Tuesday, May 25, 2004
If you’re looking for creative journalism, interesting stories with an odd twist, coverage of the offbeat, the alternative, the cool, the weird, the important, the unimportant, the awesome, chances are you’ve landed at The Black Table. While there, you’ve likely encountered the hard-hitting journalism of A. J. Daulerio, coëditor of B.T., as well as columnist for Knot Magazine. In his series of interviews, (Between a ) Rock and a Hard Place, he grills media folks, extracting from his subjects raw commentary about their peers and profession. He forgets the pleasantries, slices through the bullshit, and punches in the gut with his questions. Also, he pesters them with introspective Scylla-and-Charybdis dilemmas.
Sample question by Mr. Daulerio:
“Would you rather have rodeo sex with Jayson Blair or beat up Arthur Sulzberger’s mother?”
[Posed to journalist Seth Mnookin.]
Y.P.R.: Many of your “Rock and a Hard Place” subjects are either gossip writers or gossip makers. What is it about journalism’s dirty side that’s so alluring?
A.J.D.: Well, they just seem more likely to say something interesting—I mean, their job is basically to be a snitch. And most of them only get a paragraph or two in their “gossip” columns or what have you so I figure they must have a lot of pent-up words that they’re looking to get out. Most of the time that’s true. And, thankfully, none of the gossip folks I interviewed—Musto, Spiegelman, Spiers, Bykofsky—took themselves too seriously and were more than happy to play along. That’s kind of the top priority for any potential RAAHP interview: are you willing to play the game?
Y.P.R.: Spill it: Who were the best and worst interviews?
A.J.D.: Best: Reverend Fred Phelps. He’s the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church—the “God Hates Fags” people—and I was on the phone with him for an hour. It was so over the top, crazy, and awful, but I tell you what, the guy’s got that spooky charisma that just makes him very compelling. He almost had me hating homosexuals. I had to restrain myself from kicking the crap out of Will Leitch the next time I saw him.
Worst: Jonathan Ames. We tried to do a Rock and a Hard Place with him and it just wasn’t working out. He’s too dry, too clever, too witty and just wasn’t saying anything all that interesting. I love him as a writer, so it was a shame that it didn’t work out, but you know, it just kind of sucked.
Y.P.R.: Mnookin seemed like he wasn’t digging your hypothetical rocks and hard places. Do people ever outright refuse to answer the creative conundrums you pose?
A.J.D.: Yeah, Seth Mnookin wasn’t digging the concept. He’s been the only one so far to outright refuse. I mean, it’s not like I’m breaking new ground or anything and he’s a pretty established guy so I wasn’t that offended that he didn’t find humor in many of the questions. The majority of the problems came about when he refused to answer questions about 69ing Arthur Sulzberger’s dead mother when he’s working on a book about The New York Times and, lo, still had to interview some of the major characters involved in his book. Which I guess you can say is understandable. But we and Seth Mnookin reached a happy medium and decided to play up the contentious tone and go ahead with it anyway. He was cool with it—or as much as he could be at that point. In hindsight, he was actually really great about the whole thing.
Y.P.R.: It seems like each of the B.T. editors occupies a different journalistic niche. Can you speak a little bit about that? Are they commensurate with your personalities?
A.J.D.: I’d say that’s true for the most part. The site had a way of delegating responsibility naturally without any one person barking orders. It’s very organic. I think we do a great job of utilizing all of our individual skills and talents and then making them work. I have know idea what mine is, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with my willingness to look foolish, repulsive, and abhorrently offensive. That’s O.K. though because I get a lot of pussy from being that way. Honestly. Smell my elbow.
For me, personally—and I’d hate to speak for the others, but I think they’d agree—I feel a strong sense of responsibility for my role and how it benefits The Black Table. Sure, we all like it when one of our individual stories get shot out all over the Web and the accolades and contacts that come with a story that’s a hit, but you know, that passes. There are still a lot of days left to fill and gaining/maintaining momentum and bringing in a larger audience on a daily basis helps more than a few links here and there. In the beginning—well, last year—I think we were still struggling to find our own individual “niches,” but I think we have a good feel for what we all do now. What’s that called, um, synergy? I don’t know. Fuck you.
Y.P.R.: How did you become the resident B.T. interviewer? By force or by choice?
A.J.D.: Again, it kind of just happened. Other people do interviews, but the RAAHP thing just came out of a party game we used to play when we were stoned at Camp Bowery. It seemed like a good gimmick to try when I was interviewing Jesse Pearson from Vice. Then we tried it again and kind of realized that within all the dirty stuff, these people were actually saying some pretty incredible and candid things about the media industry and showing some pretty fascinating and hilarious sides to their personalities. Presto.
Y.P.R.: Describe for us your interview process: What kind of research do you do? How do you conduct your interviews (e-mail, phone, in person)? Do you like to have all your questions prepared, or do you just roll with the subject’s responses?
A.J.D.: Did you ever hear of Google? It’s amazing.
The RAAHP interviews are all done via e-mail and the questions are, ahem, dilligently prepared ahead of time. Then after the answers are sent back, I do follow-ups. Then at the end of the interview it’s all pulled together with minor edits—I add my little dopey comments in response to some of their answers—it’s sent back to them for approval, and then Gillin does the art to give it the full RAAHP treatment. It’s supposed to be part interview, part celebrity roast.
Y.P.R.: To what lengths have you gone to secure an interview?
A.J.D.: Well, I let Jeff Koyen feel me up at Botanica bar, but that was after the interview. He was gentle, so it was cool.
Y.P.R.: Is there an elusive white whale that’s consistently dodged your tireless pursuit?
A.J.D.: David Granger from Esquire finally responded after five months’ worth of e-mails and thanked me for my persistence. I don’t know if he’s committed yet, but he seems like he’s considering it. It’d be pretty cool to interview him. I guess I’m a dork like that.
Y.P.R.: What dead person do you wish you could have interviewed?
A.J.D.: Bea Arthur.
Y.P.R.: Do interviews conducted via e-mail feel artificial to you? Does the lack of spontaneity allow better or worse responses?
A.J.D.: Nah. Not with the RAAHP. These people are writers and it gives them time to be creative with the answers or really think about their answers pretty extensively. I don’t think there’s been one instance where somebody has held back—if they do, it’s usually put in there anyway. See: Mnookin, Seth—and we make sure people know what they’re getting into before hand so they know what to expect and what we expect.
Y.P.R.: Do you ever get a little star-struck when talking to a subject? Do you ever think, “Oh my God, I’m actually talking to ____”?
A.J.D.: Jayson Blair. Well, e-mailing, not exactly talking. But that was such a surreal scenario. He was one of our “white whales” when we first started this and Leitch got his e-mail somehow and had e-mailed him about doing it considering his book was coming out soon. Well, I get this frantic phone message from Will on a Saturday afternoon telling me to check my e-mail and there he was. I mean, this was like the week Burning Down My Masters’ House came out and he’d just done Larry King, Matthews, Katie Couric, and then his next stop was, um, The Black Table??? And me, more specifically? We both e-mailed him like three times saying, “Now, you’re sure you know the type of interview you’re consenting to? You’re sure you want to do this? We’re going to be really, really cruel to you” and he’s all yeah, yeah I deserve it, it’ll be fun. So, that Sunday night—he had to do “O’Reilly” the next day or something and was leaving for his next round of media blitzing so it had to be done soon—I was e-mailing these questions back and forth with Jayson Blair, just pounding him with awful questions and in the back of my mind just waiting for him to stop responding. But, he didn’t. It was weird because at the end of it, I actually felt for the guy. I mean, maybe we were duped, maybe he is just a horrible fucking phony who’s capitalizing off his misdeeds, but there seemed to be a real lonely, sedated, and vacant tone to him that felt all too human.
Y.P.R.: Who’s your favorite interviewer (TV or print)? Who do you wish would interview you?
A.J.D.: Charlie Rose.
I’d love to be interviewed by Satan. It’d be the ultimate confessional. Like if I’m not completely honest, he kills one of my relatives or something.
Y.P.R.: Who asks the best questions: Torquemada, the Riddler, or Tim Russert?
A.J.D.: Bah, they all suck. Especially that Torquey guy. I don’t even know who he is.
Y.P.R.: Torquemada was this Spanish dude who conducted a lot of interviews in the Fifteenth Century. Mel Brooks played him in a movie once. Anyway, could you please share a funny or disastrous incident from a job interview?
A.J.D.: I once interviewed for a job at some B-to-B publication completely hung over with a bad case of party gas that they probably wouldn’t have given me had I been the most qualified man on the planet. I mean, when a person asks you “Are you alright?” and “Do you need to use the bathroom?” three or four times during the course of the interview it’s not a good thing. I excused myself in the middle of it, destroyed their toilet, then never went back.
Y.P.R.: How do you feel you’ve grown as interviewer?
I haven’t. I’m in a constant state of regression that will ultimately cost me true happiness.
Rorschach time: What’s this look like?
A.J.D.: A demonic adult diaper.
Y.P.R.: If you had to cook and eat one of your Black Table coëditors, and make sweet, sweet love to another, who gets the bed and who gets the oven?
A.J.D.: I’d eat Gillin. We share the same fridge so I’m pretty confident I’d enjoy eating his insides fried with a little butter.
I’d probably do Jim Cooke. He just had a hernia operation so he wouldn’t move around too much. Aileen would have to watch though so she could give a brutally honest assessment about the whole thing.
Y.P.R.: What’s the “A.J.” stand for? (Our top three guesses: Anthony James, Albert Jones, Allison Janney)
A.J.D.: Antawn Jamison. Mom’s a Tar Heel.
Y.P.R.: If “Daulerio” were a word, please provide its definition.
A.J.D.: “One who rubs thighs.”
Y.P.R.: Please name all the members of the following 80s hair-metal bands: Warrant, Extreme, Poison, Queensryche, Skid Row. Bonus points if you can match the members to their instruments.
A.J.D.: Boo. I won’t use Google for this and I only know all the members of one of those bands. Here’s what I do know:
Queensryche: Geoff Tate—lead vocals
Extreme: Gary Cherone—lead vocals; Nuno Bettancourt—guitar
Skid Row: Sebastian Back—lead vocals; Dave “Snake” Sabo—guitar
Warrant: Jani Lane—lead vocals
Poison(a-ha!): Bret Michaels—vocals; C. C. Deville—lead guitar; Bobby Dall—bass; Rikki Rocket—drums.
Y.P.R.: A Viking, a knight, a gladiator, and a samurai walk into a bar. Who comes out alive?
A.J.D.: The samurai, most likely, because he’s probably good at math.
Y.P.R.: Finally, given your interview expertise, how’d we do?
A.J.D.: Ah, it was O.K. You guys are no Claire Zulkeys, that’s for damn sure.