Here's The Thing with Alec Baldwin
Summary: From WNYC Studios, award-winning actor Alec Baldwin takes listeners into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by going inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people we want to understand better: Ira Glass, Lena Dunham, David Brooks, Roz Chast, Chris Rock and others. Hear what happens when an inveterate guest becomes a host. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media, Death, Sex & Money, Nancy and many others. © WNYC Studios
This episode talks about a movie whose premise might be disturbing to some. The Human Centipede wasn't in every multiplex when it came out in 2010, but the film is now firmly a part of American culture, the basis of parodies from South Park to Conan O'Brien. When it was released, the premise was so revolting that many reviewers wouldn't even summarize it. Roger Ebert declined to assign a star-rating, concluding, “It is what it is.” When Alec saw the movie for the first time, he wanted to meet its creator. Years later, this episode of Here's the Thing is the result. Fortunately, writer-director Tom Six isn't just warped; he's also a raconteur with a twinkle in his eye. He answers Alec's fanboy questions with humor and patience, and they break down the whole Human Centipede trilogy from critical, financial, and technical standpoints. Listeners will also learn about Six's pre-Centipede career in reality television and teen comedy, and what he has coming up in 2019. Six had a role planned in his new film for Alec. Hear why Alec's wife cut that off at the pass.
On January 27th, 2017, Donald Trump issued the travel ban barring visitors and migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Becca Heller, founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), had seen it coming. She foresaw that it would catch people in planes, turning passengers into undocumented immigrants midair. She prepared by setting up a network of volunteer lawyers who would show up at airports to help travelers being held there. On the 27th, the lawyers came, followed by thousands of protesters. The Trump administration, facing legal losses and "chaos at the airports," gave up enforcing the ban until officials could draft a new version. For a while, the good guys had won. Two years later, with a MacArthur "genius" grant under her belt, the 37-year-old Heller is strategizing about where to take refugee-advocacy next. Serious stuff, but she's still one of the funniest people ever to come on Here's the Thing. The International Refugee Assistance Project is at https://refugeerights.org/.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine the 1970s without Carly Simon. After opening for Cat Stevens at LA's Troubadour in 1971, she gained near instant fame, winning a Grammy for Best New Artist that same year. The daughter of Richard L. Simon, co-founder of publishing house Simon & Schuster, she grew up surrounded by greatness. But if her childhood was peppered with celebrities, her adult life was dripping in them. By her mid-20s she’d meet Bob Dylan, duet with Mick Jagger, and marry James Taylor. Still, the shy New York native was a superstar in her own right, one who battled a stammer and a severe case of stage fright. She tells Alec Baldwin about conquering them both to become a musician who shaped an era. You can learn more about Carly's life in her 2015 memoir, Boys in the Trees. WNYC is the producer of other leading podcasts, including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media and Death, Sex & Money.
Billy Joel has sold more records than The Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna—though the “rock star thing” is something he can “take off.” Joel started playing piano when he was about four or five years old, but he admits that he doesn't remember how to read sheet music anymore. He says it’d be like reading Chinese. That doesn't stop the third best-selling solo artist of all time in the U.S. from plunking out a few tunes with Alec. WNYC is the producer of other leading podcasts, including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media and Death, Sex & Money.
Few musicians can compete with the encyclopedic musical knowledge that Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson possesses—which is great news if you got to be a student of his at NYU. When not teaching music history, the 45-year-old drummer is directing the Grammy-Award winning group The Roots—a hip hop collective that rose from “everyone’s favorite underground secret” in the late 90s to Jimmy Fallon’s house band on The Tonight Show. Whether drumming, DJ’ing, or writing a book on food, Questlove is universally beloved. “The coolest man on late night,” according to the Rolling Stone. But there is one thing this genius of music can’t do: accept that he is one. He talks to Here’s the Thing host Alec Baldwin about a three year exile in London, Jimmy Fallon wooing the Roots, and how meditation saved his life. WNYC is the producer of other leading podcasts, including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, On the Media and Death, Sex & Money.
By the time Emilio Estevez was 23, he'd starred in The Outsiders, Repo Man, The Breakfast Club, and St. Elmo’s Fire. As the son of Martin Sheen, he was Hollywood royalty, and as a member of the "brat pack" group of early-80s stars, he was a hot commodity. But he started turning down big roles to become the youngest person ever to write, direct, and star in a major motion picture. Estevez tells Alec that his script for that movie was "terrible," -- but it was risky, ambitious movie-making at a time when he didn't have to take risks. Estevez occasionally returned to "just acting" after that, for beloved performances in Men at Work, The Mighty Ducks, and more -- but his heart beats for his writer/director projects like 2006’s RFK masterpiece Bobby, nominated for a Best Film Golden Globe. His latest is The Public, about a fictional occupation of the Cincinnati Public Library by the city's homeless. Alec plays the police negotiator. The two actors discuss their collaboration -- plus growing up a Sheen, Francis Ford Coppola's brutal audition process, and whether actors should participate in the fan culture surrounding cult films like The Breakfast Club.
Debra Kletter's job is to be food-guru to some of the world's most discerning palates. Once one of New York theater's most respected lighting designers, Kletter found herself in the early 1990s disillusioned by budget-cuts and shaken by the loss of a generation of colleagues to HIV. So she pursued her second calling, far from the first: figuring out where you should eat dinner. After all, as she tells Alec, "reading menus was always my happy place." Now, years into her new business (which she conducts through her website, www.eatquestnyc.com), Kletter can tell you the best injera in Harlem or the oldest-school trattoria in Rome. But her real genius is an ability to match that encyclopedic knowledge with the needs -- and personalities -- of individual clients. One of those clients is Alec Baldwin, and you can tell from their teasing that the two go way back: all the way, in fact, to the stage of Prelude to a Kiss in 1989, which Debra lit, and where the two became friends.
Roger Daltrey put The Who together while working in a sheet-metal factory. The band took many forms before settling into the guitar-smashing, mic-swinging amalgam of testosterone and sensitivity that changed the world. But even before The Who began moving toward rock-stardom, Daltrey had walked a difficult path. Born into a working-class family, he spent his infancy evacuated from Nazi-bombed London, crammed into one room of a Scottish farmhouse with his mother and many others. He returned to a shellshocked father and real privation. But he tells Alec that the environment was "rich" with love and opportunity, and eventually he found himself in a grammar school with songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle. The rest is Rock history -- a history Daltrey helped define. He recounts it with humor and pride on this episode of Here's the Thing, and in his new memoir, Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite, out now.
In the late 70s, Ben Cohen was a rootless pottery teacher, laid off when his school closed down. Jerry Greenfield was a diligent pre-med, realizing he was never going to get into med school. They'd formed a deep friendship years earlier, as the two chubby kids in their middle-school gym class. Their joint reaction to their separate crises was to open a small ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont. That decision would change the face of the industry, and give America a model for a new set of corporate values. At the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington -- just a couple miles from the site where Cohen and Greenfield set up shop in 1978 -- Alec talks to Ben and Jerry in front of a crowd that idolizes their hometown heroes, and the energy is infectious. From their Long Island childhood to the tensions surrounding Ben & Jerry's acquisition by Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2000, the conversation is open, honest, and brimming with the deep bond these two men continue to feel, 40 years after they first put their names together on a sign in Vermont. Thanks to Vermont Public Radio for making it possible.
As a staff-writer at the New Yorker, Susan Orlean has embedded with fertility shamans in Bhutan and profiled a dog (a boxer named Biff). Her book The Orchid Thief inspired one of the most successful art-house movies of the past 20 years. Her latest deep dive is the burning of the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. It is, to this day, the most damaging library-fire in U.S. history, but it's almost unknown outside of Southern California because national attention was focused on the Chernobyl meltdown. As with all Orlean's books, the nominal subject is a vehicle to tell human stories: those of the man arrested for the arson, of the cops who investigate, the librarians whose lives were changed, and the preservationists who insisted on rebuilding. It's a topic close to Alec's heart. He and Orlean discuss with warmth and enthusiasm the critical role libraries played in their respective childhoods (Alec is the son of a schoolteacher, after all), and their shared commitment today to the universal ideals of the public library.
Maggie Gyllenhaal's in a good place right now, at least as far as work and family go. Her latest starring role is as a troubled teacher named Lisa Spinelli in The Kindergarten Teacher. It's an unsettling portrayal of, as Gyllenhaal tells Alec, the "f***ing dire" consequences of "starving a vibrant woman's mind." In the film, Lisa's mind-starvation manifests in an unhealthy, exploitative relationship with a kindergartner. It's not an easy thing to watch, and Gyllenhaal tells Alec, "I almost didn't do the movie because I thought, 'no movie is worth disturbing a child, even for a few minutes.'" But her concerns were addressed, she said yes, and the result is a performance Gyllenhaal feels really good about. In fact, she says she feels better and better about each role she takes on these days. It's from this career high that she and Alec talk about The Deuce, her college years, her alternate career in skating, and the happy joining of lives, careers, and vowels in her marriage to Peter Sarsgaard.
Steve Higgins has two jobs. At 4:30 every day, 4 days a week, Steve announces The Tonight Show, sticks around to play Jimmy Fallon’s straight man, and then runs back upstairs at 30 Rock to keep working on that week’s Saturday Night Live. At SNL, he's in charge of the writers' room and, alongside Lorne Michaels, makes all the big decisions about the shape of the show, and the cast. It’s a heady life for a kid who started a sketch comedy troupe with his brothers in Des Moines after high school. Alec and Steve are real friends, and their conversation shows it, going deep into Higgins' origins as a comic, and into the inner life of Saturday Night Live.
After his parents divorced, 10-year-old Flynn McGarry wanted to feel useful, and maybe to reassert some control over his environment, too. So he started cooking for his mom, Meg. A passion was born. Meg began homeschooling him, allowed him to turn his bedroom into a high-end kitchen, and hosted Flynn's pop-up restaurants at their suburban California home. Massive publicity followed, and, this being the internet age, cruel online backlash. Soon, documentary filmmaker Cameron Yates got interested, and embedded with Flynn as he rose and rose over six years, to the threshold of realizing his most lofty culinary dreams -- at age 19. Cameron and Flynn joined Alec for a live event at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the three talk candidly about life under the microscope, about the mixed blessings of precocity, and, most importantly, about the complicated relationship between Flynn and a mother who sees herself as having given up dreams of success as a filmmaker and writer to nurture her family. Cameron's film, Chef Flynn, will be in theaters November 9.
Ron Delsener is a working-class kid from Queens who rode his charm and his hustle all the way to the top of the music industry. He basically created the genre of the massive outdoor concert with his epic series of free Concerts in the Park. He landed everyone: Pavarotti, Streisand, even post-breakup Simon and Garfunkel. And Delsener is still firing on all cylinders: James Bay and Hozier are among the artists he maintains relationships with today. In his wonderfully profane and discursive conversation with Alec, Delsener delivers a full dose of the old-school Queens personality that the New York Times says "radiates like a lighthouse beacon." Delsener's rockstar stories are great, his accent is great, and you'll leave the interview finally understanding what a concert promoter actually does. (Hint: it's so lucrative because it’s so high-risk.)
After watching an early copy of the forthcoming documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway, Alec became fascinated by the film's quietly hilarious hero, Steve Young. As part of his job as a writer for the David Letterman Show, Steve had to scour secondhand stores for kooky music Dave would play on-air. That's how he first came across recordings of industrial musicals, a genre of theater largely unknown to anyone who didn't attend a sales conference in the 60s or 70s. An "industrial" was a fully staged production commissioned by a large company and performed solely for its salesmen, executives, or distributors. Some starred top-flight Broadway talent and were written by legendary teams like Chicago's Kander and Ebb (Go Fly a Kite for GE, 1966) or Fiddler on the Roof's Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Ford-i-fy Your Future, 1959). But many performers and composers made their living primarily doing industrials. Steve Young has dedicated his post-Letterman life to preserving what recordings remain, and to shining light and love on the artists behind these ephemeral creations. Alec and Steve dive into songs like "My Bathroom," and into the psychology of someone who would dedicate his life to saving them from obscurity. Plus they talk Letterman, and Young's own path from blue-collar New England, to Harvard, to the top of the comedy-writing heap.