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J: A lot of sketch groups put work up as YouTube videos, but it seems like youíre trying to highlight a different aspect of the Internet -- the way things spread virally.
BW: Weíre trying to use Ö trying to fuck with the Internet while we use it as a vehicle. We donít just put up clips of the live show. For example, we put up on eBay -- Sean Wiggins, my booker for the show -- put up a ďhigh fiveĒ and an ďattaboyĒ on eBay that will then be given to you at the Talk Show [on May 3]. Thatís how weíre using the Internet to get exposure for the Talk Show and get people talking about it on the Internet and elsewhere, but do it in a creative, fun and different way, and fuck with the Internet at the same time.

J: Howís the trash can video doing?
BW: Itís getting viewers -- not a lot, but I think at last count it had 126 the last time I looked -- but itís more than it probably deserves. Tonight [April 26] weíll have Matt The Internet Magician and weíll talk about how to manipulate your clips to make them a lot more popular and get a lot more hits than what they deserve. So I told him to pick one of our lame YouTube clips and will give him 24 hours to manipulate it to get a lot more hits and views than it would otherwise. He will reveal for us tonight what heís been able to pull off with that. Thatís another way weíre trying to have fun with the Internet while doing a show about Internet stuff.

J: Is this an updated version of Letterman having Larry Bud Melman, and that being more interesting than just chatting with actors?
BW: Definitely. I knowingly went into this talk show with the idea of taking those things that were some of the strongest things Carson and Letterman did, and use those as inspiration and take them further. For instance, Carson and Lettermanís strongest moments werenít stars talking about whatever they would talk about. Itís real people -- the zoo animal lady, the guy throwing the ax at the crotch in Carsonís day, Larry Bud Melman -- to me those are the memorable moments of those talk shows -- like throwing fruits and vegetables off a high rise building. Thatís their calling card and what got people excited about them to begin with. Weíre just doing updated next-generation pushing the envelope of the talk show format with those types of inspirations. Weíre trying to get regular people with interesting things to say, who are weird, offbeat or do weird and funny stuff that makes you think people were very high when they thought of it. But itís well calculated and well thought out. Those are things weíre trying to pursue.

When I read ďThe Late Shift,Ē just last year for the first time, one of the great stories in that book, that is inspirational to me is when Carson was at a cocktail party and a producer of a new talk show was talking to him about all the great bits they were going to do, and Carson listened patiently and at the end of all of it, said, ĎYou know, all these shows, itís about the guy behind the desk.í To me that was like a eureka moment, reading that story because thatís the philosophy we use with this show. All the things weíre doing with the Internet are completely secondary to trying to establish a likeable, friendly host, which would be me and trying to find a friendly, likeable, approachable home feeling for the show. We can have the most weird or cool ideas, but if you donít like me as a host or interviewer, or your friend for the night, chances are it wonít catch on. I buy into that. Thatís the overriding principle for everything. If I have to choose one focus in everything weíre doing, itís trying to establish me as a likeable, friendly voice in the talk show format.

J: How much of that is yourself and how much of that is created?
BW: I would like to think Iím a really likeable guy in general. Part of being a performer is putting on your best face when the lights come on. I did that in TV news. Anyone who performs does that to a certain degree. Itís like inviting people over for a dinner party. The way you are when they arenít in the house is going to be different from the way you are when you open the door to welcome them into your house. Itís that type of switch. You put your best foot forward. Thatís how I am onstage. To me itís probably 10 to 15 percent a character, and 90 to 85 percent me at my friendliest and best, welcoming people to my home.

J: With recent events in the business of talk show entertainment, would you say the climate is better or worse for free speech now? Has it always been the same?
BW: I have a couple thoughts. I see both sides of the fence on this. For instance, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, when they wrote Seinfeld episodes, they knew they had to be on network television. They knew there are certain jokes that are funnier given certain language or references that they couldnít get out on network television [otherwise]. So they had to challenge themselves to get creative and find a different way to tell the joke or find another joke to use. Theyíre still funny as hell.

Imus, in my opinion, I donít buy into the defense that heís a comedian or social satirist. Yes, thatís an important role in society -- Iím not pooh-poohing that at all -- but there are certainly better ways he could have made his point than saying Ďnappy-headed hosí or whatever he said about the Rutgers basketball team. My theory is he simply got comfortable and lazy in that approach of comedy, as opposed to updating and realizing we live in a different world now that you canít get away with that stuff. For good or bad, thatís todayís world. You can still make the same point but do it in a different way. Thatís [Imusí] failure in my opinion.

That said, what [spoken word performer] Mike Daisey said, he should keep on saying. [In Boston, Daisey recently encountered a hostile audience offended by his work]. It wasnít his fault this religious group got upset at his material. It was their fault for not realizing they were going into a show that might offend them. To me, thereís a little difference between the Imus and Daisey situations. Daisey was just doing his show for a paying public. Anyone who wants to come in and buy a ticket should know what theyíre getting themselves into. Imus, to me, was broadcasting over a public channel and has some responsibility because he had a much bigger audience.

J: The line used to be network and cable, and now it seems to be network and basic cable, and you can only get more explicit on pay cable or satellite radio.
BW: Thatís a fair description of whatís going on. But we have to embrace that mainstream media and entertainment, you can get away with a lot more now than in Lenny Bruceís day, by a long shot. I applaud people saying you canít put handcuffs on social satire. I agree with that 100 percent, but you also have to appreciate you have a lot more avenues now, and the big avenues a lot more open to being riskier and edgier. If NBC wonít put you on with something that rips Bush or some segment of the population, you can find another avenue. It may not have as big an audience, but youíll get an audience. I donít buy into the idea that weíre losing something as a society if we fire Imus. Imus has satellite radio, heíll find another audience, people will come and listen to him.

J: Let me challenge you though. Does it have to qualify as Ďsocial satireí? What about the freedom to just be an idiot?
BW: If you want to take it to the extreme, the old argument about freedom of speech doesnít allow you to say fire in a crowded theater. The reason why the Daily Show succeeds in doing what it does, is it finds creative ways and biting, truthful ways to reveal truth through making you laugh. The same anger and frustration fuels those comments as a guy on the street yelling at the top of his lungs ĎBush is a fucking idiot!í Iíd say to the guy on the street to find a creative way that entices -- give a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down and youíll find much more reception of it.

Itís like a musician writing a protest song -- that song will get a lot more mileage if they find a really cool hook, as opposed to just ranting on record to music, saying they hate the state of the world. The same holds true with comedians. The anger and frustration are justified. Itís challenging yourself to find the most creative way to get that message across. For comedians, itís doing that in the most creative, clever and funny way they possibly can. I donít view it as sacrificing one to get to the other. I view it as a tennis player who has a net. That net provides a barrier, or depending how you view it, provides structure to play the game, and gives you rules and lines that you canít cross. Other comedians or people might say thatís bullshit, but thatís how I feel.

Bob Wiltfongís next edition of Talk Show, on Thursday, May 17, will be paired with the Marcus Monroe Variety Show.
  
   

     

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