In the spirit of fostering transatlantic dialogue, next week I will travel to Germany to represent the Pacific Council on International Policy during the German Federal Foreign Office’s "Think Transatlantic" Study Tour, an informational visit for young writers and researchers of U.S. think tanks.

I will visit Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin to meet with officials from the Federal Chancellery, the Bundestag (Parliament), the Federal Ministry of Defense, the European Central Bank, the Bundesbank (German Federal Bank), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, the Die Zeit newspaper, the German Council on Foreign Relations, the Körber Foundation, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the Hertie School of Governance, and more.

In a letter to president and CEO Dr. Jerrold D. Green inviting the Pacific Council to participate in the study tour, German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig wrote, "In times of myriad crises and shifting global influence, we should deepen our alliance across the Atlantic and ensure its continuity. For this, we need the next generation of government and public policy leaders. To help build that next generation of transatlanticists, the German Embassy over the past years has invited young, promising experts from a select number of think tanks and other institutions to gain firsthand experience in Germany on foreign, political, business, security, media, and economic policy issues."

Stay tuned to the Pacific Council’s Newsroom, Twitter, and Facebook during the first two weeks of December 2016 for dispatches from Germany as I engage in a dialogue with high-ranking German decision-makers and government leaders, the scientific community, and members of the media and private sector. Also stay tuned to my personal travel blog, Junket Journal, for posts on my trip to Germany and Geneva, Switzerland.

'Come together'

Bernie Sanders talks about resisting Trump’s policies, reforming the Democratic Party and his new book at the Alex Theatre

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/1/2016

“Rethink your role in the political process,” Bernie Sanders told a packed house Tuesday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. “It’s great that you vote every two or four years, but we need more than that to be effective. We need to mobilize millions of people to get engaged in the political process and join this fight to move a progressive agenda forward.”

The Independent senator from Vermont and former Democratic presidential candidate first addressed the crowd solo at a podium on stage and then was interviewed by comedian Sarah Silverman to promote his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. Sanders’ wife Jane was in attendance and received a standing ovation.

“It’s important for everyone to remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2 million votes,” said Sanders. “In his delusional manner, Mr. Trump has not recognized that, but nonetheless it is a fact. And what that means is Mr. Trump does not have a mandate.”

When Silverman came out on stage, a few audience members loudly booed. During the primaries, Silverman was a staunch supporter of Sanders, but after Hillary Clinton won the nomination, Silverman threw her support behind Clinton, much to the dismay of die-hard Sanders supporters. During the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July, Silverman told Sanders supporters who were protesting that they were “being ridiculous.” When she came on stage at the Alex on Tuesday, one audience member who booed also shouted, “You’re ridiculous, Sarah!” She didn’t respond, and Sanders thanked her for supporting his campaign before they moved on to the interview.

“The first question I should ask you, something that’s been on everyone’s minds since the election, which is, ‘What the fuck?’” Silverman said.

“Is that the entire question?” Sanders laughed. “As we try to figure out how best to deal with President Trump — and I am as reluctant as you are to say that phrase — people must not think members of Congress can do this alone. We need a mass movement of millions of people who are engaged in the political process.”

He added that people won’t agree on every issue, but there is one area progressives cannot compromise on: bigotry.

“In many ways bigotry was the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign,” Sanders said. “But when we look back at the history of this country, as the result of the millions of people who struggled against discrimination over 200 years, we have come a long way and made real progress. So our message to Mr. Trump is, ‘We are not going back.’”

However, he added that those who think all of Trump’s supporters are racists, sexists and homophobes are mistaken.

“Some of them certainly are, but I don’t think the vast majority of them are,” he said. “We live in a very silo-ized world, meaning we end up only associating with people who think like us. What Trump did was very clever. He, of all people, said, ‘I hear your pain, and I will take on the political, economic, and media establishment.’ What he tapped into in many parts of this country is a pain and level of despair which you never see on television, but is very real. People don’t feel like they have a sense of purpose.”

Another reason Trump won the election, Sanders added, is because of the weakness of the Democratic Party. If the Democratic Party had done nothing else but raise the minimum wage to a living wage during their eight years in power, he said, they would have reached those who voted for Trump.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Minority Leader, recently appointed Sanders to be part of the Senate Democrats’ leadership team. Sanders will handle outreach to key party constituencies.

“And I assure you, I will do outreach,” he said. “What we are going to try to do is completely restructure and reform the Democratic Party and make it into a grassroots party which welcomes working people and young people and people who are prepared to demand that we have a government and an economy that works for all of us and not just the one percent.”

Sanders mentioned that he got in trouble two weeks ago for saying, “It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” In making the argument against identity politics for the sake of identity politics, many interpreted Sanders’ comments as criticism of Clinton’s campaign.

“Let me repeat it,” he told the Glendale crowd on Tuesday. “It is not good enough to support a candidate just because they are black or gay or a woman. They have to have the courage to stand up to big money interests. We need a party that has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and all of the powers that be. This country in many respects is moving toward an oligarchic form of society. A handful of billionaires control our economic and political life. If you’re not willing to engage in that struggle, well then I don’t think you’re doing serious politics.”

Fortunately, Sanders said, the American people are on the side of a progressive agenda.

“Whether it’s raising the minimum wage to a living wage, ensuring pay equity for women, putting millions of people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, demanding that Donald Trump and his billionaire friends start paying their fair share of taxes, making public colleges tuition-free and addressing the planetary crisis of climate change, there is overwhelming support for these ideas,” he said.

In order to make those ideas a reality, though, more people will need to get involved in the political process and vote.

“Just the other day — it’s hard to keep up with Trump’s tweets — he claimed millions of people voted illegally,” Sanders said. “That is total and absolute nonsense. When he said that, what he was really doing was sending a message to Republican leaders all over the country that they have got to increase their efforts toward voter suppression. That’s what that message was about. Republicans don’t want people to vote. We need to make voting as easy as possible. We want the highest voter turnout in the world, not the lowest.”

The event was sponsored by Vroman’s Bookstore and was originally slated to take place at All Saints Church in Pasadena, but was moved to the Alex due to overwhelming popular demand.

Sanders’ book has two parts: one is about his presidential campaign and the other is an outline for a progressive economic, environmental, racial and social justice agenda. Considered a fringe candidate in the beginning with no money, political organization, or name recognition, Sanders took on the Democratic establishment, received more than 13 million votes and won 22 states during the primaries.

“I left the campaign with a sense of optimism,” he said. “I know these are tough times, but there are extraordinary people across this country. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody I know does. We’re going to have to come together on this. If we put our minds to it, if we do not allow demagogues to divide us up by race or sexual orientation or whatever, if we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”

Fight the power

Battle lines are drawn in the struggle against Trump’s divisive policy plans

By Mercedes Blackehart and Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/1/2016

Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Los Angeles and a dozen other major US cities for several days following the surprise election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Incensed by Trump’s rhetoric about banning Muslims, building a wall along the border with Mexico to keep out the “rapists and drug dealers,” and grabbing women’s genitals and kissing them without consent, people of all ages and walks of life — including families with small children in strollers — expressed their outrage at the next president’s proposed policies.

Making it clear what he thinks of the First Amendment, and repeating a claim that has since been debunked, on Nov. 10 Trump tweeted, “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This photo essay was taken during the Nov. 12 protest in downtown Los Angeles. The rally began with speeches at MacArthur Park, then marched east through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building. Following more political speeches at the federal building, throngs of protesters marched off in different directions, with most heading back to MacArthur Park.

The LAPD said there were 8,000 protesters, but there were clearly tens of thousands more people in the streets than that. Countless officers blocked the entrances to the Harbor (110) and Hollywood (101) freeways after protesters in previous days shut down freeways across the country.

Despite media rhetoric about these being violent riots, this protest was entirely peaceful, with several protesters seen shaking hands with police officers and thanking them for their service. In return, some officers threw up peace signs to the passing crowd. Cars stuck in traffic because of the protest honked their horns in solidarity with the protesters.

One man attempted to argue with a group of young female protesters about the purpose of the protest. “None of us dispute the election result,” one protester responded. “That’s not the point. It’s about showing our resistance to this man and what he stands for.”

These were some of the chants heard during the demonstration:

“No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!” a chant later used by Green Day during the American Music Awards on Nov. 20.

“My body, my choice!” female protesters yelled, followed by male protesters yelling, “Her body, her choice!”

“When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When Muslims are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When women are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

And of course, the signature chant was “Not my president!” a refrain seldom heard in Los Angeles since the George W. Bush era.

Back at MacArthur Park, protesters filled the intersection at West Sixth and South Alvarado streets for hours. Dozens of police officers in riot gear lined up in the middle of the street, awaiting orders to disperse the crowd. After several tense moments on the cusp of potential violence, police decided to stand down and drove their vehicles away from the protest.

'Beauty' Fights Back

Author and activist Ellen Snortland’s documentary on women’s self-defense screens Friday at Laemmle Playhouse 7

By Justin Chapman, 11/10/2016, Pasadena Weekly

Ellen Snortland first published her book “Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls” in 1999. A powerful treatise calling for women to take charge of their own self-defense both verbally and physically when being attacked, she has spent the past 10 years turning the book into a documentary of the same name.

The film just finished a weeklong run in New York City and begins a second weeklong run starting tomorrow at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. The film will air four times a day until Nov. 17 as part of a campaign to make the documentary eligible for the Academy Awards and Independent Spirit Awards.

“I primarily identified as a writer and author, not a filmmaker,” said Snortland, a longtime Pasadena Weekly columnist. “But I thought, ‘You know what? There are a whole bunch of idiots that make movies all the time. I’m an idiot, I can do this.’ I’m a little bit of a poster girl for ‘it can be done.’”

Taking Action, Saving Lives

The documentary is a natural extension of Snortland’s lifelong work around women’s self-defense. She serves on the board of IMPACT Personal Safety, a nonprofit started in 1985 that trains women, men and children in full-force, full-impact self-defense and boundary-setting techniques. She grew up in Colorado and South Dakota, received a juris doctorate from Loyola Law School, founded the first all-female theater company in the early 1970s, acted in and directed several TV shows during the 1980s, attended United Nations world conferences and annual UN meetings as an nongovernmental organization (NGO) delegate and journalist and wrote and performs a one-woman show about growing up as a Norwegian American. She is also the co-author of “The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens” with Lisa Gaeta.

The documentary was funded entirely by individual contributions as small as $5 all the way up to $100,000. The project has cost about $250,000 as well as another $250,000 with in-kind contributions. In partnership with Providence Entertainment Group and El HaLev, “Beauty Bites Beast” screened in Israel earlier this year and has been accepted into the Nova Scotia Sunrise and Delhi International film festivals.

The documentary was scheduled to play at the 40th Montreal World Film Festival in September, but managerial and financial problems led to last-minute resignations of many staff members and cancellations of two-thirds of screenings. “Beauty Bites Beast” played for 12 minutes before the projector broke down. One of the festival jurors was found dead in his hotel room. (Read Snortland’s column “When ‘Best’ Isn’t Good Enough” in the Oct. 6 issue of the Weekly for the full story).

Undeterred, Snortland is aiming high by applying for the Academy Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards because she believes the film’s message is so important that it saves lives.

“I made it for people to take action,” she said. “To make sure they get their children trained in what we call empowerment self-defense. I want them to come away with the understanding that the drive to defend oneself is not a gendered attribute. And I’m out to impact at a policy level. We want to get DVDs to legislators, to the people who make decisions about grants.”

The documentary points out that the Violence Against Women Act of 1993, its reauthorization in 2013 and the White House Task Force on Ending Sexual Assaults Against Students in 2014 include no mentions of self-defense.

“It’s all oriented toward before and after being attacked. There’s nothing about what to do during an attack,” said Snortland. “My movie is the ‘during’ part. In the surveys we hand out at screenings we ask, ‘Has your view of violence against women shifted after seeing this documentary?’ Our ‘yes’ rate is 90 percent.”

Ending Violence Against Women

The documentary came about after Snortland met an American in 2006 who owned a factory in Tijuana. At the time, hundreds of women were being kidnapped, raped and killed in Juarez. The factory owner read the “Beauty Bites Beast” book and asked Snortland to train his female workers in Tijuana on how to defend themselves. She agreed, as long as she could film the sessions. Those scenes are among the most powerful in the film, showing impoverished women undergoing a remarkable transformation in realizing that they are not powerless to defend themselves. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, delivered their graduation speech at the end of the sessions.

Nagin Cox, an assistant at IMPACT and spacecraft systems engineer at JPL, also traveled to Tijuana with Snortland to help train the women. Cox called the experience “amazing and rewarding.”

“The themes of empowering women and women’s self-defense are universal,” said Cox. “It’s not just about women learning to physically defend themselves; it’s about women learning that they have a right to their voice, that they have a right to be heard.”

Dr. Munazza Yaqoob of the International Islamic University invited Snortland and her husband Ken Gruberman, who serves as co-producer of the film, to screen “Beauty Bites Beast” to a group of 300 Islamic female scholars and researchers at the Critical Thinking Forum in the Pakistani cities of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore early next month.

“We are blown away by the prospect of sharing the liberating message of ‘Beauty Bites Beast’ with young female Islamic scholars who are ready, willing and able to take on shifting the conversation about ending violence against women,” Snortland wrote on the Indiegogo campaign she created to help fund the trip.

“Female elephants, lions — all are just as fierce in self-defense as males,” feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem said about the documentary. “Only our species is taught to be ‘feminine’ and defenseless.  ‘Beauty Bites Beast’ shows how women around the world are taking back our strengths and lives.”

For more information, visit beautybitesbeast.com.

'Together Again'

Comedy legends Eric Idle and John Cleese of Monty Python reunite for a two-man show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium

By Justin Chapman, 11/03/2016, Pasadena Weekly

On Nov. 18, 2014, Eric Idle interviewed fellow Monty Python member John Cleese at the Alex Theatre in Glendale about his memoir, “So, Anyway …” The video was viewed more than a half-million times on YouTube, proving to Idle and Cleese that there is still a healthy appetite for everything Monty Python-related. Cleese got the idea to take their two-man show on the road.

Following a successful run last fall on the East Coast as well as a sold-out run in Australia and New Zealand in February, “Together Again at Last ... For the Very First Time” has embarked on a third tour on the West Coast and Canada through at least Dec. 3, including a show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Nov. 11.

“It was just something rather wonderful, two old people getting together after 50 years,” Idle, 73, told the Pasadena Weekly in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t something I planned, but it turned into a very pleasant evening with an old friend talking about old times. It’s become more like a double autobiography in an odd way now.”

Silliness Required

The show is partly scripted and partly improv, combining storytelling, sketches, musical numbers, exclusive footage and aquatic juggling.

“We gave it a shape but we don’t lock it down,” said Idle. “So we can go anywhere we want to, which is great at our age because we forget the words to sketches and we can just own up. And then the audience laughs even more if we’ve forgotten it. But we don’t go anywhere that we’ve been; we don’t do Python sketches that they know. We do stuff from other things we’ve done that we like and make us laugh still.”

Although they haven’t performed the show since the Brexit vote, Idle said the topic will likely come up during the new tour because he was against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and Cleese was in favor of it.

“I’m sure Brexit will come up and we’ll abuse each other,” Idle said. “John will say how wonderful it is and I’ll point to how many pounds I’ve lost. It’s amazing to me that something as stupid as a referendum did this, which is the wrong way to deal with something so complex. It was an opinion poll; there’s no legal basis requiring the government to act on it. If they had any balls they’d say, ‘We think this is a bad move.’ You want people deciding these things who know what they’re dealing with, not people who are frightened of immigrants by endless headlines in the Daily Express. It is insane.”

Fun Science

The comedy icons have created a whole new act two for this tour that focuses on how Monty Python remained popular for more than a half-century and where they stand now.

“There’s sort of a nice banter that is established very early on when [Cleese] is complaining about how much he’s paid in divorces and then he attacks me for being with my wife for nearly 40 years and says it’s for lack of imagination, and I say, ‘Well, yeah, but [one woman] is a lot cheaper.’ There’s a nice level of affectionate banter and memories. It’s a very sweet, unusual show.”

Cleese told the Weekly last year that “Together Again” is “the most enjoyable project I’ve ever had.”

“We came off stage after [the original Alex Theatre show] and all we knew was that the audience had laughed a great deal and we couldn’t quite remember what we’d said,” Cleese said.

Idle’s latest project is a musical Christmas special for the BBC called “The Entire Universe.” The show covers the entire history of the universe with “real science that’s interrupted by real silliness,” Idle said.

“Everybody watches TV at Christmas because they get together with their relatives and they can’t stand each other so they get drunk and watch television,” he said.

At the end Stephen Hawking sings “The Galaxy Song,” which Idle wrote for the 1983 film “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.” Tim Peake, an astronaut who spent the summer on the International Space Station, also makes an appearance.

“When we got the idea we just thought, ‘This is just such a great subject. We have to do something really silly with it,’” said Idle. “As you must.”

Carry On

Although well known as an actor and singer-songwriter, Idle said he prefers writing to performing. He is the author of the novels “Hello Sailor” and “The Road to Mars,” as well as the musicals “Spamalot” and “Not the Messiah,” a parody of the 1979 film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

“I get to stay home here in LA and hunker down and write, and bit by bit you try to isolate what you might want to be interested in and what’s worth doing in the short amount of time left, and what you don’t want to do,” said Idle. “It’s been fun ever since ‘Spamalot’ to be able to say, ‘What do I actually want to write?’ I try to keep myself interested and honest.”

“Spamalot,” which premiered in 2005, is a critically acclaimed and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

“We wrote ‘Spamalot’ as a series of little sketches, and then we crammed it together,” said Idle. “It was a very fun show to put together and rehearse and change [from the film], because you have to change things from what they are if you change the medium. Although there was almost nothing we couldn’t do on stage because they’re just pretending to ride horses.”

After “Spamalot” premiered, the Pythons lost a lawsuit by Mark Forstater, a producer of the original film. The court ordered the Pythons to pay £800,000 in fees and back royalties to Forstater in 2013 because “Spamalot” was so similar to the film.

To pay the settlement, the surviving members of Monty Python performed a reunion show in 2014 called “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go” at the 20,000-seat O2 Arena in London that sold out in 43.5 seconds. Founding Python members Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Idle and Cleese all participated. The sixth founding member, Graham Chapman (no relation to the reporter), died in 1989 at the age of 48.

Cleese infamously delivered a brilliant, oddball eulogy at Chapman’s funeral, saying, “I guess we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, such capability and kindness, of such intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away at the age of only 48, before he’d achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he’d had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say, ‘Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries.’”

Idle performed his fan-favorite song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at the funeral.

‘Let’s Do It’

Following the 2014 reunion show, Palin made it clear to the rest of the group that he was no longer interested in doing Python shows. A few years ago, Jones began developing dementia, which was publicly announced in September. With Gilliam busy directing films, that left Idle and Cleese to carry on the Python banner.

“We got a very generous offer to do a show in Australia, and Michael, who’s always polite, just didn’t want to do it,” said Cleese. “Eric and I said, ‘Well, if Michael doesn’t want to do it, is there any reason why we can’t do something like we did in Glendale?’ We thought about it for a while and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Idle pointed out that the upcoming performance of “Together Again” in Pasadena is practically a homecoming for the show that was born next door in Glendale.

“I love Pasadena,” said Idle, who lives in Los Angeles. “It’s where I go for my day off. I get all my tea from Chado [Tea Room] and I go to Vroman’s [Bookstore] all the time. It’s kind of normal. It’s not like Beverly Hills, it’s a real place, a lovely little small town.”

For tickets and more information, visit cleeseandidle.com.

Ambassador to lead Annenberg trust

By Justin Chapman, The Daily Trojan, 9/29/2016

Following a nearly yearlong, nationwide search, Ambassador David Lane has been chosen as the next president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Lane previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome. He succeeds USC Annenberg professor Geoffrey Cowan, who stepped down in June after serving six years as the inaugural president of Sunnylands.

“Sunnylands has the potential to bring people together across ideological boundaries,” Lane said. “People are willing to let down their guard, put aside some of their assumptions and biases and be more open. The goal is to link the great experts and evidence and research that’s out there and help ensure that it’s being translated into policy.”

Sunnylands is the sprawling, 200-acre desert estate in Rancho Mirage, California, which served as the winter home of Ambassador Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore, after whom the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is named. Following their deaths in 2002 and 2009, respectively, the estate’s board of trustees established the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, a retreat center for government officials and private sector experts. Dubbed “Camp David of the West” by Cowan, and in the spirit of the Annenbergs’ vision for the estate, Sunnylands has hosted several high-profile meetings, including a 2013 summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 2014 meeting with Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan and the 2016 U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Summit featuring Obama and leaders from 10 nations. Countless retreats featuring Supreme Court justices, congressional leaders, filmmakers, musicians, artists and experts in various industries have also taken place there.

USC has maintained a relationship with Sunnylands through Cowan, Annenberg, the School of Cinematic Arts and other USC-Sunnylands hybrid employees such as Geoffrey Baum, who served as managing director of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy for many years and currently serves as the chief communications and marketing officer at Sunnylands. Lane said he will maintain that institutional relationship.

“We will continue to collaborate with the various Annenberg institutions, as they make a natural fit,” Lane said. “It’s less that anything formal is necessary, but more that there’s already a rhythm of collaboration with USC that has certainly served Sunnylands well and, I assume, has served USC well.”

Lane said he wants to continue Sunnylands’ reputation as a place to bring people together, particularly congressional leaders.

“It’s no surprise there hasn’t been a great congressional convening over the last few years, because that piece of our government especially has been so broken in terms of bipartisan cooperation,” Lane said. “These may be famous last words, but I at least intend to try to do something there. We can start with some initiatives where there’s bipartisan support and try to model what cooperation looks like.”

As ambassador, Lane led strategy-setting and governance of six multilateral agencies focused on food security, agricultural development, poverty alleviation, development finance and rule of law promotion. He advocated for inclusion of a “justice and accountable governance” provision in the UN’s recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals aimed at fighting poverty, inequality and climate change through 2030. Before being appointed ambassador, Lane served in the White House as assistant to the president and counselor to the chief of staff. Before that, he was president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, the non-partisan organization co-founded by singer Bono to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases.

“David Lane was an exceptional ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, in a statement. “His optimism regarding our ability to reach common objectives on eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and sustainably managing our planet’s resources was a compelling influence among member countries. This helped greatly in building consensus and confronting our shared challenges.”

From 2001 to 2007, Lane led public policy and advocacy efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During the Clinton administration, he served as chief of staff to the Secretary of Commerce and executive director of the National Economic Council.

“David is a bridge builder,” Melinda Gates said in a statement. “He brings people together to find policy solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. He knows the policy backwards and forwards, but he’s also creative about getting things done.”

Alumnus empowers disenfranchised voters

By Justin Chapman, The Daily Trojan, 9/19/2016

During this election season, some people are disappointed with the choices for president, to the point where they may choose not to vote at all. But there is another option — sharing your vote with someone who can’t.

Vote Allies, founded by USC alumnus Brett Shears, partners those eligible to vote with those who are ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens and those on parole. The pairs discuss politics together, and the eligible voter then casts his or her vote for whoever the ineligible voter would like to vote for.

“If you’re disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, or you’re on parole, or you’re a non-citizen or you’re under 18 and you really want to be involved in this election, we can partner you with someone and try to replicate this voter experience, so you can be involved in your own way,” said Shears, who graduated in 2015 with a master’s degree in public policy from the Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Shears has long been interested in voting rights issues, having served as the at-large representative for the city of Los Angeles’ North Area Neighborhood Development Council and as vice chair of the South Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, both of which advocate for local issues to the L.A. City Council.

“I shared my vote with Francisco Medina, who was appointed as a city commissioner in Huntington Park as an undocumented resident,” Shears said. “To me, he embodied that spirit of a non-citizen who’s all in for his community, who would love to vote, who influences people in his own way. We really need to recognize and validate the contribution of people like him.”

California’s June 7 primary was the first election Vote Allies was active in. Shears said that while about 60 people signed up through voteallies.org, he was only able to pair 24 people together because the number of eligible voters outweighed ineligible voters by a ratio of about 5:2.

He said others may have participated in the same idea outside of his project.

There are 78 people signed up to participate with Vote Allies in the Nov. 8 election, but Shears said the numbers still skew about 5:2.

“We have more people who are willing to share their vote than there are disenfranchised people signing up who want to opt-in to the process,” Shears said. “It’s hard to say what the source of that is, but there’s probably a legitimate fear about not wanting to get in trouble, not wanting to do anything to rock the boat. It’s just a responsibility that people aren’t willing to take on.”

Susan Goelz, business analyst and program assistant for the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, is a registered Republican who plans to share her vote in the upcoming election, preferably with a student who cannot yet vote due to their age.

“I have voted in every presidential election since I could vote,” Goelz wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Now, I cannot in good conscience vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. So instead of not voting, I feel the best thing for me to do rather than not vote is to give my vote to someone who feels strongly and really wants to vote, so I will ‘share’ my ballot with a person who currently does not have the ability to vote in this election.”

Voter disenfranchisement laws vary widely from state to state. In Florida, the formerly incarcerated almost never get their right to vote back, and in Vermont, officials deliver ballots to inmates behind bars. California is somewhere in the middle in terms of strictness, in which those who are currently incarcerated or on parole cannot vote.

“The lesson is no two states are identical, so there’s always going to be confusion about who can and can’t vote,” Shears said. “There are about 80,000 people who are on parole in California who cannot vote because of a felony conviction.”

The number of undocumented immigrants and minors drives the total number of people who can’t vote much higher than that. While largely symbolic because the project operates at such a small scale in its current pilot phase, Shears said the whole point of Vote Allies is to start a dialogue about voting rights and to give a voice to the voiceless in American society.

The deadline to sign up to participate in the Nov. 8 election with Vote Allies is Oct. 25. Learn more at voteallies.org.

Humanist Chaplain guides non-religious USC students

By Justin Chapman, 9/8/2016, Daily Trojan

The USC campus boasts more than 80 religious organizations for students, with chaplains to supervise nearly all of them, but only one caters to the ever-growing community of nonbelievers.

The Secular Student Fellowship of USC, which meets at 7 p.m. every Monday in room 203B at the University Religious Center, is a “friendly, diverse community of undergraduates and graduate students engaged in an ongoing conversation about how to apply reason and science to live better lives and build better societies,” according to its page on the Office of Religious Life’s website. The group’s adviser is Bart Campolo, USC’s first Humanist Chaplain, a volunteer position he created two years ago.

In his role as Humanist Chaplain, Campolo counsels students who don’t believe in God. He is on campus most days of the week, in his office at URC 203A. On any given day he interacts with about three or four students.

“I’m like the rabbi/priest/minister/imam to all the students who don’t believe in God,” Campolo said. “If someone’s dad gets diagnosed with cancer and they’re trying to make sense of it, or someone’s having a hard time making friends on campus, or a senior doesn’t know what they’re going to do after they graduate, they come talk to me.”

Campolo, 53, is the son of famous evangelical preacher Tony Campolo, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s spiritual adviser. Bart Campolo himself spent many years as a public and influential evangelical Christian leader, but began having doubts about his own faith. After suffering a concussion from a bike accident, he decided at age 51 that he no longer believed in God. He has since devoted himself to secular humanism, which he defines as “creating a community where people pursue love and goodness collectively on the basis of reason.”

“My position is supervised by the dean of religious life because he wants me here,” Campolo said. “The dean understands that I’m trying to help students answer some of life’s ultimate questions using science and reason instead of supernaturalism, but that I’m still a religious leader. I’m still pursuing: ‘Where do we come from? What happens when we die? What’s the basis of good and evil? What makes something right or wrong? How do you make the most of this life? How do you deal with your finitude in the midst of a huge universe?’”

A recent Pew Research Center study found that more Americans than ever are increasingly becoming less religious, especially millennials. While no data currently exists for how many people on campus are religious versus nonreligious according to the Office of Religious Life, Campolo said his anecdotal experience tells him that about half of the students he talks to around campus don’t identify with a religion or don’t believe in God.

“How many people here believe in a magical god who actually intervenes in the lives of human beings? I’m going to guess about 40 to 50 percent,” Campolo said. “USC tends to skew more towards the religious, and yet, the faculty is a whole other story. Very few professors are people of faith, and yet very many of them are professors because they want to contribute to the advancement of life.”

Campolo said that his goal on campus is not to criticize religions or religious people, but rather to create a positive community for those who don’t happen to believe in God.

“A lot of atheist groups I researched had very negative agendas,” said Campolo. “They were like, ‘Let’s talk about another reason it’s stupid to believe in God,’ or ‘Let’s really focus on the separation of church and state because I’m sick of ‘In God we trust’ on the currency.’ You can’t build a movement around all this negative stuff. Ridiculing religion only gets people to double down. Maybe it’d be better if we go build a community where people could pursue love and goodness in a rational way and don’t have to believe in anything.”

Now in his third year as Humanist Chaplain, Campolo has found that many students are discovering and valuing his services.

“USC is a big, busy place,” Campolo said. “A lot of people don’t feel like they have a lot of friends on campus. They don’t feel connected. They don’t feel like anybody really cares.”

That’s why Campolo and his wife started hosting dinners for the secular community on campus in the URC dining room every other Sunday, a tradition that continues this semester.

“Since ‘non-religious’ is the fastest growing demographic in the United States, we think it’s important that a community like this exists to bring us together to pursue goodness without a god, which for many people is a novel concept,” said Katie Bolton, a junior majoring in environmental studies and NGOs and social change who serves as one of the leaders of the Secular Student Fellowship. “Bart is a true pioneer of this movement; he is able to inspire people like few others. I hope that more people will have the chance to know him like I do, because he has something to offer everyone. He just beams goodness to all who cross his path.”

Fellow SSF leader Joseph Krieger, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said having a Humanist Chaplain and a secular student organization on campus is “a huge comfort.”

“There are so many people on campus who don’t believe in a god, but want to have conversations about how to make the world a better place, either through improving interpersonal relationships or supporting causes that we believe in,” Krieger said. “Bart’s intuition, foresight and understanding of how people think make him a master of relationships.”

Campolo is also working with Irshad Manji, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, to create a chapter of her Moral Courage Project on campus.

Filmmaker John Wright is currently wrapping up a documentary about Campolo’s relationship with his father Tony following the revelation that he was no longer a Christian. The film, With Whom I Am Well Pleased, is expected to be released by the end of the year. The two Campolos are also working on a book together based on the same idea, due out early next year.

“All these religions have endured for thousands of years, not because their narratives make any sense at all, because they don’t, but because they get together every week, they have cool rituals, they sing really well and they take care of each other,” Campolo said. “They endure despite their crazy narratives, not because of them. Secular humanists have a much better narrative, and every fact that gets discovered affirms that narrative. But we’ve got to build a better community.”
(full interview following the story below)

Laughing Through the Pain

Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron prepares for the gig of his life — Carnegie Hall

By Justin Chapman, 9/8/2016, Pasadena Weekly

Marc Maron is finally having fun.

Known throughout his nearly 30-year career as a decidedly angry and self-deprecating performer, Maron’s standup has evolved over the years and is noticeably more upbeat, even if it still has elements of self-aware nihilism. Rather than brooding over it, however, he’s laughing at it these days, as he did during his show at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena on July 3.

“My stand-up for the last couple years has been, if not upbeat, then pretty grounded and comfortable,” Maron, 52, recently told the Pasadena Weekly. “I’ve been on stage many times over the years kind of emotionally chaotic and ungrounded and aggravated and scared or angry, without having much control over it. And that’s an exciting thing to watch, but it’s a hard thing to make a career out of. There are some things that have gotten better in my life. I don’t know really how to deal with that, so I guess that’s my version of upbeat.”

As of the beginning of this month, his latest stand-up special, “More Later,” is available for digital download on iTunes. His other critically acclaimed comedy specials and records include “Thinky Pain,” “This Has to Be Funny,” “Final Engagement,” “Tickets Still Available” and “Not Sold Out.” He has also written two books, “Attempting Normal” and “The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah.”

And he’s still going strong. He’s been trying out new material on the road during his current nationwide tour that continues through December in preparation for his New York Comedy Festival gig on Nov. 4 at Carnegie Hall. And he continues to perform locally, with a show on Oct. 22 at Largo in Los Angeles and plans for another Ice House show in October as well.

His hard work is paying off. Maron’s stand-up, just like his social and political commentary and his work on his podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” and his TV show “Maron,” is nothing short of brilliant.

Candid conversationalist

A longtime resident of Highland Park, Maron hosts the popular “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast out of his garage. Maron and his producer Brendan McDonald started the podcast in September 2009 in the basement of the Air America studios in New York after the beleaguered liberal radio station canceled four of his shows.

“WTF” quickly became and remains one of the most popular podcasts of all time. With about 6.5 million downloads per month, the show has racked up more than 700 episodes. Each features Maron interviewing a notable guest in his garage, including fellow comedians such as Louis CK and Robin Williams, actors such as Bryan Cranston and Alan Alda, musicians such as Fiona Apple and Thom Yorke, filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Werner Herzog and countless others. The show is well known as a place where very public personas go to open up about their struggles, their passions and their lives in a rare, brutally honest way. Some have called what Maron does journalism, though he considers himself a conversationalist rather than a journalist.

“It’s unsatisfying to me if I can’t engage with a person in a real way, conversationally, but some people just aren’t necessarily like that, so that can be a little tricky,” he said. “But when somebody engages, something different happens, and I can feel it happen. So that’s what I’m gunning for.”

The most prominent guest on “WTF” was President Obama, an interview Maron says he approached the same way he does his other guests, by engaging in a personal conversation.

“I read his first book, ‘Dreams of My Father,’ which was written before he had presidential aspirations and was a very genuine memoir of a guy struggling with his mission in life and with his own identity in ways,” said Maron. “I just figured that guy’s gotta be in there somewhere, and we kept it around that.”

White House staffers had reached out to McDonald to set up the interview with Obama, with the goal of getting young people more interested and involved in politics. On June 22, 2015, Marine One landed at the Rose Bowl and a presidential motorcade snaked its way through Pasadena, Eagle Rock and Highland Park. Secret Service snipers kept watch on Maron’s neighbor’s roof.

That interview garnered sensational headlines across the country when the president said a certain word while making a nuanced point about racism in America just five days after a young white supremacist gunned down nine African-American worshippers at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama said on Maron’s podcast. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Maron said he didn’t expect the media to run with it the way they did, but that he was glad the president felt comfortable enough to be so candid on his show.

“That was an interesting choice for him,” said Maron. “The media was going to do what they were going to do. I wouldn’t address the idea of the N-word with the media without the context.”

The ‘John Coltrane of Jew-pain’

Last week it was announced that Maron will star in a new Netflix show called “G.L.O.W.,” inspired by the real story of a 1980s female wrestling league.

In July, Maron self-canceled his television show, “Maron,” which ran for four seasons on IFC. “Maron” was created and produced by Maron, who also directed and wrote several episodes. The first three seasons loosely resemble Maron’s real life, complete with his character interviewing celebrities on his podcast. At the end of the third season, his character relapses on drugs and alcohol and loses everything, although the real Maron has been sober for 17 years. The fourth season follows the arc of fictional Maron hitting rock bottom, struggling through rehab and recovering while trying to find the child he sired as a surrogate father for a lesbian couple.

Screenwriter and author Jerry Stahl, who wrote the 1995 memoir “Permanent Midnight” about his heroin addiction, was a consulting producer and writer on the show. Stahl is also the author of “Happy Mutant Baby Pills,” “I, Fatty” and several other books, and wrote the screenplays for “Bad Boys II,” “Hemingway & Gellhorn” and several episodes of “CSI,” “Alf” and “Twin Peaks.”

“Working with Maron was never work,” Stahl told the Weekly. “It was like getting paid to hang out with a pal — if your pal happens to be the John Coltrane of Jew-pain. We had the same conversation in the room we had before there was a room. The only difference was big chunks ended up on TV.”

Maron said he decided to end the show because he felt the story had been told.

“I thought we did a very adventurous and exciting fourth season, but I don’t know really what happens next,” he said. “Like, was there something to doing another season of me working at a bookstore in a small town co-parenting a baby with a lesbian? Yeah, I’ve never seen that before. But I mean, is it better just to leave it with, I’ve arrived at this different place and make it sort of touching and cryptic? If there was no creative incentive for me to continue, there was no reason to continue.”

The last shot of the show’s final episode pushes in on Maron finally holding his child in a park after trying so hard to get to spend time with him, when a look on his face indicates that he still isn’t happy, as Iron and Wine’s “Upward Over the Mountain” plays in the background.

“That last shot was very important to me, getting that right,” he said. “The end of ‘The Graduate’ was my inspiration for it, with Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross on the bus, after she had just run out of her wedding. Just that moment where he’s like ... whoa. I liked that vibe.”

Maron said he had to fire the originally cast baby because he was African American.

“I am not racist in any way, and I’m sure it’s a good baby, but we needed it to be a specific baby. It’s always a stretch with babies, but you’re willing to forgive. But I didn’t want it to be a separate statement. Like Louis CK’s wives have changed ethnicity [on his TV show “Louie”], and that is an artistic decision that Todd Solondz made as well with ‘Palindromes,’ which is fine, but that was not what we were doing, so I didn’t want that to be an obstacle to the narrative. Again, I just want to make clear, I have nothing against brown babies,” Maron said with a smile.

For tour dates and more information, visit wtfpod.com.


Justin's full interview with Marc Maron:

Justin Chapman: I saw you at the Ice House a few weeks ago. That was a great show. Are you using any of that material for your Carnegie Hall show, or are you writing all new stuff?

Marc Maron: That was all pretty new. Some of it was hinted at in other places, but no, most of that I tried to do as new as possible. I can’t remember what exactly I did, but whatever I’ve been doing for the last few months is developing into the new hour. That was the plan, was trying to stay new. I think I did that.

Is the Carnegie Hall show going to be your new special?

I don’t know if it’s going to be a special, it’s really just a gig. I was planning on going easy over the summer after the TV show and stuff, but I got offered that show by the New York Comedy Festival. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s not something I orchestrated. I have no real plans to make a special there. I just started thinking yesterday that maybe I should at least record the audio, but it was not something that I planned. It was offered to me, so there were no real plans in place to shoot a special. If I’m gonna do a special, or a record, or a CD, not even that, a recording, usually I book it and plan it and that kind of stuff. So there’s no real plan other than to do Carnegie Hall. I guess I should document it. That would be a smart thing to do. I might even document it on some high quality machinery as opposed to my phone. 

Do you have any other local shows coming up?

I always work around here. When I’m in town I primarily do the Comedy Store, because there’s some part of me that belongs there and lives there for a long time, and I don’t really have any love for the Laugh Factory or the Improv. I seem to have pulled back on alternative rooms. I do the Trepany House sometimes to build material. I did a few months of Tuesday’s over there, just to work out. That’s a nice little place, but that’s not a comedy club. I think we’re going to do another show at the Ice House on a Sunday in October. 

What I noticed at your Ice House show was how even when a joke you were trying out didn’t quite land, you were still able to turn the process of telling it and trying it out into a joke. Is that you playing with it in the moment, or do you think about those kinds of things in advance?

You evolve a way to survive on stage if you’re the type of performer I am, where you’re not playing a song, you’re not repeating yourself exactly. Also just building jokes in general, or figuring out what things are, I do a lot of thinking out loud and a lot of in the moment stuff, and that’s usually where the jokes develop. So sometimes I’ll go out and I’ll just start talking about something, or think something’s funnier than it might be and hopefully something will come to me in that moment, and if it doesn’t I can usually make that funny. I don’t know if that’s really a great way to do a big show, but I have done that before. I like being that in the moment. I like not just the real immediacy of improvising but sort of failing in the moment. There’s a type of weirdness that happens around that, where if I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, and the audience isn’t sure, there’s that moment of very immediate, real experience. I don’t know if it’s everyone’s idea of entertainment, but I like it. A lot of times I’ll integrate jokes that don’t go well into something, and sometimes that gets me to another place. I don’t know what other people’s expectations are around comedy per se. I have an idea, but I don’t really want to deal with that. There’s a general sense of how comedy should be, and a general sense of stuff in general is bothersome; it should be a unique thing. When you go to a comedy club, and the Ice House is a good example...that’s an institution for decades, and you just see the history of comedy in the lounge in 8x10s in headshots of people, some you know, some you don’t know. There’s a context, a tone that is expected. I understand that tone and I work within it, but I want to be a little out of it. There’s something about modern standup that is sort of exactly like that club is. There’s a mode. I don’t know if it’s cookie cutter but it’s just definitely dated, but sometimes it’s in a good way. I like going to comedy clubs where I can look at 8x10s of guys from the old days, because I know them all, they’re not that old. It’s not vaudeville or something. The 80s are kind of far away now but I’m 52 years old so I grew up either opening for a lot of those guys or watching them on TV, and I like it. But it’s funny to me that there’s really no other way. What’s another way to do a comedy club? I like working at the Comedy Store because the history is so tangible and it hasn’t been messed with, and the Ice House is like that as well. That place is a really great comedy room and it’s been there forever, and there’s something comforting about that. I understand that world because I’ve lived in it all my life, but I want the experience to be outside of that expected tone. If somebody comes in and they don’t know who I am, I know I can make them laugh, but I’d like it to be in a way that they didn’t anticipate. I think there’s an expectation around comedy that is not just about laughing but it’s around, ‘Well, this guy’s going to behave a certain way. He’s a standup comic.’ That bothers me. But I live up there, so I’m sure I have my version of it.

In the Ice House set you seemed noticeably more upbeat than, say, the character in your TV show or your past standup. Are you having more fun with it these days?

Definitely having more fun with it. I think my standup for the last couple years has been, if not upbeat, then pretty grounded and pretty comfortable. I would say that the last two specials, Thinky Pain and More Later, are both pretty comfortable specials. If I am not upbeat I am at least not living in what I’m talking about necessarily. I’ve been on stage many times over the years kind of emotionally chaotic and ungrounded and aggravated and scared or angry, without having much control over it. And that’s an exciting thing to watch but it’s a hard thing to make a career out of. You become sort of this erratic freak that you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t mind that too much, the never knowing what’s going to happen part, but I think now whether I’m upbeat or not, I’m not afraid on stage. I’m comfortable in being up there. I don’t care as much as I used to about how I’m going to be perceived. But yeah, the material is, I guess, my version of being upbeat in that there are some things that have gotten better in my life. I don’t know really how to deal with that, so I guess that’s my version of upbeat.

Do you get bothered by hecklers at your show? You seemed to handle this drunk woman at your Ice House show pretty calmly.

I don’t think she was that happy. I think something had gone wrong inside of her. She seemed upset about something specific about me. I don’t get a lot of hecklers. Once you become known, generally, if you’re going to do a theater, not so much a comedy club, but if I do a theater show, most of those people are coming to see me. So they know me, and if they’re going to talk to me it’s not going to be an aggressive heckle. But sometimes people know me very well from listening to the podcast. They have a relationship with me that I think is real; it’s one sided, obviously. So sometimes, and this has happened throughout my career, at some point in some audiences people think I’m directly talking to them and they’ll sort of engage from their side of the conversation. It’s happened all throughout my career. I think it’s because of my tone. I don’t mind it. I’m not uncomfortable. I’m pretty good at crowd work. It’s a skill I learned. So I don’t mind it. It’s kind of exciting. It’s been awhile since I’ve been heckled with hostility, but that’s more likely to happen in a comedy club where I’m going to have people that are just in there, but even then, usually...I haven’t had a lot of hostility lately. I’ve had people that come to the show and it might not be the show they want to see so they’ll talk amongst themselves or whatever. I can work with that. I can work with all of it, really. I just don’t want somebody screwing up the show for people who want to see me. 

You talked a little bit about the gentrification of Highland Park in your show. Is that starting to get out of control around here, or do you think it still has some of its original character?

Oh yeah, there’s plenty of original character. I don’t really know. It’s a dicey thing because I don’t know the full extent of it, of gentrification in Highland Park. I came here in 2004 impulsively. I knew nothing about the neighborhood. Literally was driving a guy around who was looking to rent something in Garvanza and I saw that little house up there, and I had no idea where I was. I was living over by Franklin and the 101, Franklin and Bronson-ish in an apartment with a woman, and I had a little money from a deal that went nowhere, and I just saw this little house here driving that guy around. I didn’t know how to buy a house, so I bought it. I had no sense of anything. Nothing. I barely do now. I do know that it seemed like a long way to drive initially, because I was doing shows in Hollywood. I was kind of that area-centric. From living in New York and other cities you find your little area and that’s sort of your world. So this seemed very far from my world, which was really just the Comedy Store, the original Upright Citizens Brigade, that neighborhood. I make my world pretty small. So for years I was like, ‘I don’t know where I am or what’s happening. I had no sense of anything. That Vons used to be kind of a nightmare. My neighbors were okay. It was a little nerve-racking at first. There was some tagging going on, and then somebody robbed the house. That was years ago, like 2004 or 2005, then there was just this talk around 2007 that this was going to be a hot area and then the York opened and then it was like, ‘Well, I guess that’s it.’ I knew I was close to Pasadena and Glendale. I was like, ‘I like this house, I like this neighborhood. It feels like where I grew up in New Mexico. In LA you just figure out where you live. You’re not beholden to anywhere, especially in showbusiness. You don’t know where the hell you’re going to be working. There’s no center to the city, so just figure out what feels good and, you know, own it. So that whole element of gentrification now, it’s a little crazy that things have changed so dramatically on York and in the neighborhood, but I guess this is what it looks like. This is my first time ever being in a neighborhood that’s doing that. I don’t know how the locals feel. I imagine there’s two sides to it, but most of the people - outside of being a bit over the top with their attire and lifestyle, seemingly, there’s a hipster element - everyone seems pretty pleasant, but it’s still astonishing to me that people will park and spend half a day walking around York. I mean, it’s like, ‘What?’ I was here when there was really nothing down there. I don’t ever remember walking down there when I first got here. There was no reason to, really. 

When you started the podcast, you were doing it in the Air America building, but you weren’t still doing your other Air America shows at the time, right?

I was doing it at the old Air America studios on 6th Avenue. That was toward the end of this final thing I did for them. I had been fired a couple times already just because of their money problems, but the final thing was there was someone who saved the place financially, again, or dumped a bunch of money into it. We were doing a streaming video show before that technology was really viable, around 2007 or 2008. I just needed money because I was going to lose the house and I didn’t have any work really, and I needed to pay off the woman I was divorcing so that would stop. So I took this gig knowing I wasn’t really emotionally capable of dealing with politics or dealing with anything but it seemed like a cash grab, and it seemed like it could be interesting. I brought my friend Sam Seder in, which in retrospect was maybe not a great decision, but I didn’t have a choice. I love Sam but he definitely has a political agenda and I think our plan was to move into more of a comedy agenda. Either way, nobody watched it, nobody gave a shit. So we were there for a year and they closed us down because they ran out of money. So we were just sitting there, me and my producer Brendan McDonald, who’s been producing me since 2004. He was at Air America originally when I took that job in 2003 or 2004. That’s where I met him. He was a kid, he was like 24. He was an associate producer who came out of WNYC. He produced me for a couple years on that, then when they fired me we produced a show out here. We were always very hard working. We had a show out here for awhile that no one listened to on KTLK, because some people within Air America wanted to keep me in the fold so they gave me this nightly show that ran in LA that nobody listened to. We had to wait for the Clippers games to end to start our broadcast. It was a bad time. But then after all the other shit hit the fan, some guy called me from the old guard at Air America and said, ‘We’re going to do this thing, do you want to be a part of it? And I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s pitch it to the new guy.’ So that was that. So they closed us down, but we were still in there, they didn’t kick us out of the building. We had a couple months on the contract. I asked Brendan can you figure out how they do these podcasts, because I wasn’t listening to any but I knew guys that were doing it. So we looked into it and iTunes was excited to have people that had some experience doing that. So we figured it out, and we just committed to doing two new shows a week, Mondays and Thursdays, no matter what. And the show sort of evolved out of those first 10 or so that we did after hours at Air America. Then I came home, got the garage set up, and it just evolved into the interview show that it is. There used to be a third act, like a fake guest, or maybe not fake, I’d bring in improv performers to do characters that I would interview straight. Those are pretty funny, some of ‘em, kind of disturbing. Those tapered off because the interview became the thing. I don’t know that really happened, or why. I think usually those things just evolve out of discussions with Brendan, like, ‘Do we need to do this?’ Because it’s always really been him and me, looking at it and putting it together. The third act became a whole thing, like, reaching out to the improv community, finding guys to do these characters, how many are there really, is it really what the show’s about. I don’t know how many we did like that, but there was definitely a bunch, and then yeah it just went away.

Why do you think the podcast took off when the other shows didn’t?

The Air America thing initially was a big deal, but it was very limited in its market. There was a deal cut with weird Clear Channel stations that were either oldies or sports, that were dying. It was a weird network that was not consistent. Radio people are odd. People that work in consulting and managing in radio, a lot of those guys around. A lot of people involved. There were a lot of problems with it. Our show was pretty good. It got very good because it was a comedy show, it was a morning show, but you never knew which markets you were on, or really who your listenership was. And then we got pushed out, right when Howard Stern went off the air by an idiot named Danny Goldberg, who was the CEO at the time. And then the second show was just Siberia. And then the streaming video show, no one cared. And I didn’t want to do politics anymore. I didn’t want to be part of that dialogue because it’s very consuming and it’s very predictable and it’s very hard to really know what’s your opinion and what isn’t. I really wasn’t that involved in it. I’m pretty reactionary and I was angry about a lot things. I just thought I’d deal with that, and not sort of limit my audience and limit myself to the political dialogue, which is just tedious. A lot of it’s bullshit. So I made a very conscious decision to get out of it. That and the fact that podcasting was a new medium, and I was doing things with it and getting attention for it that hadn’t really been done in the way I was doing it. God knows I didn’t invent interviewing people or talking to people, but it was a combination of forces.

For the President Obama interview, his people reached out to you initially, right? How did you prepare for that? How did you decide what you wanted to ask him about?

It was hard because I didn’t want to get in the weeds politically and I wanted to try to do a conversation like the ones I do, about a person, a personal conversation. So I read his first book, Dreams of My Father, which was written before he had presidential aspirations and was a very genuine memoir of a guy struggling with his mission in life and with his own identity in ways. I just figured that guy’s gotta be in there somewhere, and we kept it around that. It had to be tight, and I had to write questions, which I usually don’t, and we had an hour, and it was the president, and I didn’t know how I would feel about it, how nerves would factor in. We did alright, but we ended up talking a little bit about politics, obviously. But I thought it was a pretty good interview. And I wasn’t that nervous, really, because I had experience talking to politicians. I mean, granted he was the president, but it was still like those guys have a way of, whoever they are, of handling themselves, and he can definitely handle himself. But the trick is to stay present and not let them go off too much.

That must have been such a surreal experience, especially when Obama said the N-word and the media jumped all over that when really he was making an important point about how racism still exists.

That was an interesting choice for him. I’m glad he felt comfortable [to say it on my show]. The media was going to do what they were going to do. I was very insulated from it. Brendan managed that situation very well. He knew more than I did that that would take off. I’m not naive, I’m just a little detached from the pulse of what’s going to get traction. I don’t know. And once I’m done with the conversation it’s really behind me. Brendan edits all that stuff and he puts the show together and he’s very connected to how media works. I think he knew that that would take off. I didn’t talk to anybody. We had an agreement with Chris Hayes to do a post-Obama interview on MSNBC, and an agreement with Terry Gross on NPR to do one pretty immediately, like that day. We got her clips and did an interview with her, and that’s really all I did. I wouldn’t address the idea of the N-word without the context, and there were people waiting outside my house, Cruz, ‘Hey, man, you want to just...?’ I don’t. So we handled that pretty well. With almost all of them, if somebody has questions about it, yes, it’s like, ‘Just listen to the podcast. It’s there. What do you need me for? I did my thing.’

You said earlier you don’t prepare questions before interviews?

I don’t. That can go either way. It’s challenging, but it’s not unlike how I do standup. There’s going to be false starts and there’s going to be things that could use more definition. I’ll have ideas, I just don’t do it. It’s a weird thing. And sometimes it’s not that I regretted not doing it, but sometimes I think some guests would work better with [prepared] questions. But what happens is, if you get into the groove of questions you might diminish the possibility for actual conversation, and that’s really what I’m after, for my personal satisfaction more than a professional choice. It’s unsatisfying to me if I can’t engage with a person in a real way, conversationally, but some people just aren’t necessarily like that, so that can be a little tricky. They’re not as bad as I think they are, ever. But sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, this is hard,’ and in those moments I’m thinking it would have been easier with questions, but then you risk having them just answering questions. When somebody engages, something different happens, and I can feel it happen. So that’s what I’m gunning for.

You’re essentially doing journalism with your podcast, right?

I don’t know. People have said that. It was never my mention. I don’t consider myself a journalist, and I don’t even consider myself an interviewer. I consider myself a conversationalist, I guess, but things happen. Arguably, I don’t follow any of the rules of journalism: I’m not objective and I integrate myself into almost everything. There are people who do that in journalism. That is a type of journalism. But I think people use what I’ve done in their journalism. I seem to do a lot of homework for a lot of people, in a very lazy journalistic climate, for one way or another. There are certain sites that pick up a lot of what we do, depending on who the guest is. I make it very easy for people looking for a story on somebody, and I know other shows use my interviews for pre-interviews, like radio producers, TV producers. I know that happens. That’s okay. 

How much time do you spend researching a guest while preparing for an episode?

It depends. I need to have some sense of somebody, and usually I’m wrong. Somebody like Werner [Herzog] is very hard, because he’s a real artist, he’s a difficult artist, if you really want to take in what he puts out there. I think he’s become sort of a character to people later in life because of his acting and people who do impressions of him and some of his documentaries. His filmmaking is sort of astounding and very challenging, the early feature films, and he’s very prolific in a lot of different areas. So my approach to that was I hoped we could talk about things and not his work, per se, because a guy that has that broad of vision and that unique of vision and that specific genius, artistic genius, it’d be better if we could just talk about whatever, because he’s going to have his thoughts on those things. Whereas if you just go through a catalogue of movies, which I’ve done before, and some people I think that’s okay to do. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, because I’m very familiar with his work and I find some of it difficult. So I just went at him, but it’d be a pretty amazing person who really has all of Werner Herzog’s films at the forefront of their mind. I just watched Fitzgeraldo last night, and it’s a difficult movie, it’s a great movie, but what are you going to say about that that hasn’t been said in the documentary? So that worked out okay. He’s a little stifling, because he’ll finish thoughts and then sometimes he’ll keep going with thoughts, but the engagement didn’t quite happen until later in the episode. So the research I do is just relative to the guest and sometimes I have to do stuff. Like I very rarely read people’s books but I read Kim Gordon’s, and I’m glad I did, because she’s not a big talker. The problem with doing too much research, certainly reading a book about somebody, is you’ll lead too much, because you’re basically saying, ‘In the book you said...will you say it again?’ That happens anyways. But I interviewed Kristen Wiig yesterday, and I haven’t watched SNL in years, really. I like some of her movie work. I like her. I think she’s very funny. But I sat down and watched...I’d seen Bridesmaids, I’ve seen other movies that she’s been in. I watched Sausage Party. I didn’t think I’d get through it but I found it compelling. I like when cartoon characters have sex. I think it’s funny. I don’t think there’s enough of that, and there’s a lot of it at the end of that movie. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. It’s not long but it’s there. As a fan of underground comics as a kid I’m always excited when cartoons are dirty, and that got pretty dirty. But I watched the two movies that she was a lead in that were not mainstream movies: Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me, which I don’t know if anybody saw, but it’s a pretty great movie, and both of those movies are challenging parts for her. Then I watched a few of her characters on SNL and her impersonations, and I read a little bit of where she grew up, whatever was available on Wikipedia, which can’t be trusted sometimes. So I got a sense of her as a person, and then just hoped that we could connect.

How do you get people to open up to you?

I don’t know if there’s a trick to it. If you listen and you’re curious, they’re going to do something if you follow through a line of thought, If I ask a question, then they answer it, then I’m like (head looks down at questions on paper in front of him), ‘Next question.’ If  we start off like, ‘Where did you drive in from? Have you been over here?’ or whatever. You start in that tone, like, ‘So you were just at that place,’ whatever it is, that sets that going, that exchange happens that is conversation. So if you stay in that and you listen, how are they not going to open up? I mean, they might not open up, but they’ll engage because you’re doing follow ups and you’re going different places. There’s no way for them to assume necessarily. You want them to stop thinking about themselves being interviewed or whatever and just sort of loosen up. And because there’s no cameras and it’s in my garage, it sort of happens, but there is a place where whether they open up or not, if they stay in the conversation there is usually a point where they relax, where that awareness goes away. Most of the time it’s 15 to 20 minutes in, but I’m going to stay on them for an hour. That’s a commitment I have to myself. So even if you hide for an hour, then that’s going to be indicative of who you are. I can only see it as, ‘What's this person like? Well, he didn’t talk to me that candidly about this or that, I mean that’s the way that guy is.’ Either way if you talk to somebody for at least an hour you’re going to get a sense of them even if it’s that they don’t open up, so that’s going to be part of it.

Why did you decide to end your TV show?

How much do you need to do? I mean, how many do you need to do? I have other sources of income. I’m not desperate or struggling. I have plenty of work to do. In my mind we sort of tapped out of a lot of the world of the podcast in those first three seasons. It was getting tired, you know? And there was really no reason to be beholden to it. The show didn’t make a fortune. Nobody really watches IFC that much. There were no real stakes, which was good because we had a lot of freedom, but there was also no real incentive for them to give us more money for production. So sort of struggling with a budget and wanting to take bigger risks or do different things, it becomes very inhibiting and that’s just the nature of that network and that world of cable. So I thought we did a very adventurous and exciting fourth season but I don’t know really what happens next. Like was there something to doing another season of me working at a bookstore in a small town co-parenting a baby with a lesbian? Yeah, I’ve never seen that before. But I mean, is it better just to leave it with, I’ve arrived at this different place and make it sort of touching and cryptic? Yeah, I didn’t know if I wanted to refill that world. And it takes up six months of your life. You’re writing three to four months, you’re shooting for three months, trying to manage casting and a budget. I just felt like the story had been told. If there was no creative incentive for me to continue, there was no reason to continue.

I thought the ending was brilliant, where your character finally got his kid, got what he wanted, but then he still wasn’t happy.

Yeah, something. Yeah, something. That last shot was very important to me, getting that right. We took a couple takes. I wasn’t directing it. Rob was directing it and I just wanted to make sure the framing was right, because I had a definite vibe to what I wanted. It was really the end of The Graduate, really. That was my inspiration for it, with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross on the bus, after she had just run out of her wedding. Just that moment where he’s like...whoa. I liked that vibe. So the framing of it was important and the music was important. We spent a little money on that Iron and Wine song. It’s sort of an enchanting song to me. It wasn’t so much that we did a lot of takes, but I definitely checked the framing and looked at the ones we did, but it was maybe three or four takes. And the kid was very good. We got lucky with the baby.
(had to fire a bunch of babies?) One baby. Wrong color. It was like African American. It was a brown baby. And I am not racist in any way, I’m sure it’s a good baby, but we needed it to be a specific baby. It’s always a stretch with babies, but you’re willing to forgive. But I didn’t want it to be a separate statement. Like Louie’s wives have changed ethnicity, and that is an artistic decision that Todd Solondz made as well with Palindromes. Which is fine, but that was not what we were doing, so I didn’t want that to be an obstacle to the narrative of what I was trying to do. I just want to make clear, I have nothing against brown babies.

Do you agree with Seinfeld and others who think audiences are too PC and easily offended these days?

Maybe. I don’t know. That’s the challenge. Is Seinfeld really a button pusher? I think there is a nervousness and I think sometimes what is called PC is people have become nervous about what they can and can’t say, what’s culturally appropriate. There’s a shift that happens. My thoughts on it are, ‘You can do whatever you want and say whatever you want but if it backfires you’re going to have to shoulder that.’ So it’s really about personal responsibility and what you want to do. Should that stop people from doing it? No, I mean, is there a rule or a law that says you can’t do it? No. But I mean complaining about PC...I mean, look at these comics that were coming out of the 50s. Look at what happened in the 60s. Were they sitting around whining like, ‘Oh, it’s so conservative. I don’t like all this cookie cutter America, these morals,’ whatever the Beatniks were fighting against and whatever the hippies ultimately shifted took some real courage and some real stamina and some real fuck-you-ness. But I imagine during that time, between like 1950 and 1965, the shift in culture was much more dramatic then than being upset that you can’t say ‘tranny’ anymore. And I’ve never really thought about this, but thinking out loud, and it is interesting, that the cultural freedoms we have today were fought hard for and are vast. Usually it comes down to language. That’s usually all it comes down to, and not lifestyle. There seems to be tolerance around lifestyle, but if language attacks those specific or struggling or minority lifestyles, not minority ethnically, but sexual lifestyles, there’s going to be pushback because those people are fighting for their cultural place. So it’s really just an evolution of language. You can say whatever you want, but if you offend people you just have to live with that and make decisions around that. How important is it to say the things that you’re saying? What’s the reason? What are you really doing with it? Lenny Bruce had a lot of things, specifically ethnic slangs, to disarm them. That was a different time. That if you insult everybody equally, then the words start to lose their hate. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening now. People are very sensitive and college campuses have become very sensitive, and without knowing exactly the parameters of that and seeing some of the information gets out, yeah there is an oversensitivity, but I believe there will be a contraction. I believe that once everybody stakes their territory and feels a little more grounded and safe in their communities or whatever it is that they’re sensitive about, then they’ll ease up a little bit. It’s important for comics to keep pushing the buttons because some of it is pretty ridiculous, so even if it is too PC, then push back, take the hit, but then decide why you’re doing it. Don’t just say, ‘Hey! Why can’t I say ‘tranny’ anymore?’ Well, it hurts some people’s feelings. Is it that important to use? And I always use that word as an example because I’ve done that, or ‘retarded.’ ‘Hey, I can’t say ‘retarded’ anymore?’ Yeah, well, it’s very hurtful to families of mentally challenged people. It’s not a matter of not saying it, because there’s some black people who can say the N-word, there’s some trannies who call themselves trannies, but then there’s transgender, there’s transsexual, there’s LGBT. That’s a community, but these things are generational. Old trannies are not going to mind being called tranny, but younger transgender or transsexual people who find that limiting or demeaning because of their pride in their cultural identity are going to take issue with it, and they can in-fight all they want but me as an outsider, me fighting to use the word ‘tranny’ is just gonna be an old guy wanting to be able to categorize something in the way I grew up with. We can evolve out of that, it’s not that hard.

Do you think the Trump phenomenon is still funny? Or is it just sad and depressing at this point?

I was always embarrassed by it. I don’t know if it’s sad and depressing. It’s frightening, and it’s more frightening because of what it represents in the country. That’s frightening to me. Yeah, it’s funny to a degree, but his popularity is not funny. It indicates something culturally that is a little scary and a little...it’s not depressing, it’s...sad, that there is a frustration and an anger that is so deep and so hopeless that somebody could, with a little vision and just an attitude of hate and revenge, could be so cathartic to those people that there’s such a lack of solution available for some of that anger and it’s multi-faceted that we’re at a state where people willing and wanting to pull the plug on any sort of dignified or organized system of government, or etiquette of social tolerance. It’s always there, but if the momentum is real and it is limited still, you would hope that we could somehow become more sophisticated and more fair as a country to kind of deal with these problems around employment and other issues. The country’s changing in its profile of ethnicity, and that is something that the intolerant can’t handle. A lot of it is driven by the feeling that they are being negated, but they aren’t really. They had this tremendous fear, about the economic inequity and class problems which are never really discussed and just the real hopelessness that exists for a lot of people. If anything, Trump’s popularity should be a signal that something really has to shift in how the country is governed and how this economic disparity can be somehow eased. Right? (sentiment will be around long after trump loses) Well, yeah, that’s the fear of forward thinking political analysts who are more objective than pundits, is that if he loses, and I hope he does lose, who’s going to be the next guy to really bring those people together? What’s that going to look like? What if a guy or woman comes along with real vision around the type of anger and those types of solutions for that anger shows up on the political landscape? This country has been through a lot of weird, bad shit, and the system is what it is, and it is salvageable, and democracy is a grand experiment, and how it’s mediated now through media and how easily it is to misinform and aggravate people’s fears and hatreds is tricky. There's no balance to it, but democracy should work and it has worked, and the one thing people forget about democracy is sometimes your guy doesn’t win. Sometimes your cause doesn’t get honored. It’s a majority thing, so you have to learn tolerance and if you still want changes then you have to work within the system to change that. That’s just the way it works, and people seem to forget that because we’ve all become on all levels weirdly entitled infantile people. I’m not disregarding the real problems that exist, which I think Trump speaks to more than anything else. His supporters say they like him because he shakes things up. But what does that really mean, ‘shaking things up’? He’s entertaining. You feel something because he’s not playing by the rules. That’s why he always talks about how many people show up at his rallies, it’s because they want to see the show. Those aren’t political people. They may be voting for him but they want to see the show. People who vote for Hillary, a lot of them are like, ‘I’m going to do that. I don’t need to go down to the thing. I’m in. I don’t need to go.’ It’s like the Insane Clown Posse concerts, there’s just people like, ‘Let’s get some beers, Trump’s gonna be down at the park!’ They’re tailgating for Christ’s sake. It’s dangerous, and the way the Clintons have been...look, none of them are perfect. I mean, what do you expect out of politicians. And the disregard for Obama is ridiculous. He put this country back together again. And nobody ever mentions George W. Bush. Neither side! And that guy ruined everything, and they pulled in this old guard of fucking greed monsters to just pilfer the Middle East and the American banking system. I mean it was such a cash grab and such a destabilizing presidency. It’s baffling. This is why I don’t talk politics...I get into this dialogue. Mine is a limited point of view but it is a defined point of view and I don’t feel like spending my life defending it. You are allowed to be quiet and vote your mind and your heart in this country. That’s an amazing thing about that, is that like, you don’t gotta tell nobody nothin’. You just go in and do your business, you know what I mean? You can vote different than your wife, you can lie, you can do whatever you want, you don’t gotta say nothin’. That was hammered into me at Air America when Bush got that second term. We were there railing every day, and our candidate wasn’t great, Kerry wasn’t great. He was a default candidate, you know what I mean? But he would have been a fine president. He would have been fine. Some woman wrote from the other side and said, ‘Some of us just quietly vote our hearts,’ and I was like, ‘Those are the ones.’ But the thing is, you want someone to be able to do the job. I don’t know what people are thinking. What are their beefs? What is really America’s fault that’s your personal problem? It’s an odd thing, but right, you don’t want to pay taxes. I get it. But you do. ‘The government’s too big.’ I guess. Arguably it should be doing more to provide jobs. There’s a way to do this. This kind of blind faith in the free market has got to take a hit at some point, because it doesn’t mean that the best is going to happen. To have contractors bidding for everything with no real regulation to it, doesn’t mean the best job is going to be done because it’s a cash grab. All these places, this free market economy, have been using the American system of government as a money laundering system forever. They’re just like pay it out, take it out. I’m not very nuanced in this stuff, and I never really was, which is another reason I never really do it because there are people who can do it better than me. But it’s like Obama said on my podcast. He didn’t do that podcast for any other reason than he said, ‘Look, I’m using you to get people involved in politics, because that’s where it happens.’ People who want a third party, well it’s like, what do you do during the other four years? Every three and a half years you’re going to go, ‘Yeah, Bernie!’ Bernie had a great platform and dialogue around things that are rarely talked about, so how do you keep doing that work? You want a third party to be established, get someone in office on a local level. Do the work. No one wants to fucking do that work. People can blather on television, but the people who are really working for causes that are important and should be important in a much bigger way, it’s a thankless life of commitment and that’s not really the world that we live in right now. People want things now, and then every three and a half years they get all worked up and don’t understand why things don’t happen quickly. If you read Obama’s first book, that’s what he did (he started local). He saw the problem. But I think the problem is that it’s very hard not to get cynical. Anybody who does those relentless jobs about change or managing, like cops, how do you not get shattered? Because there’s no end to it. At no point is everything going to be utopian or right for everybody. It’s the thing with politics, it’s fucking discouraging, and you’re up against these machines that just disseminate garbage to protect whatever they want to do. You think you can sort of put it on the shoulders of people, but when do you have time to be informed? It takes time. You usually just glom talking points from here or there, and if you gravitate towards the right you’re going to glom those, ‘Hillary’s a crook,’ any sort of misinformation, and it happens on the left, too. And there’s a lot pulling at us, we’ll see what happens.