Malcolm X, the Playboy Interview

800px-Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2aSometime in the next few days, you are going to be conducting an interview–either formally with the subject of your Profile Essay or informally with people you meet.

I wanted to key you into this great interview of Malcolm X, which was conducted in 1963 by Alex Haley for Playboy Magazine. Not only is this particular moment important for Malcolm X who was at the height of his power and idealism at that moment, but it is a solid example of how to conduct an interesting and informative interview.

Notice how Haley puts Malcolm X at ease, alternating between easy questions Malcolm X wants to answer and hard questions that challenge him. He never takes Malcolm X at his first word, but pushes, with tact and respect, to find a deeper answer.

Unfortunately, this interview was never turned into a profile; however, for you, it provides an insight into how professional journalists set-up for writing a good essay. When you interview your subject, remember that their first answer might not be enough. Everyone performs a role, and we have a vested interest in maintaining it.

[Photo by Ed Ford, which can be found here, and used under creative commons]


WTF with Marc Maron (Weekend Inspiration)

WTF_with_Marc_MaronDo you like comedy? Well, this is the place to go to listen to wonderfully interesting interviews of comedians by a comedian!

Marc Maron, a self-depreciating and clever comedian and podcaster, brings funny people into his garage and has a chat with them on WTF with Marc Maron. The result: an entertaining and insightful way to spend an hour.

A few highlights for me:

  1. Last year, he had the opportunity to interview Barack Obama. Not only is the interview funny, it is also very informative on policy, American politics, and the self-identity of one of the most important people in the world right now. In addition, Maron discusses how he prepared for the interview and how he had to physically prepare for receiving the president.
  2.  Early on in the show, Maron got the opportunity to talk with Robin Williams. Looking back on this interview, I am impressed by how Maron cut through Williams’s “funnyman” personality and captured a little bit of Williams’s inner self. That was so rare and, having lost Williams, so special.
  3. When Maron set out to interview Louis CK, he ended up revealing more about himself than he meant to… and it is a beautiful meditation on life, humor, and friendship. I consider this episode my “gateway” drug to Marc Maron.

[Note: the interviews with Robin Williams and Louis CK are behind paywalls. You can access them through iTunes for free or Google them.]

Listening in on these conversations, I am struck by how much people want to share with Maron and the world about there lives. In addition, Maron makes all of these great, funny people seem simultaneously more compelling, special, and human.

Why do we need good interviewers in order to get a glimpse at reality? Why do you think people resist showing themselves so much? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

[Image from Wikipedia and, I believe, qualifies as Fair Use.]