Don’t miss this wonderful appreciation of Dick Cavett in Slate today. The interviewing heroes I grew up with are certainly David Letterman and Terry Gross, but Cavett is the model for what I aspire, one day far away, to maybe be. He was a moderately succesful comic who created a new kind of talk show. Clive James writes in the Slate piece:
The talk-show format depends on a comic monologue at the top of the show, perhaps a few sketches, and then the star interviews. Cavett’s format dissolved the humor into the interviews, and much of his wit was unscripted. The idea that one man could be both playful and serious was never deemed to be quite natural on American television, and Cavett was regarded as something of a freak even at the time. Eventually he paid the penalty for being sui generis in a medium that likes its categories to be clearly marked.
I’ve been watching a lot of the DVD box sets of Cavett that Shout! Factory has been putting out, and they’re a wonderful lesson on interviewing. Cavett is fantastically funny without ever imposing on his guests, and he actually seems interested in ideas. The tone can sometimes verge on pretense, but that’s sort of a hazard of aiming high, I think.
Here’s a wonderful clip of Cavett interviewing Woody Allen in 1971. After watching a clip from “Take the Money and Run,” Cavett asks about an alley seen in the film. Woody mentions it was behind the hungry i in San Francisco, and Cavett is excited to have recognized it from his performing days.
“I thought so! I know that alley. I used to go there after my act, when I was appearing at the hungry i. I would go there, and meet the audience, and we would both be sick, occaisionally.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.