5 Joke Interviewers Who Were Secretly Great Journalists
As a writer for Cracked, a comedy publication, I’m allotted a lot of freedom that writers for more starched-collar publications might not have. For example, I can use words like “fuckhead” and say things like “Henry Kissinger is a piece of shit” instead of “Henry Kissinger is a controversial figure.” Trust me, I fully appreciate every second of it. When you’re working through the guise of “jokes,” you can get away with a lot more than you might when you’re concerned about if Donald Trump will ever play beer pong on your show again.
This same freedom has allowed a series of comedic interviewers, often with the second shield of a costume of character, to ask questions that actually matter. I’m not going to go into the deep end of “jesters speaking truth to power” because God knows we don’t need any more of that tripe being slung out into the world, but the fact is, sometimes we have to turn to “fake” interviews to hear someone comment on the shit people actually care about.
Here are five comedy interviewers who get more surprisingly journalistic results than you might think…
Sacha Baron Cohen
Maybe one of the best known modern character interviewers is Sacha Baron Cohen. Back before Borat was most heavily plagiarized at middle school sleepovers, Cohen, as any one of his multiple characters, was able to ask shockingly important public figures the kind of questions that would get any career journalist’s access permanently cut. How Ali G was able to land interviews with people like Pat Buchanan to discuss WMDs still smacks my gob today.
Once Borat and his original characters became more popular, of course, it was harder to sneak anything by unguarded politicians. It seemed Cohen missed this as much as we did, as he continued work more in line with his original Da Ali G Show subversion with the more recent Who Is America?. This is especially true with his character General Erran Morad, with the false, irresistible Republican catnip role of an Israeli anti-terror expert. Yet, if you wanted to see Roy Moore confronted about his alleged sexual misconduct of minors, Morad was the interviewer you had to look to. People with similar skeletons in their closet are instead often treated with kid gloves by the media. For example, whether it’s decorum or loss of access, we never get to hear about Jim Jordan’s time at Ohio State.
A bit of a throwback, but a character who should be revisited by anyone who is a fan of flustered celebrities is Martin Short’s Jiminy Glick. Before Between Two Ferns, there was the rotund Glick, rolling around in an armchair, and directly addressing the issues that would usually be squarely within a celebrity’s no-fly zone. What makes any of the genre of “very rude interviewer” comedic characters so cathartic to watch is that they’re rude, but at the same time, often right.
By making himself, presumably, the biggest idiot on stage, Glick got away with embarrassing celebrities obsessed with their public image. After all, if you’re getting mad at the guy with eight donuts in his mouth, who’s going to look like the unreasonable one? Some Glick interviews were more of a joyful spar, like his interview with Larry David. The very best, though, were the ones where you can tell Short, under the makeup and gut, is finally letting loose his genuine disdain for the subject. My personal recommendation for that would be the interview with then-dickhead, now-absolute-fuckhead Bill Maher.
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog
The “if you get mad you look dumb” strategy is taken to its zenith by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. As soon as you enter a conversation with the scatological, cigar-chomping Triumph, your options for retribution are completely erased. As soon as you commit to making eye contact with a cheap rubber puppet, the door to exit this conversation with grace has slammed definitively closed.
People want to be seen as a “good sport,” and being described as humorless or not in on a joke is a death sentence for your personality. It’s the only reason thousands of subpar crowdwork Instagram reels don’t begin and end with a “Fuck off!” This has allowed Triumph to bring some people to the absolute brink of insanity without punishment, because what are you going to do? Choke a puppet? That’s not even a real throat. Safe to say Triumph is one of the only interviewers that could ask the questions he did and leave Trump’s impeachment trial without a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag mounted in the side of his head.
The Daily Show
Now, I haven’t watched The Daily Show in years, and to be fair, neither have you. So it can be easy to forget the sort of cathartic glee it used to inspire. When you saw certain names listed as guests, it was appointment television, like hearing your high school bully was making an appearance on American Gladiators. Everybody associated with the show, from the correspondents to Jon Stewart himself, filled a deep need inside each and every rational American to ask public figures a million variations on the question, “What the fuck, man?”
Traditional reporters were fans as well, if from an incredibly jealous standpoint, as they told The Daily Show cast. It wasn’t just good comedy but actual medicine for the soul of people, who, for example, were desperate for someone that wouldn’t write off the housing collapse as some sort of regrettable oopsie. Though the show launched the careers of many correspondents and cemented Stewart in the public eye, credit should also be given to the researchers, who were known for digging up hypocritical moments with a fervor any real newsroom would have loved to have in their employ.
Though he was never behind his own desk, or at least not for long, the dearly departed Norm Macdonald was must-watch television on any late night show. When he was being interviewed directly, sure, but maybe even more once he’d slid one seat to the right. Far from a smiling third wheel, Macdonald was famous for chiming in with exactly the intrusive thought that the host and viewers were all holding back, to glorious result. When you were booked with Macdonald, you were plugging your next piece of box-office poison at your own risk.