, you see these people that do these shows and you’re watching these people on TV, and you’re like, "Who are these people? They seem so dumb and so easy." If you ever are on the set of "The Today Show," I’m amazed that they’re able to do what they do. It’s really like juggling in a lot of ways, so I admire the ability to do that.
I remember one time when he interviewed Britney Spears, who was chewing gum the whole time. He was wearing loafers without socks and we were on "The Today Show" the next week. And we, especially Sherrod Small, were giving him the business about not wearing socks and how awful his ankles looked and apparently we heard back from the producers that he was a little bit insulted by that.
There was also a moment where Katie Couric sort of propositioned me sexually. It was joking, but it was a little bit creepy. They were doing a segment about mammograms, the screening for breast cancer, and Katie had a mammogram and they were showing footage from it and we were the next segment.
And Katie said something like, "I know you guys have always really wanted to see my breasts." And I made some joke like, "Oh yeah Katie, I know, it’s been weeks." And then she just looked at me dead in the eye and completely without smiling or anything was like, "Well come on up to the dressing room afterwards and we’ll see if we can change that."
She was joking, she was just being silly, but she really just held the eye contact for an awkwardly long time. And she walked away and I thought, "Oh my god, Katie Couric just invited me to go upstairs and look at her boobs."
TD: Do you hear from a lot of celebrities who were offended by what you said?
CF: Well, never to your face. And to Matt Lauer’s credit, it’s not like he was a d**k about it.
A lot of time the people working around the celebrities are the ones who take that stuff personally because they’re all trying to justify their job and trying to anticipate potential issues. Celebrities are just like anybody else,.Maybe they’ve been skinned in their own way, and of course being on camera all the time probably makes you more vain than other people.
The way you look physically is important to your career, it’s something that’s in focus, so by sort of insulting Matt Lauer’s ankles it may have meant a little more to him than if I insulted my dad’s ankles in public.

"Wincing the Night Away" Review

‘Wincing’ with The ShinsAlbum Review
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

More so than most other indie bands, The Shins have defied all musical barriers. They have not only been able to reach the bearded indie kids, but also the mainstream pop fans, the emo kids with thick glasses and everyone in between. Even your parents probably like The Shins. This universal appeal has led them to become the biggest little band in the world, virtually overnight. This, combined with the three years in between their last record, has made "Wincing the Night Away" highly anticipated to say the least.

On their third release, The Shins take their sunny indie pop to new directions. The album is much darker than their past two releases. The new songs are typically melancholic at best. Instead of reproducing their old sound, The Shins seem to have used their newfound popularity to spend more time in the studio and create a complex and deeper album. But this is perhaps a welcome change for the band, who were in jeopardy of becoming predictable with their music. In fact, the best songs of the album are those that sound least like their past work.

From the opening notes of the record, it is evident that The Shins have something different in store. "Sleeping Lessons" starts with spacey keyboard vibrations and heavily distorted vocals from James Mercer, giving the song an Arcade Fire feel to it. The song slowly builds into an explosion of indie rock at its absolute best. The next track, "Australia," is a complete changeup, a song of infectious bliss, and the only really upbeat track. This is reminiscent of The Shins’ past work, a song that makes you feel good about being alive. If there was a song to change your life on this album, it would be this one.
After the completely forgetful interlude of "Pam Berry," the first single, "Phantom Limb," comes in sounding like what you would expect from The Shins, except with a noticeably melancholy feel to the song. The chorus soars as only the Shins can, particularly on lines like "This house is hardly worth the time." The song seems to drag on at the end, but it is the best fusion of old and new sounds on the album.

From there, "Wincing" takes a turn toward more experimental and decidedly darker material. "Sea Legs" has an almost hip hop beat to it, which may turn off many of the older fans. This song might show The Shins at their most creative. When the whole band chimes in to shout "sea legs" in the middle of the song, it stands as the musical apex of the album. Much in the same vein as "Sea Legs," "Split Needles" has an industrial feel to it, with a repeated drum line and looped synths. Mercer’s strong vocals make the song stand among "Wincing’s" best.

"Red Rabbits" is much slower and the heavy use of synths in the background make the song feel like it was recorded in a cave with dripping water all around. The orchestration that appears toward the end of the song is gut wrenchingly beautiful. However, the song never really reaches the expected peak. It is an interesting listen nonetheless.

The last half of the album is more of a grab bag. "Turn Me On" and "Girl Sailor" sound much alike and have The Shins in transition from their pop ditties to their new melancholy feel. This leaves the songs caught in limbo and neither end up very good. "Black Wave" is the darkest song of theirs to date. It is more of a quiet atmospheric song, with Radiohead influenced synths and acoustic guitar over a subdued Mercer’s vocals. It’s a perfect song for the iPod in the winter. The album closes out with the calm "A Comet Appears," an almost hopeful ending to an album with so many twists and turns.

While "Wincing" is by far the least accessible of The Shins records, they made some brilliant strides toward a more well-rounded sound. The fans expecting "New Slang 2" are certainly in for a surprise, but this is The Shins strongest album as a whole. With "Wincing," the Shins have created a record that pushes the boundaries of what indie pop can be.