2005_04_mikedaisey.gifFor his show All Stories Are Fiction, Mike Daisey--actor, author, commentator, playwright, and general layabout--performs a new, unscripted monologue every Monday night at P.S. 122, through May 9. His secret fortress on the Web is mikedaisey.com.

A few for you:
You've said that you take notes immediately before a show and then perform something that is both brand-new and one of a kind. How truly "extemporaneous" are your monologues?
For the series All Stories Are Fiction, which usually happens on Monday nights, I think throughout the weekend about whatever title we've chosen: "The Dark Art Of Procrastination", or "Serenity Through Viciousness" and let the events of my week inform what might work as threads in the show. Then, the night of the show I get to the theater and sit in the dressing room about 30 minutes before the show and create a rough outline of key words and phrases on one piece of paper, at which time I create a structure for the monologue that evening that weaves events from my life to larger themes and motifs that, hopefully, inform and enlighten each other. Then I step out on stage and do an hour-long monologue. So yes--they are truly extemporaneous, and I use the energy and suspense of extremely live performance to make discoveries with the audience that could have never happened through scripted work.

Have you ever completely bombed? If you sense that it's not going well, how do you save a show in the middle of its performance?
Oh yes--everyone has failed, and anyone who is any good fails often--otherwise they're probably not trying hard enough. My experience is that if I am failing I need to work hard to not save the piece. Generally the urge to speed up, get funnier and bury audiences with energy is a mistake and a betrayal of my job as a narrator and storyteller. Instead, I strive to step down and step back, allowing us all, audience and myself included, to take a deep breath and look for what they want. Audiences want to hear good stories, and they want to be challenged and delighted, and if you listen, I've found you can usually find out what they want.

Is it even possible to retell the same story in a different way each time? Do you ever find yourself resorting, intentionally or not, to old-hat material?
I think every story is different--they grow and respond organically to the audience and their expectations. When people look at their own life they realize they tell stories every day, and if you record and examine those stories you'd find that they are always growing, evolving and shifting, and in fact that's why we call the series All Stories Are Fiction. I think it's natural for people to have ritual subjects and tools, ways of speaking and composing narrative that repeat themselves because that's their style, but in the course of 30 or so full-length monologues I've performed I haven't repeated myself yet. Life is very full: there are always more stories than there will be time for.

Can you freestyle rap?
Not well, though I did get sampled by Chuck D for a piece he did on his new radio show, "Unfiltered," for Air America. As a big fan from way back it was a real delight.

Who are your favorite monologuists?
I'm very fond of Lisa Kron's work--she had a wonderful story, Well, at the Public last season--and I think Brian Copeland from San Francisco is quite brilliant in his piece Not a Genuine Black Man. Troy Mink and Matt Smith, both autobiographical monologuists out of Seattle, also do some truly remarkable work, and I see a lot of people doing wonderful work in the short form through The Moth, whom I work with a lot--Jonathan Ames especially, he's twisted and quite incendiary on stage.

Outside live theater I think radio is the best forum for monologuists, and there are some great ones. I believe Garrison Keillor is underappreciated--he's darker and more illuminating than people give him credit for, and I'm also a big fan of Jean Shepard.

You've performed your monologues all over the place; how does your show change from one city to the next? How differently do audiences react?
The monologues are always growing and changing, and it's funny--audiences are audiences, wherever you go. If a story is well crafted it will work anywhere. I've taken pieces from garages in Seattle to Off Broadway to Scotland, and the central expectations never change: people came out for a live event, a story told by someone who's lived it, and that responsibility remains, regardless of whether I'm in a public toilet or a palace. Next year we're going on tour in Germany and I'll be interested to see if this unified theory of audiences holds true.

Have you been able to recognize the evolution during the run of a show? Do you think an early show is fresher, or a later show more polished?
I work with my long-time collaborator and director Jean-Michele Gregory, who keeps a keen eye on the story. We go over shows after they've been performed and talk about their shape, arc and substance, and she can be a brutal but inspired editor. Because the monologues are organic in this way, they do ripen and change--I like early shows, because of their rawness, but as they transform in our hands from night to night they definitely tighten and become "finished", insofar as they are ever truly done. One of the overriding concerns for us working together is to ensure that even after polishing the story is still real and paramount, and that even when early and raw it is always theatrically controlled--we aim to keep a balance.

KISS has closed every single performance since 1975 with an encore of "Rock and Roll All Nite", which sounds like the complete opposite of creativity. How do you think you'd handle a more traditional show, repeating the same lines, jokes, etc. for new audiences?
I've been a traditional actor, in traditional plays and movies with scripts, and while I do enjoy working with other people I don't feel it's the best use for my abilities: there are plenty of actors in the world, and not many monologuists. I can't imagine a life where I'd have the time to indulge in playing Falstaff in Henry V--there's just too much work I'm responsible for.

The questionnaire:
Favorite place to eat or drink in the city?
Schnack for Harry's tiny burgers, Grassroots Tavern for the cheap beer and blind dogs, Frankie's 457 for brunch, Bartabac for mussels and Katz's for the pastrami on a hero roll, mustard, Swiss cheese and a Boylan's black cherry soda. Don't lose your ticket.

What's the best bargain to be found in NYC?
My backyard. I have a garden apartment in Brooklyn, and it's like a tiny, private Bryant Park mixed with Rear Window. If I'm ever bored I can just look up and see world after tiny world happening around my backyard. If you're moving or thinking of moving, consider a garden apartment--you can find one if you look, and it's worth its weight in gold.

What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
Coney Island's boardwalk and its environs, which developers inexplicably want to drop a mall in the middle of.

If you could pass one law to improve the city, what would it be?
Strip the MTA of its special powers and status and put it under the direct control of the city. This would take more than a law: it would probably take armed militia and an act of God, but as their arrogance continues that day is coming closer and closer.

Any advice for Mayor Bloomberg?
Yes. Let me address this directly to Mr. Bloomberg:

I would rather have nails driven through my cock than have the Olympics in the goddamned city, and I think a majority of folks who actually live here agree. The only people who live in the city who want this are yourself and the army of corporate entities you swept into office with you--take your stadium, your Olympics and don't seek re-election. You can go back to anally raping us with your self-branded corporation and its subsidiaries, knowing you're still a billionaire, making you unimaginably better, smarter and more deserving than everyone else you ever meet. I think, ultimately, we'll both be happier.