Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A shite television interview with a fine writer (Craig Ferguson interviews Ken Bruen)

Once or twice during Craig Ferguson's interview with Ken Bruen on today's (OK, last night's) Late, Late Show, Ferguson stopped babbling and clowning long enough to let Bruen make an interesting observation. Ordinary people in Ireland love Jack Taylor, Bruen said, and they ask, in the wake of Taylor's having given up alcohol after sloshing his way through several novels: "Why won't you let the bastard drink?"

He also told Ferguson that Irish tourist officials "say I am singlehandedly destroying the Irish tourist industry." Kevin Burton Smith made a similar remark about Declan Hughes' fiction in his recent interview with Hughes, and the two quips point up the tendency of recent Irish crime fiction to look critically at Irish society. (Declan Burke speculated in a recent post on his Crime Always Pays blog that this new attitude may be a reaction to the 1996 murder of reporter Veronica Guerin.)

But that was about it. There was no mention of any Bruen novel other than Priest, a copy of which Ferguson held up to the camera. There was no discussion of Bruen's hellish spell in a Brazilian jail, and no mention of the Brant and Roberts novels or Bruen's collaborations with Jason Starr. Bruen came across as amiable, if slightly uncomfortable with Ferguson's antics, and if the interview introduces readers to his work, that's all for the good. But for anyone who knows Bruen's writing, there was no reason to stay up late.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am surprised at the barbed jests about Irish noir writers spoiling the tourist industry; on a personal level, reading Ken Bruen's books has interested me in visiting Galway, and on a less personal level, Jekyll and Hyde and more recently Ian Rankin have been good marketing tools for Edinburgh tourism. I am sure if appropriately marketed, the noir connections could encourage tourism.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Dave Knadler said...

It isn't just the fatuous Craig Ferguson who does this; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are constantly booking interesting guests and then interrupting every remark with some dumb punchline. It drives me nuts. I've finally quit watching that kind of thing.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Vince said...

I'll stick up for Ferguson. I enjoy his program more than other late night shows, and he's to be credited for being the last of the talk show hosts to feature novelists as guests on a regular basis. He's had Lawrence Block on numerous times, Michael Connelly, several others. An in-depth conversation with these writers would be appreciated. But the exposure is good, too.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Isn't it fun to agree with everybody? I even agree with you, Vince, at least in part. I knew Ferguson had had Lawrence Block on his show; before I ever saw The Late, Late Show, I wrote somewhere that Ferguson must be a pretty cool host if he had guests like Lawrence Block and Ken Bruen. And I did write in my post here that if the interview turns some Ferguson viewers into Bruen readers, so much the better. Yes, exposure is good.

But I also agree with Dave's comments about Ferguson's interview style. And he apes the talk-show-host script in other ways, too. Except for one short mock interview that had a satirical edge, Ferguson's show is a cookie-cutter copy of the wince-inducing American talk-show format. It has the same celebrity worship made all the more nauseating by its pretense that it is making fun of celebrity worship. Ferguson has the same falsely hearty laughter where no laughter is called for, and the same gratingly self-conscious putdowns when a joke falls flat. Ferguson follows the script so mechanically that he even starts into the self-putdowns before the audience has a chance to react to a joke.

Ferguson seems like a friendly sort, and he has a pleasantly breezy manner, just as Jon Stewart, with his sense of humor and slightly above-average intelligence, seems as if he would be an entertaining sort with whom to drink. But both men would be far easier to take if they didn't follow the talk-show-host training manual with such lockstep fidelity. Where is it written that host and guest cannot carry on a chat unpuctuated by stupid quips and vacuous patter about the host's fly being down? Why do talk-show hosts do this? Do they think their audience is so infantile and has such a minuscule attention span that it needs a silly joke every thirty seconds lest it get restless? This sort of thing is all the more frustrating in the case of a guest like Ken Bruen, who has much to say on more than one interesting subject.

Laura, you should hire yourself out as a consultant on noir and hard-boiled tourism. I assume that that the barbed jest were at least partly that — jests. On the other hand, I'm not sure Rankin's books cast as critical an eye on Edinburgh or Scotland as Hughes' do on Ireland. In any event, I suspect that you're right, that readers and potential visitors would, like you, be fascinated and attracted rather than repelled.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

"I'm not sure Rankin's books cast as critical an eye on Edinburgh or Scotland as Hughes' do on Ireland."

I think Edinburgh is portrayed through very real eyes. It is a place with flaws, and yet there is this sense that it's loved in spite of that. The duality of Edinburgh is something explored at length in the course of the books. And I'll stop myself before this becomes term paper length. (I should do an article...)

I don't think Ireland is portrayed in a worse fashion by Bruen than Edinburgh is by Rankin. That's my opinion, anyway. Personally, the works draw me to those countries. As anal as I am, when I go to Edinburgh I don't even blink over maps and pre-planning my transit upon arrival (which is normal for me anywhere else except London, which I've been to so many times I can sort out). I feel very comfortable in Edinburgh, and a big part of that has to do with the books.

But then, I want to go to Baltimore because of The Wire, and if we want to talk about not being good for tourist boards, I doubt many people on Baltimore council like how the show portrays the city.

Considering it was late night TV the interview was better than I expected. I thought Ken did a great job of being interesting and funny and intelligent - not an easy task.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

This was precisely my opinion. Why can't we can the jokes (especially after following another comedian) and talk about books for five minutes-less time than he spent on his unzipped pants.

July 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Pattinase, I understand that a talk show can’t allocate a guest like Bruen all the time that we crime-fiction readers would like. That’s all the more reason to dispense with the banter and focus on the subject at hand. Even if I’d never heard of Ken Bruen, I’d have been impatient with the useless banter. If I were a television critic, I’d like to watch a tape of the interview and determine precisely how much time was spent on stupid banter about Craig Ferguson’s fly versus, say, Bruen’s experience in Brazil. As a rough estimate, I’d say about a minute and half versus, literally, two seconds. That’s an unsatisfactory balance.

Sandra, I love comments that threaten to turn into articles or term papers. I obviously lack the patience to be a talk-show host or guest. I’ve read just three of Rankin’s novels (Knots and Crosses, Strip Jack and Black and Blue) plus the excellent short story “The Dean Curse.” One of those is the first Rebus book and another is atypically light in tone, so I’m not the best judge of Rankin’s work. Still, I seem to recall far more of the dark side of Edinburgh than of any love on Rankin’s or Rebus’s part.

I may be way off base on this, but if I’m right, that could make Rankin’s work paradoxically less effective as criticism of Edinburgh. You know, focus on the dark side, and it becomes easier to regard the work as a kind of gothic fantasy or nightmare. As I said, I haven’t read that much Rankin, so feel free to give my thoughts no more weight than they deserve. I understand from a friend who has visited Edinburgh that Rankin is a local hero, which argues against the proposition that dark portrayals will scare off potential visitors.

Bruen was interesting and funny, but Ferguson missed an opportunity to let him be even more interesting and just as funny. If Ferguson had shut up and dropped the standup comedian/talk-show host mania for drawing attention to himself, the interview could have been just as much fun and far more informative. In any case, Bruen is supposed to be in Philadelphia in April. I expect that without the interposition of an annoying talk-show host, he’ll be a real treat.

July 10, 2007  

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