Interviews with Interviewers:
If you frequent any Web sites with words in them, there’s an 85% chance you’ve read the fiction or journalism of Claire Zulkey (and laughed, too). If you’ve visited her Web site, Zulkey.com (the only site which employs a kangaroo as gatekeeper), you’ve experienced some of the wonderful public services she’s orchestrated; treats include Ask Dr. Hot Pants and Ask a Budding Young Theologian, wherein readers may seek advice medical and spiritual.
A regular beacon shining brightly among the sludge of Friday-morning surfing is always the Zulkey Interview, in which our intrepid young Chicagoan interrogates a smattering of awesome talent.
Sample question by Ms. Zulkey:
“Here’s a question on humor courtesy. How do you respond when you tell a fairly unassuming joke (i.e. not racist, homophobic, etc.), and somebody responds, ‘That's not funny.’ Do you defend it or just say you're sorry?”
[Posed to Dan Kennedy, Loser Goes First memoirist and editor of Really Small Talk.]
The Claire Zulkey Interview:
Something in the Neighborhood of Twenty Questions
Y.P.R.: The roster of authors, humorists, and entertainers that you’ve interviewed seems to provide a little glimpse into the Zulkey personality, and it’s evident from your questions that many of your subjects are personal heroes. How do you select your interviewees?
C.Z.: Basically, anybody who has influenced/entertained me who I think is marginally accessible is a candidate. Many times I’ll be watching TV and somebody will pop up and I’ll write their name down. Sometimes I’ll troll the NYT Bestseller Lists to see if there’s an author with a cool book out who I might be able to hit up. And sometimes, it’s people I’m related to. Basically, if you have an e-mail address or a Web site, odds are I’ll ask you for an interview.
Y.P.R.: Give us some dirt: Who was the best interviewee? The worst?
C.Z.: George Saunders was awesome, and Randy Cohen and E. Jean were really fun. Antonia Fraser was amazing, just because I can’t believe she agreed to let me interview her. And I have to holla at Neal Pollack because he got the ball rolling on me interviewing high profile people. I can’t say who was bad, because I’m not that kind of interviewer. No, wait: my brother was pretty bad. He blatantly did not bite when I set him up for some pretty choice anecdotes, and he lied about how many ties he has.
Y.P.R.: To what lengths have you gone to secure an interview?
C.Z.: I have climbed the highest mountain, swam/swum/swaimed the deepest lake. I have gone so far as to request an interview via snail mail, and to interview over the phone.
Y.P.R.: Is there an elusive white whale that’s been consistently dodging your tireless pursuit?
C.Z.: I do keep a list of the people I have asked and made little red stars next to the people who I haven’t heard back from who I will probably pester again. Anthony Lane and Aisha Tyler are both on there because they’re both smart, they both make me laugh and they’re both sexy.
Y.P.R.: Aisha Tyler? Y.P.R. is torn: Josh loves her so much it hurts. He thinks she’s very sexy, smart and funny. Geoff disagrees; he thinks she’s pretty but lame.
C.Z.: I don't know Geoff but maybe he should look in the mirror if he wants to see “lame.” I don't know why people made such a big deal about Aisha being the first major black character on “Friends” because she's so good that the race thing shouldn't even be an issue. And Geoff, I was just kidding.
Y.P.R.: In the end, it doesn’t matter because she’s way too tall for either of us. Moving on: Who, of the dearly departed, do you wish you could’ve snagged for twenty-something questions?
C.Z.: Ah jeez. Hmm. That’s a really hard question. Umm... Probably nobody who is dearly departed, because most people who are dead are too important to be bothered with my silly site and I’d feel ridiculous pestering them about it. God, I’m still wracking my brain for a good/funny answer and I’m stumped. Thanks a lot, Yankee Pot Roast.
Y.P.R.: You very cleverly slip oodles of quasi-relevant hyperlinks into your subjects’ answers, which, sometimes, end up providing a whole ’nother layer of mystery, even while the questions and answers are (or should be) stripping away obscurity. We realize that was a statement, not a question, but would you care to comment on that?
C.Z.: Sure. I basically stole it from Flak Magazine, who started the practice. Every once in a while, I’ll get an interview that really needs spicing up so I’ll do it via links. Or sometimes I’m just feeling silly. It can be a pain though because there are those 11th-hour interviews that I’m putting up as I’m getting ready for work and I get annoyed with myself for having started it because I don’t always have time to comb through and think of cutesy links.
Y.P.R.: Is there something artificial about an interview conducted via e-mail? Does the lack of spontaneity allow for better or worse answers?
C.Z.: I personally like it because I don’t like talking on the phone and it’s loathsome to listen to myself on tape stammer through interviews and try and be clever. I like doing e-mail interviews like this one because I think about what I’m going to say. And it’s kind of fun to send out the questions and wait for them to come back to me with answers. And transcribing interviews is a bitch. So I’ll say ‘better.’
Y.P.R.: Who asks the best questions: Tomás de Torquemada, the Riddler, or Tim Russert?
C.Z.: Tim Russert. I heart Tim Russert. I interned at “Dateline” several years ago and he paid for an ice-cream truck to come around to the building once a week for free treats. It was the highlight of my summer, other than meeting Geraldo and him accusing me of having oral herpes. This is a true story.
Y.P.R.: Geraldo? Herpes? What’s under his moustache, anyway?
C.Z.: Ah geez. What’s under his moustache is a short, greasy looking guy with long hair. We were at a shoot and he asked me if I had any makeup and I said, “Uh, yeah, my compact,” and I realized he was thought I was the makeup girl. So anyway, he was complaining about how he had no water and I was drinking from my Nalgene and he asked for a sip, on the condition that I didn’t have oral herpes. So I’ve swapped spit with Mr. Capone’s Vault.
Y.P.R.: If you have one, please share with us a funny or disastrous incident from a job interview.
C.Z.: I don’t think I really have any, except that I’ve been overdressed for every interview. My mom took me shopping for suits towards the end of my senior year and she got me a bunch of really nice Linda Allard/Ellen Tracy ones, which are beautiful but I really feel uncomfortable in them. I feel like I look like an imposter with big shoulders. The worst thing was that the day before we went shopping, I had a horrible encounter with a tanning booth and I was sunburned everywhere. And for some reason, my mom insisted that I try everything on with pantyhose. Peeling on and peeling off tights from a sunburned butt is no fun. You’ll notice that I deflected the fact that I don’t really have a good job interview story with a different story.
Y.P.R.: Yes, nicely done. O.K., Rorschach time: What’s this inkblot look like?
C.Z.: Two happy, homosexual mudskippers dancing together.
Y.P.R.: Hey, what’s up in Chicago these days?
C.Z.: I wouldn’t know. I’ve been traveling so much lately promoting my book, which has been fun but I’m looking forward to settling down and enjoying my summer. I sometimes love having a regular everyday schedule instead of constantly packing and doing laundry and reading out loud. So after I come back from Iowa City this weekend, hopefully I’ll enjoy a nice summer full of sunshine, baseball games and complaining about the heat.
Y.P.R.: If “Zulkey” were a word, it’d be on the last page of the dictionary. Please define Zulkey.
C.Z.: Zulkey: [v.] To experience an irrational bitterness that you will constantly be upstaged by people with names like Zurich and Zuniga, who make you feel like you’re not so special even when you are pretty darn special, at least in God’s eyes.
Y.P.R.: “Zulkey” sounds like an adjective to me. I wouldn’t dare define it.
C.Z.: Well, I used to have some friends in college who’d say “That’s so Claire.” This was before the popular Raven-Simone show.
Y.P.R.: What’s it like consistently being last in alphabetic lists? Is there a unique perspective from the back of the classroom?
C.Z.: Well as you’d see above, I’m not always last. Miriam Ziven graduated after me in high school (we graduated by counselor) and Christine Zurich in college. But it’s pretty O.K. It’s easy to find my files. I like to pretend that Zorro is making a Z for me.
Y.P.R.: What’s the “B” in Claire B. Zulkey stand for? (Our top three guesses: Beth, Belinda, Beatrix.)
C.Z.: It stands for bitch, lover, sinner, and saint. It also stands for “Buren,” my mom’s maiden name. You can remember it as half of a former president’s last name, or that it rhymes with “urine.”
Y.P.R.: Are you a virgin? C’mon, Claire. Answer the question. Answer the question, Claire.
C.Z.: NO, I NEVER DID IT! Anyway, you grounded tonight? Big party at Stubbies, parents are in Europe. Should be pretty wild...
Y.P.R.: For the record, we were quoting Go, not The Breakfast Club, but you get full marks on that.
C.Z.: That’s really meta. Jerk.
Y.P.R.: Favorite interview-themed social game: 20 Questions? Celebrity Head? Truth or Dare? Scruples?
C.Z.: Celebrity Head? I’ve never heard of that one (unless that’s the one with the Post-it notes.) I actually like Either/Or, where you choose between two undesirable/weird situations. Like: Noisy Neighbors/Racist Neighbors?
Y.P.R.: Yes, Celebrity Head is the thing with the Post-its on your forehead.
C.Z.: Yeah I hate that game for some reason. I think just because I don’t like having things on my forehead. My goddaughter and her brother used to make us play it at Thanksgiving. I mean, it’s really fun!
Y.P.R.: How come you’ve never interviewed any of the Y.P.R. editors?
C.Z.: You guys never return my phone calls.
Y.P.R.: O.K., hotshot, prove your interviewing skillz now: Ask us a question. It better be really incisive.
C.Z.: I’ll go so far as to ask you two: Softball question: Why Yankee Pot Roast?
Y.P.R.: We had a really awful list of possible names (among them, "Shits & Giggles", "Jimmy's Chicken & Waffle Shack", and the Engrish-inspired "Super Happy Funtime Lucky Best Web Site"), and Geoff blurted that one out. It was on his dinner menu the night before. It just fit perfectly. Sometimes, you just know.
C.Z.: Hardball question: Have you ever roasted somebody and have it go awry?
Y.P.R.: Oh, yes. You know that we have.
Anyway… We’d be remiss if we didn’t allow you to plug a certain book, which is the only book with pink, girlish script in its logotype that belongs on a straight male’s bookshelf. So, um, tell us why we should be reading
C.Z.: Oh jeez, I don’t care. I’m so sick of talking about it. No wait! That’s not what I mean. Seriously, it’s a good book. It will make you laugh. And it is perfect-bound, so when you put it on that bookshelf you keep around to show people that you actually own books, it’s visible, and will not disappear between the dusty tomes you never read, unlike a staple-bound book.
Y.P.R.: And finally, my darling Claire, how does it feel to be the very first person interviewed by Y.P.R.?
Claire Zulkey’s first book, the one with the girlish typeface, is available from So New Media, and is soon to be printed in Spanish. Please have a look-see at
¡Niñas! ¡Niñas! ¡Niñas!