Monday, February 13, 2006

Inside the Actor's Studio: Debacle

So I caught Dave Chappelle on James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio" on BRAVO last night. Lipton's generally full-of-shit personality and austere interviewing style really brought the show down.
As always, Lipton tried to make it seem like his questions were so serious, literally reading them off of a list as opposed to having a conversation. And his questions sucked too. Compare this with the semi-meandering nature of Charlie Rose, who can not only ask the questions he wants to ask, but also allows a conversation to develop between him and the guest (as opposed to a bland question and answer session).
Even Lipton's standing up and dancing during the interview didn't rid me of his pompousness. Meanwhile, Chappelle kept the show going, not exactly offering advice, but giving us insight into his development as a comedian, his style of comedy, and his inspirations. And as always, that devious Chappelle smile won me over. Although, even when Chappelle tried to relay his stories and jokes in a very simple and unglorified way, Lipton would muck it up by injecting a kind of seriousness into the matter.
The other thing that bothered me was that Lipton tried to 'black' it up a notch, referring to himself and other white people as honkeys and commending Chappelle on how he has given America access to "the Black mind."
I can't stand it when interviewers make an effort to change who they are when they interview different people. People aren't just tuning in to hear Chappelle speak, but to see how he interacts with someone who they are familiar with. A good interviewer is a reference point by which we can locate the people he or she is interviewing. With an interviewer I can no longer trust, the effectiveness--and credibility--of the entire interview is compromised.
What a shame. A great guest, but a wasted opportunity.


Anonymous said...

James Lipton was interviewed by Ali G once. The interview was generally unremarkable when it played on the Ali G show. After the cameras went off, though, Lipton shocked Sacha Baron Cohen (the actor behind Ali G) by pulling from Lipton's desk nude photos of a busty Asian lady -- nude photos of Lipton's wife, Lipton told Cohen. Whack, right? Cohen told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that he thought Lipton was trying to impress Ali G.

More seriously, I don't think I agree that a good interviewer serves as a reference point for the audience. I'm not saying Lipton does a good job, but I think a good interviewer makes a guest feel comfortable, so that the guest can "be himself." Often, this requires an interviewer to mold slightly his style. The Olympics demonstrate how good Bob Costas is at this.

A.H. Rajani said...

point taken. sure an interviewer wants people to feel comfortable, but i really doubt lipton himself (by his austere questions and shifting personality) makes anybody feel comfortable at all.

as for bob costas, i don't think he really is molding himself at all. Instead, I think bob just happens to be interested in EVERYTHING, thus has no need to mold himself into anybody else.

Mad.J.D. said...

2 cents: James Lipton is, at this point, basically a parody of himself. He doesn't even have to open his mouth and you can practically hear him saying that Kevin Kline was "courageous" in A Fish Called Wanda or commending Julia Roberts on the "temerity" it took to play a whore who falls in love with Richard Gere. I used to love Actor's Studio but I think it was mostly because of the "academic" aspect of it and the fact that the interviews are at least ostensibly about the craft of acting, as opposed to typical celebrity worship. I can no longer stand this show. Whatever nugget of wisdom Martin Lawrence has to offer about acting, I am not interested.

Also, Bob Costas should be the Commissioner of Baseball and the President of the United States. I love that guy.

Anonymous said...

Sarah Vowell writes in today's NYTimes about this interview. Well, to be fair, she mentions it only in passing. But the interview was, for her, a reason to be optimistic about America.

The soundbite: "Or there was last week's "Inside the Actors Studio" with Dave Chappelle, in which Chappelle was funny, of course, but also so self-possessed and thoughtful and morally outraged he had a kind of biblical grandeur."