Jeff Pearlman

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Category Archives: QUAZ

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Amanda Lucci

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.46.56 PMI hate celebrity.

I hate, hate, hate, hate it. I hate red carpets, I hate big event gift bags, I hate autograph hounds and sunglasses indoors and bodyguards for the sake of bodyguards.

I. Fucking. Hate. It.

But I love discussing this hate, and why we—as a people—are all about the famous who lord above us. Hence, I sought out the lovely Amanda Lucci for this week’s Quaz. Amanda covers famous folks for the Daily Mail, and her Tweets are often fired off like rounds from a Glock. Bieber—BAM! Gaga—BAM! Kardashian—BAM! Pitt—BAM! On the one hand, I wonder how her brain hasn’t melted. On the other hand, well, she’s damn good at her job. One can follow Amanda on Twitter here, and catch her website here.

Amanda Lucci, welcome to the magical land of Quaziwood …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Amanda, your job is to cover celebrity. My question is—why do we give a shit? I don’t mean that snidely, or as some holier-than-thou ordinance. But, really, why do we give a shit who Jared Lito is dating, or what Taylor Swift did with her hair? Are we that bored? Are our lives lame? Is there something more?

AMANDA LUCCI: An interest in something trivial doesn’t always mean that we’re bored or lame. I think a lot of people read celebrity gossip because it’s an escape from whatever is going on in their probably very fulfilling if sometimes complicated lives. It’s the same reason people binge watch stuff on Netflix. I mean you might be bored, or lame, but you also gotta give your brain a break sometimes.

I think people also care, at least today, because celebrities are so accessible now. Even for casual fans, something as simple as following an actor or musician you like on social media gives you a completely different insight into who they are that you never used to get. So if it comes out that that person broke up with the girl they were posting selfies with every day, you want to know why.

Anyways, there’s a million more scientific reasons why people are drawn to celebrity but I think most of us just like celebrity gossip because it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s fun, easy to understand, and basic knowledge of pop culture and common interests in the world of entertainment helps us connect with other people.

With Wiz Khalifa. He's the one in the hat.

With Wiz Khalifa. He’s the one in the hat.

J.P.: I’m looking at your website, and the entry that greets me is a photo of Kendall Jenner with a pimple, beneath the headline KENDALL JENNER HAS A PIMPLE. The kid is 18. I know it’s just tongue and cheek and blah, blah, blah, but do you ever think, “This might be somewhat mean?” Or is celebrity celebrity, and this is what comes with it?

A.L.: You know that ‘Kendall Jenner has a pimple’ was trending on Twitter like all day on Saturday? I definitely think that as a celebrity (and especially as a Kardashian), when you put your life out there and sometimes are quite literally asking people to show up and photograph you doing everyday mundane things, you subject yourself to that kind of scrutiny. At the same time, I think it’s nice that a Kardashian/Jenner was photographed with a giant pimple on her face. There’s so many stories from the Kardashian PR machine about Kendall Jenner modeling for Chanel at Paris Fashion Week and drinking champagne at the Cannes Film Festival and running around Coachella with Will Smith’s kids that sometimes you forget that Kendall Jenner is still a teen and even teens who walk in Fashion Week get pimples. It humanizes them a little. That’s not to say I don’t think celebrity gossip can be overly brutal and mean sometimes, but I also don’t have a problem with calling someone out for being normal.

J.P.: Would you want to be famous? Why or why not?

A.L.: No way. I mean it sounds fun in theory, but it has to get old. Like every time Taylor Swift leaves her apartment in New York City there’s photos of it, and she always looks impeccable with high heels on and red lips and a smile. It’s like she never has an off day. I read a story literally five minutes ago where she was wearing a dress and heels just to walk to the car to go to the gym. It honestly sounds horrible. Sometimes I just want to go next door to the bodega to get toilet paper and I want to wear my pajamas and not brush my hair. When celebrities do that the headlines are like, ‘Everyone Come See This Person Not Wearing Makeup!!!!’ So yeah I am very content being the unknown person that draws attention to all the famous people.

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J.P.: I know you’re from Pittsburgh, I know you’re an Ohio University journalism school grad. But what’s your path? How did you get from womb to here? And what’s the ultimate goal?

A.L.: Well, I was the kid with 900 Harriet the Spy notebooks pretending to be a reporter. When I finally got to J-school I went to the student paper and tried everything, and I ended up writing about art and music a lot because it was more creative and fun for me than breaking news. I eventually got to interview all the bands that would come to town and stuff like that, and I was going backstage and meeting some of my favorite artists and having the MOST fun and I wanted to do it forever. Then I moved to New York City three days after graduating and learned that that was not so easy to do in the real world. So I went to work for a group of trade magazines and manage all the digital stuff for them, which is where I discovered how much I like working with social media. I was lucky enough to get this job at the Daily Mail where I get to combine my interests in social media and entertainment, so it couldn’t have worked out any better.

As for ultimate goal, that’s TBD. I’m still learning and trying to grow with the industry. I don’t think I’m going to be a ‘social media editor’ forever but I’m also enjoying where I’m at right now. I have a lot of fun things I want to accomplish here first.

J.P.: I don’t understand the Kardashians. Put differently, how the fuck are they still here? In the spotlight? Didn’t their 15 minutes expire three years ago?

A.L.: The Kardashians don’t really have jobs other than to stay relevant, and they’re really good at it. Nothing they do is an accident. Every time you think, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard about a Kardashian in three hours,’ there’s a baby, divorce, wedding, scandal, half-naked Instagram, sideboob, pimple etc. ready to go. Hardcore Kardashian truthers will tell you that pretty much every story you see about them has been manipulated by Kris Jenner in some way to benefit their show’s ratings. They took one sex tape and turned it into an empire worth millions and millions, that is kind of incredible. And I love it. I find it easier to embrace their shamelessness than hate them for it.

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J.P.: You attended journalism school, presumably, to be a journalist. I’m 42, so maybe I have an old man’s view, but when I think of “journalism,” I think of covering elections, or wars, or the World Series. Not Justin Bieber’s pants and whether Jay-Z is cheating on B. Again, I DON’T mean this as even remotely snarky. But do you consider what you do in this endeavor to be journalism? Is it a form of new journalism? Entertainment writing?

A.L.: I’m not going to sit here and tell you that reporting on Bieber is the most important journalism in the world, but it’s news to some people. In my current job, Bieber getting arrested is considered breaking news. When I worked for trade magazines, if the president of a major organization within one of those trades stepped down, that was breaking news. When I was in fifth grade and I was the editor of our class newsletter, pizza day in the cafeteria was breaking news. But I would still consider all the work I’ve done journalism. It’s getting the information out to the people who care about it, regardless of what or who it is.

J.P.: Do you believe celebrities actually have (as a whole) more interesting lives than the rest of us? Why or why not?

A.L.: This question was kind of hard for me to answer because it’s all relative. I don’t necessarily think their lives are more interesting than ours, but the idea of it is. They have the money and opportunity to do a lot of exciting things, but that doesn’t mean they always do or that they enjoy it. You always hear, for example, celebs who say they’re said they missed their prom because they were on tour or at an audition or whatever, or how they wish they could be home for more than a week at a time instead of traveling from city to city and being away from their family. The jetset celebrity life sounds interesting in theory but for them it’s just, you know, traveling a lot for work and maybe occasionally wishing they had more of a routine.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.46.07 PMJ.P.: Weird question. On May 16 you Tweeted: “I shouldn’t admit this but I honestly didn’t know minnie driver was british until about 5 minutes ago.” Um, how the heck is that possible? She’s been in 100 movies and she speaks with a British accent in 98 of them?

A.L.: See I knew I shouldn’t have admitted that. But I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a Minnie Driver movie. I’ve never seen ‘Good Will Hunting.’ How messed is that? But you’ll see below where I tell you my favorite movies why this is, probably.

J.P.: You seemed particularly horrified by the Michael Jackson hologram at the recent Billboard Music Awards. I actually thought the Tupac hologram was pretty cool and original. So what’s your beef?

A.L.: I just thought it looked real creepy. It was like if you made a Michael Jackson character on the Sims. But I get why they did it, because if you have real people doing a tribute, you’ll have fans with torches and pitchforks saying that so-and-so can’t sing or dance like Michael (which is always going to be true). And also Justin Timberlake is on tour and was therefore unavailable. So as unnatural as it seemed to me I get it. It says a lot that you can put a computer projection with a backing track on a music show and it’s the most talked-about performance of the night, but really the only person who can do a proper Michael Jackson tribute is Michael Jackson, in any form.

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

A.L.: I’m only 25, so I’m holding out hope that I haven’t had my greatest moment yet. Lowest is probably the beginning, when I was job hunting my senior year of college. It’s really easy to feel like your career is over before it even starts.

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• Five famous people who aren’t celebrities?: Carter, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama. Does that count?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cleveland Browns, pulled pork, Raisin Bran Crunch, J-14 Magazine, Lea Michele, John Smoltz, George Michael, public bathrooms, crutches, math: Andrew Carnegie. Raisin Bran Crunch (actually my favorite cereal), Andrew Carnegie, J-14 Magazine, George Michael, Lea Michele, John Smoltz, crutches, math, public bathrooms, Cleveland Browns

• Who’s a bigger celebrity: Paulina Gretzky or Wayne Gretzky?: Wayne. Paulina wishes

• Three memories of your senior prom?: 1. There was so much hairspray in my hair. SO MUCH. 2. My friends and I emptied our piggy banks to rent a Hummer limo and thought we were so badass. 3. My prom went until 5 a.m. and they made you stay the whole time so you couldn’t leave and go drink in someone’s basement or something. This was horrible BUT there was a breakfast buffet.

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $15.8 million next year to be her personal publicist. However, you have to work 365 days, get a tattoo of her face on your left butt cheek and eat one nugget of dog feces per week. You in?: Celine Dion is worth like $400 million so I’d probably ask her to pay me more than that. And I would demand unlimited access to the private waterpark at her house.

• Can Nickelback make a comeback?: Nickelback has sold something like 50 million albums so I am fully confident in their triumphant return. The question is should they, and they should not.

• Do you ever actually meet celebs? Or is it all from afar?: It’s mostly from afar now but I got to interview a lot of really cool people when I was a reporter.

• My lower back is absolutely killing me. What should I do?: Heat and like a handful of ibuprofen.

• This is kind of awkward, but my friend Greg Orlando is single, and a really nice guy. He’s 20 years your senior and is really into video games. You up for a date?: I have a boyfriend who will definitely be reading this so I’m going to have to say no.

• Five favorite films?: Airplane!, Meet the Parents, Anchorman, The Jerk, Eurotrip. I have a type.

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Jasha Balcom

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.25.28 AMAlthough there’s, oh, a 96.5 percent chance you’ve never heard of Jasha Balcom, there’s a 95 percent chance you’ve seen him—either in the film, 42, or in a commercial for the film, 42.

That’s because Balcom, a 32-year-old Georgia native, is Jackie Robinson.

OK … OK—Jasha didn’t play the legendary Brooklyn Dodger. But he was the stunt double for actor Chadwick Boseman. Which means whenever you saw a hard slide into second, a charge up the first base line, a mighty swing, a dive into the gap—well, that was almost always Balcom. Which makes perfect sense, considering Jasha’s background as a minor league ballplayer who reached Class A with the Chicago Cubs before spending a fascinating year with Wally Backman and the independent South Georgia Peanuts.

Here, Jasha explains how he went from 42 (the round he was selected in the 2000 June amateur draft) to 42. He talks baseball dreams and baseball nightmares, the art of hitting and why he probably won’t emerge again as Celine Dion’s cinematic understudy.

Jasha Balcom, step up to the plate. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Jasha, so your modern-day claim to fame comes in having played the stunt double as Jackie Robinson in the film “42.” I’ll ask two things: 1. How did this come to be? 2. Why did Chadwick Boseman need a stunt double? What were the complexities and difficulties that came with being the physical reincarnation of Jackie Robinson?

JASHA BALCOM: It came about from a phone call one day from a buddy from the Cubs I played with. He was tasked with assisting the second unit director in finding local baseball talent. So he called me originally asking if I would be interested in appearing in the Negro Leagues scenes from the first part the movie. I said, “Of course! Man, are you kidding me? Absolutely.” I sent him my information, baseball pictures etc. … and I ended up getting called immediately by Alan Graf, the stunt director. He said that I resembled and had a similar build as Chad and asked if I could come and try out for the part. I went to the training camp, and performed the athletic plays for the audition and won the spot.

Chad had the mannerisms of Jackie down. But for some of real action athletic baseball scenes—fielding, diving and catching—I had to help him out. He did well, though. He worked with a baseball coach for several months before filming. But I can tell you it was hard enough for me with those 1942 two-and-three finger pancake gloves those guys used in that time period. Baseball is a tough sport with regular equipment. Also you can’t have your star getting too many strawberry burns on his ass from sliding take after take.

Some of the challenges were really trying to bring out the power and quickness of Jackie. His running style was very unique. I watched lots of footage of him before we started shooting. That helped me out a ton.

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J.P.: You were selected by the Cubs out of the University of Georgia in the 33rd round of the 2003 Draft, reached Class A Peoria but left in 2005. I’m sure it all began with Major League dreams—so what happened? Why did you stop? And what was the difference—physically, mentally, whatever—between you and a Major Leaguer? What did you lack?

J.B.: Yes, I started my career after Georgia with the Cubs and after putting up great numbers with them I was released and quickly picked up by the Cardinals. In 2005 I walked away to cope with a personal tragedy. I lost my father Charles Balcom to cancer. At that time I simply asked for my release and I wanted to worry about baseball later.

There wasn’t much difference, talent-wise, I played in Big League spring training games. I was young but needed the at-bats. Now, being older and more mature, I know there definitely is a mental difference between the Major Leagues and the minors. Major Leaguers don’t make a lot of mistakes fundamentally. They’re very consistent. Mentally, those guys know what their job is and how to get it done every day. Since I have been teaching hitting for so long I know what adjustments have to be made.

I lacked a little bit of size, I guess. Teams are more interested if you have projectable numbers and a body type that gets you a little bit more time on the farm.

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J.P.: You played briefly for the South Georgia Peanuts of the South Coast League. I saw a fascinating documentary about the team (managed by Wally Backman) and the league. What was that experience like? How unstable were things? What sort of crowds came?

J.B.: That experience was a fun time in my life. After being out of baseball for two years, working in a corporate 9-to-5 desk job, putting on the uniform again was truly a freeing and happy time in my life. It was good to be back in the clubhouse again. Wally Backman is one of the best managers I have every played for. It was wild. Every day brought something different.

Things were normal according to pro baseball life, clubhouse pranks and not-safe-for-work locker-room conversations. Wally’s personality and his eruptions on the umps made it fun coming to the park every day. You had no idea what was going to happen.

As a Peanut.

As a Peanut in 2007.

J.P.: What’s it like when you play baseball your whole life, and you realize, “This isn’t going to happen?” When was that moment for you? How did you handle it? Accept it?

J.B.: Jeff, man, to be honest man It really sucked. My entire self identity was as a professional player. I had no clue what I was supposed to do or what I was good at. I felt I belonged on the diamond.

I still haven’t accepted it yet Jeff. I’m going to be in the Majors one day. I’m still living the dream, possibly as Big League hitting coach. Mark my words! I’m not done yet.

J.P.: I know you’re from Dublin, Georgia, I know you played at the University of Georgia. But what was your path from womb to baseball? Like, who got you into the game? Where did the love come from? Was there a moment when you realized, “I’m pretty special at this?”

J.B.: My path started in the Dublin County Rec Department at Springdale Park. My father worked maintenance for the park, so thanks to some fees being cut I got to start organized baseball when I was 4. That’s very early.

Growing up in a small town, sports were all there was to do. That was my outlet. I didn’t really want to be like “Mike”—I wanted to be like Ken Griffey, Jr. So much so that, when I was 7, I taught myself to hit left handed just like he did. I actually forgot how to hit righty later on in my career.

That love was always there, from hitting rocks with my bat outside, learning how to throw by drilling our mailbox with rocks. I got pretty consistent with the ol’ rocks. My mom could tell you that. There were no training facilities, no coaches to help me. All I had was visualization and a dream.

J.P.: I hope this isn’t awkward, but I didn’t love-love-love 42. I thought it was good, but a little too Disney, if that makes sense. What’s your take on the film? And could you tell, while working on it, how it would turn out?

J.B.: No, definitely. I think 42 could have shed some more light on his life. I think many of the true historians and people who grew up watching him play probably came away wanting more. There were a lot of scenes cut out that did show some more of Jackie’s personality and more of the tension in his life.

As we were shooting I was unsure at first until I saw how Chad nailed the emotional broken bat dugout scene. When I watched that I I felt, “OK, this is going to be something. It’s going to have an impact.”

J.P.: You started and run HittersBox, a player development and baseball training service. This fascinates me on two levels: A. How frustrating is it dealing with the parents who think their kids are the next Griffeys. B. It seems like the best baseball teachers aren’t the Tony Gwynns and Wade Boggs, but guys who struggled, chipped away, fought to survive. Agree? Disagree? And why?

J.B.: I consider myself as a professional swing coach and part-time baseball family counselor. Haha. Parents just want the best for their kids and want to give them the best opportunities.

One of challenges is how much do you push a kid. It can be a problem when parents go overboard projecting images of their own personal desire for what “they” want their kid to be like or perform and sometimes the kid doesn’t view himself in the same manner. Maybe he doesn’t even like baseball. I have to work with the parents to understand sometimes how their behaviors can be negative toward development. You don’t want that ride in the car home to mean death.

I think being a professional player alone doesn’t make you a great hitting coach. It’s taking your experiences from playing, other approaches that you’ve learned and developing a proper method to teaching. Really, it’s the the ability to transfer knowledge. Dealing with professionals all the way down to kids you first have develop a rapport, get them the trust and understand the art of the swing and how to process information. Fundamentals are the same, but you have to adapt.

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J.P.: You played Jackie Robinson, you played professional baseball. We recently had Michael Sam come out of the closet in football. How ready do you think baseball would be for an openly gay player? How would you, personally, feel about/deal with it?

J.B.: I personally would have no issue with it. Being in the Big Leagues is a dream! Everybody should go for his/her dream and have an opportunity. I think Major League Baseball could have an openly gay player without issue. Baseball is a mental game, and you have to make it through the minors first by proving yourself. So if you are good and you have paid your dues on the buses, put up numbers and you earn a 25-man roster spot, you belong. Nobody cares what you do in your private life. Everybody cares how you perform over 162 games. That’s what matters.

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

J.B.: The greatest was witnessing the birth of my beautiful daughter. The lowest was when my father passed.

J.P.: When you quit baseball, you worked for a spell as a stockbroker. This sounds absolutely awful. Was it? What’s your best story from the experience?

J.B.: It was fun, and stressful. I Loved learning about the markets and placing trades for clients.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Budweiser Clydesdales, the smell of rosin, Captain Kirk, John Steinbeck, Ichiro, Big Daddy Kane, rye bread, “Silence of the Lambs,” Howie Mandel, Fleetwood Mac: Ichiro, Budweiser Clydesdales, Howie Mandel, Fleetwood Mac, “Silence of the Lambs,” rye bread, the smell of rosin, Captain Kirk, Big Daddy Kane, John Steinbeck.

• The world needs to know: What was it like playing for manager Tom Beyers on the 2004 Boise Hawks?: Tom Beyers was an  easy-going player’s manager. We all respected Tom. We won the championship that year. He was one of the coaches who knew how to pull you over to the side and tell what you did wrong, and how to fix. I really enjoyed playing for Tommy

• Five reasons to make Dublin, Georgia one’s next vacation destination?: Great hunting and fishing; Great Saint Patrick’s Day festivals.

• Celine Dion calls—she offers you $5 million to play her stunt double in the made-for-TV movie, “Celine: I’m Amazing and You Smell Like Festering Oysters.” You have to work every day for a year, change your first name to Celino and eat six worms per day. You in?: Totally out!

• We give you 500 Major League at-bats right now. What’s your statistical line?: What did Andrew McCutchen hit?

• I’m pretty fearful that climate change is going to destroy earth and give my kids no future. Do you think I’m exaggerating this? Do I need to chill?: Common sense says, man, something is going here. You put stuff that is not supposed to be in the air.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall? Nope.

• Four best baseball-related films of all time?: Major League, 42, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham

• Why is Batman a superhero? Has no superior powers, not immortal. What the hell?: He is rich and good looking! Closet thing we have to superpowers.

Ray in front of an iceberg in coastal waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Raymond Najjar

Ray in front of an iceberg in coastal waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It’s taken me 165 Quazes to finally delve into climate change. Which is sort of strange, in that climate change—and the future of our planet as a sustainable living place—consumes me. Simply put, I want my kid and their kids and their kids to be as happy and comfortable as I am. If the earth is 97 percent water, this seems unlikely.

Hence, today’s guest is Dr. Raymond Najjar, a professor of oceanography at Penn State University who focuses upon the impact of climate change on coastal regions. Here, Dr. Najjar explains his optimism in the face of mounting bad news, as well as his thoughts on what humanity must do to survive and thrive.

Dr. Najjar, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Dr. Najjar, first question is one I’ve been wanting to ask an expert on climate change for a long time. In short, how are you not curled up in a ball right now, depressed over the seemingly inevitable decline of our planet? I’m sort of being serious—whenever I read about climate change, and another thing melting, another record high temperature, I feel like all’s lost and my kids are (to be blunt) fucked. Am I wrong to feel so hopeless? Do you feel this way?

R.N.: I am optimistic because we have faced imminent environmental catastrophes before and overcome them. The crazy thing is how fast we forget how much progress we have made on a whole slew of environmental problems, such as smog, acid rain, spectacularly polluted rivers and lakes, and the ozone hole, to name a few. How’d we do it? We had good science and people (including politicians) who really cared and were willing to fight against industry and other groups philosophically opposed to regulation of any kind.

What’s remarkable is that in the end we came out on top economically, so even without the ethical arguments—which should be enough to carry the day—it makes sense to clean up the environment. The Clean Air Act is a shining example: we reduced emissions of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, the acidity of rain declined, electricity rates were stable, the economy grew, and we ended up saving money as a result of fewer sick days and hospital visits.

The other thing to keep in mind is how fast public opinion can shift. Take our views on gay marriage, for example. This gives me hope that people want to do the right thing and will ultimately come around if we keep talking and listening to each other.

J.P.: Most of your work, in regards to climate, details the impact of climate change on coastal regions. So let me ask bluntly, and plainly: What is—and will be—the impact of climate change on coastal regions?

R.N.: More flooding is going to be the main impact to humans and ecosystems along the coast. Sea level is rising now on average by more than an inch per decade and the rate is increasing. It doesn’t sound like much but by the end of this century we are looking at an additional few feet, which will have a big effect, especially on low-lying areas. Direct effects of warming are also a concern. If we continue the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions, a coastal region like the New York City Tri-State area will experience summers by the end of this century similar to summers now in southern South Carolina. That’s a huge change for people and ecosystems to handle.

J.P.: There are shitloads of people in this country who insist either: A. Climate change has nothing to do with man’s activities; B. Climate change is a liberal hoax. Is there anything you can say to these folks to prove them wrong? Because they seem pretty insistent.

R.N.: I don’t waste my time with the 5 percent on the lunatic fringe. There are others who are genuinely skeptical about the science because the media tends to weigh opposing views evenly and because it challenges their world view (see below); with those, I am patient but persistent, and have seen some minds changed. We all ultimately care about the same thing, which is providing a better future for our children.

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J.P.: You’re a professor of oceanography at Penn State. You have a BE in Mechanical Engineering, an MA and PhD from Princeton. But, womb to now, what has been your path? Where were you born? When did you first find yourself fascinated by oceanography? Why are you here?

R.N.: I was born and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. My folks would say I was drawn to the seashore as young boy vacationing on Cape Cod, but I fell into oceanography by accident. In engineering school, I enjoyed classes on fluid mechanics, but I also wanted to save the world so I looked for graduate programs in environmental fluids, which meant meteorology and oceanography. I was a homebody, Princeton was nearby, I made the cut, and the rest fell into place. I worked hard but I also was lucky to find really great people to work with and interesting problems to work on.

J.P.: Serious question: Is there any hope for us? I mean this. Like, is there a chance the earth will naturally even itself out? Is there a chance science, engineering … something can fix our problems?

R.N.: I love the book “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think,” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. People are problem solvers. Our ingenuity is breathtaking. We are faced with the wonders of technology and improved lifestyle daily even though we get mostly bad news from the media. Yes, there is a lot of misery in the world, but there is less than there used to be, in part as a result of technological progress and the desire for people to make things better.

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J.P.: In your opinion, if we continue on this path, what does the world look like in 50 years? In 100 years?

R.N.: It will be hotter and there will be more floods and droughts. It’s going to be rough, particularly for the poor, and we will have to adapt. How much more severe the climate gets depends on much more carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. We are likely to a rise of at least 3 degrees F, but maybe as much as 10 degrees F if we stay on the current path.

J.P.: What is it that we—the average, non-scientific Americans—don’t grasp about carbon dioxide, oxygen, carbon monoxide, carbonyl sulfide and dimethyl sulfide and their roles in the sustainability of the earth?

R.N.: Okay, you plunked that off my web site. I like studying gases in seawater.

Carbon dioxide gets a bad rap. It’s natural and without it the earth would probably be ice-covered. The problem is that we now have too much of a good thing. It’s not only causing the rapid warming we are experiencing but is also responsible for making the oceans more acidic, which has mostly negative ecological consequences.

Oxygen in seawater is important because fish and other fauna need it to breath. One of the big water pollution problems we have is hypoxia (really low oxygen), which is caused by dumping too much sewage and fertilizer into our waterways. Hypoxic regions, also called dead zones, are present throughout many of the world’s developed coasts. We’ve made huge progress on this problem by cleaning up our sewage treatment plants, which has benefitted many estuaries, including the Delaware Bay and Hudson River. We still need to reduce the amount of agricultural fertilizers getting into our natural waters so we can eliminate other dead zones, like those in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Dimethyl sulfide is cool because that’s what you smell when you are getting a breeze off the ocean. It’s made in seawater by phytoplankton, gets released into the air, and forms particles that cloud droplets grow on. So, in pristine areas of the ocean, phytoplankton may regulate cloudiness.

Carbon monoxide and carbonyl sulfide are quite esoteric. I don’t think we fully understand their function in seawater and the rest of the earth system, but we study them because they are there!

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J.P.: I’m almost certainly not as intelligent as you, yet I often think to myself, “Jesus Christ, we are so fucking stupid. We have this problem, but—because it’s not 100-percent, black-and-white right in front of us, we do nothing.” Has your work in climate change at all impacted your opinion on the intellect of America?

R.N.: I don’t like the way you started off your question. I’ll grant you that my scientific intelligence is higher than yours but there are so many types of intelligence (artistic, emotional, social, literary, etc.) that a simple ranking is not tenable. Anyhow, it’s a good question and what I have learned so very clearly over the last few years is how much an individual’s world view colors their interpretation of the facts. It’s really disheartening and somewhat puzzling that, for example, Republicans and Democrats can look at the same data on just about anything and come to vastly different conclusions. What’s even more remarkable is that the more educated those two groups are, the more their views diverge. So it’s like the “smarter” we are, the more we are able to find arguments to fit our world view. It’s depressing and not obvious on how one deals with this.

J.P.: I feel helpless. I drive a Prius, I try and unplug things, etc … etc. But, honestly, is there anything I can do to impact climate change? People like to say, “One person can make a difference …” but I’m really starting to not believe it.

R.N.: Global warming is a tougher problem than most environmental problems because it is truly a global problem. Because carbon dioxide lasts so long in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it is emitted from. So everybody—the whole world, not just those in your community, state, or country—has to be on board with emissions reductions for them to be effective. This is the really tough aspect of the problem. But the ozone hole was similar (because chlorofluorcarbons last long in the atmosphere, too), so I think we can do it. But everyone has to do their share, which is what you are doing by being more thoughtful about your energy usage, and it’s what Obama and the EPA are proposing by curbing emissions from power plants.

In 2012 Wei-Jun Cai (University of Georgia) Marjy Friedrichs (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), and Najjar organized the US East Coast Carbon Cycle Synthesis Workshop.

In 2012 Wei-Jun Cai (University of Georgia) Marjy Friedrichs (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), and Najjar organized the US East Coast Carbon Cycle Synthesis Workshop.

J.P.: A lot of climate change doubters I know say the warming of the earth is cyclical, and this is merely another cycle. Any truth to that idea?

R.N.: No. While there are natural cycles, like the ice ages coming and going, we can’t explain the current warming based on them. In fact, if anything, we would be going through a cooling period right now if it weren’t for increases in greenhouse gases. Prior to 1800, we were on a long-term cooling trend for thousands of years, but as soon as carbon dioxide started to rise due to industrialization and forest clearing, the earth began to warm. The amount of warming that’s occurred since then is about what we expect from the amount of carbon dioxide released.

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• Joe Paterno statue—should it have remained on campus, or was the school right to remove?: I don’t know. Good arguments either way. Joe said it best: I wish I had done more.

• Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?: Practice.

• Five reasons one should make State College, Pa. his/her home?: Nice people, low stress, beautiful, safe, Penn State.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mike Holmgren, your high school yearbook, Shakira, skiing, Kansas City, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art & Science, Diet Sprite, mud wrestling, peanut butter, The Black Crowes, elephants: Elephants, peanut butter, Cooper Union, Kansas City, skiing, yearbook, mud wrestling, Diet Sprite. Others: no rating

• What happens when we die?: We go to live on another planet as an alien life form. In this way, two great mysteries are solved at once when we die: The question you asked and “Are we alone?”

• Sean Hannity calls. He wants you to appear on his show to debate climate change. You in?: No—there’s nothing to debate. Would be happy to answer his questions, however.

• Out of 100 times, how often does someone leave a J out of your last name?: One.

• Three memories from your first date?: I can’t even remember who my first date was with, never mind what happened on it.

• If someone said you can put an end to climate change right now, but you’d have to take off 20 years from the end of your life, would you do so?: Yes, if it was done in some benign way. There are some crazy geoengineering solutions that I would not be in favor of.

• One question you would ask Huey Lewis were he here right now?: I love that chromatic horn line during the outro of “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” How did you come up with it?

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Kel Mitchell


George Washington is dead.

Mike Darr is dead.

Edward Koch is dead.

Tupac Shakur, James Madison, Shannon Hoon, Manute Bol, Charlton Heston, the girl from Poltergeist, Spuds McKenzie, Len Bias, my great grandmother—all dead.

Kel Mitchell, however, is not dead. Even though, back in 2006, an Internet hoax convinced many people of his passing. Nope. Mitchell—the former star of Nickelodeon’s “All That” and the shockingly wonderful 1997 flick, “Good Burger”—continues to work as an actor, comedian and voice guy, as well as one who believes strongly in spreading the Gospel.

Here, Kel speaks to death rumors, proposal rumors and Bieber rumors. You can visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Kel Mitchell, welcome to Quazland, home of the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kel, you’re a guy who had this huge run on TV, starred in a 1990s kid movie staple (Good Burger)—and is now the subject of a lot of “What the heck ever happened to …” Internet posts. It strikes me that people take a certain Sadistic pleasure in this; an odd enjoyment in seeing celebrities fade from the spotlight, then mocking the fade (or, in your case, spreading death rumors). Do you think I’m off on this? On? And how do you explain it?

KEL MITCHELL: I continued to work. I feel that people all watch different types of entertainment on television. I got into voice-over work on cartoons and guest-starred on many different live action television shows, but you have to understand that everyone does not watch the same shows. So it’s just about letting people know what you are doing to make them aware. When the death rumor started I was like, “I’m alive and well and since we are talking about me let me tell you what I am working on now.”

J.P.: I know a lot about your career, but little about your journey. Like, I know you’re from Chicago, I know you nailed an audition, I know you starred in the series Kenan & Kel from 1996–2000, but, well, how did this happen? What’s your life path from birth to show business? Were you pushed into it? Did you seek it out? What was The Breakthrough Moment all performers seem to have?

K.M.: I grew up in Chicago. I love my city—a lot of good people. I was a bit of a class clown growing up and my parents did not want me following the wrong crowd. We had good kids in my neighborhood and we also had gang violence in my neighborhood so my parents kept me in programs that were positive. They enrolled me in a summer course at a community theater and I fell in love with the art of acting. I did not look at it as a way onto television. At the time it was just something to keep me on a good path. I later started acting in plays that showcased in downtown Chicago and got discovered by a local model and talent agency. Actually, my first big gig was I got to model on the back of the Cap’n Crunch box. I remember being chased by girls in my neighborhood.

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J.P.: My kids are 10 and 7, and they recently saw Good Burger for the first time. They absolutely loved it, and I kept wondering—as a performer—how in the world were you able to maintain that character for so long? I mean, the voice, the antics, the dialogue—how did you not lose your mind? And, looking back, how do you feel about the film?

K.M.: The blessing of being on a sketch comedy show like All That—which is where Good Burger was created—is that you get to play so many different characters all different and fun to play. I was never stuck playing the same role over again and even when I had to play one of the characters for a long period of time I never looked at it as I am going to lose my mind playing this role because I understood who I am off camera is not this character. It’s a job and I am thankful to have it and that people embrace it.  If you are a doctor and have to get in a lab coat every day you don’t say, “I am so tired of getting in this lab coat and scrubs.” You are thinking about how happy you are that you are saving lives and making people feel better. It’s about the blessing to be able to do what you love. Complaining would be silly.

J.P.: You’re a devout Christian, which fascinates me. As we speak, the world is heating at an abnormal rate, and it looks more and more like this planet’s future is imperiled. There’s conflict everywhere. War. Famine. Murder. Slaughter. Cancer. Heart disease. Another season of the Kardashians. How do you continue to believe, when so many signs say, “We’re all completely screwed?”

K.M.: The earth has always had its conflicts but we need not stress about the problems that are going on in this world. No matter what happens your faith will keep you strong, You cannot allow fear to control you. Believing the “signs” of this world is not living in faith. I follow the word of God and what he says about me and his children. Not what the headlines say.

J.P.: You were a young star. Is show business a worthwhile pursuit? What I mean is, so many parents push their kids toward a career on stage, in film, etc. But is it a gateway to happiness? Or do the perils outweigh the bliss?

K.M.: You have to let your child know that this is a job and when they have to get their own home and have their own bills (if they continue in this profession) this job will pay for that. So stay away from wrong choices because what they do now can help or hinder this job. Look at the long run of it all. Also let them know that this is a talent that they have been blessed with by God and to not allow negative behavior to block that talent. Also, never push your child if you see that this is something they do not want to do any longer. Pray with them to help them find what other job or talents they have that they can pursue. God has blessed us all with many talents and the ability to learn new and exciting things. He is the one who knows the plans for our lives. So seek him first. A good, prayer-filled life makes every job a gateway to happiness.

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J.P.: I touched on this, but in 2006 you were the subject of a death hoax that spread all over MySpace. What was your initial reaction to this? How did it impact you? Did your family receive actual sympathy calls?

K.M.: It was a shock for the first 45 minutes. I was like, “It’s sad that someone would get a kick out of spreading a rumor like that.” I did get a few phone calls from family members. It did not bother me or upset me because I am alive and well and, like I said, when people asked it was a way to promote what I was working on currently. I was not the only one this has happened to—you see Twitter feeds of hoaxes played on actors all the time and, like me, they are blessed and alive. I just pray for haters. Its all love.

J.P.: According to several Internet reports, you apparently own and operate several Wendy’s franchises outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. How the heck did that happen? Why fast food as a business endeavor? And have you ever stepped behind the counter and said, “Welcome to Wendy’s, home of Wendy’s, may I take your order?”

K.M.: I would do that if it were true but it is not. This is yet another rumor. I do not own any Wendy’s, but maybe I should look into it …

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

K.M.: I learn from low moments which makes them great moments. So with that being said—every moment has been great! I am thankful foreach moment and to still be doing this after all these years and still have a fan base I think that is awesome. God is good.

J.P.: How hard is it for a guy known for comedy to be taken seriously? For example, have there been roles you’ve wanted to audition for where someone will say, “Um, no, no, no” based solely on your background? Are you pigeonholed?

K.M.: No, I am not pigeonholed. Of course you have casting directors who see you in a certain way but you have to be the one to change their perception of you. Put yourself on tape and send the audition even if they do not want to see you in person. Create roles for yourself by writing, filming or producing something on your own that will show them that you are multifaceted. The only person that can put yourself in a box is you.

J.P.: As we speak, Justin Bieber seems to be imploding. Why do so many young stars struggle with life, and the adjustment to adulthood? What makes it so difficult?

K.M.: He is a teenager. Every teen or young adult has made mistakes and done things that they are not proud of. In his case it is broadcast in media but we can not judge him. We need to pray for him that he makes better choices.

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• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I pray about calming the winds and God getting me home safely and it works every time. He takes away the fear.

• You’re married to the rapper Asia Lee. How did you propose?: I took her out to a romantic breakfast. Then we drove to a drive-in theater to see a double feature (something we both had been wanting to do for a while). We enjoyed watching the movie and eating in the car—we saw Bridesmaids and Hangover II. We we got home. She turned on the lights but they would not work because before we left I secretly turned off the power switch to our home. She walked around going, “Why are the lights not working?” I got on bended knee in the dark and opened up the ring box that had a light in the inside of it. I said, “I found some light” and then asked her to marry me. She said yes. One of the happiest days of my life.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Jason Bateman, James Worthty, the 405, Topeka, Netflix, Willie Stargell, the Big Mac, Winter Olympics, Def Leppard, Eddie Murphy: Netflix, Eddie Murphy, Jason Bateman, Big Mac, James Worthy, Willie Stargell, Winter Olympics, Topeka, 405, Def Leppard.

• Your full name is Kel Johari Rice Mitchell. Where did that all come from?: Kel means yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Johari means Jewl in Swahili. Rice is a family name and Mitchell is my family name.

• I’m a horrible dancer. What can I do to improve?: Practice what style you love the best then jump in dance battle circles. When you win one … congratulations! You have improved.

• One question you’d ask Natalie Wood were she here right now?: What was your favorite film that you starred in.

• In 1997 you won a Cable Ace Award. Where’s the trophy right now?: When I got a divorce from my first marriage it was left by accident at the home I no longer stay at.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime?: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie the Bear, Ms. Piggy, Gonzo, Grover.

• Who wins in a fight between you and Elvis Costello? How many rounds does it go?: A draw. LOL—I can dream, right?

• In exactly 19 words, make a case for tomato soup: Tastes like warm ketchup in a bowl. Campbell’s creamy tomato soup on the go is only $4.99. Great value!

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Katie Nolan

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 1.18.11 AMWorking in TV isn’t as easy as one would think. Sure, there’s fame and attention and glamor and (at many levels) money. But there’s also stuff like this. And, well, show cancellations.

Just ask Katie Nolan.

Until a couple of months ago, Katie was one of the hosts of Crowd Goes Wild, FS1′s attempt to reincarnate the spirit of the old Best Damned Sports Show. And you know what? It was good. Flawed? Sure. Inconsistent? A bit. But, more often than not, the program featured an intriguing panel (One word: Regis) and some cool guests (One word: Nas). I appeared on Crowd Goes Wild while promoting Showtime, and the experience was terrific. Again, did it need some tinkering? Yes. But what new endeavor doesn’t?

Then, before FS1 gave it a real chance to succeed, the program was killed.

What didn’t die (I’m convinced) is the rise of Nolan, a smart, savvy, informed personality who knows her stuff. I brought Katie into Quazland because her rise fascinates me—how does someone in her mid-20s jump from obscurity to minor web fame to major web fame to a pretty sweet TV gig? The answers follow.

Still under contract with Fox, Katie hosts a regular web series, No Filter, that’s one of my favorites. She’s also a prolific Tweeter and one helluva interview.

Katie Nolan, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Katie, two seconds ago I Googled your name—and the fourth listed etry was something from, listing you as No. 3 on its hot 50. I wonder how—as an up-and-coming sports media personality—that makes you feel? Annoyed? Flattered? Pissed? Do you think women on sports television can ever escape having looks be part of the overall judging pattern?

KATIE NOLAN: “Pissed” would be irrational, right? At the end of the day, being the “hottest” is a compliment. Is it what I want people to take away from what I do? Not at all. But I can’t be angry if someone wants to tell me they think I’m pretty. I guess I’d say I’m flattered and then I move on from it. The real danger in that stuff is when you start to believe it defines your worth.

I think women are always going to be judged, at least in part, by the way we look. Is it annoying that there aren’t lists that rank male sports personalities by their hotness? Sure. But it would be a waste of energy to crusade against people who want to talk about “hotness.” Sports media is an industry that predominantly caters to a male audience, and when you put a woman in front of a group of men, it’s instinctual for them to ask “would I procreate with her?” That’s human-nature-caveman stuff; you can’t control that. But if that’s where their thought process stops, then I pity them. There are a lot of women in sports media doing some incredible things right now. If all you see is a hot chick, then you’re that little kid from ‘The Polar Express’ who thinks his bell is broken.

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J.P.: You were on a FS1 show—Crowd Goes Wild—that recently got cancelled. Maybe this is an obvious question, but how did you feel when word officially came down? Who told you? And what do you think went wrong?

K.N.: We (the panel) found out after our last show of the week. We walked off set and our three producers were sitting in our dressing rooms, and we just knew. It had been talked about for a few weeks that it was a possibility, so no one fell to their knees and cursed the television gods, but it was sad. Mainly because it meant we only had two weeks left together instead of the two months until the end of the season that we thought we had. That was the toughest part.

I think we all went into CGW with the mindset that we were trying something crazy and it could either go well or go horribly. We were a brand new concept on a brand new network, and where we could have benefited from some wiggle room or time to grow, there just wasn’t any. It felt like going through puberty with a shot clock—”Here are all these new and crazy things that don’t make any sense to you yet, and if you don’t figure them out RIGHT NOW you’ll lose your chance forever.” There were days we wrapped and looked at each other like, “Wow … What was that?” But there were others where we felt like we made something really unique.

We also had every possible variable present, which made it hard some days. Sports meets entertainment, with a legendary host in his 80s, plus five panelists from all over the place (three of whom have no TV experience), with a live studio audience, and games, and humor, but also sometimes a news agenda, and you’re on at 5 pm (2 pm pacific). Change or remove any one of those challenges and you’ve still got a tough task on your hands. But ultimately, just when we started to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, it was too late.

Crowd Goes Wild may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I still strongly believe there’s a need for a show like it. People might not realize it yet, but they will when they see it. We’re getting so caught up in taking sports so seriously. People call anything happening in an athlete’s life other than their sport a “distraction.” A distraction? Like life is interfering with a game they play for money. Sports are fun. Yes, they’re intense and we love them for that, but let’s not forget that fell in love with them because of the fun.

J.P.: I hope this doesn’t offend you, but I feel like the phrasing “overnight sensation” sort of applies here—in a very good way. You were recording YouTube clips for Guyism one minute, you’re working for Fox Sports 1 the next. Katie, how did this happen? Or, put different, what was your path from womb to here? Is this always what you wanted to do?

K.N.: Consciously? No. I had no idea I could do this, so I sort of ruled that out really early. But when I got the gig, everyone close to me said “this is what you were meant to do.”

I went to school to study public relations. People always ask me why, and the sad truth is that I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I took a “What Should I Major In?” quiz on and that’s what it said. I never even considered anything else. How stupid is that? I went and I got my degree and I worked internship after internship and I graduated Cum Laude and I tried to get a job … and nothing. No one was hiring. And if they were, the job was in New York City and paid $25,000 a year and I wasn’t that confident in my ability to live in a cardboard box.

So I moved back home and started bartending at a place close to BU, and after a few months of dealing with drunk college kids I swear I could feel my brain cells packing up their shit to leave. So I started a blog with one of my friends to keep myself (and my brain) occupied during the day. I took it way too seriously. I updated it 12 times a day even when only three people were reading it, and eventually one of those people ended up being someone in a position to help me. One of the founders of asked me to write for them, so I did that for a while, and then they came to me with this idea of doing a daily video of news headlines and jokes. Originally I told them absolutely not because I was so uncomfortable on camera and had a tendency to over act and I knew I’d be awful. But they had me do it anyway … and found out I was right. But then I just worked and worked at it, and the show evolved from a shoddy little thing on a web cam with awful jokes and no comedic timing to a full-fledged green screen production with pictures and lower thirds and awful jokes and a little bit of comedic timing. And after two years of that, someone at Fox Sports Digital contacted my boss to let them know they were launching a new network and thought I’d be a good fit, and the rest is history.

The timing of it all was incredibly lucky and I will always feel a little guilty when someone tells me I didn’t “pay my dues.” But then I remember waking up at 5 am to research, write, film, edit and produce a show, all alone, five days a week for two years, and I tell people who say I had this opportunity “handed to me” to lock it up.

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J.P.: Your Twitter battle with (and, ultimately, takedown of) Kevin Connolly was dazzling, awesome, fantastic, killer. I’m fascinated—what in your brain said, “I’m not just letting this shit go”? What do you think of the guy now? And why does celebrity have such a warping impact on so many?

K.N.: I cringe a little when I talk about this story, mainly because I was young and stupid when it happened, and I know I’m not completely devoid of guilt in the situation. I can see now why posting a private message he sent me to an audience of people was a pretty dick move. I was starstruck that a celebrity had contacted me, and thought my “fans” (I think my fan page had less than 1,000 likes at the time of the post) would think I was cooler because of it. That being said, he has actually apologized since. I’ll still drop a Kevin Connolly joke into something I’m doing every now and then as a sort of wink at the fans who were around for all of that, but we have laid the issue to rest. He said he was out of line and asked for forgiveness, and I respect that.

As for why I didn’t just let it go at the time, I’m a protective person. I have this small group of fans that have been with me since day one, and I felt responsible for them. I wanted them to know I wouldn’t let someone attack them just because he was famous. It felt like the right thing to do.

I’m starting to see the other side of things now, even just as a person on a show that barely anyone watched. You get poked and prodded a lot when you’re a “public figure.” I’ve lashed out at some people on Twitter before. It’s hard to constantly grin and bear it on the internet, when any sane human would defend themselves in real life. “Don’t feed the trolls” goes against our instincts.

I’ve met some people during CGW’s short life who taught me how dangerous it is to become accustomed to the star treatment. You see it with athletes sometimes; they’re worshiped by so many for so long, and it’s hard to adapt to a life where someone tells you no. Celebrity is scary and does awful things to people. I still have so much to learn, but right now the way I see it is if you treat it like part of the job, you’re much better off than treating it like the reason for the job.

J.P.: I worked with Rick Reilly at SI for many years. I can’t say we’re friends, but we’re certainly friendly colleagues—so I found your epic beatdown of him both painful and invigorating. It got me thinking about something, and that is—in 2014, with media the way it is—how do people like Rick (fuck, and me) survive and thrive? You’re young, you’re multi-media, you’re relatable. But what if you’re an aging writer with a receding hairline? What are we supposed to do now?

K.N.: I’m going to be honest, here: I had never really put that much thought into how scary that must be, to watch a profession you mastered change into something you don’t know much about, until you just asked that question. Obviously everyone talks about journalism as a “dying industry” (which is bullshit, btw) and the “constantly evolving blogosphere” and all those awful buzzwords, but to actually put myself in the shoes of someone who is amazing at their job and then awful at what their job becomes, by no fault of their own, is really eye-opening. And I think that’s the case with Rick Reilly. I used to be a huge fan of his. I think a lot of people were. And a lot of times you see someone’s popularity reach a tipping point and people turn on them, but I don’t think that’s what happened. He just doesn’t appear to have a willingness to adapt. But that explains so much when you look at it that way. Like when he ordered Stuart Scott to credit him for having it first on Twitter. That’s a journalist projecting old-school journalism on a new-school medium instead of actually trying to understand the new-school medium.

I’m in no position to provide any kind of advice for incredibly talented writers and journalists on how to adapt to the insanity of this new era of media. I actually wish I could, so they wouldn’t disdain my existence. The only thing I know you can’t do is ignore that changes are happening around you and keep doing what you’re doing and expect people to listen.

J.P.: When Fox Sports 1 started, there was tons of talk about directly fighting ESPN. Am I wrong in thinking that’s never really going to happen? Why or why not?

K.N.: I may be hopelessly optimistic here, but I can’t give up yet on the fact that it will happen. I think it’s obviously going to take some time; ESPN has been doing this relatively unchallenged for years. They’ve worked out the kinks and can pretty much churn out content like a machine. It isn’t a bad thing; it’s impressive. But no one benefits from a lack of competition, especially not the people consuming your product. Was it a little premature to come out of the gate boasting that FS1 would go head to head with The Mothership? Maybe. But I kinda love that. I think a network that embraces the fact that it probably doesn’t have a chance in hell but takes it anyway will eventually win people over. There’s a market out there for something other than ESPN. It exists. People want an alternative. I think Fox Sports 1 needs to put its head down and focus on being the best Fox Sports 1 it can be, and by the time it looks up it’ll be that much closer to competing with the worldwide leader. And really, who loves an underdog more than sports fans?

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J.P.: I’ve been on television a lot over the years, and while I enjoy it, I don’t love it. What do you love about the medium? Is it the rush? The buzz? And how do the time constraints (“We’ve gotta wrap this in 30 seconds!”) not drive you crazy?

K.N.: To answer that last part first … yes. I have no other type of TV to compare it to, but live TV is hard. Sometimes on the show we’d be in the middle of a heated conversation, and I’d be ready to make a point, and we’d have to go to commercial. Or I’d spend the day working on a segment that ends up getting cut because our guest gave a couple long-winded answers in the C block and now we’re running heavy on time. That took a lot of getting used to. For me, it helped to put the integrity of the show before my own desire to contribute. If you focus on the fact that the guest is telling an incredibly interesting story and everyone watching is enthralled, you feel silly being frustrated with the fact that the audience won’t get to hear that joke you wrote about Richie Incognito.

As for what I love about TV, I’d say it’s the opportunity to make people laugh. You can tell a joke at a bar with your friends and make four people laugh. You can tell a joke at a comedy club and make 20 people laugh (I can’t, but maybe you can). But on TV, you can tell that joke once and people hear it across the country. For that reason I would actually say I don’t love TV as much as I love TV paired with the internet. I can’t imagine back in Regis’ day, when you could say something on TV and go home and make yourself a nice steak and go to bed. Unless it was something incredibly newsworthy or offensive enough to make people pick up their phones, you never had to hear about it or think about it again. Some days I think that would be awesome. But I also think it’s awesome that I can go on Twitter after a show and see that people laughed. I can see on the blogs that people enjoyed something we did. We aren’t just submitting things into a void; we can tell pretty much right away if we entertained people. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it certainly keeps you on your toes.

J.P.: Do you feel like—knowledge-wise—male sports fans have low expectations for women? Do they think you’ll only know surface material? Or is that generational?

K.N.: Yes and no. I feel like, overall, fans have irrationally high standards for all sports reporters. Look, if you’re a baseball reporter on NESN and you don’t know the Red Sox starting lineup, you should probably be fired. But if you’re on a national sports show that covers every sport and you screw up the year that the Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen, it’s OK. Sports fans are amazing in that they’re fiercely loyal to their teams and they know every stat and every piece of history, but I wish sometimes they’d put down the pitchforks and remember that, beside their team, there are 29 other teams in major league baseball, three other “major” sports in the country, and two producers yelling in our earpiece about buying time because the guest is late.

To do a better job of answering your original question, I’d say I don’t notice or mind peoples’ expectations for my sports knowledge. I think we, as humans, try to simplify everything we experience into categories that are easier for our brains to process. When a woman is categorized as attractive, most people won’t expect her to also be knowledgeable. So a person’s expectations for me don’t bother me so much as when a person confuses their expectations with the truth. Take, for example, a comment on one of my YouTube videos that Fox Sports shared on Facebook: “Fox Sports hires ANOTHER dumb bimbo. No thanks, I won’t be watching!!” Makes sense; he won’t watch because I’m dumb, and he knows I’m dumb because … oh wait, that actually makes no sense. Double exclamation points!!

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J.P.: You Tweet A LOT about hockey—a sport that interests me as much as senior golf. Question: Why do you think the NHL has never gained the mass appeal of the three big team sports? Is the league doing something wrong? Are we just lame?

K.N.: Blaming people who don’t take an interest your sport is not an effective way to prove your sport is worth taking an interest in (right, soccer fans?). So no, you aren’t lame. For me, hockey was the sport I grew up around. My brother played, and was pretty good at it, so I spent a lot of time in hockey rinks. Actually, I’d say most hockey fans I know either played when they were younger or grew up with someone who did. And, coming from a family that would have had two hockey players in it if we could afford it, I can tell you it’s pretty expensive to play. I’m not saying youth participation is entirely responsible for adult fandom, but it’s certainly a factor worth considering.

It’s also worth considering that Americans tend to love things that belong to them. Baseball is our nation’s pastime. NASCAR is actually more American than apple pie at this point. The sport we call “football” is called “American Football” everywhere else because we changed the sport into something completely different but couldn’t be bothered to change the name. Hockey, though, is still perceived as Canadian. Canadian hockey players have never comprised less than 50 percent of the NHL, and most Americans just don’t feel that national connection to the athletes or the sport. That’s why I think Olympic hockey is so important to the growth of the NHL’s appeal; it’s hockey that America can feel comfortable getting behind. (Which is why I think it’s a huge mistake that some NHL owners are starting to talk about banning their players from participating in the Olympics, but that’s eight more paragraphs I won’t bore you with.)

I honestly do think people are starting to come around to it. Last month I heard multiple people say, on SportsCenter of all places, that the NHL playoffs are the best postseason in sport. The secret is out. Plenty of room for you on the bandwagon, Jeff! At least until the next lockout.

J.P.: You worked with Regis on Crowd Goes Wild. I heard mixed things—nice guy, not so dedicated to the show, giving, big ego. What was your experience like? What do we need to know about the man?

K.N.: My grandmother is 87-years old. She lives in my old room at my parents’ house and my mother’s full-time job is taking care of her. If my nana, a kind and loving woman, was on live television for an hour every day, people who work with her might say she’s “not so dedicated to the show.” And they would have every right to say that because they have to be on set hours before her, and they have to help her when she forgets things, and it’s their job to make sure she doesn’t look bad. But at the end of the day, she’s 80-FUCKING-7, and the fact that she got out of bed and put on real shoes is downright commendable.

Now imagine my grandmother is a television legend who has earned the right to do whatever she damn well pleases, and you’ll see how it’s hard to actually complain about working with Regis Philbin.

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Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I was 10 and flying to Georgia for the Junior Olympics with my rhythmic gymnastics team, and they told us there was a problem with the wing so we had to make an emergency landing, and we were in no actual danger but I was 10 and dramatic so I told all my friends we almost died.

• Would you rather eat 200 living maggots or have the nails on both your thumbs torn off?: Have the nails on both my thumbs torn off, any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I don’t trust that all those maggots are gonna die and not eat me from the inside out unless I chew each and every one, and that isn’t happening.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mark Messier, Slam Magazine, blueberry pie, cursing, Ed Sheeran, Bobby Jindal, Rocky II, Austin Mahone, Sha Na Na, Ron Howard, Hangover II: Cursing, Mark Messier, blueberry pie, Rocky II, Ron Howard, Slam Magazine, Ed Sheeran, Sha Na Na, Hangover II, Austin Mahone, Bobby Jindal.

• I sorta love Demi Lovato’s music. I’m 42. How weird does that make me?: The “‘s music” makes it not weird at all. I’m 27 and listen to “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on my way to work every morning.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for five hours of work, but you have to shave off your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, lick the entire 200’x300’ floor. You in? You seriously had me right up until that part about licking the floor. The $5 million will barely cover those medical bills and you know it.

• Three memories from your senior prom? 1. It 2. Was 3. Boring

• Five all-time favorite athletes: Kong Linghui, Sergey Morozov, Peter Gade, Rune Kristiansen, Bobby Fischer

• In your mind, what are the odds of some sort of afterlife?: High enough that it’s possible, low enough that I’m gonna enjoy the one life I’m sure of right now just in case.

• Climate change–hoax or scary-as-shit problem?: Problem. People who think climate change is a hoax? Scary-as-shit problem.

• One question you would ask Carrot Top were he here right now?: Celine Dion calls. She wants you to MC her next show. She’ll pay $5 million for 5 hours of work, but you have to shave off all your hair, get a nose ring, call yourself “Motherfucker Motherfucker IV” the entire time (without laughing) and, at night’s end, like the entire 200′x300′ floor. How much of your $5 million will you spend on your face?

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Scott Melker

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 1.50.57 AMA couple of months ago someone e-mailed me this: “You need to hear Ballin’ Oates right now.”

So I Googled “Ballin’ Oates”—and found this amazing, dazzling, mind-blowing creation of five Hall & Oates-mixed-with-hip hop jams.

The music—insane.

The creativity—remarkable.

The genius—Scott Melker.

Wait. You probably know him as The Melker Project. Whatever the case, the Penn-educated, New York City-based DJ is a superstar in a medium that’s finally being fully appreciated. He’s remixed some of the most unlikely song pairings in modern music history, and has played gigs alongside a wide-ranging list of artists that includes Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan and Q-Tip. One can visit Scott’s site here and follow him on Twitter here. Oh, and his SoundCloud page is a must visit.

Scott Melker, welcome to the Qua-Qua-Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m a huge hip-hop guy, and an even huger Hall and Oates guy—and Ballin’ Oates truly, truly, truly rocked my world. So I have to ask: How did this idea pop into your head? What was the process? Why Hall and Oates? And did you ever hear from Daryl or John afterward?

SCOTT MELKER: Ballin’ Oates was my third EP in a series of similar projects (Skeetwood Mac, The Skeetles). H&O are arguably my favorite duo of all time, and the name (which I came up with while baking in the Turkish Sauna in New York City) was just too brilliant not to build around. The process was tedious, to say the least. I narrowed down their catalogue to around 10 songs, and began replaying all of the individual instruments on my keyboard. I used different sounds than in the originals for each part, and created entirely new drum tracks to modernize the songs. When that was finished, I went to work figuring out vocal tracks that would sound great on each song, which helped narrow it down to the five tracks that I released.

Oates and I were actually interviewed together in Billboard in advance of their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He had positive things to say about Ballin’ Oates, which was absolutely mind blowing and humbling.

J.P.: It seems like, for most of modern music history, the DJ was the dude in the background, sort of like the drummer. We knew he existed, and appreciated his contributions. But, well, he was also sort of invisible. That, clearly, has changed. My question, Scott, is how and why? And am I even right on this theory?

S.M.: This theory is only partially correct. I think it is true to the average person, but DJs have been celebrities in club and hip hop culture since the 1980s. Now it is mainstream, and much bigger than ever before.

There are a few reasons. First, technology has made “DJing” far more accessible to the masses. I put “DJing” in quotes, because basically any jackass with a laptop can now be a “DJ.” The simplicity of the technology, paired with the rise of EDM in the United States, has created the “perfect storm” for DJ culture. Almost every pop record is now basically an innocuous EDM song—and the DJs are the ones who are creating that type of music. The result is a lot of producers making a ton of money “DJing” by pushing play and watching the pretty lasers. There are, however, a ton of incredibly talented DJs who are finally getting their due.

J.P.: I know you’re from Torrance, California, know you were raised in Gainesville, Florida, know you attended Penn and know you DJed a lot in Philly while in college. But, musically speaking, what’s your life path, from womb to here? Put differently: How did this happen?

S.M.: Music has always been the centerpiece of my life. It started on the piano at 5, progressed into singing, than the saxophone, followed by the harmonica and guitar. By the time I hit college, DJing was a cooler way to play music, and subsequently flirt with girls. I fell in love with the craft, started producing, and ended up where I am today.

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J.P.: I’m fascinated by your remixes and, specifically, the thought process. I mean, how does a guy think to himself, “You know what’ll be great? Nas and Phil Collins!”? or “Let’s mash up Twista and Hall and Oates!”? Where do the ideas come from? What makes two songs compatible for one another? If I say, randomly, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and “Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica, could you make it work? Or are there certain timing, style, lyrical elements that have to mesh?

S.M.: I have ADD, which pretty much sums up my musical approach. My bank of ideas is endless, but only a small percentage of them make it to market. At the most basic level, the two songs have to be in the same key, at roughly the same tempo. More importantly, they just have to “feel right,” which is something that is up to the individual producer to determine. Sometimes this is a result of trial and error, but most often I search my mental music library for songs that I believe will fit—and they usually do.

I have done “commissioned” mashups for people before and made them work. Recently a client asked me to put Happy together with Mr. Blue Sky and it worked out quite well … as for Gloria, well, I would have to try. I heard she has voices in her head, calling Gloriaaaaaa.

J.P.: Along those lines, how do you do it? I’ve listened to your stuff over and over, and the technical process itself seems really … daunting. I’m naïve, admittedly, but how do you extract old verses from a song that wasn’t recorded digitally? Does everything start clunkily, and you smooth it out?

S.M.: I generally replay the instrumentals from scratch, unless I am lucky enough to dig up the stems from the original recording. If I have the stems, I usually use them as the base, and build from there with the live instrumentation. For vocals, you really have to have the separated a cappella track to be able to use a song. You can make DIY versions, but they usually sound awful—and to do it you need the instrumental track, which is usually unavailable as well.

For example, on Ballin’ Oates, I completely replayed Out Of Touch in midi, and then toyed with new sounds for each instrument. I created a fresh drum track. I was able to isolate the vocal of one line—”You’re Out Of Touch, I’m Out Of Time,” which is the only “sample” from the original H&O song on the entire track.

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J.P.: I remember, years ago, Coolio wanting to Kill Weird Al when he turned “Gangsta’s Paradise” into a parody. Have you run into any problems with artists? Do you ever get people saying, “Don’t touch my shit”?

S.M.: Coolio is buggin’. I would kill to have Weird Al parody one of my songs. I have run into problems, but never with the actual artists. More often it is the label that complains and sends a cease and desist. I have had a lot of my work removed from the internet, which is a death sentence for a project. I post everything to Legitmix, which is an innovative platform that allows producer to legally share and sell derivative and sampled content. So even if things get taken down elsewhere, they generally stay live there.

J.P.: Is there a such thing, factually, as great music and shit music? For example, my daughter is pretty big into Z100 lately—and it melts my brain. If I have to hear one more Ke$sha song, I literally think I’ll vomit into my eyeballs. But then I play, say, old Sam Cooke or even A Tribe Called Quest, and she wants to run away. Do you have standards in this regard? Are there any?

S.M.: This is completely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That said, A Tribe Called Quest and Sam Cooke are pretty much better than everything else. I do hold certain standards, but I believe that I can pretty much take anything and turn into something I like. I’m not a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, but I had fun chopping and screwing her vocals to make her sound like Cher had a baby with the lead singer of Nickelback.

Side note: I would pay to see someone vomit into their eyeballs.

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J.P.: As a DJ, what does it feel like when you’re doing an event and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is clicking? The crowd’s going crazy, the acoustics are perfect, the music is flowing. Explain the high …

S.M.: You know sex? Drugs? Skydiving? All of the other rushes that people think are the “best?” Those are half as amazing as what you are describing. There is nothing better, period. Well, maybe playing the perfect gig while skydiving and having sex.

J.P.: You started playing piano at age 5—just like my daughter. Sometimes I have to drag her, she hates practicing, etc … etc. Is it worthwhile? What did playing an instrument do for you?

S.M.: You can’t force feed a child music, unfortunately. They will just end up quitting, getting a tattoo and resenting you forever. No big deal. I loved playing the piano from day one, so it was never a “chore.” It was something I wanted to do every day. I owe my career to two things—my childhood piano teacher, and my parents, who played amazing music every day in our house. I have their entire record collection, and still dip into it every day.

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J.P.: Throughout your career you’ve worked as a DJ with some genuinely high-profile and disparate acts—Public Enemy and Wu Tang to Sheryl Crow and Crosby Stills and Nash. Explain to me the philosophy and approach that comes from doing, say, a hip-hop gig vs. a country-rock or folk one?

S.M.: You have to play to the crowd, but still maintain your integrity as an artist. I like to push the limits and see what I can get away with. I mean, playing Van Morrison at a hip hop concert, or Three Six Mafia at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert are risky propositions. But it works when mixed with something that makes sense to the audience. Or you crash and burn—so there’s that possibility.

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• Your name is Scott Melker, which isn’t particlarly sexy. Have you ever considered, a la Chad Ochocinco, a name change to DJ Motherfucker or DJ Bring the House Down? Something like that?: Technically, I now go by The Melker Project, which is equally unsexy. I never really considered a name change, because I have never been confident enough in a nickname that I would want it to stick. Kind of like a tattoo … I mean, my first DJ moniker was “Pookie,” which was my fraternity pledge name, after Chris Rock’s crackhead character in New Jack City (one of the best movies ever). I’m glad that didn’t stick.

• Top five 90s hip-hop songs that would still work magic in a club filled with 18-year olds today: Juicy (or Hypnotize), Hip Hop Hooray (they can wave their hands back and forth), Poison (not really hip hop, but still kills em’), Money Ain’t A Thang and Slam by Onyx, just because I love Slam by Onyx.

• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Jeb Bush, House of Pain, male-pattern baldness, Peabo Bryson, Pete Rock, “Remains of the Day,” Cherry Coca-Cola, Converse All-Stars, Slam Magazine, U.S. Postal Service, beauty marks, Drake, Rubik’s Cube, salmon: Pete Rock, Rubik’s Cube, House Of Pain, Salmon, Peabo Bryson, Converse All Stars, Slam Magazine, Cherry Coca-Cola, Remains Of The Day, U.S. Postal Service, Beauty Marks, Male-Pattern Baldness, Drake, Jeb Bush

• Do you think Tupac would have approved of the Ghetto Gospel remaking with Elton John that was put out on a posthumous CD?: Yes, because he would have gotten paid.

• In 20 words or less, can you make an argument for Young MC?: I can do it in seven words. Don’t Just Stand There, Bust A Move.

• Best and worst venues you’ve ever worked?: Best—Red Rocks in Colorado. Worst—Tenjune in New York City. F#ck that place, seriously.

• Why is pot such a huge part of the entertainment world?: Because it’s awesome (apparently).

• Five genuinely nicest, most decent celebrities you’ve worked with: Justin Timberlake (we sang karaoke together in Japan), Snoop Dogg, CeeLo, Lupe Fiasco, Questlove

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have experienced three, count em’ THREE, emergency landings in my life. I never really felt like I was going to die. The old lady next to me on one of the flights though … She really thought she was going to die.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to produce her upcoming 50-track CD, “Celine Sings Only About Strawberry Cupcakes.” Good news: She’ll pay $15 million for a year’s work. Bad news: You work 365-straight days, sleep in her broom closet and have to only wear pink T-shirts that read, I’M CELINE’S BITCH BOY. You in?: Absolutely. I would do it for a dollar and some envelopes. And a pack of Skittles.

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Jojo Moyes

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So one of the big problems with writing biographies is you rarely get to read stuff for fun. In the course of researching Sweetness, for example, I probably went through, oh, 50 Chicago Bears-related books.

That takes a helluva lot of time.

Hence, when the wife recently raved about an “amazing” book she was recently reading about some dude in a wheelchair, I nodded, sighed and—to be honest—pretty much ignored her. Wheelchair? Who had time for a wheelchair book? I’m deep in research.

Then, however, I had a flight. A long flight. So I opened up the ol’ Nook and started reading “Me Before You,” by Joj Moyes. I read and read and read and read and read—and could not put the dang thing down. Narrative—amazing. Dialogue—terrific. Character development—tremendous. This wasn’t just a book. No, it was an experience. One that left me both wanting more, but completely fulfilled.

When I was done, I located Jojo on Twitter and, it turns out, we spoke once before, for an article she wrote several years ago. Small world.

Anyhow, I’m thrilled to bring you Jojo Moyes, Essex, England resident and this week’s Quaz. Her new book, One Plus One, was released in the U.S. on July 1, and she’ll be touring the States beginning July 5. You can see her full schedule here, follow her on Twitter here, and visit her website here. She has no idea who Ariana Grande is. But, hey. No one’s perfect.

Jojo Moyes, dreams come true. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jojo, I just read “Me Before You” and loved it. Absolutely, positively loved it. As did my wife and, apparently, shitloads of people. Which leads me to ask this: What—if anything—don’t you love about it? Now that the book is done, out, digested—are there parts you don’t feel amazing about? Word choices you regret? Any writer’s remorse whatsoever? Because lord knows, I always have tons of the stuff …

J.M.: Okay—this may be an annoying answer, but I’m going to be honest. This is the only book I’ve ever written (and I’ve written 11) that I didn’t hate afterwards. There’s actually not much I would change about it at all. I did find a few small things when I was adapting it as a script, but I can’t remember what they were, so they can’t have been major. It’s actually the only book I’ve written that I can read and re-read, too. Mostly once I’m done, I don’t look at a book again, except to read from it in public. I’m too busy thinking about the next one, and all I can see is what I want to change.

My husband is my first reader. Mostly he reads a book, makes lots of really frank suggestions, and I don’t talk to him for two days, admit he’s probably right, and then set to rewriting. This was the first of my books where he just sat back and went: “Yup. I like that.”

J.P.: Today, I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop and tried to churn shit out. I’ll be back at it tonight, probably in the nearby diner, after my kids go to sleep. Jojo, how do you write? Where do you write? Do you churn out 5,000 words at a time? Do you slave over 50? How does it work for you?

J.M.: It’s a constant struggle to find the time not just to write, but the time to think about what I’m going to write. I probably spend 70 percent thinking time to 30 percent writing. I used to write after my kids went to bed, but two of them are teenagers now and frequently go to bed after I do, so I’ve taken to starting at 6 am before everyone else gets up. I try to write 5,000 words a week, in a mixture of bed, coffee shops (although other people talking makes me really crabby) and my little office, above a hairdressers. Some weeks I manage more, mostly I manage less.

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J.P.: How did you get the idea for “Me Before You”? I mean, I get nonfiction ideas, especially in sports. There’s this great quarterback, no one’s ever done a book on him, he’s quite popular—bam! But, with fiction, where does the concept derive from? And what makes you think, pre-anything, it’ll both work as a narrative, and ultimately sell?

J.M.: Most of my books come from snippets of things: news stories I’ve read, or heard, or bits of conversations I’ve thought about afterwards. The best ideas for fiction, I’ve found, are when a story you’ve heard just won’t leave your head. That’s when I start trying to work out how to turn it into fiction. “Me Before You” came from a news story I heard in 2008 about a young sportsman who was left quadriplegic and persuaded his parents to help him commit suicide. I was so shocked by it, and I couldn’t rationalize it, and that’s why I needed to explore it further.

I never know what is going to sell. I don’t think you can anticipate the market like that, or it comes across as calculating. When I wrote “Me Before You,” I would describe the outline to publishers and you could see them actually recoil a little bit. Like: “It’s about a quadriplegic who wants to DIE? Who’s going to want to read that?” But I just had a really clear idea of the story in my head, and faith that I could write it. Luckily, it turned out okay.

J.P.: You spent a decade working as a journalist—nine of those years at The Independent covering news and entertainment. What was the challenge of sliding over from reporter to novelist? Is it a natural transition? Do you report fiction, as far as background, details, etc?

J.M.: I think it has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of being a journalist first are numerous—as you probably know. You have the ability to ‘see’ stories everywhere. You learn to listen (a surprisingly rare skill). You learn to write, and to do it to a deadline (also surprisingly rare). You can research swiftly and accurately. The downside, weirdly, is that nine years in news kind of batters out of you the ability to write much other than really factual language. It took me ages to relax and to let myself get a little more colourful.

J.P.: Your book has sold 3 million copies. Let me repeat that: 3 million copies. Which makes me say two things: A. Bite me; B. When did you first know you had a hit? Not a hit, like I’ve be lucky enough to experience (best-seller list, 80,000 sold), but a full-throttle, ass-kicking mega-hit that makes you a pretty big superstar? Was there a moment?

J.M.: Hahaha! I’m not sure there has been ‘a’ moment, more a series of moments. When it first went big in Britain, back in 2012, I was just massively grateful, as I’d had a few books that had not done too well, and I was just desperate to be able to carry on writing. But then it charted, and then the following year it sold big in the US, and then it sold big in Germany, and then suddenly, two years later, you get odd bits of news like: “Oh you’re Number One in the hardback and paperback charts in Norway.” And nobody even told you.

There have been a few moments though. One was flying to MGM in LA to talk to them about adapting it. Walking into that reception, with all those Oscars on the wall, was completely surreal. Another was turning up late to an event in Chicago and discovering that there was an actual round-the-block queue of people waiting to have books signed. I feel weird even saying this stuff, because in England it’s considered a little boastful. But I have a friend, Ol, a scriptwriter, who said to me: “You’ve written one of those books.” And that really hit me. Because we all know ‘those’ books. And it’s so far beyond what I dreamt of that I still have trouble accepting this isn’t actually a dream and someone’s going to tap me on the shoulder and I’ll be back to just chugging away, hoping I don’t’ have to take in a lodger …

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J.P.: I know you’re 45, know you’re from London. But when did you first get the writing bug? What made you want to do this for a living? And was there a moment when you know, “Hey, I’m not so bad …”?

J.M.: 44! Ahem! (at least for another few weeks). And I’ve written since I was a child. I was an only child, and a massive bookworm, and it’s just how I’ve always processed the world. But I didn’t think I could be ‘a writer’ until I’d been a journalist for many years. To me, a writer was someone very cool, intellectual, possibly living in a garret in Paris.

And no, I haven’t had that “Hey, I’m not so bad’ moment yet. Occasionally I write things that I’m quite proud of, but mostly I’m just annoyed with myself that the book in my head is always better than what I manage to get onto the page.

J.P.: I read your book on a Nook (that was fun to write, actually). Are you cool with that? Do you prefer people purchase print copies? And, Jojo, what sort of adjustment do you think we need to make, here in the book world, to the digital era? Can we survive and thrive?

J.M.: I’m happy with however people read. My two boys were not big book readers, and then we bought an e-reader and it actually started them reading everything. I also love traveling with an e-reader as they’re so much lighter than six or seven books in your suitcase. And I think we are in a period of huge change, but humans are infinitely adaptable, and it’s interesting seeing writers working out how to put their own stuff out there, publishers finding new media.

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J.P.: Your books have received wonderful reviews, almost across the board. On Amazon, for example, 4,417 customers have reviewed “Me Before You,” and 3,284 gave you five stars. Awesome, great, awesome. Then I stumbled upon this review: “Speaking as person in a wheelchair, with a job, a life, a passport full of stamps from interesting trips and not nearly enough free time to do half the things on my list, this book makes me want to smack my head into a wall for the stupid damage that it does to the public perception of people in wheelchairs. Ugh. And, yes, you can of course, say that this book is not about people in wheelchairs, it is about a particular character in his particular wheelchair, but seriously, where are the books about people in wheelchairs living interesting, not horrible lives, that rack up thousands of reviews on Amazon? (There’s Moving Violations – great book, nowhere near as popular as this wretched thing.) And, how many movies can you think of where the person in a wheelchair is either the villain or the subject of pity? Now, how many where they’re a regular character? How many where they’re the hero? … And this book gets so many rave reviews. To reiterate, ugh.”

As a fellow writer, I wonder two things: A. Do bad reviews hurt you—as they almost always hurt me? Like, is your skin thick enough to worry little; to move on without a second’s thought? And B. Were you at all concerned about how quadriplegics would react to the book?

J.M.: I hadn’t seen that. I’m not entirely sure what to say. Nobody likes to think that their book is going to actively upset people.

But as the writer says, this was not a book about all wheelchair users, just one. I was concerned before I wrote it—I didn’t want people reading it and thinking that was a future I advocated for anyone disabled (especially as I have a disabled child myself). I actually wanted to discuss the issue of autonomy and personal choice—even when it flies against what we are comfortable with—and I’ve actually had so much positive feedback from both quads and their carers that I am reassured that generally people have just enjoyed reading about a wheelchair user who was three-dimensional, and smart, annoying, sexy. I wanted the wheelchair not to be the thing that you thought of when you thought about him.

A lot of people just contact me to say it has opened their eyes to a lot of the issues quads face, which I”m glad of. The head of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation contacted me a while back to say he wanted to support the book for exactly that reason. That’s good enough for me.

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J.P.: You’re insanely good with dialogue. I mean that—as good as they come. As a writer, what’s the key to this? Do you pay attention to how folks talk? Do you try and hone in on conversations? What?

J.M.: Very kind of you to say so. Yes, I really do pay attention to how people talk (this is a polite way of saying I’m really nosy and spend a lot of time eavesdropping). I think that it’s easy as a writer to write dialogue that is quite stylised, and expresses how people would like their fictional characters to talk. Real life conversations tend to be far messier and (in our house, anyway) have a lot of dark humour. Basically I just try to write how people I know actually talk to each other.

J.P.: A couple of years ago you interviewed me for a piece on Internet bullying. With your increased notoriety and book success, have you experienced some of this? Thugs? Assholes? Etc?

J.M.: I did! And you were a great interviewee. (I still love the story of what you did to that troll). And the answer is—without wanting to bring it all down on my head—surprisingly few. I try very hard not to answer any trolls back though. Just block and move on, that’s the way. Life is too short to sit there messing up your blood pressure because of some armchair warrior.

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• You have the happiest first name of all time. What’s the story behind it?: I am named after a Beatles song—Get Back. My parents were huge fans. I’m a little concerned that Jojo was a man, but …

• Three memories from your first date: Hah! With my husband? Um … whisky, an ambulance, and I can’t tell you any more!

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to co-author her autobiography, titled, “Celine: I’m Amazing.” She’ll pay $25 million, but you have to live with her in Las Vegas for a year, sleep in her (admittedly king size) bed with her, paint her toenails every morning and live on a diet of tuna, Dr. Pepper and stale rye bread. You in?: Totally, if my kids can have visitation rights. But not for the money. It would be absolutely fascinating. Oh hang on, I just read the bit about the sleeping in bed. Hmm.

• Five greatest novelists of your lifetime?: John UpdikeNora Ephron. AM Homes. Kate Atkinson. George RR Martin.

• How do you come up with the names of your characters?: I just stare at my bookshelves and pull out whatever names on spines I haven’t used yet.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Traveling Wilburys, The Telegraph, Paris, Woody Allen movies, former Cincinnati Red first baseman Dan Driessen, Ariana Grande, A Streetcar Named Desire, Lionel Messi, Kitty Kelly, glue sticks: Is this like some weird Rorschach test?. Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, Lionel Messi, The Telegraph, Woody Allen movies, Glue Sticks, The Traveling Wilburys, Kitty Kelly, Dan Driessen, No idea who Ariana Grande is. Sorry!

• How’d you meet your husband?: At work, when I was a journalist. Neither of us got out much.

• How do you respond to the, “I have a great book idea and I’d love to talk to you about it …” e-mail?: I use the Stephen King defence: I’m so sorry but my lawyer has advised me not to read anybody else’s work, in case I unconsciously steal your ideas.

• Would you rather live for eternity or die at 90?: Having had three loved relatives in care homes, I do not want to live for either eternity, or 90. I’d like to live for just as long as I am lucid and independent.

• Grossest thing you’ve ever seen?: If I answered this truthfully, your blog would drop 50 percent of its readers.

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Austin Winsberg

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I love interviewing writers from different mediums.

From my end, it feels like a country artist comparing notes with a rapper; or Julia Roberts trading acting thoughts with, oh, Sylvester Stallone. There are so many processes that go along with the profession, and they cross over traditional creative barriers. Where do you write? How do you write? Where do the ideas come from?

Hence, today’s Quaz.

Austin Winsberg is a scribe, just like I’m a scribe—and the similarities end there. He has written for Gossip Girl and Still Standing, and was the creative mind behind  Jake in Progress, the TV series starring John Stamos. His biggest hit, to date, comes on Broadway, as the playwright of the runaway hit, First Date: The Musical.

Here, Austin explains how Punky Brewster and a lack of interest in snorting coke changed his life, and what it feels like to have a play—your play!—open up on Broadway. He talks actor egos and Carrie Underwood and, of course, Celine Dion.

Austin Winsberg, welcome to The Quaz: The Non-Musical …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Austin, so you’re responsible for “Blind Date: The Musical,” which opened on Broadway on Aug. 8, 2013. But I’m a tad confused—to quote a bunch of places, “The show evolved from a book by Austin Winsberg.” So, eh, how the heck did this happen?

AUSTIN WINSBERG: Well, first of all, the show is called “First Date.” Blind Date was that awesome Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger movie from the 80s. So, already, this interview is going swimmingly. [JEFF'S NOTE: This is a pretty embarrassing screw-up. I guess I could have edited out. But screw-ups happen]  Now, in regards to “the book.” The book in a musical is actually what they call everything that is not a song. So, in other words, the script. Or the characters and dialogue. It’s not a book like something you would buy on kindle or used to exist in something I believe was once called a book store. It’s just all the words between songs. To clarify, my writing partners on the project—Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary—and I, all sat down over several months and came up with the whole structure and idea behind the show. (The show is about a couple on a first date at a restaurant. And as they are trying to get to know each other, all of their past baggage and skeletons in the closet come to life on stage around them …) We came up with the basic framework, and funny song ideas, and who the characters were, etc. Then, I went off and wrote all the dialogue and scene description stuff and they wrote the songs. Sometimes I would write dialogue that would turn into lyrics. Or sometimes song notions would end up becoming dialogue. It was a very collaborative process between the three of us …

J.P.: So it’s Aug. 8, 2013, and your show is opening on Broadway. No, YOUR SHOW IS OPENING ON BROADWAY!!! What did that feel like? Emotions? Nerves? Were you petrified by fear? Overcome with pride? What?

A.W.: I think at that moment I mostly felt exhausted. It was all pretty surreal. We had an intense rehearsal process and then about a month of previews before the show had opened, so we had seen it with an audience about thirty times before opening. We also had done a three-month “out-of-town try-out” in Seattle. So, we were used to people seeing the show. But we were also in this intense pressure cooker of a work environment, and once you’re in that bubble, you kind of forget the enormity of it all. Which was probably good for me. Because if I stood there through rehearsals thinking, “Holy shit—we are about to open on Broadway,” I would have been paralyzed with fear and wouldn’t have been able to rewrite jokes every night during previews. As for pride—I’m a neurotic Jew who is very hard on himself and I always think I could and should be doing better. So, pride is not an emotion I normally feel. That being said, I tried very hard at a few points during the process to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Because if you don’t enjoy it—what’s the point of doing it in the first place? I remember the first time I saw the show up on the marquee—that was a good moment. The first time I heard the audience laugh at a joke I struggled for weeks to get right—that was also another good moment. Opening night, I remember sweating. And feeling very hot. And also a little emotional. I may have cried a little. Don’t judge me …

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J.P.: I know you’re from L.A., I know you attended Brown, I know you have a wife and two kids. But what’s your life path? How did you get from the womb to here? And when did you know writing was your thing?

A.W.: Wow. That’s a very long and intense question … Not sure I can give you all that info in the time allotted … But let me see if I can give you the Cliff’s Notes version. (BTW—do Cliff’s notes still exist? Or did I just age myself? And why were they called Cliff’s notes? Who the hell was Cliff other than the definitive slacker? Note to self—maybe there’s a TV show idea about this “Cliff” and all his notes. Like a comedic, period piece, origin story … How one slacker came to help an entire generation NOT read the classics … Sorry, where was I?) Okay, I grew up thinking I wanted to be an actor. My parents weren’t in the business, but I always loved being the center of attention. So, at a very early age, I convinced my mother to get me an agent. And I started auditioning for commercials and TV shows when I was about seven years old. My biggest claim to fame during this part of my life was being fired from Punky Brewster. They accused me of being “disruptive on set.” This may have had to do with the fact that I was madly in love with Punky. And that I told the director where to put the camera. Did I mention I was ten? And I still think the angle I suggested was better than what she was planning.

I started reading Variety when I was twelve. And I could you tell about every single movie that was in production or what show was on what channel at any time of the day … (I was basically a walking IMDB before IMDB. Why did I need all this information? I have no idea. I think it was like other kids memorizing baseball stats or something. Only I wasn’t good at baseball. I had depth-perception problems. Which made catching fly balls very embarrassing for me. And for everyone around me…) Either way—I was just endlessly fascinated by the business. All aspects of it …

When I was 14, I went to a very famous theater camp in the Catskills called Stagedoor Manor. My best friend there was already a “playwright” and he was winning all these young playwriting contests around the country. (Yes, this is really a thing …) I always liked making people laugh and writing sort of seemed like a natural extension of that. So, while I was still trying to get the leads in school plays and the occasional bit part in shows like The Wonder Years (never happened), I also started writing some plays on the side. Mostly to compete with my camp friend and show him I was cool, too. ‘Cause nothing says “cool kid” more then “young playwright’s festival winner.” That being said, I won the Los Angeles Blank Theater Company Annual Young Playwright’s Festival five times before I was 19. And writing just became a part of what I did, while still pursuing other things.

After college, I worked at New Line Cinema for a year, thinking that I wanted to be a studio executive. But it didn’t feel creative enough for me. (That and I wasn’t comfortable around all that blow. Am I allowed to say that on here? I’m not saying where the blow came from, or that it had anything to do with the New Line organization. I’m just saying, I may have seen some blow that year. And I may not have partaked. And I may have been judged for it by those who will not be named …) So, I left New Line and decided to be a writer. (It was, after all, the one area where I had gotten the most validation up to this point. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but when you’re not getting parts in even your school plays, maybe you shouldn’t then decide to make an entire career out of being an actor. Thus, writing became my full-time job …)

I convinced that camp friend to move to Los Angeles from New York. We started writing together and got staffed on our first TV show when we were 23. We wrote on two shows together. And I left the second one when I created and executive produced a show that was on ABC for two seasons called “Jake in Progress,” starring John Stamos. I have lots of stories from that time. But since you did not ask me about that, I will move on … Having a show on the air opened the door to lots of opportunities. And by opportunities, I mean writing lots of pilots and movies that have not gotten made. That has been a big part of my career—getting massively humbled while selling and writing projects that never make it off an executive’s desk … (While also taking gigs on the occasional show like “Gossip Girl.”) Which actually brings us back to First Date … Feeling frustrated with the whole TV development process, I thought maybe it was time to go back to my theater roots. And that’s really where writing a stage musical came from. Just the desire to have fun with some friends and try writing something different than another pilot that gets passed on by a network so they can pick-up someone else’s show that gets canceled after two episodes. And I actually think there’s some sort of lesson here. When you stop writing for “them,” and instead start writing for “you,” who knows what will happen? Best case scenario—I imagined First Date would play for a few weeks in some little theater in Hollywood. And yet, somehow it ended up on Broadway …

J.P.: I’m gonna throw a weird one at you: Of all the writers, producers and directors I’ve met in New York and Los Angeles, a solid, oh, 70 percent of them have been Jewish. And yet, we make up about 3 percent of the country’s total population. How do you explain this? Do I just have a Jew magnet? Do we own the media? Somewhere in between?

A.W.: I certainly don’t think I can speak for all Jews. But I do imagine the majority of us have this “need to please” gene. And, like I mentioned before—“nothing’s ever good enough” syndrome. Maybe this comes from growing up in homes with challenging or critical parents. But I think we all desperately want to be loved. And get validated. And there’s no greater validation than being loved on the world stage. Or by having millions of people seeing your work and responding to your material. I also think we are gluttons for punishment. So some combo of wanting to be loved and needing to be persecuted at all times has driven most of us into this profession. It’s not healthy. And yes, I am in therapy. But at least I’m aware of this sickness. If the day comes when I can get most of my self-worth and happiness from something other than fleeting validation from the powers-that-be, we should throw a big party. (That I’m sure I will be judging while it’s happening. “This is really the whole party? Do I even deserve this? I don’t care if there’s three hundred people here all celebrating me. How the hell did that one person not show up?! I’m going inside. I have a stomach-ache. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten gluten.”)

J.P.: You were a writer on The Sound of Music Live!—the recent recreation of one of the all-time classic plays/movies. What was this experience like? How ambitious was the idea? What did you think of the ultimate product? And how many times did you think, “Fuck—Carrie Underwood ain’t no Julie Andrews …”

A.W.: I think the idea was hugely ambitious. A live TV musical? For three hours? And are you really asking me what I thought of the final product? Here’s what I think—there are lots of challenges with having to do something live. You have to do a general lighting scheme, so everything seems super brightly lit. You have to shoot it on video so it can be broadcast to the world live. Forget about any other aspects of the show—and already—it looks like a Spanish telenovela. So, the first thing you have to overcome is just the simple visual style. And for some people that’s a hard thing to look past. Especially in HD. But there was great care taken in the creation of all aspects of the show. And I think they mounted a production that was true to the intent of the original stage piece.

As for Carrie Underwood, I think she got very unfairly maligned. Seriously. For her first acting role—to take on a three-hour live show? I thought it was incredibly brave of her. And I think people were super critical of her without praising the sheer boldness and risk-taking involved. I think “Sound of Music” is a classic. And I think it was an admirable experiment. Anything that brings theater to the masses has to be applauded. At least in my opinion. Plus, the good news (at least I take it as good news), is that since the show got so many viewers—there’s going to be even more of them. (They’ve already announced live “Peter Pan” and “Grease” musical events …) So, whether people are watching because they love the musicals or because they treat it like some sort of guilty pleasure or potential train wreck—there are still eyeballs coming to something that is quintessentially theater. And I think that’s awesome. So, to be a small part of the project that started this trend is something I am extremely proud of.

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J.P.: According to your IMDB page, you have one acting credit, as “KPQU Joe” in “The Ugly Truth”—the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler non-classic from 2009. There has to be a story here. Please explain …

A.W.: Well, I used to work out at a gym next to a guy who was a producer on the movie. One day he told me there were lots of parts in the film for people like “writers and agents and stuff like that.” I think what he was trying to say, was, “You know, Jews like you…” He asked me if I wanted to audition. I thought it would be fun since I hadn’t done it in so many years. I went in and read some lines with the casting director. And sure enough, I got a call two months later saying I had a part. I didn’t know who KPQU Joe was, but I was really excited. Just like I was back at Stagedoor Manor. I remember the script arriving at my house, and me going through every single page looking for KPQU Joe. This was finally the big acting break I had wanted so many years earlier.

Finally, I get to page 96, and the first time KPQU Joe shows himself. And this was the description—I’m not even kidding. “In walks JOE, a balding nebbish.” This is what I had waited all those years for?! To play the balding nebbish?! This is how the universe or at least the casting Gods saw me? Apparently so … Needless to say, I did not let that deter me. And I spent three days on set reminding myself why I gave up acting in the first place. (Did I mention I’m a pretty terrible actor?)

J.P.: Why do you think we care so much about actors? Being serious, Austin. A fireman can walk by and we pay him no mind. A teacher, a police officer, an EMS worker—meh. But show me a man or woman who pretends to be someone else on a screen or stage, well, break out the confetti! Why?

A.W.: I think actors reveal the universal truths and the deep-seeded emotions that most of us are too afraid to feel or let out in public. By standing out as individuals, they are speaking for all of us. Oh, who am I kidding?! Actors are pretty people, damnit! And everyone likes looking at and being around pretty people. Plus, most of them are way more charming and funny than the rest of us. Until you spend actual time with them. And then you realize that they are bottomless wells of need and insecurity who will suck you dry with endless conversations about themselves. And their latest headshots. And whether or not they should switch agents. Or go on that yoga retreat they’ve been thinking about. Or… (Honestly, I’m exhausted even writing about this question. And I am friends with some actors. They’re not all emotional vampires…)

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

A.W.: I think these moments are actually both the same. I found myself in the audience several years back at the rehearsal for a live episode of American Idol. The people I was there with were friends with one of the producers. He came over to us while we were watching the contestants perform their songs (sans judges), and asked if any of us had any funny quips or critiques that Paula Abdul could use while she was talking about any of the performances on the live show. I came up with some snappy barb in the moment and then forgot about it. I went home that night, turned on the TV, and sure enough, Paula Abdul said my joke while she was talking to one of the contestants! Watching Paula Abdul say my line on American Idol in front of 20 million people may have been the greatest moment of my career. In retrospect, the fact that I got that excited about Paula Abdul saying my one corny line on American Idol also has to qualify as one of the lowest.

J.P.: You were a consulting producer for many episodes of Gossip Girl. I’ve watched a bunch of TV shows being filmed and I’ve often thought the same thing—yaaaaaaaawn. “Let’s shoot that scene again. And again. Now from this angle. Wait, once more.” Do you enjoy working in television? If so, what’s the appeal?

A.W.: I love working in television. First and foremost, because of the pace of it. Movies and theater take years and years to happen (or not happen). With TV, it’s such a machine. It needs product. Which means, everything happens much faster. So, you know very quickly if a pilot you wrote is getting made or not. Or, if you are on a TV show, you have an entire crew and actors waiting on a set. And they have to shoot something on Thursday. There’s no going back from that. Once the thing is in motion—it stays in motion. Until cancelled by an outside force. So, there is only so much “group think” and noting that can happen. But at a certain point—they just have to shoot something. So, you actually get to see your words being shot. And that can be very gratifying. Also—TV is a collaborative medium. It’s not just you alone in a room all day, trying to force yourself to sit down at your computer. Most TV shows have writers rooms and you get to go in and bond and laugh and come up with stories and eat great lunches with a room full of supremely talented people. So, if you enjoy being social and you’re not a total hermit, you get to flex your creative muscles while also being around other people at the same time… Finally, TV is truly a writer’s medium. They say film is a director’s medium. But in TV, the writer or “showrunner” is the one in charge. So, if you get to that level, you are actually overseeing all aspects of production. Not just writing, but casting, editing, costumes, etc … It truly feels like the one place, other than being a film director, where it can be your vision up there every week. (Or at least close to it, depending on how many notes you get from the studio and network …)

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J.P.: How do you write? Where do you write? When do you know if something’s great and brilliant, vs. liquid crap?

A.W.: I always start with an idea. Then I let it dance around in my head for a while. Then I get several people’s opinions on whether it’s worth pursuing. Then I second-guess it. Then I get depressed. And then if I still can’t let it go, I start writing up some form of an outline or a pitch document. Once I have a solid story and structure, and only then, will I actually start writing a script … I usually write at home. Unlike a lot of writers, I actually need silence to write. Unfortunately, that’s getting harder and harder since I have a 3-year-old who’s bedroom is literally right next door to my office. And another kid due in two weeks and counting … So, for me, the hardest thing at the moment is just shutting the door, silencing the outside noises and trying to focus. Which is made harder by the fact that all I really want to do at this point is just play with my kid … As for “great” and “brilliant”—I’m not sure those are thoughts that ever go through my head. I do go through a phase where I feel like it’s coming together and the script feels like a version of what I set out to do. For me—that’s probably the best moment in the process. Finishing a draft of something and thinking—“You know what, I don’t totally hate this …”

But, having had my heart broken so many times with projects that I thought were very good and ended up not getting made, I try at this point to not put any expectations behind it when I send it in to the powers-that-be. I always believe in putting my best foot forward. But as my therapist has reminded me numerous times, the only thing I have control over is the work, not people’s responses to it. And executives always give notes. This is their job. THEY WILL NEVER NOT GIVE NOTES. So, if the notes are light, I think the executives are brilliant and I’m pleasantly surprised. And if they have lots of notes, I instantly turn on the thing I liked just the day before and now convince myself it’s riddled with problems. Honestly, the hardest part of the whole process is remembering what it is you liked about the project in the first place. And then fighting as hard as you can to maintain those small things that initially got you excited while also being a team player and showing everyone that you can adapt and incorporate all of their thoughts into the work … without totally watering the thing down … and making it feel completely generic … which has happened to me a few times over the years while trying to be a “good guy” and make everyone happy. Which, consequently, ends up making nobody happy.

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• On IMDB, it lists your “alternate name” as Austin Garrett. Um … what?: This was my stage name when I was a child actor. My first agent told me Winsberg sounded “too Jewish.” True story.

Rank in order (favorite to least): Book of Mormon, Joe Montana, The Greatest American Hero, napkins, cake pops, Joan Rivers, Peter Criss, veggie burger, “Holding Out for a Hero,” hiking, Brian Cashman, Easter Sunday: The Greatest American Hero, Book of Mormon, cake pops, “Holding out for a Hero,” Joan Rivers, hiking, Easter Sunday, napkins, veggie burgers, Peter Criss, Joe Montana, Brian Cashman. (Did I mention I don’t really follow sports? And yes, I had to look up Brian Cashman. But not Joe Montana. So at least give me a little credit for that.)

• Five favorite movies of all-time?: The Shawshank Redemption, Parenthood, Groundhog Day, Defending Your Life, Annie Hall.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Taylor Momsen? How many rounds do it go?: That girl would kick my ass so hard. I’d probably take it on the chin in the first round and then go home, whine to my wife and take a nap.

• Would you rather name your daughter Leighton Meester Winsberg or Blair Walforf Winsberg?: Thankfully, I have a boy with a second boy almost here. So I don’t have to answer that question. Having seen some of the Gossip Girl message boards, there’s no winning in getting involved in that fight …

• Celine Dion calls and offers you $15 million to write her new play, “Celine Dion Eats Goldfish then Worships Satan While Pooping on Stage.” You have to sit next to her every day for a year and also eat 10 pieces of her dead skin daily. You in?: I’d hate to ever consider myself a “sell-out,” but … I already have a ton of ideas for what I would do with that project … even without the $15 million. (I mean—who wouldn’t go see that show?!) The dead skin part kind of throws me a little, but these are the sacrifices we make for our art …

• My cell phone recently dropped in a toilet filled with piss. What was I supposed to do?: The same thing happened to me at the podiatrist office. In a water tub. I shudder to think about the feet that were in there before my phone dropped in. That being said, my cell phone is the fourth most important relationship in my life, right behind my wife, my child and my mother. So I dove right in to grab that thing just as if a family member was drowning. If I could have given my phone mouth-to-mouth, I totally would have. Unfortunately, we were not able to revive it. And I ended up giving my phone a proper Viking funeral.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: That’s all I ever think when I’m on a plane. Mostly I just try to close my eyes and go to a happy place. Or take Xanax and drink lots of alcohol. In which case—I recall nothing.

• Your college roommate was John Lloyd Young, the actor. Can you tell us one thing about him that’s never been written?: He makes a mean cornbread?

• This is my all-time least favorite song. Your thoughts?: Steve Winwood is my uncle (twice-removed), so it wouldn’t really be appropriate for me to comment.

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Bob Ley

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Not unlike most people who work in sports media, I have mixed and scattered opinions about ESPN. On the one hand, I’ve probably spent, oh, 12 percent of my lifetime television viewing time watching the network. The coverage has been unparalleled and, in relation to broadcast journalism, medium-defining. Some of the shows are absolutely dazzling; some of the employees beyond elite.

And yet, ESPN can also drive a guy to drink. It’s non-stop. It’s (at times) brain melting. There’s often a blurring of the line between reporting and entertaining, and if I never have to hear that damned SportsCenter theme song again … well … um … yeah.

I digress: As much as I sometimes growl toward the network, I always—always—love the work of Bob Ley, ESPN’s longest tenured employee and the definition of a professional. Bob is not a guy with gimmicks and tricks and irksome catchphrases. He reminds me of the sportscasters I grew up watching—Len Berman, Jerry Girard, Sal Marciano. He lets the action speaks, and uses his voice and words as guides, not soundtracks.

As you read this, Bob, along with Alexi Lalas, is anchoring ESPN’s World Cup coverage from the network’s studio in Rio de Janeiro. He still hosts SportsCenter on occasion, but does his primary lifting as the host of the top-shelf investigative program, Outside the Lines.

Here, Bob looks back at the day he accepted $25,000 to join a network nobody had yet heard of; he talks TV egos and good vs. bad programming. He loves Pretzel M&Ms and the Soprano’s, can do without Superman II and Tweets regularly (and entertainingly) here.

Bob Ley, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Bob, so I’m gonna start with an odd one. Years ago I left Sports Illustrated because I just got really bored covering sports. It started to hit me as repetitive—same uniforms, different names. I couldn’t take it. You’ve now been at ESPN for 35 years. That’s a lot of sports. How haven’t you lost interest?

BOB LEY: Those of us who go back a ways here in Bristol have a phrase that deals with the never-ending tide of highlights, scores, trades and contract stories—Cavs/Mavs/Jazz. Say that to an old-timer, and they get it immediately. Another (hopefully not generic) highlight, of another game, from another season. I anchor SportsCenters only on Sunday mornings for about half the year, so my Cavs/Mavs/Jazz quotient is not trending toward the immobilizing, but I get your point. There are times when you’re doing highlights with one side of your brain while the other is marveling that you can still summon the energy to sound interested.

J.P.: It won’t shock you to hear me say that I’ve seen m-a-n-y TV people with enormous egos. They think they’re important; they love the airport recognition; love signing autographs and hearing, “Hey, I love your work!” I’ve never heard anyone say a thing about your ego, arrogance, strut, cockiness. Literally, all I hear—repeatedly—is, “Good guy, real pro.” A. Do you disagree with my take on the field? And B. Why no crowing?

B.L.: Well, there is something I call Red Light Fever (borrowing from the old country and western “White Line Fever” written by David Allen Coe) and there is an intoxicating quotient about the attention and immediate feedback of doing this for a living. But at the end of a day, dude, this is just a job. The same as the folks operating the cameras in my studio, the same as the producers in my ear, and the same as the guy who gets up at 3 am to deliver my Sunday paper. A producer buddy of mine once said that getting a bunch of TV talent ( yes, the industrial term for ‘meat puppets’) together is akin to gathering a group of dogs in the park. They all get busy metaphorically sniffing each other, in sensitive areas, and sizing each other up. That’s inevitable. Perhaps part of my approach is that playing to the crowd, which I distinctly differentiate from being polite to folks who approach you, can be a bit of a waste of time. We got plenty on our ‘to do’ list. Maybe twice a month you’ll really nail a show, get a great interview, or illustrate a story ahead of the curve, and the show meetings after a program such as that are filled with the quiet satisfaction of doing what no one else has done that day, and doing it freaking well. OK, meeting’s over, time to go home … and then come back in tomorrow and do it again. And try to do it better. That will keep your chest thumping to a minimum. That, and reading Twitter, which vacillates between a revolutionary digital resource, and vivid proof that Darwin was right, and opposable thumbs can do some really stupid things.

J.P.: You’re from the mean streets of Bloomfield, N.J., you attended Seton Hall. But what’s your path? Like, when did you know, “TV—this is what I want to do!” And when did you figure you had a talent for it?

B.L.: I recall being 6-years old and standing in the announcer booth (rickety as it was) at the Langhorne Raceway in Pennsylvania, and watching a Wide World of Sports announcer (can’t recall exactly who) work a demolition derby. (You know, where cars take the track with the sole purpose of crashing into each other; last car running wins) My uncle was an assistant director at ABC, and an early age he introduced me to the magic of the business. I mean, that was 53 years ago, and I can still recall the gee-whiz factor, and how neat that all looked. Growing up in Jersey, outside of New York City, like so many kids in the late 60s and early 70s, I listened incessantly to Marv Albert announce Knick and Ranger games, and called games myself into cassette and reel-to-reel recorders; eventually, on a quite illegal pirate FM station a buddy had set up. Broadcasting was the sole reason I applied to Seton Hall, having listened to their basketball broadcasts on the student station WSOU (which covers the entire New York metropolitan area). And shortly after I graduated from school in 1976, a buddy I had written sports with at The Herald-News in Passaic told me that he heard a local cable system was setting up its own channel to broadcast sports. I had radio tapes, and they were paying $50 a game. How could you say no?

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

Three ESPN originals—Tom Mees, Chris Berman and Bob Ley (from left to right)

J.P.: You arrived at ESPN in 1979—when nobody knew what the damn thing was, and the idea of an all-sports network seemed preposterous. What do you recall from those early days? Did you guys are share in the vision? Was there doubt it’d last? And why did you even take the job?

B.L.: Grasshopper, you’ve asked me to write a book here. And some have. There were early visions and philosophies of how this place would sign on, prosper and grow. And the men who hired Chris, Tommy and me—Chet Simmons and Scotty Connal, both now gone—were in charge of managing that to fruition. Now, I did join ESPN when it started, but I actually had two job offers in hand. Exactly two weeks to the day before the network signed on, I drove from New Jersey to Plainville, Connecticut to meet with Scotty, having already sent a resume tape ahead. By the time I walked to the door with him at the conclusion of our meeting, he was offering me a job, doubling my local cable salary and promising to pay me the outrageous sum of $25,000 a year. This was late August, 1979. Scotty was sketching out a marvelous future. Of course, ESPN’s studio wasn’t yet finished, the building was a shell, and this interview was taking place in a rented, unfinished loft. I stopped poor Scotty in his tracks when I told him I had another job interview the next day, so I needed time to consider his offer. New Jersey Public Television, the next morning, offered me the No. 2 job in their sports department. Their building was constructed, they had plumbing, and the job meant anchoring on weekends in New York and Philly on the PBS stations, and reporting during the week. The money was virtually identical. I had about 18 hours to make up my mind. As I was coming out of a startup at a local cable system in Jersey, I saw the value of writing your own job description and taking charge of a blank canvas. But it wasn’t a clear-cut call. At least then.

J.P.: I’m a University of Delaware grad, and one of our famous alums—and a guy we all looked up to—was Tom Mees. I don’t mean to be overly depressing or dramatic, but what do you recall of Tom? And do you remember finding out about his death? How did that impact you?

B.L.: The words that inevitably spring to mind when I think of Tom are ‘irrepressible’ and ‘genuine.’ He did not possess an ounce of guile. Tom had a thorough and genuine love for the games, for reporting on them, and for his role at ESPN from the first month in 1979. He died August 14, 1996. I had just returned from a reporting trip to Cleveland on a story (which never did pan out) and I will always remember the phone conversations I had that afternoon with Chris LaPlaca and Howard Katz. We were all numb. The shared foxhole experiences of the early years, doing shows together at all hours and against all odds, in some of those times, frankly, when it was anything but certain that this enterprise was going to survive … you can’t appreciate the bonding and brotherhood of that unless you’ve experienced it. We would do a Sunday morning show together, and Tom would come over to our house (this was before he met Michele and was married) and my wife would cook us brunch, and we’d sit there having omelets and Bloody Mary’s, and wonder if just maybe this little network might work out. The picture displayed at his wake said it all. It was a casual shot of Tom, rinkside, at an NHL arena, with the broadest smile on his face. He was doing what he loved. Hockey was his passion, being from greater Philly, and pull out the videotapes; he was beyond excellent as a hockey play-by-play guy. All who knew him, think of him, especially around network anniversaries and the like.

Perhaps my favorite Tommy story is one he would never tell himself. It was after one of the Oilers’ Stanley Cup Championships, and Tom was doing the live interviews for SportsCenter with the winning players. SportsCenter was in a commercial break, and Wayne Gretzky skated over to talk with Tom. “Wayne, it’s gonna be a couple o’ minutes because we’re in a break. Sorry to make you wait.” And the greatest player in the history of the game said, “Tom, for you, anything. No worries.” We only heard that story after he died. He would never ever think of talking about himself like that.

Lee hosts the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

Ley hosts coverage of the 1985 Grand Final of Aussie Rules with former Carlton skipper Mike Fitzpatrick.

J.P.: You broke the news of Pete Rose’s lifetime banishment back in 1989. How breathtaking and shocking was that? Did it have the magnitude of, say, Magic’s HIV announcement, or the OJ chase? And, years later, do you think Rose belongs in the Hall?

B.L.: Nothing will ever top Magic’s announcement for the sheer shock and breathtaking humanity. Remember, Pat Riley led the Madison Square Garden crowd in prayer that night. We all assumed Earvin would die. Rose’s ban was not unexpected by the end of August, 1989. We had developed multiple independent sources that summer as to the nature of his gambling on baseball. Over the years I sat down several times with Pete, before he came clean, and listened to his spin. Damn, what a ballplayer and American original he was, and is. Does he belong in the Hall? It’s academic, because he’ll never get in, but even if that weren’t the case, it pains me to say that his banishment should stand.

J.P.: You’re a big soccer dude, dating back to your stint as the New York Cosmos play by play man. Do you see a day when soccer is a legitimately big sport in the U.S.—right there with baseball, football and hoops? And why do you think it hasn’t happened already?

B.L.: The changing demographics of this country, the drip drip drip of soccer highlights into the daily highlight diet, the attention on the U.S. national teams (both men and women), the sterling job NBCSN is doing with the English Premier League, and the attendance figures for Major League Soccer all tell me that soccer, in 2014—and across the board—is already as big as hockey. This will honk off soccer-haters to an unfathomable degree but it’s a measure of how the sport has progressed that the once-fashionable disdain for the sport is loathe to slither out of its lowly hole, for fear of being beaten back by facts,and passionate disagreement. This summer in Brazil, we’re hoping to replicate the authentic and intelligent coverage of the World Cup we were proud to produce in 2010 in South Africa. Damn, that was quite something. We trusted the audience’s intelligence, and they came along for the ride. There are other floors in the television mansion that could learn from that.

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J.P.: I hate watching broadcasters scream at one another—Bark! Bark! Bark! And yet, it seems to be a big thing at your network, at other networks. This whole debate-for-the-sake-of debate thing. How do you feel about it? And am I even right?

B.L.: Our brand is actually a big tent, with many shows, platforms, web pages, and files. Sports, more than anything, is about opinions, and exchanging those opinions plays to the heart of this entire enterprise. Now, are there times that the same issue is sliced eight ways from Sunday on any given day on our various platforms? Surely. We’re even guilty of that occasionally on “Outside the Lines.” It’s easy to criticize both the volume and passion of some presentations. But I’d suggest that, more often than not, having learned about this Talk Thing through the years, we attempt to present Informed Opinion. Where we invite the perception that it’s ‘all too much’ is in the fact that we have so many platforms. But we also have OTL, e:60, The Sports Reporters, smart conversations and interviews, unparalleled story telling, Grantland, and other similar pieces of the brand. You hold the power, Obi Wan. You have the remote. Find another channel.

J.P.: Greatest mistake you ever made on air?

B.L.: Well, there was that night about 23 years ago when I’m doing the 11 pm SportsCenter with Dan Patrick, it’s the middle of the summer, Claritin has not yet been invented, my hay fever is at Defcon 3, and I am medicated to the max. Opening theme, dissolve to the two shot, my turn to open the show …”Good evening and welcome again to SportsCenter, along with Bob Ley, I’m Dan Patrick…….wait…..that’s not right.” That lives forever on a blooper reel. In a serious sense, I remember filing a story during the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky, when the University of Kentucky was about to replace Joe B. Hall as basketball coach. Dick Vitale and I had a source telling us emphatically (I forget if he said he was in the room or not) that Arizona coach Lute Olsen had a contract in front of him from UK, and he would be the new Kentucky coach. We ordered up a satellite (not something rashly or easily done in the days of Fred and Barney technology). and reported that Olsen would be the next Kentucky coach. Well, he may have had that contract in front of him, and, every intention of signing it … but he never did. Basic error, and huge lesson learned.

Lee with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

Ley with Robin Roberts, his former ESPN colleague.

J.P.: What separates a great broadcaster from a so-so one? Voice? Oomph? Knowledge? None of the above?

B.L: You don’t need a voice, you need a mind and a heart; the ability to observe, to write, to synthesize quickly and to tell stories. It helps to have a solid baseline of knowledge beyond sports, so you can explain why these buildings that are your backdrop in Dresden, Germany still have burn marks on them, and why the main street in Soweto is named after Chris Hani, and how tonight’s match is being played in the most dangerous city in the world (San Pedro Sula, Honduras, if you’re scoring at home). Understand that it’s not about you, it’s about the game, or the facts, or the news, or the empathetic story you’re trying to tell. Talk to the audience, not at them, and trust their ability to follow a story. That’s the once advantage we have with decades of credibility. If we tell our audience something is important, they’ll give us the benefit of the doubt. But then we have to deliver.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.45.06 PMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH BOB LEY:

• Would you rather listen to the SportsCenter theme song eternally, on an endless loop, or chop off three of your toes?: I could probably learn to re-balance my center of gravity and walk properly even with a 5 and 2 toe distribution. Actually some of the earlier SportsCenter themes are a gas to listen to.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Louis Orr, guinea pigs, Pretzel M&Ms, Sally Jenkins, Oklahoma Outlaws helmets, sushi rolls, Pat Benatar, David Foster, Superman II, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Vince Evans, potholes, Disney World: Pretzel M&M’s (like Cheezits, an essential food group), Louis Orr (a classy coach in his time at Seton Hall), Real Housewives of New Jersey ( I keep watching for old girlfriends), Pat Benatar (classically trained voice, did you know?), Sally Jenkins (so smart, and with her dad’s DNA), Oklahoma Outlaw helmets (beyond cool), Vince Evans (looked so good in silver and black), David Foster (six degrees of separation with everyone in music, it seems), Superman II (sequels, like second terms, always suck), Disney World (our kids are grown, so it’s been a while, but we have our Cast Member Silver passes), Guinea Pigs (mine ran away when I was a kid), potholes (assuming you mean roadways and not hiding places for your stash; “Dave’s not here, man.”), Sushi (not on a bet)

• Five greatest broadcasters of your lifetime?: In no order, and recognizing I’m omitting so many fine people I admire: Red Barber (actually spoke to him once on the phone, and listened to him call Yankee games as I was growing up); Brent Musberger (has anyone done both the studio and play by play so effortlessly, and at the peak of the industry, for so long?); Jim McKay (words matter, and his were remarkable; his work at Munich stands alone in our profession); Marv Albert (learned from another idol, Marty Glickman, and is simply, the best); Jim Simpson (left NBC to join ESPN in 1979 ; I learned so much from watching him, and he is a gentleman of the highest order).

• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay $50 million for you to spend the next year MCing her Las Vegas show, “Celine and Bobby Meacham Dance the Tango.” Only catch—you have to move to Vegas, paint you hair neon green and adopt the catch phrase, “What up, motherfuckers! Who brought the mustard?” You in?: Is that paint latex or oil based?

• Hardest sports name you’ve ever had to pronounce?: Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. When his name showed up on Tour de France shot sheets, my palms would glisten, my knees buckle.

• Are there rivalries in sports media? Like, you run into the Real Sports crew, is there any awkwardness or beef?: Where do you think those “Anchorman” rumbles originated? Though I’ve never killed anyone with a trident. Flesh wound, though.

• How do you explain the continued popularity of the Kardashians on TV?: Now you know how some people feel about soccer.

• Five all-the favorite non-sports TV shows?: Soprano’s—Final scene shot 3 blocks from my boyhood home, in an ice cream shop I haunted as a kid; The Wire—Nuanced, human, infuriatingly complex, and trusting its audience. (and it’ older cousin, Homicide: Life On The Streets); Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In—Inflection point for humor; The Monkees—The re-runs hold up, the music does too, and it was 15 years ahead of MTV; Mad Men—Learned on “The Actor’s Studio” that they do not rehearse. Think about that. Only a table read, and then they shoot. Astonishing.

• When I was in college I had a crush on Linda Cohn. Think you can snag me an autographed photo?: Get in line, bunky.

• Five reasons one should make Bristol, Conn. his/her next vacation destination?: Lake Compounce Amusement Park; ESPN Café (even if under year-long renovations); Mum Festival Parade (build your September around it); Relaxed pace of life; The holy waters.