I am 37 years old. I am a director/writer/comedian and now liberal radio talk show host. I was born in New York City, raised in Worcester Massachusetts. I've been living in NYC for about ten years. I am married. I generally walk or ride my bike around the city.
You co-host "The Majority Report" with Janeane Garofalo for Air America radio. What was the show's genesis? How do you plan for a show? You like to harass people, have you ever gotten into trouble?
Janeane & I have been friends for many years. At 4am on election night 2000, Janeane had passed out on my couch while I was yelling at the TV that Gore had won and Bush had stolen the election.
In February 2003, I hosted a one-off version of the "Majority Report" in the middle of Tom Scharpling's Best Show on WFMU in NJ and Janeane was a guest, we talked about what a disaster this war would be. In the summer of 2003 she was approached by the Air America people and she said she wanted me to co-host the show with her.
I plan for the show by trolling various blogs for stories (Atrios, Liberal Oasis, Dailykos, Talking Points Memo, Mydd, Cursor). I'll read the New York Times and Washington Post. I collect the stories through the day and an hour or so before the show I arrange and catalogue them.
Meanwhile our producers, Michael Goodfriend and Logan Nakyanzi are prepping extensive research on the guests. Our producer Steven Sherrill pulls more news stories and talks about story angles. Our producer Issac Aronson is cutting sound for the show.
I don't know if I would characterize what I do as harassing, though I'd be happy to find out that that was the case -- I believe the people we pick on deserve more than I could deliver. Haven't gotten in trouble yet.
Air America got off to a bumpy start. The station was taken off the air in Chicago and Los Angeles only two weeks after launching, and then amid rumors of financial woes, the founder stepped down. We can only imagine the off-air chatter that was transpiring. Please share an anecdote or behind the scene story relating to the controversy.
Well, essentially, our original founder was lying about how much money he had put into the company. As far as I can tell he was fending off serious investors so they wouldn't do due diligence and realize there was no $ value to his shares. It was quite strange because I can't see how he thought he'd get away with it. With that said, a crazy charlatan may have been the only person who could have got Air America off the ground. To continue the annoying metaphor we are now truly flying high. When we all found out there was no money, the amazing thing was that it didn't seem to matter. All the on air people simply said "whatever", just give us microphones and let us know when you can pay us. I think that either points to the dedication we all have to taking down the Bush regime or our insatiable appetites to hear ourselves talk. Probably both.
What are the goals of Air America?
I can only speak to my goals as it pertains to "The Majority Report". With that said, MRR's goals, in no particular order, are:
- Inform and motivate our audience, which I perceive to be mostly what many would consider the "choir".
- To watchdog and pressure the mainstream media into doing their jobs. The media has turned into garbage in this country over the past 20 years.
- To get huge ratings, prove there is $ in being liberal and create competition for ourselves on the left.
Does actual news programming exist anymore? What happened to nonpartisanship?
For all intents and purposes there is no more news programming in the mass media. "Now" on PBS is the only thing that comes to mind. Network news divisions are now required to have profit margins as large if not larger than entertainment divisions. When news changed from being loss leaders designed to develop the networks' integrity to serving the same purpose as "According to Jim" it became irrelevant. Cable news is nothing more than entertainment, except for the International version of CNN and perhaps the BBC.
What are your thoughts on media regulation? Do you think the FCC is good, evil or ineffective?
I believe there should be enforcement and redevelopment of anti-trust laws that fully regulate the media. The fairness doctrine should be reinstituted. [Ed. Note: in the spirit of the doctrine, see opposing view]. I believe limits on media ownership need to be reinstituted. I believe broadcast and cable requirements to provide public service programming should be reinstituted.
I think PBS should be abolished -- it has become useless and addicted to corporate money and its existence, and now simply co-opts any real media reform.
I believe the way Powell runs the FCC is border line criminal activity. His FCC functions only to lick the toes of corporations.
You talk a lot about blogs, yours and others. Do you think these are accurate sources for getting "news"? Where do you see blogs 10 years from now?
Blogs are incredibly "accurate" news resources to the extent that they source their entries, which the good ones do. They are great news filters. When I read blogs, that I've come to "know", I don't need to wade through the sensationalism and the garbage to get to what is relevant.
I have no idea where I see anything ten years from now. That horizon is beyond me. Though I suspect one of two scenarios are possible. They'll either be fully commercialized, often highly specialized, entrepreneurial mini-news organizations or they will be code talkers sending encrypted messages to the resistance.
You started out doing stand-up and founded The Comedy Lab in Boston. How did you get into comedy? Who do you see as your influences? Do you view your work on Air America as being comedy?
I quit law school in 1990 and started doing stand up in Boston. I joined Cross Comedy, a comedy troupe started by Dave Cross, shortly thereafter. I was pretty much schooled by people in that group all of whom were/are extremely talented and smart comedians.
My influences as a comedian and filmmaker are Albert Brooks, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman and John Cassevettes.
I see part of my work on Air America as being comedy. Beyond simply saying funny things in the context of Janeane and I talking, I am slowly figuring out how to bring my particular style of comedy into this context.
After the 2000 election you wrote and directed a film called A Bad Situationist. What was this project about? What is its current status?
Jesus, you guys must have the Internet.
We shot it in May of 2001. It is about the muting of dissent. I was very angry about the election. I still feel it was a far more damaging event to the long-term health of the US than the attacks of 9/11.
Anyway, the film is about Joe Lieberman's fuck up of a son, who is installed in a NYC co-op by his father with the hopes that he'll shut up about the Supreme Court and get a job. He ends up reading the back of a situationist international book and starting an intellectual salon. There some radical orthodox Jewish postal workers try and convince him to commit a terrorist attack.
The movie ends with the guy on the roof of his New York apartment aiming a bazooka at another building. We were in week 8 of editing when the planes hit the towers. The finishing fund company pulled out and I had no cash to finish the movie.
I'm nearly done with it now.
We once saw a performance where you read from email correspondence with one of the Nigerian scam artists. Did you actually respond to one of their "business proposal" emails? Please tell us about this performance piece/sketch.
Yes. I engaged in a four month long email correspondence with Nigerian scam artists. It consisted of three hour-long phone calls, over two hundred pages of emails, me playing four different characters with four different email addresses.
I'm hoping to make it into a one man show and you guys are reminding me of all the stuff I should be working on.
Everyone is making their guesses about next week's RNC. Bill Maher joked that the Republicans would end the convention "with Osama bin Laden making a grand entrance in chains from the back of the arena like King Kong!" What kind of tricks do you think the Republicans have up their sleeve? Predictions...
I think the Republicans really regret having the convention here. I think they thought the 9/11 spell would still be upon us. I think the best the Republicans can hope for is that protestors get violent and Fox runs these news clips over an over again to motivate their "cracker" (as Janeane would say) base.
Give an example of something you witnessed or experienced that had you think "only in New York" or "damn, I'm glad I live in this city."
I live on lower Madison Ave. and I catch every ethnic parade every weekend. The Sikh parade is an amazing sight. I also enjoy seeing floats that say things like "Association of Southeast Asian Dentists and Hygienists."
Who is your favorite New Yorker (dead or alive) and why?
My favorite New Yorkers are friends of the family and you wouldn't know them, but I like them because of the way they integrate their friends and family and their lives into the cultural fabric of the city.
Billy's Topless is now a bagel shop, no more smoking in bars or restaurants, Times Square has been Disneyfied, what's next?
New New York. A fully to scale replica of New York City built in Queens. It will be just like NYC except that it will be gated and everything will cost 75% more. Every third apartment will be empty (they'll exist only for show), and while stores and restraints will retain their existing facades, they will all carry the exact same products and will be vertically integrated and wholly owned subsidiaries of GE.
There are over 39,000 police officers in the Big Apple. Any out of the ordinary run-ins (positive or negative) with any members of the NYPD you'd like to share?
I directed, produced and acted in a comedy pilot called "Beat Cops." One of our employees on the production forged some checks and two uniformed cops came by my apartment to make a report. Twenty minutes later they were on my couch watching and enjoying the show. Cops are great when they are not writing you a ticket for running red lights on your bicycle, smoking pot on the street or public urination- all of which, I heard they do.
From Wall Street to Riverdale, Far Rockaway to Kew Gardens, Williamsburg to Red Hook, New York City is a city famous for its neighborhoods. What's your favorite?
My favorite neighborhood of NYC is my own. It has no name. It is the only place that is grey on the New York City passenger map in cabs. I like it because I like Indian food and Korean food.
Bloomberg... good, bad or just plain ugly?
He's the perfect caretaker for a city, in which the ultra wealthy think they have more of a right to the city than anyone else.
Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen or Spike Lee?
The beauty of New York is that I don't have to choose.
What will you be doing during the Republican National Convention? Any plans to take advantage of those Bloomberg discounts?
I plan to protest and to mock the Republicans in any way I can that won't help George Bush in his reelection plans.
Name one person you trust in politics.
You hear all the time that "every vote counts," but New York State is pretty much of a given to go Democratic in the upcoming election. So? does every vote really count? If you really wanted to make a difference, wouldn?t it make more sense to do something like move to Florida or Ohio?
Yes and I suggest that any Kerry supporter who can temporarily move to Florida or Ohio do it. I am not kidding.
What source(s) do you turn to for news?
The Internet. I read papers too, however, I am disgusted by what the New York Times has become.
There's a fire in your building and you have 5 minutes to get out. What do you take with you?
It's the year 2025, what do you think will be the hot topic of discussion at the water cooler?
We won't have water coolers. Water will be rationed.
If you could ask G-d one question, what would you ask?
What's James Lipton of the Actor's Studio really like?
Ed. Note: Sam's film Who's the Caboose? will premiere on Trio September 5th; it stars Sam, Sarah Silverman, Andy Dick, Jon Benjamin, David Cross and David Waterman. "Pilot Season", a six-part mini-series sequel to the movie that takes place seven years later, and features the same starring cast, will debut on Trio the following day, September 6th.