Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Tom Alexander

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Tom Alexander deserves your sympathy.

He’s not asking for it. He’s certainly not expecting it. But he deserves it.

Until recently, Tom was the official team reporter of the AAF’s Orlando Apollos. It was the most professional fun he’s ever had—new league, new players, exciting venture with a limitless future. From his perspective, it was the cherished opportunity to start at the ground floor with an endeavor that had a bright future. No, the Alliance wasn’t the NFL. But it was a cool concept (spring football) with money and TV behind it.

And then (poof) it died.

Truly, just (poof) like (poof) that. One day Tom and hundreds of other men and women are working in professional football, and the next day it’s all over, and Dicks Sporting Goods is unloading its remaining AAF merch at 50 percent off.

So how is Tom doing? Is he angry? Sad? Grateful? Hopeful? You can follow him on Twitter to find out. Or, you can kick back and read the 402nd Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Tom, it’s now been a few days since the sudden death of the Alliance. Have you worked this out in your head? Do you have a sound understanding why it lasted so briefly?

TOM ALEXANDER: I think I am still processing and grieving nearly two weeks later, to be honest. I used all of my mental bandwidth on that job for more than three full months, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I was expecting to at least have four more weeks of it — and maybe a championship ring when all was said and done — so having it suddenly end has been difficult to deal with. I still wake up every morning thinking about three big storylines or pieces of information about the Apollos I want/need to Tweet that day, and I find myself still checking my phone to see if I’ve received the latest injury report or need to Tweet a link to a recently-published article. I suspect it will be that way for some time.

I, like many others who lost their jobs in the blink of an eye earlier this month, likely won’t know for a while what exactly led to the end of The Alliance of American Football. I think, probably, there are only one to three people on the entire planet that know the whole story at this point (until the lawsuits enter the discovery phase): Tom Dundon (definitely), Charlie Ebersol (very likely) and Bill Polian (probably). What I understand, so far, about why it ended, has nothing to do with ticket sales, fan enthusiasm or the quality of the on-field product.

It’s been widely reported that we, as league employees, were led to understand the league had a four- to five-year plan, and was funded for at least three years. We were told that attendance was expected to be low in the first year, and the people in charge were fine with that as long as there was growth into the second year. Football, we were told, was the priority.  The football part of the equation worked. The quality of play was good and improved league-wide as the season went on. There’s no arguing that now, especially as dozens of former Alliance players sign with NFL teams, and will likely continue to do so during the run up to training camp. The league also had a huge group of passionate, talented people on the payroll who believed in the concept and wanted it to succeed, all the way up to the highest levels of the league, so I don’t think a lack of hard work or expertise was the issue, nor was it a desire to compete directly with the NFL, which has befallen other startup football leagues in the past.

The answer, as it is to so many questions in our world, is probably money. I don’t know the specifics about the financial situation of the league, and I can tell you I’m not aware of any employee who ever missed a paycheck, right up until the end. What I do know is that spending was frozen to a certain extent throughout the league after Mr. Dundon became involved, and most expenditures were scrutinized. In the middle of March, team reporters and social media managers were told they would no longer be traveling to road games, something I assume was a cost-cutting measure (saved as many as eight hotel rooms and seats on the team charter flights per week, give or take).

Around that time, I started to learn about vendors the league had not paid for several months, dating back to before the Dundon investment, and, at least for the Apollos, that meant we would no longer have our games broadcast on the radio. At that point, I started to think I wouldn’t have a job beyond the end of the season. A couple weeks after that, Mr. Dundon gave the USA Today interview where he said he was considering folding the league. That was the first we, as employees, actually heard about a possible end. We were out of jobs a week later.

For whatever reason, be it overspending, the league not having the kind of financial backing we were told it had, or something else, the league needed money. Mr. Dundon’s investment provided that, but he had a different idea about how to make the league profitable than the initial vision employees were given (Early on, we were told the plan didn’t hinge on having players assigned from the NFL to our league, and clearly, we didn’t, for the football to be successful). When Mr. Dundon’s plan didn’t come to fruition in the timeline he publicly stated, things came to an end.

J.P.: You wrote, “I have no regrets about joining the Alliance.” I don’t understand. Why?

T.A.: Simply put, it was the best job I’ve ever had. The league brass at The Alliance spoke all the time about it being a league of opportunity, for players and coaches to be part of professional football and maybe get back to the NFL, or get there for the first time. It was also a league of opportunity for me, and many others like me. I studied broadcast journalism in college because I wanted to be the next Bob Costas. When it came time to graduate, I wasn’t in a financial position to do what most sportscasters do and go to a small market and make $18,000 per year, so a graduate assistant who thought I was a good writer suggested I get a job with a TV station in a slightly bigger market as a writer and producer, so I could make a living wage and build up my talent reel in my spare time. I did that, and ended up spending more than a decade as a TV news producer (not sports) in Orlando, trying to find a side door into the on-air world of news and sports. Life got in the way (responsibilities, managers who didn’t believe in me, etc.) and it never happened. I figured that ship had sailed. I was doing freelance copywriting in news and marketing and doing my own sports podcast as a hobby when I applied for the Apollos job, never expecting to get a phone call.

Mike Waddell, the Apollos’ team president, and Dinn Mann, the Alliance’s head of content and marketing, interviewed me and gave me the shot no one else would, and to do it under veteran mentors and editors like Steve Miller and Howard Balzer, who gave me writing advice and feedback I will keep with me forever. In training camp, Waddell also allowed me to book myself on sports radio shows and podcasts, and tapped me to host the halftime report during radio broadcasts of our games. I was about 10 years older than my counterparts at nearly every other AAF team, but I finally got to do the thing 16-year-old Tom always thought he was meant to do, and it opened doors to me that I thought were closed forever.

In addition, covering a legendary coach like Steve Spurrier is a reporter and football fan’s dream come true, and I say this as someone who grew up rooting for Florida State, his arch-rival. As great a coach as he is, he’s an even nicer person, and getting to know him was an honor and privilege. The Apollos’ coaching staff was a great mix of experienced coaches who had a long history with Coach Spurrier and young, hungry ones, some of whom were getting their first shot coaching professional football. Each and every one of them was generous with his time, answered my questions graciously and willingly shared his knowledge and expertise. Our players were the same way. They were a fun group of good guys to be around, opened up to me in interviews and accepted me as part of the team from the moment I arrived in camp. I am rooting for each and every one of them to succeed in football and in life, and they will always have a fan in me.

We had the best team on the field, but we also had the best team off it, too. Our front office was loaded with smart, passionate people who wanted to win at everything. That started with Waddell, our leader, but extended into every facet of our organization. I feel blessed to have known and worked with all of them. It’s especially true of our content and communications team. We forged a strong bond that began when we were away from our loved ones for a month in training camp, and part of the pain of losing this job is not being able to work that closely with them — now close friends of mine — every day. I’ll also miss my peers on the content teams throughout the rest of the league, especially my fellow team reporters. They made me want to become a better writer every single day, and I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of them in the sports world.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be there at the start of something, especially something that I think is going to leave a lasting mark on football (despite its own short life). I would do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing how it would end.

J.P.: How did you find out you were out of a job? Who told you? How did it impact you? The news—specifically?

T.A.: We found out through media reports and Twitter. The Apollos were getting ready for a home game that week, and our organization had a staff meeting every day in the week leading up to a home game. After reading what we had been reading about the league for the days leading up to the end, Mike Waddell, our team president, moved the morning staff meeting on Tuesday, April 2, to 1 p.m., the same time as the beginning of practice, and asked me to come into the office for the meeting before going to the practice field, which was a couple miles away at Camping World Stadium.

I got there a few minutes before the meeting was supposed to start, and it had already started, because everyone was scrolling through their Twitter feeds, reading reports about how The Alliance would suspend operations later that day. Over the next hour, we learned that the football operations staff, including players and coaches, were told on a conference call right around the time practice was scheduled to start. We, as the front office staff, were given no such courtesy. Instead, our team leadership was told multiple times throughout the day that there would be a conference call about everything at 1:30 p.m., then 2:30 p.m., then 5 p.m. It never came. We spent the entire afternoon in the office, lamenting the end, reminiscing about the season, thinking about what our next steps would be and waiting for this conference call to tell us we were all out of jobs.

Waddell let us all go home after 5 p.m. came and went with no call. We finally got an email at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, saying operations were being suspended and our last official day of work was the next day, April 3. The news left me cold. I had kind of been expecting it, given the news reports over the preceding days, but I was still thinking we’d be told the end of the season would be the real end, not get snapped out of existence like Spider-Man and company at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. If I’d have known my Monday “Final Word” column was really going to be my final word, I’d have written it differently. It was one of the saddest days of my professional life.

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Interviewing AAF Head of Football Development Hines Ward at training camp.

J.P.: What did the league do right? What did the league do wrong?

T.A.: It certainly did the football things right. I don’t think anyone missed having kickoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised, given the current cultural attention on player safety, if they eventually leave tackle football altogether, maybe even in the next five years. The shorter play clock and onside conversion are also things I think we could see in the NFL in the near future. You’ll NEVER see the NFL take fewer commercial breaks, in my opinion, but one never knows.

I think the league could have done a better job raising awareness before the start of the season. That’s a tall order, given the short timeline from the announcement to the start of play and the noise from the NFL and college football during that period of time. However, in the Alliance cities that didn’t have NFL teams, they probably could have done more to raise awareness. I don’t, however, think that a string of sellouts in all eight cities from the get-go would have led to things turning out differently.

Ideally, the league would have taken a full year just to woo more investors, raise awareness, test the technology involved, like the app and its gaming/tracking features and generally get its ducks in a row. The XFL deciding to re-launch in 2020 threw a wrench in that, I think, which led to The Alliance launching in 2019 to plant its flag in the spring football sphere.

J.P.: Random question—I’m sitting in an airport, and three guys near me are talking NFL. And they’re butchering names, information, details. Am I allowed to step in? Or is it best to shut up?

T.A.: I think it depends. If they’re wondering out loud, like “What’s that guy’s name that used to play for so-and-so?” you can step in. If they’re the type of people who simply butcher facts as if they know what they’re talking about, save yourself the headache. I find that people who fall into the latter category are don’t take kindly to being corrected.

J.P.: So I’m staring at the Apollos website, which now features nothing more than a message from the league. They’re grateful, they’re appreciative—blah, blah. I didn’t work for the league, and I feel like punching someone in the face. Do you? Is there festering anger?

T.A.: Absolutely. I wanted to finish the season. I wanted my damned championship ring. I wanted to see the Head Ball Coach hoist a trophy and go out the way he wanted to go out, instead of the way things ended for him at South Carolina. I wanted to see our players, coaches and staff, who all worked their asses off, see this thing through. I also wanted to see what the offseason held for myself and the other reporters. Would there be job offers from other places? Would the league want us to follow the stories of some of our players who went to NFL training camps? I really, really wanted to see what either Austin Appleby or Kevin Anderson would have done as the Apollos’ quarterback in year two (I figured pretty early on that Garrett Gilbert would be back in the NFL in some capacity). In addition, the websites for the league and all the teams were taken down without warning any of the content creators. Anyone who wanted to try to save their work from the site, who didn’t do it before things ended, lost it all. I was lucky enough to get mine before it was taken down, but many others were not as lucky. The anger isn’t intense, and it ebbs and flows. It will subside, in time, but right now, the wound is pretty fresh.

If scientists ever devise a way to travel to alternate universes, there are four places I want to go: the universe where the Nicolas Cage-starring, Tim Burton-directed Superman Lives movie came out, the one where Back to the Future starred Eric Stoltz, the one where Don Mattingly didn’t have back problems and the one where The Alliance of American Football survives into year two and beyond. Maybe those are all the same, weird universe. I don’t know.

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Alexander, safety Josh Evans, Apollos Social Media Manager Kaylee Chicoski, Apollos Director of Storytelling Eli Walker.

J.P.: You were the team reporter for the Apollos. What did that entail? What were your tasks? And, on game days, what were you doing? Literally?

T.A.: In short, I was an embedded reporter with the team. I went to training camp in San Antonio for the entire month of January. I attended every practice, reported on the daily happenings in camp and wrote feature stories for the Apollos’ website every day. I also gave interviews on radio shows and podcasts about the league, the team, what people could expect and how it was shaping up to get fans amped for the season, broke news about the team on social media all the time and recorded three on-camera reports for social media each week.

Once the season started, it was much the same. I wrote one or two articles every day, seven days a week. They were the kinds of things beat reporters at outside media outlets do: features on players, coaches or different units on the team, analysis, game previews, recaps, news and notes and a weekly column. I did the social media videos twice a week, recorded interviews with players and coaches for use on our weekly coaches’ radio show and game broadcasts, Tweeted constantly about the team, continued to give radio and podcast interviews and hosted the halftime report during live game broadcasts.

On game days, I would wake up, Tweet my three keys to victory for the Apollos, write a “Tale of the Tape” article, breaking down what the team needed to do on offense and defense on the ground, through the air and in the trenches to win that week, and which players on the other team fans should watch for.

Once the game started, I would live Tweet the key plays from the press box and sketch out my game recap story. I would host the halftime report on radio, which usually involved a short recap of the first half, a live or taped interview and a quick preview of the second half. I’d go back to Tweeting for the second half, write questions for Eli Walker, our team videographer, to ask of some key players in the locker room after the game, and attend the post-game press conference myself to interview both head coaches and both starting quarterbacks. I’d spend a few hours after the game writing a game recap article plus a sidebar article, file those and call it a night.

Our home games were all at 8 p.m. Eastern, so on those nights I wouldn’t leave the press box until around 1 a.m. On the road, we always went right to the airport after the game, so I would knock out my game recap on the bus ride to the airport, file it, then write my sidebar on the plane. We didn’t have wi-fi on team charters, so I’d have to wait to file the sidebar until we landed in Florida.

J.P.: You graduated from Central Florida in 2003, and since then you’ve bounced around TV and radio. I always talk with print reporters about the difficulties of the profession. How about TV and radio? How hard is it to “make it” in 2019? What are places looking for now that, perhaps, were ignored skills/abilities in 2003?

T.A.: Some of the difficulties are similar to print media, like shrinking newsrooms, shrinking salaries and having to compete with newer forms of media for eyeballs and ad dollars. Like in many industries, journalists in TV and radio are being asked to take on more responsibilities, with fewer resources, and for less pay, than they have before. In TV, especially, we’re seeing more “one-man bands” — reporters who shoot and edit their own video for stories — in larger markets than in the past. Generally, reporters in smaller markets who are just starting out are expected to shoot and edit their own stuff, but when you rise into bigger cities and markets, they have the resources to hire more videographers and editors, so reporters no longer have to do that. Now, because stations are trying to do things more cheaply, many larger markets are employing the “one-man band” strategy.

I don’t know that it’s any harder to “make it” in broadcasting in 2019 than it has been before, but there’s more crap to put up with now than ever before. In TV especially, it’s not enough for a reporter to hit the street after the 9 a.m. meeting, turn one package for the 5 o’clock news, do a shortened version for the 11 o’clock and call it a day. Now, that same reporter (and videographer, if the reporter is lucky enough to have one with them) have to do one story for the noon newscast, either a longer version of that or a completely different story for 5 o’clock, a shortened version for 11 o’clock, a shortened alternate version for the next morning, and write yet another version of that for the station’s website. Oh, by the way, Tweet updates to your story throughout the day (usually there’s a Tweet quota), and so-and-so called out sick for the morning show tomorrow. Because stations are now operating with the bare minimum of personnel, reporters have to get it done three hours earlier than usual so they can go home at 3 p.m., sleep and be back by 1 a.m. to cover that morning shift for the sick person, who really isn’t sick, but is just mentally and physically burned out from having to stick to the routine I’ve laid out herein each and every day for the past six weeks, without a day off, because the station hasn’t replaced the reporter who got burned out and quit two months ago, because they can’t find someone cheap enough who’s willing to commit to that sort of grind.

I was a producer, not a reporter, in TV news, so the grind is slightly different, but can still take over most of your life, especially if you’re producing and writing multiple newscasts in a given day and covering shifts because the station is shorthanded. If you’re willing to put up with all that, you can make it, but I see talented, passionate people getting chewed up and spit out by that grind every day and leaving the media business because they want “unreasonable” things like a family, a social life, a weekend, eight hours of sleep every night and a living wage.

It’s more important now than ever for people wanting to get into the media to be proficient in writing for and developing an audience on social media. Unfortunately, a lot of places take your social media following into account when they consider whether to hire or retain you. It’s not acceptable to be “web illiterate” in the media anymore.

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With wife, Melissa, outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando before seeing “Hamilton.”

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

T.A.: The greatest moment of my career is probably producing election night coverage in 2012. Not because of any particular outcome, but it was my first time being in the lead chair to produce hours of wall-to-wall coverage like that, and our team kicked ass that night. It felt like everyone in the building and in the field was in some kind of zone for several hours in a row, and the high of being in the middle of all that is crazy.

The lowest moment of my career probably came a few months after I left TV news. I didn’t want to go back to the news grind, almost all my experience was in that field and I had no idea what I wanted to do. The high of having my free time and personal life back had worn off, and I was left wondering what it was I was meant to do in life. I don’t know if I’ve yet figured out the answer to that last part yet, but I at least know what is important to me now, and it has nothing to do with work.

J.P.: What’s the difference between a great on-air interview and a mediocre-to-shitty one? How much of it is on you, v. the subject himself/herself?

T.A.: A great interview sounds, to the audience, like they’re a fly on the wall to two old friends having one of those long, deep conversations one has with an old friend into the wee hours of the morning. It’s about getting to the truths of the human experience. It’s more about the why and the how than the who, what, when and where. That’s a 50-50 partnership between the subject and the interviewer. The interviewer has to ask questions to get to those truths and make the subject feel comfortable enough to be that vulnerable. The subject has to be willing to connect with the interviewer and the audience on that level and really examine their experiences. Howard Stern is great at those kinds of interviews.

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• If there’s one AAFL player who will go on to star in the NFL, it’s …: Wide receiver Charles Johnson. He looked like a man among boys playing in The Alliance. Carson Wentz needs to look CJ’s way often.

• One question you would ask Blair Underwood were he here right now: What was the weirdest case you ever handled on L.A. Law?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bruce Willis, Sports Illustrated, Heidi Klum, D’Ernest Johnson, granola with blueberries, “Us,” sentences that begin with the word ‘But’, ham and eggs, Dick Enberg: Heidi Klum, D’Ernest Johnson, Bruce Willis, Sports Illustrated, granola with blueberries, “Us,” Dick Enberg, ham and eggs, sentences that begin with the word ‘But’

• Three memories from your first date: We went to see “Good Will Hunting.” It was with Vicky Hill, with whom I am still friends. Neither of us was 17 and the movie was rated R, so our moms had to sign our tickets to get the movie theater to let us see the movie without adults

• What’s one thing I need to know about your wife?: She’s the most genuine person anyone could ever meet. There is not a fake bone in her body.

• Five all-time greatest sports uniforms?: 1. New York Yankees – You can’t beat the pinstripes. They’re iconic; 2. San Diego Chargers’ powder blues;  3. ThisTampa Bay Lightning jersey; 4. The Orlando Apollos’ blue alternate combination; 5. The Chicago Bulls’ late-90’s black alternate jerseys.

• What happens after we die?: I think we re-join one large, collective consciousness and immediately know all and see all. It’s some hybrid of all being one, but also retaining our individuality. That, or it’s just like the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life.

• Four reasons (not Disney) one should make Orlando his/her next vacation destination: 1. Our up-and-coming restaurant scene. We have multiple James Beard Award-nominated chefs in Central Florida, and almost every type of cuisine one could want. It’s a hidden gem for foodies; 2. We have multiple distinct neighborhoods in the area, each with its own character and “Main Street”-type area, including shops, restaurants and events; 3. Gatorland. There’s no other theme park or attraction like it in the world, as far as I know; 4. Sports. The Camping World Kickoff and three bowl games in college football, the Magic, the Solar Bears, Orlando City and Orlando Pride soccer, the USTA national campus, UCF, the Pro Bowl and golf courses as far as the eye can see.

• On a scale of 1 to 100, how concerned are you about climate change?: It’s an existential threat to the human race, but I’m not obsessed with it.

• The world needs to know—what was it like working with Danny Treanor?: Danny is an absolute joy. Working with him taught me tons about being on TV and relating to an audience. Plus, he knows a lot about good food and good suits. Last and certainly not least, he’s one of those people with “one in the chamber” all the time: a joke (many not printable here) ready to tell at a moment’s notice. He’s a legend.

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Michael Kupperman

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So … Michael Kupperman is a quirky guy.

I say that haven’t read his stuff, and now posting the 401st Quaz. I mean, hell, he has a son named Ulysses—which isn’t exactly John or Jim. He writes these bonkers/cool/funky graphic novels and humor books, including an autobiography of Mark Twain that isn’t an autobiography of Mark Twain. Well, not really. Sorta. Kinda. Nah, not really.

His latest work, All the Answers, is a serious graphic memoir as Michael attempts to discover to truth about his father’s childhood, when he appeared on the TV show Quiz Kids.

Anyhow, he exists on Twitter and has a pretty swell website. Michael Kupperman, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Michael, your website bio sorta sucks, in that it tells me the different places your work has appeared, but little about you. So big, blunt, raw opening question: Who are you? Where are you prom? And how did this happen for you?

MICHAEL KUPPERMAN: I’m a big white man from Connecticut. I am half Jewish, half Scandinavian. I live in Brooklyn, N.Y. with my wife Muire and son Ulysses, who just turned 10. I decided I wanted to draw at some point in my life. Big mistake.

J.P.: You have a Patreon page, on which you wrote, “I have been making comics for nearly 30 years. Besides my 5 books, I have also had comics in the New Yorker, Fortune, The New York Times, Adult Swim, Vice, DC and Marvel publications, etc. etc. I’m now at the stage in my career where I feel I need a different model for my work.” What, exactly, does that mean? The “need a different model for my work” part?

M.K.: It means that really, the best work, the stuff people respond to, was done for myself. Most of the stuff I did for those places was stepped on heavily one way or another, edited badly, or I didn’t get what I needed from the arrangement; at times it was a downright abusive relationship. I’m Gen X, and we’re the ones who put in a lot of time taking and eating shit and at the end, all we got was a kick out the door. But really, this is about me wanting to create the best work possible.

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J.P.: Earlier this year you released, “All the Answers,” which is a graphic novel about your father, Joel Kupperman, and his fame as a math prodigy who appeared on “Whiz Kids.” I’ve only been able to read small pieces, but it seems … absolutely gut-wrenching. For you, more than the reader. So … why? Why do this? Why put yourself through it?

M.K.: Well, no pain, no gain. In a lot of ways it was just what I needed to do. Not just for doing this book but I’ve become the center of the family, and without what I did that story would just be lost. And it explained so much of who we are, who I am, why things happened. The invisible limitations that have dominated me since birth, that I wasn’t even really aware of? It was intense but I think it had to happen.

J.P.: I just had a discussion the other day with an editorial cartoonist, and he said his profession lends itself to people losing their minds, going insane, suffering in loneliness, isolation, etc. And I was wondering if you see that, too? Or is that an exaggerated take on an ultimately lovely profession?

M.K.: No, that’s accurate. It’s poorly paid, you’re treated badly, and art isn’t respected today as part of the editorial machine, period. Also now you’re completely isolated; I usually don’t even meet the people I’m working for. It wasn’t always like that. It’s gotten worse.

J.P.: When did you know you wanted to do this? Art? Cartooning? Storytelling? Was there a moment? Was there a moment when you realized, “Shit, I’m REALLY good at this”?

M.K.: Still waiting for that moment. Just joking … sort of. I started doing comics because some friends were putting out a comic zine and asked if I wanted to contribute. I started to get better at doing a comic and it became clear that this might be something I could do. I could communicate humor- at least to some people- through comics.

J.P.: OK, in 2011 you published “Mark Twain’s Autobiography: 1910-2010”—a tale in which Twain is still alive due to a spell cast by a wizard. Um … eh … what? Like, how does such an idea enter your brain?

M.K.: I thought it might be funny. Twain had been a character I used for years—partly a side effect from growing up in Connecticut, where he shows up in terrible ads played by dinner-theater actors. The real Twain autobiography was being released so I thought, why not. My publisher had basically the same reaction you did.

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J.P.: Do you care what critics say? A book comes out—do you read Amazon and Goodreads reviews? Does negativity eat you up? Or do you simply not care?

M.K.: I am enormously sensitive—I don’t just have trouble reading negative reviews, I have trouble reading positive ones. I need attention, but my first impulse is to run away from it. I can see now, after All the Answers, that this is at least partly due to the way I was raised. I have a modesty that goes way beyond reasonable levels, to a miserable kind of self-negation. It’s bad. I don’t need outside input to be eaten up with negativity.

J.P.: What’s your day like? You’re working on a book. Soup to nuts, what are you doing? Step by step?

M.K.: There’s no reliable routine, there’s no normal, because I have no security or stability in my career, and usually no money. And I have a family. My life is chaos on which I struggle to find my way.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.K.: When Thrizzle Vol 1 came out, that was pretty good. Didn’t last long. Hard to pick a lowest moment, there have been so many; right now will do. I have Schrodinger’s career- from one angle it’s alive, from another it’s dead. Just a fucking struggle to keep going quite often.

J.P.: You’ve done comic books. I’m gonna ask a somewhat related, somewhat unrelated question: Why are there so many fucking superhero movies? Can we just end this thing? Because they keep coming and coming and coming …

M.K.: We’re living in a society dictated by businessmen and populated with children. It’s depressing how far down things have slid.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Judy Garland, John Denver, Herschel Walker, Dave Coverly, Motorbooty, bacon bits, Christmas Eve, dog vomit, elk heads hanging in a VFW hall: Switch the elk heads and Denver, otherwise that list is perfect.

• You named your son Ulysses. That’s amazing. How did you and the wife decide upon it?:
I wanted him to have a strong name for his journey through life. It’s distinctive and unusual but everyone knows it. My name sucks and I wanted my son to have a good one. He also has my wife’s last name; I felt it was time to retire Kupperman. Such an awkward, lousy Ellis-island made-up garbage last name. I oftne think my career would’ve been much better without it.

• Five reasons one should live in Brooklyn: It’s America but it’s not America. There are people from every corner of the world here. It’s never boring. You can walk everywhere. You’re surrounded by history and close to the ocean.

• Five reasons one shouldn’t live in Brooklyn: It smells bad. There’s garbage everywhere. For some reason there are four-way red lights at intersections all the time. It’s full of liberals. There are portals to hell everywhere.

• One question you would ask Kirby Short were he here right now?: Who are you? A sports guy?

• Five all-time favorite cartoon characters: Popeye, Betty Boop, Tintin, the 1974 Disney Robin Hood, Dick Tracy.

• How’d you meet your wife?: We were fixed up by a mutual acquaintance, who was very good at it. I think she’s fixed up five couples.

• I used to pick my nose and eat it. Then, when I was around 13, I stopped. Can an argument be made that was a poor decision?: Yes. It may be that you’re supposed to eat your boogers, that your nose is like a laboratory reacting to the environment and the boogers are a specialized medicine it produces. Seriously, I have heard this idea spoken aloud by very smart people..

• Five famous people you’ve never met: Gandhi, Churchill, Hitler, Linda Lovelace, Gary Coleman. The last two I could’ve but declined. Couldn’t think of what to say.

• Is Donald Trump at all funny?: It gives me no pleasure at all to admit that he sometimes is. He has the instincts of a comedian and that’s why people love him. It sucks.

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Casey Pearlman

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One of the happiest moments of my life was the day I learned we’d be having a daughter.

I come from a family of mostly men. A mom and a dad, obviously. But one brother, one cousin (a male), one uncle. That’s pretty much it for the ol’ Thanksgiving dinners, so when—back in 2003—the doctor told us, “It’ll be a girl,” I was giddy.

That joy has never felt misplaced.

As she approaches her 16th birthday, Casey Pearlman does me proud. Do I always feel safe while teaching her to drive? Eh, um, ah. Do I share her appreciation for Britney Spears? Eh, um, ah. Do I limit my meals to cheese products and bread? Eh, um, ah. But on the grand scale, Casey has given me as much happiness as one human can bestow another. And watching her grow from toddler to girl to young woman … just dazzling.

With that being said, the magical 400th Quaz features my daughter, Casey Marta Pearlman

JEFF PEARLMAN: It must be quite the honor for you to be the 400th Quaz Q&A …

CASEY PEARLMAN: Yes. It really is.

J.P.: Really?

C.P.: Yes.

J.P.: Honestly?

C.P.: Sure. Wait. Can you hand me my iPad in the pink bag on the floor?

J.P.: OK.

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J.P.: You’re 15, going on 16. When you were little I used to say to you all the time, “We’re gonna have fun. I’m gonna make sure we have fun.” So, serious question—have we?

C.P.: Yes, with the exception of the things only you think are fun. Like sports movies and the beach.

J.P.: So what have been the good things?

C.P.: The fun days in New York, where we would go to Macy’s and the Toys R Us and have Nuts 4 Nuts. The Los Angeles Book Festival. Hmm … what else? Watching horror movies and getting ice cream and going to amusement parks to go on the coasters because everyone else is too scared to do that.

J.P.: So when you were, maybe, 7, I put you on your first truly terrifying roller coaster—Nitro at Six Flags. I was heavily criticized by some, especially because I bribed you. So, looking back, bad parenting move or good? And why?

C.P.: Despite what my mother would say, I think ultimately it was a good parenting move because if I didn’t go on that and wasn’t bribed to go on coasters the next bunch of years, I would not enjoy amusement parks today. And people who don’t enjoy amusement parks are kind of lame.

J.P.: Do you remember sobbing at Hershey Park?

C.P.: Oh, yeah. Fahrenheit. I remember waiting on the line saying, “I can do it.” Then we were at the front and I thought, “I can’t do it.” But being the father you are the bribe went from one game to one game and a soda, to two games, an ice cream and a soda. I could not stop crying. The ladies behind us were like, “Are you OK? Do you need to get off?” I went on, and it was great. And I got three games, a soda and an ice cream.

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J.P.: Has your childhood gone fast? Or slow?

C.P.: [long pause]. It depends. The parts in New York I don’t remember going fast. But everything in California was relatively quick. But we moved when I started middle school—so is that my childhood?

J.P.: You’re saying middle school isn’t childhood?

C.P.: It is. But different than elementary school.

J.P.: I remember being a teen and finding it really hard. I struggled dating, I was just an OK student, OK athlete. I was very insecure. Where are you?

C.P.: I find it easy to want to strive because I don’t want to be like the people who don’t care. The people who just show up and they feel like they have to be there—you find out they’re not very successful later. I don’t wanna be that. I see school coming in handy later. So while I’m not enjoying all my classes, taking AP chem over forensics will be better in the long run.

I don’t find high school to be very hard, but because I’m always busy. If I’m not doing work I have water polo, and swim team, and spending time with my friends who don’t do either of those. That takes up so much of my time, so I don’t feel bored. I haven’t struggled much. My high school experience has not been very challenging.

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J.P.: You’ve never vaped?

C.P.: I have not.

J.P.: Why?

C.P.: I can tell you people will read this and say I’m lying. ‘Why would she say she has in front of her parents?’ I took health. My whole life I’ve spent time around people who used to smoke. We’ve been to casinos where everyone smokes. I remember a commercial when I was little-—a woman with three fingers, and that happened from smoking. It turns teeth yellow, it smells awful. We’ve had family members with lung cancer. People say, “Oh, vaping isn’t bad for you.” But the juice that goes into your Juul is like multiple cigarettes in one tiny thing. And I’m not very interested in getting lung cancer I can easily avoid.

J.P.: Marijuana?

C.P.: The same thing. I kinda get vaping more, because it seems less dangerous. Considering I have anxiety, and marijuana is a depressant. It’ll make me feel worse. It might not give you lung cancer, but you can still … it kills your brain cells. I don’t need to kill my brain cells.

J.P.: I feel like I have tried, and failed, to embarrass you many times. It seems like a parental duty. Why don’t you get embarrassed by me? Or do you?

C.P.: I don’t get embarrassed. The people who are embarrassing don’t know they’re embarrassing. There’s this girl whose mom talks to our coaches and tells them how they should coach. That’s so embarrassing. Her mom’s not on the team. She doesn’t play water polo. She doesn’t need to be there. That’s embarrassing to everyone—the daughter, the other players. The things you try to do—like shouting, “Have a nice day!” loudly won’t embarrass me. Because it sounds exaggerated.

J.P.: Same with mom?

C.P.: Her things sound very sincere. When she says “Amazeballs”—she says she’s saying it ironically. But I’m not sure. I think she likes saying those things. She thinks they’re words to use.

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J.P.: What do you wanna do with your life?

C.P.: I used to struggle with this question. I definitely want to go to college and become a high school history teacher. And when I get older maybe elementary school, because that’s a bit less work. I’d consider getting my doctorate, but not right away. If I don’t get into a college that interests me, maybe I’ll take a gap year. I’d like to travel and maybe teach English in a different country. But not a mission.

J.P.: What are your insecurities?

C.P.: Hmm. I’m not a very physically strong person. Probably emotionally, too. Sports-wise, I’m never gonna be great. Water polo, I’ll never be the star. I’ll never be MVP, so even if I win an award it won’t be the MVP or anything like that. And after this year it’ll be much harder, because it’s a higher level and the players are very experienced. I know my limitations. But that doesn’t mean I like them.

J.P.: So why do it?

C.P.: Exercise. And the snack bars. It’s nice being on a team. I can’t imagine having nothing to do. Without water polo or swim I’d go home and watch TV. A lot of my friends are from sports, and if I stopped I’d never see them.

J.P.: What makes you nervous?

C.P.: What do you mean? In general?

J.P.: Yes.

C.P.: I don’t enjoy being put on the spot. I have one teacher who calls on random people in a hard class. A lot of times i don’t know the answer. And he doesn’t let you say, “I don’t know.” You have to say something. I don’ enjoy that. I don’t like unfamiliar situations. I like to know what’s happening and plan out. I need to plan. Tests don’t bother me because you can prepare. Also, for sports, I don’t cry when we lose. It just happens. Whatever.

J.P.: What have been my weaknesses as a dad?

C.P.: You like to push things, but things that are unnecessary. Movies. The beach. Things we don’t want to do but that you really want us to do. Not great.

J.P.: Mom?

C.P.: She does the same, but bigger things. Summer camp. Trying a traveling tour. Not interested, but she insists it’s something I want. Maybe I’d enjoy it, but there are other things I wanna do. Those things might sound boring to her, but they interest me.

J.P.: Is your bed your favorite place?

C.P.: No. I wake up between 6 and 7. I don’t sleep in often. I only sleep late if I go to bed at 11 or 12. I like rest. I don’t have a favorite place. Maybe my chair. I prefer my chair to my bed. When I’m sitting downstairs.

J.P.: Do you at all worry about school shootings?

C.P.: Not shootings. But one time a boy put a suitcase on the field and everyone thought it was a bomb. We were in lock-down for two hours. It was an empty suitcase. So dumb. There have been three suicides. But at the school I would have gone to in New York there were three stabbings. Which is better? I don’t know. There are a lot of unstable emotions out there.

J.P.: Are you pretty happy in your life?

C.P.: Yes—at the moment. It depends on the season. Water polo is great, then it ends. I struggle with the spring season, and summer. The change of seasons. Every time I have to start something new it’s a problem.

But it works out for me.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lil Nas X, cranberry juice cocktail, maple cinnamon roll, “Get Out,” the big dog across the street who just moved, Miley Cyrus, your KISS poster: “Get Out,” maple cinnamon roll, KISS poster, the big dog across the street who just moved, Lil Nas X, cranberry juice cocktail.

• One question you would ask Donald Trump were he here right now?: Why do you enjoy ruining people’s lives?

• Do you ever curse in conversation?: I do not.

• Three all-time favorite musical acts: Backstreet Boys, Green Day, Britney Spears.

• What does your room smell like?: Chlorine and lavender.

• How many times would you say you’ve peed in a pool?: Um, do I need a number? More than 50.

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen in a pool?: I wanna say poop, but I’ll go with the rat.

• Three places you don’t wanna go to college?: Arizona State, Saddleback, anywhere in Montana.

• Do you think you’ll have kids and why?: Not of my own because childbirth sounds not worth it. People say, “You don’t understand. Mothers have that feeling!” No. Why go through that pain when I can choose a child?

• Why does Norma the dog love me more than you?: She’s sitting with me! Right now! She’s not sitting with you! She only likes you because you take her in the car. And in the car she sits with me.

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Emmett Pearlman

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This week’s interview may well seem a bit self-indulgent, but … why should I care?

I’ve hosted this Q&A series for eight years and four days (exactly), and the beauty of a random interview offering is it’s, quite literally, a mishmosh of people from 8,000 different walks of life. Last week’s Quaz featured a woman who likes posting things naked. The first-ever Quaz was an actress from the Wonder Years.

And today, at 399, I bring forward Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son.

Why Emmett Pearlman, my 12-year-old son? Myriad reasons. First, approaching big No. 400 has made me a bit reflective on the past decade. Second, I wanted the 399th to be meaningful, and what’s more meaningful than your offspring? Third, any worries about “Jumping the Shark” (Google it if you’re younger than 25) vanished the moment I realized there is nothing a shark leap could ruin. This is a small-level Q&A series, not “Happy Days.” Fourth, my kid is smart. Inquisitive. Detailed. Precise. I recognize we all think our kids are smart and inquisitive and detailed, but Emmett’s always possessed a self-awareness beyond his years. So it’s not like asking a kid questions and expecting one-word answers. Fifth, I love the boy. And I like the idea of Emmett looking back at this a decade from now and thinking, “So that’s where I was!”

Unlike most of the interviews in this series, which are conducted (lazily) via e-mail, this chat took place last night at the kitchen table.

Emmett Pearlman, son of a hack writer royalty, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: What are the complications with being a 12-year-old kid?

EMMETT PEARLMAN: What do you mean?

J.P.: I mean, what are the hardships? The difficulties? Is it more good or bad?

E.P.: Most of the problems in my life are not real hard problems. Like, if I can’t figure out a math problem then I look it up online. I don’t really have any problems that are out of my reach of fixing.

J.P.: Do you feel impacted by the Trump presidency? Or is it just hearing me complain?

E.P.: Ha. Um, at school kids repeat what they hear. Most kids don’t follow politics very much. It does come up sometimes at school, but nobody can really have any debates because they don’t know a ton. And the people who do know a ton are usually on one side. Because they know what’s right.

J.P.: Which side is that?

E.P.: Democratic, usually.

J.P.: Are you optimistic for the future?

E.P.: The future of what?

J.P.: The future of the country. And your life.

E.P.: Of the country—I think that people know what’s right and I don’t think that something that bad can go on for too long. And for me, I have no idea. I don’t know if you’re talking careers. If so, I have no idea. I don’t know. I can’t tell what my future will be.

J.P.: So a lot of parents, people my age, are concerned about the impact technology and always having a device is having on people your age. What says you?

E.P.: Most people my age that go on the Internet are just playing games or watching YouTube. Yes, you do have access to pretty much anything. But if it’s taking something pretty much everyone has, it’s not special. You can do what you want, but if you handle that power smartly, it’s not bad. If people are responsible … it’s not your fault, as a parent, for letting them use it. It’s entirely the child’s responsibility. I mean, it depends on age. At my age, you know what you can search and what you can’t. But if they’re under the age of 10, it’s different. At some point people need to be more trusting.

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A recent robotics throwdown.

J.P.: Is there no temptation to Google “bloody head after car accident” or “naked people having sex”?

E.P.: Absolutely not.

J.P.: Why?

E.P.: I don’t know. I’m content not having that. I’m fine just playing games on my computer.

J.P.: I’ve written a lot about your 0-37 lifetime basketball record. People ask me if it bothers you, and I say, “No.” They find that confusing. Why doesn’t it bother you?

E.P.: I think it’s actually been good in a way. Not for basketball, but outside it’s been good. I’m the least competitive person I know, which is good. I don’t think people should be too serious about sports. It’s a game. Winning and losing doesn’t matter. Especially at my age. If I lose every game and I enjoy it, that’s fine. And I do enjoy it.

J.P.: Without naming names, you’ve told me every so often about kids at school you don’t like. What are the characteristics of a kid you don’t like?

E.P.: I was thinking about this recently, actually. I think that part of what makes them popular or annoying—and I’m not talking annoying as in bugging you all the time and being annoying on purpose. I mean the people who think they’re cool and can do whatever they want. Part of what makes them like that is they’re not thinking that much about what it is they’re doing. It’s obvious to the people who aren’t friends with them. But to the people who don’t think about it, it’s not something strange. They say something mean and don’t think about it. It’s just what they do. Act meanly. The weird part is their friends just accept it. That’s what they do. They’re a part of it. But everyone outside that group doesn’t see it as fine. We see the truth.

The problem with them thinking they can do whatever they want is they can do whatever they want. Because everyone else thinks they’re cool. Whatever that means.

J.P.: What’s the jerkiest thing you’ve had a kid do to you?

E.P.: To me? Not much. I don’t get involved with things intentionally. I mean, I haven’t had a ton directly to me. I mean, they cut the line every day at school for lunch. And no one stops them because … I don’t know.

It’s like the graffiti thing you told me about in New York [JEFF NOTE: I explained to Emmett how New York City stopped graffiti on subways by cleaning it every night. If no one cleans it, what’s the motivator to stop?]. There’s no point in stopping them because they’ll do it again. It makes me angry. I tell them not to cut me. They usually don’t listen and I just move.

J.P.: You’ll meet them again on their long plummet to the middle.

E.P.: It doesn’t affect me.

J.P.: You love robotics. Why?

E.P.: I think part of it is the way my teacher gives us assignments and teaches us. She teaches us … she gives us instructions and if we need help she’ll give us it. We can ask. But if we don’t want help we don’t get it. We can do our own research on the Internet, which I like because it inspires you. You can build whatever you want. In my free time I’ve built robotic arms, I built something I wear on my hand and it shoots things. You can build what you want and I think it’s really fun.

J.P.: Least-favorite class?

E.P.: History. It’s repetitive. We don’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s study guide, then vocabulary, then papers. Over and over again. On different units. I do like learning about history, but the cycle gets boring after a while. We do a lot of group work, and I’m not a big fan of group work. A lot of times it’s not even on who does the work. Also in history we write a lot, and history writing is boring. You read something, then put it back out in a different way. History is learning something and remembering it. There’s not much new.

With his mom.

With his mom.

J.P.: Do you remember how you felt when you found out we were moving to California five years ago?

E.P.: I was pretty little. I didn’t realize what was happening. I thought we were taking a vacation at first. Then I realized we weren’t. Because Casey got sad. Then I got sad. All I heard was “leaving” and “California.” I didn’t know what California was. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have a choice.

J.P.: In hindsight, would New York have been better?

E.P.: I don’t know. What’s definitively better?

J.P.: Mom and I really enjoy the relationship you have with your sister. It’s interesting, because she’s 3 1/2 years older than you, you don’t have a ton of activities in common. Yet you seem to have a pretty tight bond. Am I misreading that?

E.P.: No. I think what it is is we don’t have much room for arguments. Casey usually stays in her room, so I don’t see her that often. It’s weird, but I guess that makes for less arguments. We don’t share that much, so we don’t argue over stuff. We used to fight for the Kindle, but no more. And when we are together we usually agree. I don’t know. I think we know what we like and we know our limits and we know not to do something that annoys the other person. Why would we fight?

J.P.: It seems like you like her …

E.P.: I do. I also hate having arguments. Usually they don’t resolve anything.

J.P.: I take credit for this, but you have a very strong hip-hop knowledge for a kid your age. Why do you like that genre so much?

E.P.: I don’t know. Why does anyone like any type of music? There’s no answer. Different people like different music. If you were a major country parent, maybe I’d like country.

J.P.: I doubt that.

E.P.: Me too.

J.P.: Five favorite rappers?

E.P.: I’m gonna put … can it be a group?

J.P.: Sure.

E.P.: Does it need to be in order? I don’t like order.

J.P.: No.

E.P.: OK. Tupac, Nas, then it becomes a bunch of people I like. Definitely MC White Owl. Run DMC. And A Tribe Called Quest.

J.P.: You wear sports jerseys every single day. I usually get them on eBay for about $8. You seem to really love them. Why?

E.P.: Um, I like the way they look. They’re pretty easy. I don’t have to think about what I wear every morning. I wake up, see a jersey, go, “OK.” I’m not very fashionable, but I like sports and I like when no one knows who the person is. And I like that I don’t have a constant sports team. I like that I can wear whatever jersey I like. These are the two questions I always get, and they’re asked back to back. First one—”Do you like that team?” And the answer is almost always No. Then they say, “Why are you wearing that jersey then?” As if you can only wear jerseys of the team you like. I say, “Because I like wearing jerseys.” I don’t like going into that much detail.

J.P.: Which are your three all-time favorite jerseys?

E.P.: The Walter Payton jersey is great. I like that one. I like my Doug Williams Oklahoma Outlaws jersey. And my Greg Fields Los Angeles Express jersey. Those are my favorite jerseys, not favorite players.

J.P.: Do you feel like your childhood is moving by quickly, slowly, or none of the above?

E.P.: I think that it’s just going what it seems like. Every year goes the same amount. I don’t know what other lives feel like, so what do I compare it to? I feel like it’s gone at a normal pace.

J.P.: I feel like parents worry about screwing up their kids. Like, I think, “What is he getting from me that’s not good?” Any thoughts?

E.P.: About what?

J.P.: Have I given you bad stuff?

E.P.: Not anything in particular.

J.P.: Are you enjoying your life?

E.P.: Yeah, definitely.

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• What would you like your name to be if it weren’t Emmett Pearlman?: I like the name Emmett. I don’t know. I’m not on the lookout for names right now. Maybe Emmett with one T.

• Three all-time favorite athletes: Walter Payton, Eli Manning, Emmitt Smith. Just because he has the name Emmitt.

• What’s the best thing about your mom?: Hmm … I dunno. She’s a very nice person. That’s not very exciting, but it’s true. It’s better than not being a nice person.

• One question you would ask Herschel Walker if he were here right now?: Do you regret anything in what your career became?

Rank in order (favorite to least): The beach, Memphis Showboats helmets, American Idol, going to the movie theater, Na’il Diggs, Ethiopian food, your dog Norma, your great-grandma Norma, the number 8, sleep-away camp, Eminem: This is gonna be tough. Norma the dog is number one. I’m gonna go Great Grandma Norma No. 2. But they’re very close. I see Norma the dog more day to day. For No. 3 I’m gonna have to put sleep-away camp. Then Ethiopian food. I really like Ethiopian food. Then Eminem. Then I’m gonna put the number 8 because it’s a nice round number. Then I’m gonna put Memphis Showboats helmets, even though they’re not that great. Then Na’il Diggs. I met him once, so I don’t know him well. But he was cool. I’m gonna put the beach there. I don’t absolutely hate the beach, but I’d much rather have Ethiopian food. Then I’m gonna put going to movie theaters. I don’t like movie theaters. I feel I can get the same experience at home, but also get up and do what I want. I don’t like American Idol. I feel like a lot of the people aren’t even good. The Voice has much better talent. And American Idol isn’t realistic. I just find it boring. And if they have a sad back story they go through. And if they don’t, they don’t.

• Four thing that gross you out: Maggots, warts, drawing blood, throwing up (I got that from Mom. It’s just not fun). Oh, and bonus. Those really big, loud bugs. The ones whose wings are really loud.

• How do you feel about having a Bar Mitzvah in a year?: I dunno. I’m looking forward to it. I think my Hebrew is OK. I don’t think it’s something necessary for the rest of my life, but I think it’s cool to have. My friends won’t understand what’s going on. They’re not Jewish.

• Five places in the world you’d love to go: Five? Five’s a lot. OK—Africa. Anywhere in Africa. Madagascar. Galapagos. Iceland. And if I could teleport there instantly, the North Pole. And then I’d teleport right back.

• Tell me three things about Grandpa Stan: 1. He likes naps. 2. He likes back scratches. 3. He has a lot of good stories.

• Why won’t you play me more often in FIFA?: Because I don’t like FIFA as much as other games. Why won’t you play me in Super Smash Bros more often?

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Erin Carroll

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On her Twitter account, Erin Carroll refers to herself as “Caring Erin.” And while, at first glance, one might think “Naked Erin” or “Peeing Erin” or “Here’s My Body Erin” is more appropriate, “Caring Erin” turns out to be dead on.

See, Erin Carroll is a self-anointed “professionally naked optimist,” which means she posts message of hope and kindness while simultaneously offering naked poses. She does this in exchange for financial support—and it’s working. Erin is, unambiguously, a succesful entrepreneur, one who gave up careers she hated in exchange for doing something she loves. Actually, two things she loves: 1. Being naked. 2. Engaging with people.

And if this all sounds weird, well … it sorta is. But it also sorta isn’t. Because here in 2019, the traditional world business model has been turned upside its head. YouTube stars morph into mainstream stars. Business people become political leaders. Athletes are discovered via Instagram posts.

And, in New York City, a lovely engaged-to-be-married, tattoo-coated 26-year-old tries and make your day.

In the buff.

One can follow Erin on Twitter here (warning—there’s a whole lot of nudity) and visit her website here.

Erin Carroll, you are the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Erin, you’re the second Quaz to have been raised Mormon and wind up in the adult entertainment world. Is it fair to say there’s some direct correlation rebellion involved? And when did you sorta realize being Mormon wasn’t for you?

ERIN CARROLL: There’s a pretty decent concentration of ex-Mormons in adult entertainment! All over the world, Mormon children are taught to have a very controlling relationship with their bodies and their sexuality. Preventing yourself from being a sexual person until you’re married is a big part of the culture.

My exit from the church was related to sexuality—my sister came out to me as bisexual when we were 12 and I parroted to her the, “I love you, I just don’t love your lifestyle” schlock. It didn’t sit right with me as I said it. I knew my sister was a good person and I didn’t understand why I was expected to be upset. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded it didn’t make any sense and I started poking holes in everything. I figured out that being an openly sexual person doesn’t make me a bad person, and started exploring that.

J.P.: I have seen your vagina up close via Twitter, and I’m gonna be honest—didn’t need to see it. Nothing against vaginas, or your vagina—but it just seems … too much. Like, sexiness is a peek, a hint, a suggestion. And a vagina on my screen is sorta—BAM! So … tell me why I’m wrong or right? And what are you trying to project?

E.C.: Yeah, well, ya know, that’s just like, your opinion, man. Sexiness can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Sometimes sexiness is a lot of different things to the same person. So, if you’re just speaking for yourself, you are 100 percent correct. For Jeff Pearlman, sexiness is a peek and anything more might even be a turn-off. For my audience and my clients, I’d say the majority appreciates the up-close looks.

I don’t know that I’m trying to “project” anything. I like that I can take a picture of part of my body and it makes a lot of people happy—just to see it. I think that’s pretty neat. And sometimes I just need to get people’s attention so I can sell some videos and pay my bills. Up close photos of vaginas tend to get people’s attention pretty well.

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J.P.: The world sucks. Our president is an aspiring dictator. Our seas are rising. You call yourself a “professionally naked optimist.” Why? What’s there to be optimistic about?

E.C.: I think the world is always getting worse in ways and better in ways. With some of my work, I’m trying to encourage people to seek out ways in which our world is getting better. If people focus on the ways it’s getting worse, I encourage them to take tangible steps that might help, even if it’s just helping in their immediate communities. I am optimistic because I know there are good things in the world and I know that people can (and do) make bad things better.

J.P.: OK, so I just watched this clip and I’m TOTALLY fascinated by your boyfriend. How did you meet? What does he do? And how does he feel about your gig?

E.C.: He’s my fiancé actually! We’re getting married in May. I have to be vague to protect our privacy, but he’s a software engineer in a managerial position at a good company. We met on Tinder a couple of years ago. On our first date, we photographed each other, had a jam session, and did a big drawing together. It was pretty clear we were a good fit. He’s dated adult entertainers before and has had friends in the industry for longer than I have been in it. I think ultimately he sees it as any other entrepreneurial endeavor. He helps me a lot with my work, actually. We’re monogamous, so he is my only co-star, and he’s my cameraman a lot of the time!

 J.P.: You seem very comfortable naked. Very, very comfortable. How did you get there? Because even in the men’s locker room at the gym I’m 100% towel around the waist.

E.C.: As far as I know, I’ve always been this way, probably thanks in large part to my mom. My mother isn’t Mormon, she converted briefly for my dad. She’s a total hippie. Most of my life, it was just me and my mom, so if we were home alone I could hang out however I was most comfortable—and for me, that was usually running around in my underwear. When my mom saw I had a fascination with ancient Greek and Roman culture and fine art, she took me to the library where I got dozens of books full of naked statues and nudity in paintings. Non-sexual nudity in the comfort of one’s own home and in art was normalized when I was growing up, which I think is healthy and I plan to do the same for my children.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? I know you’re a Tennessee-raised Mormon who lives in New York. But what was the path? How did you end up doing this?

E.C.: The path was a long and complicated one. I’m going to go over the first part pretty quickly.

When I was younger, I had “itchy feet.” I moved from Tennessee to Southern California when I was 19. I moved from SoCal to Washington State when I was 20. In Washington, I made a Chaturbate account with my boyfriend at the time. We only used it a couple of times. We didn’t take it very seriously. When I moved to Portland, Oregon at 21, I was newly single and had a job that was both physically demanding and low-paying. I was pretty miserable, and my sister knew my job/difficulty paying bills had a lot to do with that. She told me she had been camming, said it had been really working out for her; she gave me a renewed interest in it. I tried doing a few simple shower shows, and they went well! Not only was I making a bit of money, I was meeting people and forming relationships in the community that made me feel genuinely cared for. I kind of fell into culture like a Tetris piece.

Over time, I learned more and more about how to develop my career as an adult entertainer, but I was frustrated. I felt like I was stuck. My day job was 40 hours a week, and when I wasn’t working, I was exhausted from working. I had a friend who believed in me enough, he loaned me $1,000 so I could quit. After I did, all of my time and energy went into promoting myself, doing shows, and making videos. After some unfortunate stuff in my personal life, I had to leave Portland, so I headed to New York City where I was able to continue doing what I love and I paid him back in just a few months.

I’m almost 26 now, and business had a pretty steady increase over the last five-ish years. A few months ago, it feels like it doubled! I feel very blessed and grateful for all of the support.

J.P.: Hold on—another clip question. This is you … peeing. Why am I watching you pee? And why do others want to watch you pee? I’m NOT being snide, because you seem to have excellent business sense on this. I mean it.

E.C.: I have quite a few clips on my Twitter of me peeing and I show it a lot on Snapchat. Personally, I don’t get pleasure from sharing it aside from knowing some people are enjoying it. I just don’t mind sharing it—it’s something I can record very easily and quickly. These clips aren’t as commonplace, at least in my circle on Twitter, so they really get people’s attention—that helps build my audience which leads to sales.

You’d have to ask the people who want to see it why they feel that way. Not everyone who watches it even does so for sexual pleasure. I think a lot of people watch it at least a few seconds simply because it isn’t something you typically see. Everyone pees, usually multiple times a day, but we so rarely get to see other people doing it! When you’re “not supposed to” see something, that can be easily turned into at least a curiosity.

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J.P.: You have a bunch of tattoos. What are the stories behind them?

E.C.: My first tattoo was an ampersand on my wrist. I was 18, and didn’t think about it much.

My mom is a bookworm and enjoys books about religion, spirituality, mysticism, etc. My whole life, she had a book in our bookcase called Awakening Intuition; the birds on my left shoulder come from the cover of this book. The original cover has a human face coming out of the back of one of the birds, but when I was 18 I thought that was “too weird.” I kind of wish I got the face. I still like the tattoo.

My next tattoo session, I got two at once—the peony on my right shoulder and the ginkgo leaf on my left upper arm. The peony is just pretty, I don’t think every tattoo has to have a story or a meaning. Ginkgo trees are really incredible plants (from their history to their medicinal properties), and I have a few really nice memories involving ginkgo trees.

Then I got a little beetle on the other side of my arm. I have a friend whose nickname for me is “Bug.” We had a road trip together to Portland, Oregon to take care of some business, and while there he and I got matching beetle tattoos. Beetles are one of the best bugs, for sure.

Early in our relationship, my fiancé brought my along on a last-minute business trip to Los Angeles. I suggested we get matching tattoos—he has several with his best friend and I’d just gotten my bug, so it wasn’t that wild of an idea. We take a lot of pictures of each other on Instant film (Polaroid and Instax), so we got a little traditional style hand holding an Instax print with a heart in it. Mine is on my right thigh.

I have a jackalope wearing a Hawaiian shirt on my left thigh! I was getting some film developed and had a while to wait so I was walking around the area. I saw a sign in a tattoo shop that said “Walk-Ins Welcome”, so I told my followers on Snapchat and Twitter, “If someone sends me $100, I’ll get a tattoo right now.” I was surprised when someone actually sent it! I didn’t have anything in mind, so I asked the artist what he enjoys tattooing. He said he likes putting Hawaiian shirts on things. My first thought was a jackalope, and he gave me a really beautiful little bunny. I enjoyed our session and his work so much, he did my next two!

I had a very sweet client send me some money toward another tattoo, and I was going to get a rose but decided last minute it was not for me, opting instead for my daisy chain on my right upper arm. It doesn’t have any more story than that, and it is probably my favorite tattoo! I think it is so cute!

I have a poppy flower on my left forearm. It is from the dress I was wearing when I got engaged.

Over time, I’m planning on having full Garden of Eden-themed sleeves. My next tattoo is a snake wrapped around my left arm, by the same artist as my last three!

J.P.: You have more than 66,000 followers on Twitter. Clearly social media is a huge component of your success. But how huge? And what are the right ways vs wrong ways for people in your business to utilize the Internet?

E.C.: Social media is currently completely necessary for me to run my business. The ability to reach so many people can really make the difference. Out of 66,000 followers, maybe 1 percent will actually become clients. I almost exclusively use Twitter. To my understanding, Twitter and Reddit are the only “big name” social media sites that allow nudity and pornography. Instagram is notorious for deleting accounts of adult entertainers, even if everything is censored. Just the “implication of nudity” is enough to delete sometimes years of work, years of building up a following.

I’m sure there are a lot of ways to successfully utilize the Internet in “my business”; I can only speak from my experience. I think that perseverance and patience are really important. There’s a lot of figuring things out by trial and error. It can take a long time to figure out what you enjoy doing. Then, you have to figure out how to make other people care about it. Then you have to figure out how to get people to pay you for it! There are a lot of steps, it isn’t going to happen overnight! Even then, there is an element of luck involved. The right people seeing the right post at the right time.

As far as “wrong ways” go … don’t use social media as a competitive arena. I don’t view fellow online adult entertainers as competition, they are colleagues. Many of them are friends. We help each other emotionally and financially. There is a strong support network in the community if you know where to look!

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• You have an beautiful voice. Do you have any dreams of a recording career? Have you tried?: No, I get too nervous. I just sing for fun.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Keith Morrison, the smell of peppermint, the New York Knicks, red wine, Ernest Hemingway, ancient Egyptian ruins, texting while driving, Microsoft Word, John Lennon, taxes: Ancient Egyptian ruins, the smell of peppermint, Microsoft Word, taxes, red wine, John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway, New York Knicks, texting while driving. Keith Morrison?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I’ve flown quite a bit in my life and I think I only had a problem with turbulence once. I’ve been awfully uncomfortable on planes, but no near-death experiences.

What was the inspiration behind your song “Virgo”?: I was couch surfing in Southern California. I was feeling jazzy and wanted to write something that would be easy to memorize.

 • Three things to know about your parents?: My mom majored in theology, is active in her church, and is proud of my work. My dad was a Mormon anthropological archaeologist, which is hilarious because anthropological archaeology directly disproves Mormon doctrine. They got divorced when I was 5 but my dad kept a shelf of my mom’s favorite books at his house the rest of his life.

I’m 20 years older than you are. What’s something I probably don’t understand about the modern 26-year old?: Meme culture—you’re probably doing memes wrong.

I think Usher is boring and lame. Tell me why I’m wrong: I have no arguments for or against.

• Does Cardi B’s history as a stripper at all encourage you to think sex workers might get more respect? Or is there no connection?: I don’t think there’s NO connection, I just don’t know enough to speak to what the connection may be. If the narrative is “You don’t get respect until you stop being a stripper and move on to other things” then that’s still lame.

Being serious—in your mind, what are the odds a Donald Trump pee tape exists somewhere?: Completely 50/50. Part of me thinks he isn’t that adventurous.

• What’s your earliest memory?: I am not completely sure if this is an earliest memory from real life, or one of my earliest memories of a dream. My dad was building an addition to our house and the balcony wasn’t finished but he could stand on it. I remember my mom coming out with me and the three of us looked at the sunset for a few minutes before going back inside.

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Samm Hodges

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Samm Hodges is a modern Hollywood story, in that modern Hollywood blows and eats its own and doesn’t know a good thing when it fucking sees it.

Sorry for the negativity.

Two years ago, the TV program he created, “Downward Dog,” kicked ass. It premiered at Sundance (a first for a network prigram), and was listed as one of the best shows of 2017 by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Collider, AV Club and Vox. Then, after eight episodes, ABC decided the show needed to be cancelled. Because, somewhere, the soulless number crunchers decided that, according to the portfolio ratio of the accounting figures pertaining to the abstract estimates of …

God, show business sucks.

To be blunt, Hodges is a genius. Check out his website to see all the amazing commercials and shows that have emerged from his brain.

Then read the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Samm, you were the creator of “Downward Dog,” a show that aired on ABC last season, received great reviews, lasted six of planned eight episodes then was canceled. And my takeaway is—Hollywood fucking sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks. Am I exaggerating the point?

SAMM HODGES: Well, yes and no. For me, coming from advertising, Hollywood has been a step up for sure. We have a union!

And with Downward Dog, all eight originally ordered did air as designed, and we got a season two order from ABC, but things fell apart on the studio side—which I’m still a little confused about… so in that way, yes it sucks.

But then again, anyone who ever has a show on television is super lucky, even if it’s brief.

J.P.: Being serious—the show was funny, original, terrific. But also expensive. And that appears to be what doomed it. But that also seems simplistic. So what happened?

S.H.: Thank you!

It was always a long shot. When we sold to ABC, they were interested in doing more ‘Netflix style’ content. This is back in 2015, when ‘Netflix style’ meant ‘grounded, high-quality.’

In the end, Michael Killen and I (he’s the co-creator) made what we set out to make, and, with a talking dog show, as our first fore into television, we’re happy to have made a single season we’re proud of, given the alternatives.

I mean, we were the first network comedy to debut at Sundance! I regret nothing.

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J.P.: OK, so I’m reading your bio and this sentence leaps from the page—” He dropped out of Bible college in 2007 and just hasn’t been able to find the time to go back.” Um … please explain.

S.H.: I once was lost, by now I’m found. Except backwards?

I came from a super religious home and was ‘on fire for Jesus’ in 2003… but then over time, I started to realize that life was more complicated than the narratives I’d grown up with would suggest.

J.P.: I’ve had my books optioned for film, oh, a dozen times. And nothing has ever happened. You faced tons of rejection on “Downward Dog” before it saw the light. How did you not lose your shit? Lose hope? I’m actually being serious, because it’s been a struggle for me.

S.H.: You know, the success was harder, in the moment, than the rejection, just because of the amount of pressure. We really were thrown into the fire, and I had some really tough moments

I guess the rejection was almost more expected.

But I wasn’t on the end you are. Books that are optioned often sit on the shelf for decades and there’s zero rush. At least in my case, I can actively take steps to produce the things I’m writing.


J.P.: You directed a visually stunning commercial for Red Bull called “Flight.” This fascinates me. Like, where did the concept come from? How much of commercial work is your vision v. theirs? And even though it’s a sales pitch, can a commercial give you true satisfaction? Or is it about the dough?

S.H.: Commercials are, for me, experiments. I still do them, and if you don’t need them to artistically fulfill you, they’re great. It’s amazing practice – a trial run for set and managing expectations and growing in communication skills… all stuff that’s invaluable.

And each commercial is different, so you get to explore new visual style, camera tricks, new actors, etc.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, why film and TV? Was there a lightbulb moment in your life? A sliver in time that sent you in this direction?

S.H.: I got lucky! Also worked really hard.

Look, most people in Hollywood come from money/Ivy League colleges. That’s not my story. But my manager is a guy who came from a similar background as me, and I think that helped him connect to my story and work. But the truth is, if he hadn’t walked into the office where I was working and saw the things I was making, I wouldn’t be doing the projects I’m working on today.

J.P.: You’re very political on Twitter—which I love. But I wonder, as a guy trying to establish himself, if there’s a risk of turning people off? Potential employers? Viewers? Is that something to consider? Does it not matter?

S.H.: Ha, well I’m trying to be way more positive this year. I’m a naturally opinionated person, but I’m not always proud of my relationship with social media, and it’s something I’m very much evaluating. Less in terms of turning off employers or viewers, more in terms of my own personal mental health and whether or not I’m contributing to the already incredibly acerbic “conversation” happening online.

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J.P.: What’s your writing process? You have an idea. You wanna do something with it. What happens next?

S.H.: Uhhh … depends. Sketch out some ideas, day dream on it. Then call my agent or manager or a producer I really like and try to pitch it to them, see if it sticks. Then, if it gets a laugh or peaks some interest, go write something, draw something, render something – depends … just take if forward and see if my interest flags. I think a good idea is like a blood trail – it’s leading you somewhere. Sometimes it gets lost, then a year later, you find it again.

Sometimes I just go start shooting something and then regret it later.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

S.H.: Greatest moment of my career was live tweeting Downward Dog with fans, hearing from them, getting fan art in the mail, just seeing how it impacted people’s lives. Lowest point was during the pilot process for the same show, when it all looked like it was falling apart and it was all my fault and I felt very unfunny and everything was terrible.

J.P.: What’s your coolest moment with fame? Coolest person you met? Or biggest person you met? Or being recognized? Give us something …

S.H.: You know, something really cool was getting to cast Nichelle Nichols in Downward Dog. She played Uhura in the original Star Trek, and was for many people, the first woman of color they ever saw on TV. Truly a living legend, and it was an incredible honor to get to work with her.

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• What sort of impact has the two Ms in Samm had on your life?: I am googleable (:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Andy Van Slyke, Allison Tolman, Kyrsten Sinema‏, Nikita Kucherov, Wesley Snipes, Barenaked Ladies, Chuck D, ugly slippers, Sharpies, Adrian Grenier: I don’t have opinions about most of these people, but I love Allison and Barenaked Ladies. There’s no reason for slippers to be ugly, and sharpies make a nice sound on paper, so they can’t be all bad.

• Five reasons one should make Pittsburgh his/her next vacation destination?: 1. The neighborhoods. Its such a historic city, and you’ll feel like a time traveler. Get lost, end up at a polish grocer or a fish fry in a catholic church basement.; 2. Cheep beer. Best dives in the country. Some of these dives have (probably illegal) beers for less than a buck. Yuengling!; 3. The Mattress Factory! One of the coolest art museums in the country and just blocks from my old house. Yayoi Kusama before she was famous!; 4. Everyone knows everyone. If you’re there for a week, you’ll already be running into someone you know and feel like a local; 5. Paige Dairy Mart. Yelp that shit.

• Most likely for Donald Trump—two more years, six more years, impeachment, prison?: Two more years, then indictment, conviction, and pardon. Womp womp.

• Who are the five greatest dog actors of your lifetime?: Haha see, I’m not really a dog movie guy! Dogs are great! They all win!

• What’s the movie scene that makes you cry?: Malcom X makes me cry every goddamn time I watch it.

Also when Beth dies in Little Women.

And I can’t even finish Beasts of The Southern Wild.

• Tell me three things about one of your cousins: I only have 5 cousins! But Kate was a voice actor in A Bug’s Life, has a twin sister, and left LA to move back to Santa Barbara so I’ll never forgive her.

• In exactly 18 words, make a case for TGI Friday’s: I’ve been here twice and you know exactly what you’re getting, even if you have never been there.

• If you’re Jack, and you’re in the water freezing, why not at least try jumping onto the door and lying next to Rose?: Because Jack knows that Rose has a lot of emotional baggage to work out, and their lives will end in inevitable bickering about whether or not to have children, which makes the water seem not quite so bad really.

• The Mets haveadded Robinson Cano. How will that impact your family?: I have no idea  what this means!

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Jeff Capo

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Atlantic Wrestling Federation

Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association
Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

I currently work production and referee for PWX and PWX Pure in Charlotte, NC. I travel there about once a month.

So earlier today I found myself on Twitter, reading thoughts on the passing of King King Bundy, when I saw this …

And I thought, “Hmm … wrestling referee.”

I mean, what’s more Quaz Q&A than a wrestling referee? Especially one like Jeff Capo who—over the past three decades—has handled matches in Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association, Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

Truth be told, I don’t know what most of those organizations are. But Jeff Capo does, and he’s seen the highs and lows, twists and turns of humanity from the inside of a ring, often covered in sweat and blood and whatever else it is that professional grapplers ooze.

So I thought it’d be cool to bring Jeff here to discuss the joy of the sport; the job of a ref; the legacy of Bundy and the athletic wonder that was Tito Santana.

One can follow Jeff on Twitter here, and continue to follow his work with Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

Jeff Capo, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jeff, you’re a longtime professional wrestling referee, which fascinates me for this reason: What do you do? I mean that without a hint of snideness. I’m just genuinely interested. If the matches are choreographed, what is your role? Are you actor? Do you keep things moving? Do you ever have to intervene? For legit athletic reasons?

JEFF CAPO: The referee’s role is to be the voice of law and order in the ring. Yes, matches are predetermined. The referee is there to count pinfalls, warn wrestlers if they are using illegal tactics and possibly disqualifying them. We also work with the timekeeper or production personnel to keep the matches within the time limits. This is particularly important if you are doing tapings or live TV. Also, we are there for the safety of the wrestlers. Accidents do happen, so if medical attention is required, the referee may have to call for it.

Am I an actor? I guess in the strict sense of the word, yes. I have never had to intervene, if you are referring if the match turns into a “shoot,” where someone is legitimately trying to hurt an opponent. Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.37.36 PM

J.P.: I know you’re from Catonsville, Maryland, know you started reffing in 1993. But how, exactly, did this career begin for you? How does one become a wrestling referee?

J.C.: My road to becoming a referee was not typical. To give a bit of background, I started watching wrestling in the early 1970s. I was able to pick up a TV station from Washington, D.C.—Channel 20. On Saturdays they had a block of programming which featured Roller Derby and WWWF wrestling. I was hooked immediately. I saw my first live show in 1985 at the then-Baltimore Civic Center. It was a WWF show that had Jimmy Snuka and The Tonga Kid vs Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton.

In 1989 I was attending a luncheon for Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. There I met Ed Zohn, a local indy wrestling promoter. I attended my first indy show, run by Ed that June. I wound up working in a couple indy promotions around Baltimore, like UIW and WIN. Those taught me a lot about the business and what went into running shows. In November of 1993, I received a phone call from the late Axl Rotten. They were running a show in Baltimore using a mix of ECW and local talent. One of the referees for the show had backed out. Axl and I had known each other for a couple of years at that point and he knew I studied the matches. He felt I had the skills to be a referee. So I reffed my first match on November 14, 1993. I got taken out of the match after receiving a chair shot to the head courtesy of Axl. And so it began …

J.P.: The legendary King Kong Bundy died earlier this week, and you wrote a very kind RIP about doing a match with him in 1994. So what made Bundy a special/unique wrestler? And what do you remember about your one gig with him?

J.C.: Well, Bundy was obviously a big star in the business. He had worked for several groups, including World Class Championship Wrestling, AWA, Mid-South, NWA and others before landing in WWF. He wrestled in the first three Wrestlemanias. Sometimes the folks who had been to the big leagues expected to be treated like rock stars and such. He was not that way at all. He was very down to earth and we had a nice conversation. It wasn’t long after that show that he returned to the WWF.

Alongside Sting back in 1988.

Alongside Sting back in 1988.

J.P.: I once was the “celebrity” ring guy at a professional wrestling card in New Rochelle, N.Y. The headliner with Jimmy Snuka, and as the fights were occurring in the ring the other performers sat at tables a stone’s throw away and signed autographs for $10 a pop. Honestly, it was pretty sad and depressing. And I wonder—how common is that? And what is the plight of your average, non-Hulk Hogan pro wrestler?

J.C.: What you describe is considered a serious breach of etiquette. Wrestlers should not be out there when others are wrestling. Wrestlers should be at their tables before the show starts, during intermission and after the show is over. It’s OK to have the tables “open” during the show, but they are usually manned by friends and family.

J.P.: Soup to nuts, how does a night go for you? What I mean is, you’re working a card. It starts in two hours. What are you doing in the leadup? What don’t we see?

J.C.: Well, at two hours before the show, everything is done. Usually, we’re at the show long before that, putting the ring together, setting up chairs and guardrails, getting all the TV equipment and lights put up. This also may include picking up folks from the airport if anyone is flying in. Setting up tables for folks to sell merchandise or sponsors that may be at the show. It takes all hands on deck to get it done. Then it has to be all torn down and packed away and the placed cleaned before we leave for the day.

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J.P.: What’s the difference between a veteran wrestling referee and a rookie? What are the things you do better now, with experience. What are the early mistakes?

J.C.: Most early mistakes I see are not getting out of the wrestler’s way. I am much better at anticipating the move and which directions they are moving.

J.P.: What’s your craziest story from your career? The experience that gets told over and over at holiday parties?

J.C.: I was working an American Commonwealth Wrestling show in Pennsylavnia promoted by Ed Zohn and the late Mark Bodey. During the first match, the ring broke. Every match after that I had to tell the guys to fight on the floor, and the final was a “Reverse Battle Royal” where the concept was everyone started on the floor and to be eliminated was to be thrown into the ring.

J.P.: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever seen happen in the ring? And, as a referee, what is your job in that moment? Do you need to keep the show going or help the guy in agony?

J.C.: There was an indy show in Maryland, and a guy got busted open bad and bled everywhere. The match ended, but I had to clean up the ring.

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Being pushed around by Fergal Devitt.

J.P.: I remember when I was a kid, and it was finally revealed that the matches were largely choreographed. And there was this belief the whole thing would crumble. But it didn’t. People didn’t seem to care. Why do you think that is? What are wrestling die-hards seeking?

J.C.: Wrestling is entertainment, so there is always a suspension of belief. Just like going to the movies, the stuff on the screen isn’t real. It’s a form of escape we use.

J.P.: I don’t know how to feel about Vince McMahon. How should I feel about Vince McMahon?

J.C.: That depends if you are a “pro wrestling” fan or a “sports entertainment” fan. Pro wrestling fans generally dislike McMahon. Sports entertainment fans think he is a god who can do no wrong.

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• Worst injury of your career?: I got hit in the eye with a rivet that popped off a ladder during a ladder match.

• Pure physical talent, who are the five best athletes you’ve worked with?: 1. Rick Martel; 2. Tito Santana, 3. Anthony Henry, 4. Ricky Blues, 5. A.C. Golden

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tommy Dreamer, Jerry Jones, Monopoly, Martin Lawrence, the Oak Ridge Boys, coconut cream pie, Smurfette, the number 3, Margot Robbie: 1. Margot Robbie;  2. Tommy Dreamer; 3. The Number 3; 4. Monopoly; 5. Smurfette; 6. Jerry Jones; 7. the Oak Ridge Boys; 8. Martin Lawrence; 9. Coconut cream pie.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: There was a flight from Rochester, N.Y. back to Baltimore after a bad snow in Baltimore. We nearly landed on top of another plane.

• One question you would ask Cedric Ceballos were he here right now: Didn’t know who he was. I don’t follow basketball

• Five reasons one should make Catonsville, Maryland his/her next vacation destination: 1. Fourth of July parade; 2. Great shopping area; 3. Locally owned business; 4. Close proximity to Baltimore and D.C.; 5. I live there!

• You spot a random hair on your hamburger at Denny’s. Remove the hair and eat or send it back?: Send it back.

• The world needs to know—how does The Miz have a career?: Being in the right place at the right time.

• Bryce Harper just signed a $300 million deal with the Phillies. Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay you $300 million to spend a year living naked in her Phoenix doghouse, eating only sliced turkey and attached to a 12-foot leash. You in?: Nope.

• Three best wrestling-related movies ever?: The Wrestler and All The Marbles are the only wrestling movies I have ever watched.

WI-RIEDL -- Brian Riedl, senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, talks with a reporter Monday, July 28, 2008, at his Washington office. (Gannett News Service, Heather Wines)

Brian Riedl

WI-RIEDL -- Brian Riedl, senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, talks with a reporter Monday, July 28, 2008, at his Washington office. (Gannett News Service, Heather Wines)

So a bunch of weeks ago I got a little snippy on Twitter, and found myself involved in a back and forth with some guy named Brian Riedl. He was clearly conservative, and didn’t share many of my viewpoints, and I was a bit mad and skittish and … and …

I DMed him to apologize.

I don’t actually recall the full specifics, but I felt as if I’d crossed a line. And, wonderfully, Brian replied warmly and elegantly. So we had a brief exchanged, and I asked whether he’d be up for a Quaz Q&A, not unlike the one his friend Guy Benson did back in 2015. He was game.

And here’s the truth: I don’t agree with much that Brian says. As a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Brian focuses on conservative budget, tax, and economic policies. He was also the director of budget and spending policy for Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, as well as a research fellow at the (loathed by most liberals) Heritage Foundation.

But … here’s the thing. Brian is an open guy. He’s willing to criticize Republicans, isn’t a particular fan of Donald Trump, believes the merging of cable news and social media to be a toxic 2019 brew. In other words, he’s a good fellow who I simply disagree with in myriad areas. That’s gonna happen in life. No biggie.

Today, Brian discusses the modern conservative, talks Rubio’s failed presidential bid and explains how you might think his last name is Reidl, Riedel, Reidel, Reedel, Riedle and Rydex.

One can follow Brian on Twitter here, check out his Manhattan Institute bio here and read up on his favorite football team here.

(OK, I kid).

Brian Riedl, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Brian–I’m gonna start with a blunt one. Earlier today, via Twitter (of course), the president mocked Sen. Blumenthal over an old false claim that he served in Vietnam—when he didn’t. The comment was re-Tweeted a bunch, Trump was given the ol’ cyber thumbs up for sticking it to the lib. And I’m sitting here thinking—this guy had five military deferments … some for bone spurs. Then he mocked John McCain for being captured. Then he ridiculed a Gold Star family. And, as someone who is conservative, and has been involved in politics for a good chunk of time, I need to ask—what the fuck? Why does the right keep going along with this? Can Trump do anything that will cause his base to turn?

BRIAN RIEDL: As background, I served on the staff of Sen. Rob Portman, and advised Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio in the 2012 and 2016 campaigns. My wing of the party is pro-growth, libertarian, optimistic, and civil. I am quite critical of much of President Trump’s behavior. But I also do not believe that the left fully grasps their role in “creating Trump” by spending so many years smearing seemingly every Republican politician and voter as the second coming of Hitler.

Conservatives have long felt slandered by “elite America” (the media, universities, and Hollywood) and leading Democrats as not just wrong or misguided, but irredeemable and “deplorable” Nazis who need to die off before progress can occur.  In the narrative of American politics, conservatives are always portrayed as the villains. Then there was the vicious treatment of moderates like John McCain and Mitt Romney – smeared as racist, sexist, warmongering sociopaths (Joe Biden also told an African-American audience that Mitt Romney planned to reinstitute slavery, and Democratic TV ads portrayed Paul Ryan murdering an elderly constituent, and accused Mitt Romney of causing a woman’s fatal cancer).

By 2016, conservatives had enough and nominated someone who – unlike McCain and Romney – would not sit idly back and “lose nicely.” That is the cultural appeal of Trump. Conservatives dislike much of his behavior, but they are desperate for someone who fights back. And the more the left attacks him, the more conservatives rally around him (just like intense conservative criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes her more beloved by liberals). It is pure tribalism and negative polarization on both sides right now.

Finally, I should mention that many other conservatives are truly offended by the President’s behavior, but have decided that as long as he pursues conservative policies – on issues like abortion, judges, and tax policy – they will mute their personal objections and pull the GOP lever.


J.P.: So you’re a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a member of Economics21, which means you focus on budget, tax and economic policy. But … what does that mean? What are you trying to accomplish? And what are you accomplishing?

B.R.: As a research fellow, I am trying to influence the debate on budget, tax, and economic policy. I publish full studies, write weekly op-eds, testify before Congress, advise lawmakers and campaigns, give speeches, and appear regularly on TV, radio, and in newspapers. My first goal is simply to provide basic information to the public. Specifically, nearly everything the public believes about federal spending, taxes, and budget deficits is spectacularly wrong. So I spend a lot of time publishing chart books of the federal budget to help people understand where their tax dollars really go. I see myself primarily as a teacher.

My specific policy passion is addressing the avalanche of federal debt that is about to hit this country. The national debt currently stands at $21 trillion, and is projected to rise to $105 trillion over the next 30 years. At that point, interest on the debt will be the largest federal expenditure, and will consume one-third of our taxes. If interest rates rise, the cost will be even higher. Many economists fear a debt-based collapse.

While many people focus their deficit concerns on the 2017 tax cuts – and it is fair to oppose this policy – the real long-term debt driver is soaring Social Security and Medicare costs. Over the next 30 years, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Social Security and Medicare systems will run a staggering $100 trillion cash deficit (by comparison, the tax cuts would cost $9 trillion over 30 years if extended). This is a path to bankruptcy. Even cutting the Defense spending to European levels and doubling all tax rates on the rich would, together, close about 1/7 of the Social Security and Medicare deficit. My passion is solving the long-term deficit before we collapse into economic chaos – and that means primarily fixing Social Security and Medicare. The math is clear, even if the politics are brutal.

J.P.: You served as an economist for Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. I thought for the longest time he was destined to be the nominee, if not the next president. Looking back, what went wrong?

B.R.: Two things. First, the mood of the conservative movement was more populist and combative than really any Washington Republicans realized at the time. Romney-style optimism and moderation was out of style. Second, there were 15 Republicans splitting the anti-Trump vote. Had it been just three or four Republicans from the start, Sen. Rubio had a real shot. I also think Sen. Rubio would have defeated Sen. Clinton in the general election.

J.P.: I want Republicans to care about climate change. I’m desperate for it. But I know very few who do, and see very few who do. Why? Am I missing something?

B.R.: I’m not sure all Democrats care as much either. Climate change rates low as a voter priority, and support for a carbon tax collapses when poll respondents are told the cost to their household. For conservatives, the case for global warming action has been undermined by hysterics like Al Gore, who regularly make doomsday predictions that never come true. But I think the more common conservative viewpoint is that global warming is real – but the common liberal policies to combat it would impose an enormous economic burden while making almost no difference on long-term temperatures. The developing world is projected to account for nearly 80% of all CO emissions this century. Yet the Paris climate agreement basically left China, India, and the rest of the world on the same emissions path they were already on. So America made an enormous pledge to reduce its emissions – at a huge cost to incomes and jobs – and yet projected global warming by 2100 was not even significantly altered because the rest of the world’s promises were so weak. If we’re going to grind the U.S. economy to a halt, let’s at least be sure the sacrifices matter to global temperatures. In the meantime, we can keep investing in renewable technologies to transition our energy economy without killing growth.

J.P.: I know you’re a Wisconsin kid, a Packers fan, a UW grad with a master’s from Princeton. But why a career in politics? What was your path?

B.R.: I was a rebellious, class-skipping, metal head who eventually heard bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Queensryche increasingly channel their anti-authority attitudes into rage-filled political songs. Thus, a passionate, anti-authority libertarian was born. I started devouring political books when I was 16 – and this was the early 1990s when there was no Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, so instead I read Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, Alan Dershowitz and policy journals. Then, my senior year in high school, I joined my high school debate and forensics team. I was fortunate to win my first statewide tournament within three weeks, and by summer was part of the high school team that placed third at the national championships. That’s when I realized I could do this. Enrolling that fall of the University of Wisconsin, I just wanted to master public policy and then help fix problems like budget deficits, education, health care, and civil liberties. So I got a policy internship with the Governor (Tommy Thompson), joined campaigns, became an opinion columnist for the school newspaper, and became Chairman of the College Republicans (no, we were not all dorks). Looking back, politics works for me because I am outspoken, competitive, and want to save the world. Thank you, Metallica.

J.P.: You spent six years as the chief economist to Rob Portman, Ohio’s (very likeable) Republican senator. What exactly does it mean to be a senator’s chief economist? Because he doesn’t make any law—so is it advising him on state and national policy? And how big of an impact do you feel you had?

B.R.: As chief economist, I advised the Senator at various times on budget, spending, taxes, pensions, Social Security, health care, economic growth, and jobs. My primary role was to keep him up-to-date on all moving legislation in my issue area, and to write bill summaries and vote recommendations for bills that hit the floor. Additionally, I came up with ideas for legislation, drafted bills, and worked with other offices to build legislative coalitions. I staffed his activities as a member of the Budget and Finance Committees. I helped draft op-eds and floor speeches, while also working with the media to explain his views. Finally, I always made time to meet with constituents on Sen. Portman’s behalf.

Sen. Portman is an intelligent, thoughtful boss who would set aside politics and ask “what is the best policy?” I am proud of my role in his office. I helped him take some controversial (at the time) votes that eventually were strongly supported by his constituents, playing a role in his 20-point re-election margin in 2016. I drafted several bills that became law, and helped design his current bill to ban government shutdowns, which may be enacted this spring.


J.P.: I have a theory—the two-headed monster that is social media and cable news has made it an impossibility that we, as a nation, ever truly unites again. What says you? Is there any hope for, say, the type of American bonding we had in the weeks after 9.11?

B.R.: This worries me every day. Social media and cable news have created completely different liberal and conservative universes. We don’t want news, we want an echo chamber that confirms our biases and smears the other side as a bunch of monsters. It’s weird for me, because although I am a conservative/libertarian, I went to college on a far-left campus, attended a far-left graduate school program, live in a far-left community, and spend much of my job in Washington trying to build coalitions with liberals. I respect liberalism, and I see how my liberal friends have the best of intensions. Understanding and learning from the other side also makes me a much more effective conservative.

As for echo chambers, our only hope is for people to get out of their bubble. Read the best websites of the other side. Follow the other side’s experts on social media. Become friends with people who disagree with you. And no, do not cheat by following only the weakest advocates on the other side, or relying on your own side’s partisans to “summarize” (straw man) what the other side believes. Test yourself. Question your own assumptions and frameworks. And most of all, remember this: If you cannot come up with an intelligent, fair-minded reason why the other side supports a certain policy, the problem is that you are uninformed. That doesn’t mean the other side is right, of course. But I can assure you that there are brilliant, fair-minded people on both sides of every issue. It may feel good to get on our high horse and boil political disagreements down to “good/smart” vs. “evil/dumb,” but it is also lazy and uninformed.  Just google “Dunning-Kruger effect.”

J.P.: I say this with no personal disrespect. Truly. But I don’t get being a Republican any longer. I understood it under Reagan, George H.W., even W. But I feel like your party has surrendered itself to a lifelong conman who talks shit, reads nothing, watches tons of cable news and is a national humiliation. Honestly, I don’t understand why the GOP has done this—because its principles (even if I disagreed with them) once seemed rock solid. I dunno, Brian. Do you disagree?

B.R.: The conservative movement is bigger than Donald Trump. Look, I believe in free markets, small government, individual responsibility, and libertarianism. I strongly support the Republican governors, mayors, and Members of Congress who are still pushing that agenda. I treat President Trump like all other politicians: I am supportive when he pushes my libertarian values (paring back over-regulation, reforming Medicaid, corporate tax reform, some of the judges), and critical when he does not (tariffs, runaway spending, rejecting Social Security and Medicare reform, and not more aggressively paying for the tax cuts). But regardless of whether I vote for Trump or not, the GOP will likely remain the long-term home for those of us who still believe in limited government and free markets. I take the long view.

An interesting side note is how little Democrats have done to woo disaffected Republicans. Instead, Democrats have: A) moved so aggressively to the left on policy, and B) become increasingly adversarial and ad hominem, not only towards Trump, but also towards GOP voters. This has baffled disaffected Republicans. I guess Democrats believe they have demographics on their side and don’t need frustrated Republicans. Democrats may do well in 2020, but long-term, they are missing a huge opportunity to expand their coalition.

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J.P.: You were the lead architect of Mitt Romney’s deficit-reduction plan. OK, soup to nuts, how does one create a deficit-reduction plan?

B.R.: First, you need the CBO budget baseline – which is basically a big spreadsheet of the default budget outlook over the next 10-30 years. My baseline breaks annual spending levels into about 150 program categories (Social Security, defense, etc), and tax revenues into about 60 categories (payroll taxes, gas taxes, etc), and then projects the levels for each year outward. That is the starting point.

Then you set targets. The CBO baseline may project a $2 trillion budget deficit by 2025, but your candidate may want to cut the deficit to $1 trillion by then. So you go into the spending and tax rows, and begin turning dials. But you cannot simply write in new numbers like “cut Medicare $100 billion per year” – you need to actually have specific reforms that can provide the savings. CBO has a “Budget Options” book that lists about 200 reforms, each with the 10-year savings estimates. And for the larger programs, like Social Security and health care, I built my own models so I can plug in different reforms to get the savings. Then you turn dials until you meet the candidate’s budget target. Finally, the candidate will either sign off on the reforms, ask for additional options, or just decide that it is too hard to cut the deficit after all.

All campaigns do this, but most never dare to reveal the specifics to the public. The candidate wants to say “I have a plan to balance the budget” or “I will not add to the deficit,” but the actual spreadsheet often requires very difficult sacrifices that are left quiet until after the election. Everyone wants to play Santa during the campaign. The worst is when a candidate suddenly makes a new, expensive promise, and I have to say “um, we didn’t budget for that policy, so we either have to drop our deficit reduction target, or find more cuts elsewhere.”

J.P.: What’s the absolute craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in politics? I don’t mean, “Trump wins” or “Obama wins.” I mean, literally visualized …

B.R.: The most surreal thing on TV was in December 20, 1998. The incoming House Speaker resigns, the President is impeached and – on split screen – the U.S. begins bombing Iraq during the impeachment vote. That was surreal.

As for behind the scenes: I wouldn’t call this “crazy,” but it is interesting how – when lawmakers are negotiating in private, with the cameras off – they often agree on a lot of policies and sympathize with each other having to “play to their base” by fighting each other’s policies in public.  I have seen former top Presidential candidates – a few years after the election – freely admit to the opposing party’s lawmakers that they knew their own campaign proposals had been unworkable nonsense, but the slogans and soundbites had been too good to pass up.



• Five all-time favorite Republicans: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, and Rob Portman. Ryan and Walker have been Wisconsin friends of mine since the 1990s.

• Five all-time favorite Democrats: Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, and Michael Bennet. I don’t mind if a Democrat holds extreme positions as long as he/she is principled, civil, avoids partisan games, and treats all sides with respect.

• If you were advising the Democrats (truly), who would you say is the candidate best positioned to beat Trump in 2020? And why?: If Joe Biden gets the nomination – a big if given the current Democratic mood – he unites the Dems, does not scare suburban swing voters, and even steals a share of the working-class Trump voters.

• Who would you say is the worst?: Elizabeth Warren will remind too many voters of Hillary Clinton. Trump has a playbook there.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Lynn Dickey, Coke Zero, romance novels, Heritage Foundation, Sean Hannity, Joe Biden, Guy Benson, Travis Scott, leftover turkey, Sugar Ray Leonard: My Goodness. Um… Lynn Dickey, Heritage Foundation, Guy Benson, Sean Hannity, leftover turkey, Sugar Ray Leonard, romance novels, Joe Biden, Coke Zero….who is Travis Scott?

• Why didn’t the whole James Lofton-John Jefferson pairing work out so well for the Packers?: It wasn’t a full disaster – the early 1980s Packers were among the league’s best offenses, and were held back by an atrocious defense. But Jefferson underachieved after the trade to Green Bay, reportedly because he hated the cold weather. In fairness, it is really cold!

• Three memories from your senior prom: I actually did not go – our high school had this culture where most seniors considered themselves too cool for prom (narrator: none of these students were actually cool!)

• All the ways Riedl is misspelled: Reidl, Riedel, Reidel, Reedel, Riedle, Rydex (not kidding). I’ve been misspelled three ways in the same news article.

• One question you would ask Willie McGee were he here right now: Be honest: If Rollie Fingers is healthy and closing, do my beloved Brewers beat you in the 1982 World Series?

• What’s the worst smell in the world?: The bathrooms at Penn Station in Manhattan

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Alisa Colley


Back when I was editor of the University of Delaware’s student newspaper, there was a quiet photographer who would pop into the office and accept assignments.

Her name was Alisa Colley. She was blonde and quiet and very good at taking pictures.

And, well, that was about it.

Fast forward two decades. Alisa and I are Facebook friends, so I check out her bio and somehow wind up here—at her IMDB page. And it’s friggin’ loaded. Name a movie or TV show, it seems as if Alisa has worked it as a second camera assistant or a camera loader or a film loader. I’m not being sarcastic here. Read her sheet, and it’s big production after big production. And while I was (am) dazzled by the work, I never actually took the time to ask Alisa about her career.

So … here we are. From hanging in Donald Trump’s apartment to being attacked by Derek Jeter and LeBron James to having to endure far too many hours near Steven Seagal, Alisa’s life is one unique Hollywood moment after another after another.

And now, she received the Academy Award of mediocre weekly Q&As …

She receives the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Alisa, before we go anywhere with this—you sent me an e-mail that included the sentence, “I’ve been in Donald Trump’s apartment in Manhattan.” Um … what? Please explain.

ALISA COLLEY: I did the New York unit of a movie called Self/less with Ryan Reynolds in 2014. He rented out his apartment to be used as the location of Ben Kingsley’s character‘s home. You can make a lot of money renting out your home to movie shoots. However, it means 50-100 people with more equipment than you can imagine occupy your house. His house was as tacky as you can imagine. And filled with fake artwork. The locations department preps the locations before we get there and they would have never left priceless artwork on the wall.

Trump, of course, claims it’s the real thing. A little bit of cardboard protecting a priceless painting? Oh, come on. He was there, but I didn’t meet him. I’ve worked with several people who have the bad luck to work with him or have contact with him. I’ve never heard anything redeeming. I’ve heard enough personal stories to believe all the ones we hear on the news.

J.P.: So you’ve worked on literally dozens of films in camera management, ranging from “Men in Black 3” to “Notorious” to “School of Rock.” Which seems like such a randomly quirky cool profession. So … how did this happen? Soup to nuts?

A.C.: The film industry is one where you can get an entry level position with little experience and learn on the job. The entry level position is called a production assistant. You are basically a go-getter—go get this, go get that. I started working as a PA in college. My degree is in photography, so I was interested in motion picture camera work. States and cities all have film commissions; public employees who are the contact for production companies who want to shoot in a particular area.  Some of them provide classified-type ads where they advertise jobs. I started applying for short jobs in Philly, a lot of times working for free. From there you start creating contacts. I get all my work word of mouth. In my case, the director of photography or cinematographer gets hired, then they hire a first assistant cameraperson, then the first AC hires me as their second assistant cameraperson. You need to live where the jobs are, generally either New York City or LA, or recently Atlanta.  Since I am an east coaster, I moved to New York City in 1998. I had a couple of contacts and branched out from there. I worked as a non-union camera assistant for a year and then joined the union in 1999.

I am a member of International Association of Stage Theatrical Employees local 600. Film crew workers are craftspeople—grips, electrics, props, scenics, makeup, wardrobe etc. You can start as a PA and move into any of the craft positions. Our jobs are solid middle class jobs with pension and health care provided thru our union, but paid for by our employers (the producers and studios). You don’t need to go to film school to work on movies and TV shows. The industry is actually pretty family based. One local was started in 1922. I worked with a prop person whose grandfather operated the fan that blew Marilyn Monroe’s skirt up on The Seven Year Itch. On any job, there are a lot of relatives and people with the same last name. Sons following fathers into the family business originally and now a lot of daughters.

Alisa, foreground, at work.

Alisa, foreground, at work.

J.P.: I remember writing a piece for TV Guide about a show called “Love Monkey,” starring Tom Cavanaugh, Jason Priestley. And I was invited to set—which sounds exciting. Then I got there, and it was standing, standing, standing, shooting the same scene 100 times. So boring. And I wonder–if a movie set exciting? Dull? Both? Neither?

A.C.: I worked a couple days on that show! It’s both fun and exciting … and boring. It can be like any other job. It has its moments. Different places, doing different things every day. As a crew member, you stay pretty busy. Every day we have a call sheet. It lists the scenes that we are going to do and what we have planned to do for the scenes specifically. We don’t just show up and start shooting. The director and key crew members have visited the location already and planned out the shots. Props, wardrobe, special effects, etc. have all been planned and prepared. When we arrive to begin shooting a scene, it has a set of guidelines. Rehearse, block, light and shoot. The actors and directors rehearse the scene. This is often the first time the actors and director rehearse the scene in the location with the props, wardrobe, set dressing, etc. This is the time where spontaneity, creative decisions, acting decisions are made within the parameters of what’s been planned.  Then crew is called in for the blocking rehearsal. This is where the crew sees what the actors are going to do in the scene.

My job during the blocking rehearsal is to physically mark each position for each actor with tape. We decide how we will cover it—ie how will we actually shoot the scene. Camera angles, camera movements, etc. We set the first shot, generally a wide shot called the master. Then we light the scene. Lighting a scene can happen quickly or it can take a long time, depending on the situation.

Then we shoot! Each shot is called a setup. Once scene can have one setup, or more than 50. The best way to understand this is to watch a scene without the sound. Count how many different camera angles there are. Kind of shooting the same scene 100 times, but each time is different. The crew is busy during all of this. Setting up lights, cameras, rehearsing camera moves. Or prepping for the next scene, the next week, etc.  When you see us standing still, it’s because we are rolling or rehearsing and need absolute quiet.

The most recognizable aspect of my job is I am the one who slates. I am the person you see on those behind-the-scenes clips holding the clapperboard. I call out the scene and take number, for example scene 137A take 2 and then say “marker” and hit the sticks. The slate is showing the editors the camera roll number and the scene we are shooting The letter refers to the camera setup and the take number is how many times we did that particular setup. It serves two purposes—A. Gives a visual ID so they can catalogue the film footage and B. To sync the sound up. The sound is recorded separately from the camera. When I call out MARK, I am telling the editor there will be a clapping sound seconds away. They align the visual of the clapperboard to the sound of the clap.

Each show is different as well. A show that has a lot of action is going to be different to work on verses a show that has a lot of talking. I’ve done three of the Marvel Netflix comic book-based shows. Daredevil season two, Luke Cage season two and Punisher season two (quick plug, it’s out now—check it out) I enjoy the action-packed shows because they are a lot of fun and challenging. We get do car chases, fight scenes and shootouts.

J.P.: You don’t have to name names (but you certainly can)—but what’s the biggest asshole moment you’ve experienced/witnessed on the job? 

A.C.: I did a movie with Steven Seagal called Pistol Whipped. That should sum it up. And he’s as you would expect. Every day was an experience. And if it was bad for us, think of the poor actress who had to do a love scene with him (Jeff’s note: A moment of respect for Renee Elise Goldsberry)


J.P.: Along those lines, what’s the kindest moment you’ve had with an actor/actress/director?

A.C.: Filmmaking is a collaboration. The best producers and directors recognize everyone has a part in making the movie/show happen. The best times are when we are co-workers like in any work setting, contributing to a common goal. The most talented actors and directors are usually the most low key and down to earth. I can have a easy conversation with a grip as well as with Tom Hanks.

A nice personal moment was on the TV show Smash. Generally all the songs were recorded beforehand, the actors lip sync to the recorded version when we film. One day they hadn’t a chance to record the song beforehand, so we recorded it as we filmed it. Bernadette Peters sang Everything’s Coming Up Roses from Gypsy. She  is amazing. The personal story is this:  I would bring my dog Dazzle to work. Dazzle was hanging out one day by our equipment. Bernedette is a dog lover and rescue advocate. She stopped to say hello to her and sang her a song that she made up. Basically the Dazzle song, a little song about one-minute long, just for Dazzle.

J.P.: Working on a film, can you tell whether the project is terrific or awful. I mean, we can use “School of Rock” as an example. Fun, peppy, joyful flick. Were you aware that’s how it would turn out? Can you read what the final project will look like from being there?

A.C.: Yes, you can tell if it has a chance from the script. If you don’t have a great script you won’t have a great movie or show. The actors, action sequences, beautiful photography can make it a good movie or parts of it great. School of Rock is a perfect example—good script, great energy and performances. The kids who were in the band were all amazing musicians. The battle of the bands sequence was a lot of fun to film.  Jack Black had a oxygen tank back stage to take hits on because he was working so hard. It’s held up well considering it’s 15-years old. This summer I was shooting in a orthodox Jewish neighborhood in New York City. I was talking to the kids watching us film. A girl about 12 asked what movies I had worked on. I mentioned School of Rock and she got really excited. I was surprised they never did a sequel, but there is a Broadway musical.

They wanted to use a Led Zeppelin song for a scene in the movie. Led Zeppelin does not often grant permission for their music to be used in movies. We filmed a shot of Jack Black asking for permission to use it with the crowd chanting in the background. And it worked! Check out the clip.


J.P.: Your resume includes this sentence: “Responsible for the care and maintenance of professional motion picture camera system that is constantly evolving and updating.” OK, I get what you mean in the literal sense. But what does this mean? What does it entail?

A.C.: A standard TV show or movie will have two cameras working every day. We call them the A and B cameras. Each camera is a package, consisting of the camera and all its support system. Each camera requires a camera operator, first assistant camera or focus puller, and a second assistant camera. The A camera is the primary, dominant camera, the B camera is considered secondary, getting additional angles and coverage. Each camera contains hundreds of extra parts and cables to make it work, with a package value of $150,000-to-$250,000. We also carry a steadicam package to be able to do steadicam shots. One of the camera operators would be a steadicam operator. A steadicam package has a value of a camera package. We often carry at least one additional camera package, a C camera, to be able use on shooting days where they want additional shots, like stunts. In addition to the camera package, we have a lens package, usually between 20-40 lenses, with a value of $200,000-to-$500,000. We are responsible for over $1 million worth of gear! We also may provide monitors for the director and producers to view what we are shooting. We have additional camera-persons, specifically called loaders, who would set up the monitors and are responsible for downloading what we shoot, either in film form or digital.

I primarily work as a “A” camera second assistant. In that position, I am considered the point person for the camera department. I oversee the department making sure we have everything we need for that particular shoot day, and most importantly making sure the sum total of everyone’s work, the exposed film or hard drives (when we shoot digital) is transferred to safekeeping. I am hiring additional crew members if we are doing a big stunt and have multiple cameras running. If the director and cinematographer need a particular piece of equipment for a special shot, I need to source it and schedule it to use for the day it is needed and arrange for its transportation. We work out of a camera truck, generally a 45-foot trailer pulled by a semi. And it is packed with camera gear. And, like any job, there is a lot of paperwork involved.

Camera assistants are also consider technicians. For film cameras, we were more like mechanics. Now that most cameras are digital, we are more computer technicians. We are expected to know exactly what each camera can do and how to make them do it. If it is having problems, we are expected to be able to get it back working again.

J.P.: The first line of your resume reads, “Experienced Manager and coordinator looking to transfer my skills to a new field.” So, Alisa, why?

A.C.: Well, that would bring us to the “glamorous” side of the film industry. I am an hourly employee, hired on a daily basis. Even when I am on a longer job (the longest a job will last is about 10 months, 23 episodes), I am a daily employee. I am only guaranteed work for that day. Your boss gets fired, the show gets canceled, you’re out of a job. Just because you worked the show last season, doesn’t mean you will be back next season. Here is a great story that illustrates this: A co-worker was working on a TV show for the CW Network. They were shooting the sixth episode, two had aired. The ratings were very poor. That morning the producer gathered everyone around and gave a speech. He told them even though the ratings weren’t great, the network loved the show and wanted to give it a chance. So no one should worry about the poor ratings. Six hours later, they are about to break for lunch. The same producer comes out and says, “Sorry, we’ve been canceled. We aren’t going to finish the season, we’re not going to finish the episode, and we aren’t even going to finish the work for today. Oh, and lunch is ready if you want a meal before you’re officially unemployed.”

We work long hours in all sorts of weather. Our workday is—at minimum—12 hours, with some days lasting 15-to-16 hours or more. When the polar vortex happened in January, I had night exterior work. I’ve been on New York City roofs in 90-plus degree summer weather. Rain, snow, etc.—we work in it. The job is very physical as well. The cameras weigh 25-to-30 pounds and the supporting equipment weighs just as much. We move as much as we can on carts we push that, when fully loaded, can weigh 250-to-500 pounds. A standard TV show will have seven carts of camera gear we use on a daily basis. A lot of the locations we shoot in require us to hand carry the equipment in. Daredevil season two we frequently shot on rooftops. If we are lucky there is a elevator to the top floor and we only have to carry the gear up a couple flights of stairs.

I have a resume ready for non-film work. One injury or illness could make me unable to work in my field. I have co-workers who have had joint surgeries, other physical job related injuries and general illness. I’ve broken my toes at least four times when gear landed on my feet. I’ve been doing this 20 years, and during that time I’ve had slow periods due to strikes by other unions, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, productions shooting in Canada because it was cost effective, etc. The film industry is very reliant on tax incentives passed by state governments. New York has a tax credit that has attracted a lot of production and created a lot of jobs. If the tax incentives go away, the studios may elect to shoot somewhere else. Ten months is the longest I have ever worked on one job—a TV show called Mercy. It was canceled after one season. Since my employment is precarious, I keep a non-industry resume ready just in case.


J.P.: What’s the absolute strangest experience you’ve had on the job?

A.C.: Not the strangest, but I’ll give you a fun sports-related story.

I worked on the Derek Jeter Re2pect ad for NIke. It was a big ad. We shot for a week. The opening shot, the camera is behind Jeter as he walks to the mound. I’m between him and the camera waiting to slate. He doesn’t realize I’m behind him and he swings the bat and hits me in the hand. Not hard, just like a rap on the knuckles. He immediately turns around to see how I am and tell me he’s sorry. I say, “It’s no problem, I’m fine, you just glanced my hand.” I slate and run over to slate a second camera. I look over and my crew members are looking at me shaking their heads and saying, “What are doing? You should have fallen down and grabbed your head and asked for a ambulance! That’s Derek Jeter—you would have been set for life!”

Shortly after, I am working on Trainwreck. We are doing a scene where Bill Hader and LeBron James are playing basketball. LeBron throws the ball and hits me with it. He starts to apologize and I drop to the ground and grab my neck and pretend I am hurt.  When I got back up, I told him my Jeter story. He got a kick out of it.

Another time was when my dog, Dazzle, was featured in In Touch Magazine making out with Katherine McPhee.

J.P.: You’ve worked in film during the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein explosion, etc. And I wonder—what have you seen/experienced/etc in this regard? Is Hollywood gross when it comes to women? Has it been a thing as long as you’ve been working? Has it changed at all?

A.C.: I haven’t had any bad experiences to the level that is being talked about with #metoo. That being said, actresses are in a much more vulnerable position that I am, especially when they are starting their careers.  I’ve experienced the same type of things that most women experience in their careers. Looking back in history, the film industry is like many others. There were some jobs that women/people of color were allowed to do and a lot they weren’t. The unions were closed off to women and minorities. I work with a producer who had originally wanted to be in the camera union. She tried to join and she was told straight out they weren’t letting women in.

Now there are more and more woman and minorities represented in the crew and talent. My union is still pretty white male dominated, though. No one was surprised about Harvey Weinstein. It was common knowledge he was a creep.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Ed Kowalczyk, Sam Darnold, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “Roger Dodger,” Walter Eberz, David Dunlap, Roger Ebert, The Scrounge, Antonio Brown, the number 98: Guiding Eyes for the Blind, “Roger Dodger,” David Dunlap, Walter Eberz, Ed Kowalczyk, the number 98, Sam Darnold, Antonio Brown, The Scrounge (during all the time at The Review I can count on both hands how many times I got food from there!)

• Three memories from working on “Death to Smoochy”: Making Danny DeVito hot toddies every night for the martini shot(the last shot of the day) We shot in winter. One night I was so busy I didn’t have time to get it to him. The next day in the middle of the blocking rehearsal he stopped and pulled me aside and told me how sad he was. He looked forward to it every night!

Edward Norton was known to be a serious guy, not very personable. We had this remote controlled fart machine we used on some of the crew. We did a scene where Catherine Keener leaves him in a cab, I believe. We did one take with the fart machine in the cab. It goes off and Edward Norton stays in character and says “ But we’ve farted in front of each other”

It was a pleasure to work with Robin Williams. As you would imagine, once he gets started he doesn’t stop. I didn’t get to see much of it as I was the film loader on that job. I put unexposed film in the film magazines and take out the exposed film. With Robin Williams, you put three cameras on him and roll until you run out of film. I could barely keep up with keeping them supplied with fresh film so they could keep shooting!

• What are the three best movies you’ve ever worked on?: Cold Mountain, Requiem for a Dream (Ellen Burstyn is amazing), School of Rock.

For “Cold Mountain,” a large part of the movie was shot in Romania. The U.S. portion was shot in South Carolina and Virginia. We were in Charleston, S.C. and Jude Law was the main actor for our scenes. His wife went into labor early, and had to leave suddenly. Since we had nothing else to shoot without him, we got vacation days until he was able to come back! For one scene we shot Jude Law on the beach looking towards the ocean. Behind him was supposed to be a plantation house with slaves working. Since there were no longer any seaside plantation homes, we got on a plane and flew to Virginia. Then we shot what was supposed to be behind him!

• What are the three worst?: Pistol Whipped (it’s so bad its good!), Anger Management, Freedomland/Forgotten (basically the same plot. Julianne Moore is fantastic and a great cast in both movies. Sadly the movies were a disappointment.)

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No. But I did work with someone who was in a small plane crash with a famous actor. They were traveling to a shooting location. The plane had to do a crash landing. He said as they went down all he could think of the headline: Famous Actor, four others dead in plane crash. Everyone survived!

I did go up in small plane with a co-worker who was a flight instructor. The pilot he was instructing was a another co-worker who had flown a plane for one hour before. We did some controlled stalls where you stall the engine and restart it. Then they asked if I wanted to do some mildly acrobatic moves. I said no.

• In exactly 15 words, make a case for “Arthur” (the new version) as an Academy Award-winning film: Helen Mirren. She elevates any movie that she is in. And it had the Batmobile.

• One question you would ask Al Roker were he here right now?: What’s your secret? He doesn’t stop working! Those morning show people get up earlier than me and I get up pretty early!