Interviews with Interviewers:
Daniel Robert Epstein
It's easy to completely overlook the work of Daniel Robert Epstein; after all, his words are surrounded by lots of naked flesh. Pierced, dyed, shaved, and tattooed naked flesh. SuicideGirls, the online 'zine, is probably what Hef would've dreamed up if he were a suburban teenage raver rolling on three hits of really good X: an interactive forum showcasing funky pinups of bookish girls-next-door and devilish dominatrices alike who transform freaky fetishism into punk rock. It's just delicious, delicious smut. Mmmm, smut smut smut.
Oh, also there's some interviews somewhere on the site, if you haven't driven yourself blind. Daniel Robert Epstein is the elusive questioner of the cool and off-kilter.
Sample question by Mr. Epstein:
“Are you going home for Passover?”
[Posed to Gina Gershon, actress and hopeful rock star.][ Proletariat, take heed: Before you go clicking all willy-nilly, we're obliged to inform you that many interview-ward hyperlinks land upon SuicideGirls.com, a Web site that is Not Safe For Work. Unless your office is very cool. ]
Y.P.R.: How many interviews have you conducted?
D.R.E.: Honestly too many to count. Over 150 for SuicideGirls.com. Maybe 500 for UGO.com. Then there was the half dozen other Web sites I have written for or are still writing for. Plus that doesn’t count my television background where I produced hundreds of interviews both on live TV and taped.
Y.P.R.: How do you conduct them? Phone, in person, e-mail?
D.R.E.: I’ve done all three but the majority of the interviews I do are on the phone. I also do a lot of movie junkets, which are in person
Y.P.R.: Your subjects cut a pretty wide swath of—I hate to label anything “alternative,” but—alternative artists and performers; really awesome, interesting folks whom you’d most likely never find interviewed in Entertainment Weekly. How do you select your interviewees?
D.R.E.: It’s funny, I’ve had publicists and colleagues who have told me that they see me as the alterative-type person. I say, “I’ll interview Britney Spears and Tom Hanks if someone is willing to pay me.” SG usually wants the alternatively typed people and UGO goes for the more mainstream creators. But I’ve been surprised sometimes when the opposite happens. For example, I just interviewed the director of Tron for UGO, that movie is over 20 years old, I wouldn’t call that mainstream.
But another example is who I can get. If I can’t get Dave Chappelle, who would be the next best representative of “Chappelle’s Show”? Why, it’s Neal Brennan, Dave’s writing partner who writes, acts, and directs sketches on the show. Plus he’s not as high-profile but in many ways just as interesting as Dave himself. In fact, in some ways he’s even more interesting because he can step back and talk about the show objectively, plus he doesn’t feel the need to be constantly funny.
It’s just figuring out who the most interesting people are out there. I think the two guys who created “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” are amazingly interesting. They created a phenomenon that they are only barely aware of. But everyone I know loves that show. So I think they are interesting, they deserve to be on “David Letterman,” and to be interviewed by the biggest magazines. They are far and away much more interesting to talk to than Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
Again it’s finding out who isn’t doing a ton of interviews. For example, when Michael Moore has a new book out he does every magazine, Web site, and talk show. But maybe, just maybe, I don’t want to talk to Michael Moore. Maybe I’d want to talk to a Michael Moore type. SG doesn’t want to become a place for people to stop by on their tours; we strive to be a bit more original.
Y.P.R.: To what lengths have you gone to secure an interview?
D.R.E.: Like would I suck a dick? The only dick I would suck is David Cronenberg’s and I didn’t have to.
Y.P.R.: Please describe your interviewing process: how much research you do; how prepared do you like be, question-wise; do you like to just let the Q & A roll freely; etc.
D.R.E.: I do plenty of research—both Internet and magazines off the rack. When I am talking to someone on the phone I like to have a list of questions in front of me. Otherwise I will blank out. Believe me it happens. But I also don’t like to lock myself into them. I try to leave room both on the page and in my mind to let the Q & A flow freely. If we end up having a long discussion about something totally off-topic, I might just include that repartee into the interview or I might cut it down to one quote. When I go to junkets, often it’s me and many other journalists so I might only get a chance to ask three to four questions so I don’t write them down. Unless I want to ask something specific—then I will write them down otherwise I will forget them.
Y.P.R.: Is there an elusive white whale that’s been consistently dodging your tireless pursuit?
D.R.E.: Well I’m zeroing in on a couple of them. Mostly high-profile comic book people. But I would love to talk to Anthony Zuiker (who created the “C.S.I.” TV series). Love to talk to Perry Farrell, Mike Patton, and Darren Aronofsky. But I expect that every person I want to talk to will happen eventually.
Y.P.R.: Of the dearly departed, whom do you wish you could have interviewed?
D.R.E.: Hmm. That’s a good question. I always wanted to know how often George Washington went to the bathroom. I would love to talk to William Burroughs, Jack Kirby, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Y.P.R.: Dish it: Who was the worst interview? The best?
D.R.E.: I fucked up a couple of interviews by not being prepared but I’m better at it now. Who was rude? William Shatner, Andrew Bynarski, Marisa Tomei.
Y.P.R.: Reading the interviews and other such mundane material on the SuicideGirls’ site is kind of like reading Playboy for the articles. Do you ever feel eclipsed by the site’s main attraction?
D.R.E.: This is the second interview that’s ever been conducted with me as the subject and this is the best question! Absolutely, I feel eclipsed by SuicideGirls’ nude pinups. The message boards are a big part of SuicideGirls and that’s where people can comment on my interviews. But I don’t usually get more than 20 comments on any of my works. But the nude pinups get hundreds, maybe thousands. I don’t feel bitter about this whatsoever because that is what the majority of the people are there for: to look at the girls. Hell, I am extremely happy that SG likes keeping me around. Do they need me? Not exactly! But I’ve seen what passes for magazine-like content on the SG clones. It’s not very good. Not very good at all. But I seem to have a bit of a following and I know that I do good work. Is every interview worth its weight in gold? Hell no! The Q-&-A format is very dependent on whether your subject is a good talker and that doesn’t happen very often.
Y.P.R.: Who asks the best questions: Torquemada, the Riddler, or Tim Russert?
D.R.E.: I looked up Tim Russert. He’s the guy on “Meet the Press.” I’ve never watched that show. Torquemada’s questions are more like a test, that’s not right. So by process of elimination I suppose it’s the Riddler.
Y.P.R.: Is there something artificial about an interview conducted via e-mail? Does the lack of spontaneity provide for better or worse answers?
D.R.E.: E-mail interviews suck. The lack of spontaneity and control you hand over to your interviewee isn’t cool. Interviewees who ask to do e-mail interviews are usually paranoid schizophrenics.
Y.P.R.: Who’s your favorite interviewer? Who do you wish would interview you?
D.R.E.: My faves: Television-wise: Charlie Rose. Magazine-wise: I honestly don’t know or care. I wish Kenneth Star would interview me.
Y.P.R.: Ever get a little star-struck by one of your subjects?
D.R.E.: Sure all the time. I got nervous interviewing Peter O’Toole, James O’Barr, Ridley Scott, and David Fincher. That might be about it.
Y.P.R.: If you’ve got one, please share with us a funny or disastrous incident during a job interview.
D.R.E.: Ummm. I shit my pants! Nope never happened. Nothing bad or funny ever happened during a job interview. I usually do pretty well at job interviews, which is why I get the big bucks.
Y.P.R.: What’s up with SG Magazine we keep hearing conflicting controversy over?
D.R.E.: Laugh out Loud. I am probably the last person to ask about this. I am not one to get caught up in controversy. I don’t like to ask questions of that nature to the people I work with that are above me. I learned a long time ago, “IT’S ALL ABOUT MAXIMUM DENIABILITY.”
Y.P.R.: Duly noted. Speaking of maximum deniability, ever kill anybody?
D.R.E.: I used to beat the shit out of people I didn’t like. Never killed anybody. I want to kill lots of people.
Y.P.R.: O.K. It’s Rorschach time: What’s this inkblot look like?
D.R.E.: It looks like two Ku Klux Klan members in their hoods dancing around the devil.
Y.P.R.: If you’ve got a particularly gnarly scar, please tell us the story of how you got it.
D.R.E.: I don’t have any particularly gnarly scars, but I’ve got a few ugly ones. On the knuckle closest to my hand I have a sickle-looking scar that I got from crushing a recycling bin back in college. On the same hand, on the back of my hand, I have a two-inch scar from this metal thing that poked out the wall of the bathroom at one of my old jobs. On the inside of my right thigh there is pencil mark because when I was in fourth grade I was shaking my legs back and froth and a pencil rolled down my desk and fell in between my legs and I stabbed myself.
Y.P.R.: O.K., hot shot, prove your skillz: Ask us a question, and it better be really incisive.
D.R.E.: What commonalities do you find amongst all these people you are interviewing regarding their interviews?
Y.P.R.: Despite the calm and cool professionalism the interviewers exhibit when asking questions to big stars, they're all just as fumbly, fidgety, and friendly as we are on the other side of the Q & A.
So, Mr. Interviewer, how’d we do?
D.R.E.: I despise e-mail interviews, that’s the main problem here. I happen to be pretty interesting but when I reread this I find that I come off kind of boring and secretive. At Radio Shack, there is $12 piece of equipment you buy to record stuff to a tape recorder. Then you transcribe by listening to the tape recorder and typing into Microsoft Word. It’s not fancy.
Also, you don’t really find too much about me personally. Like where I grew up and where I went to school. How did I get this job? Things like that.
Y.P.R.: You're absolutely right; we totally blew it on getting to know the real Daniel Robert Epstein. So: Where'd you grow up? Where'd you go to school? How'd you break into interviewing? Who was your first interview? Do you still talk to your high-school prom date? What's your favorite episode of "Cheers"? Tell us one thing about D.R.E. the world needs to know. Feel free to debunk or start any rumors.
D.R.E.: . . .