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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 12/18/2008

Interview Tips for the Media-Challenged Celebrity

By Jen Chaney

When Liz wrote last week about Fran Drescher's political aspirations, the first thing that came to mind was "worst interview ever."

This is always my first thought whenever Drescher's name bubbles up from the celebrity swamp, because Tony Kornheiser burned it into my brain. Drescher did a spot on Mr. Tony's radio show in 2007 that could be described as a train wreck, except that train wrecks at least end quickly. It's not just the pat answers, the clear disinterest on her part in what Tony's saying, the frequent misunderstandings ... the woman actually has trouble operating her phone at one point.

Drescher has since become a running joke on the show -- a guest may be bad, but at least he or she wasn't "Fran Drescher bad." Any mention of her will send Tony into a sputtering diatribe about how terrible she was to interview.

In my day job as a booker and producer of online discussions, I've sent hundreds of questions from average readers to a wide variety of well-known people. Some were awesome to deal with (John Hodgman, Cal Ripken); others, not so much. With this in mind, I'd like to offer our celebrity overlords some do's and don'ts about giving good interview.

-- Even if you're doing 10 interviews a day, remember your audience. Do not spend 45 minutes describing the plight of Bosnian orphans to a Morning Zoo Crew in Milwaukee.

-- The best way to sell your new movie, book or whatever is not to repeat its title over and over, but to be interesting.

-- Don't be defensive. Have a sense of humor and try to engage in an actual human conversation.

-- Avoid canned answers. Put yourself in the shoes of you viewers/listeners/readers. Prepare for the interview by putting some thought into how you might entertain them.

-- When in doubt, flash the host.

Do you have nominations for worst celebrity interview ever, or more interview pet peeves? Leave them in the comments below.

Guest Celebritologist Paul Williams produces online discussions for washingtonpost.com.

By Jen Chaney  | December 18, 2008; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  Celebritology 101  
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Comments

Let the interviewer finish the question. Wee Tom, for example, interrupts a lot.

In conjunction with avoiding the canned answer, just answer the question. So many celebs just nod and then launch into their own blah, blah, blah.

Posted by: dablues1 | December 18, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Let the interviewer finish the question. Wee Tom, for example, interrupts a lot.

Posted by: dablues1 | December 18, 2008 11:53 AM
===
Unless you're being interviewed by Charlie Rose. If you let him finish the question, you'll only have 10 seconds left to answer.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 18, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

-- When in doubt, flash the host.

Will this become a new feature for the online chats?

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 18, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Shower, shave, primp, and comb your hair before the interview. Yes, a 6:00 am wake-up call is hell, but please try to pretend that you are kinda awake and nearly sober for the interview. Oh, and get the name of the city your arse is in BEFORE the interview starts...

If Tori Spelling can do it, anyone can!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Were you responsible for booking Terry Pratchett for his discussion? He once wrote a guide for interviewers -

"Write a list of your main questions to fix things in your mind; Throw it away; Start the interview; Then LISTEN to what the guy is saying so that you can follow any interesting thread; Because if you don't, then what you'll get is a quiz, not an interview.

Sigh... It happens to me all the time:

Q Where did you get the idea for the Discworld?

A I stole it from an old man I met and now I've decided to tell you all.

Q Who is your favourite character?

Sigh..."

Posted by: crunchyfrog | December 18, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Do not insult your interviewer. Remember who gets to edit the piece and trust me, they can make you look more of an a$$ than you already do.

Posted by: hodie | December 18, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Y'know, if you are like an athlete, y'know, and some dumb sportscaster asks you some dumb y'know question, like "how does it feel to lose to the worst team in [insert name of sport here], don't like y'know answer every question with "y'know" as every other word, because the viewers are not multi-million dollar athletes, and they DON'T know. Which is why the sportcaster is asking you the dumb question.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Flashing the host should only be advice for ScarJo & Hugh Jackman & a few others on my "kitchen list."

As for Terry Pratchett, great books but sad news about his health. He's one of THE most underrated authors in the US. I highly recomment "Hogfather" the book AND the movie as regular holiday season read & viewing.

Posted by: wadejg | December 18, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Y'know, if you are like an athlete, y'know, and some dumb sportscaster asks you some dumb y'know question, like "how does it feel to lose to the worst team in [insert name of sport here], don't like y'know answer every question with "y'know" as every other word, because the viewers are not multi-million dollar athletes, and they DON'T know. Which is why the sportcaster is asking you the dumb question.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 12:39 PM

You mean like the Redskins losing to the Bengals last weekend??? (at least it wasn't Detroit).

Posted by: hodie | December 18, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Deadskins/Bungles was just the latest in many.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

The only thing worse than the athlete responding to the question about how it feels to lose, is the one responding to how it feels to win.

As for the celeb interview: If the questions get too personal, just say so and STOP TALKING. Don't answer then complain about invasion of privacy.

Oh, and unless it really was taken out of context, don't claim it was taken out of context. If you worry about this, think ( I know it's hard but do it anyway) before you speak.

Posted by: epjd | December 18, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

One of the most awkward interviews I ever listened to was Michael Cera (from Arrested Development, Superbad, etc...)He seemed to give one or two word answers and generally seemed uncomfortable...not unlike most characters he plays. When it was over, the radio hosts were at a loss for words.

Posted by: jcm4 | December 18, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

On the flip side, the Henry Rollins chat was the Best Interview Ever.

Posted by: otherliz | December 18, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Brando could go either way, depending on his mood. He could display quite the pixie charm or the grunting brute.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

How does anyone interviewed on Inside the Actors Studio avoid asking James Lipton, "are you sure your shorts aren't on too tight?"

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm just happy to hear that Cal Ripken was awesome to deal with.

Posted by: BurgBarbL | December 18, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

My pet peeve is when a celeb gives a great/funny/insightful answer in one interview, then repeats it word for word in others. Especially if it's not on the same junket.

Case in point: McCain said after winning the South Carolina primary that the last time he was in SC, he slept like a baby: sleep two hours, wake up and cry... sleep two hours, wake up and cry.

Then he said the EXACT same thing on Letterman (I think) after losing the general election. It was funny the first time. Lame six months later.

Posted by: WDC2 | December 18, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I do love the moniker "Wee Tom". May I appropriate it and use it in my real (off-line) life?

Posted by: jaybbub | December 18, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

It's so much more economical than my usual "Bat-sh!t Crazy Tom Cruise"...

Posted by: jaybbub | December 18, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

It's so much more economical than my usual "Bat-sh!t Crazy Tom Cruise"...

Posted by: jaybbub | December 18, 2008 2:22 PM

*******************************************

Unless you're not into that whole brevity thing....

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 18, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

If the celeb is out promoting a movie by bringing along a clip of it, I'm always amazed at the number of times they have no idea what is on the clip. The host leads into it by asking them to orient the audience with some description and they can't do it. And they act as if this is somehow cute and endearing.

I don't get it. Someone makes all their travel arrangements. A limo brings them to the studio. Staff combs their hair and slaps makeup on their face and chats them up with compliments. And yet, it is apparently asking too much and too taxing to expect them to know what is on the clip.

Posted by: trwv | December 18, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

On the flip side, I've been pretty amazed by the composure and good humor of Rob Pattinson (Twilight), who is dealing with this enormous media onslaught a la Titanic/Leo DiCaprio. He is thoughtful, engaging, self-deprecating, and even on Jay Leno (pretty intimidating stuff for a rookie!) he was able to laugh at himself despite some "stealing the spotlight" moments from Heidi Klum. I'd say to those veteran celebs who can't even comb their own hair, take some tips from the Brit heartthrob!

Posted by: byisabel | December 18, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

How about bad interviewERS? Cuz I think Queen Oprah is the WORST! She doesn't let anyone get a word out!

Posted by: Osteph | December 18, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

The Dude abides, DorkusMaximus. :)

Posted by: jaybbub | December 18, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Woah, Wade you gotta be kidding about Hogfather, right? I caught a bit of that on TV the other day and it was beyond dreadful.

Posted by: Roxie1 | December 18, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

The worst interview I've ever seen was Bryant Gumbel's chat with Rod Stewart. Bryant did his best, but Rod (and I'm otherwise a huge fan) was a total horse's ass.

Posted by: jhershelredpuppy1 | December 19, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

All wapo.com chat guests need to check out the transcript for Neil Patrick Harris's chat. That was absolutely the best.

Word

Posted by: megtheegg | December 19, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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