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James Lipton, ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ Host, Dies at 93 (Daily Variety)

I started teaching at around the end of Chappelle’s Show being part of the larger American cultural zeitgeist, so when Dave Chappelle broke his silence after leaving his Comedy Central show by appearing on Inside the Actors Studio, I pretty much had to watch. I’d heard of Inside the Actors Studio and seen commercials about it, but I hadn’t paid it much attention since I’ve never really been a film person. Something about James Lipton’s interview style really hooked me, though, and even though I still haven’t watched that many episodes of Inside the Actors Studio, I kind of considered myself a fan of Lipton’s, especially after reading his memoir several years ago.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Inside the Actors Studio is that it’s actually part of a real graduate class on film. Lipton’s interviews were actually five hours long as they happened (he did them every other week, so the average of 2.5 hours a week is typical for a three-credit college class), and the bits of the interview that were considered of highest interest for the general public — old Hollywood stories and the like — got plucked out for Lipton’s television show. The fact that a graduate school class could even get on basic cable, let alone become kind of a pop culture phenomenon, is kind of mind-bending, and I always appreciated Lipton for that alone, to say nothing of all the other accomplishments of his long life.

I’ve only written a couple of screenplays, and the most I’ve ever done with them was to enter one of them in a contest several years ago (I didn’t even get past the submission round), and I don’t think that I’ll ever have the same feelings for writing screenplays that I have for writing novels and non-fiction books. Like I said, I’ve never been that much of a film person, and considering how few films I’ve watched over the past twenty-five years (something I’m kind of trying to correct now by taking advantage of the free films I have access to), I’m not even sure if I should try to do more than write screenplays for their own sake. If there was anything that came close to animating me to pursue screenplays deeply, though, it was the thought of maybe one day sitting across from James Lipton to be interviewed by him. (I have a strange desire to be interviewed by people whom I believe will help me come to greater understandings of both my art and myself. I’d pay good money to be interviewed by Bill Moyers, even if the interview was never recorded or broadcast for anyone else to experience.)

Given all the chaos in the world today, I’m not surprised that Lipton’s death is barely registering on anyone’s radar, but it’s one of those celebrity deaths that hurts just a little extra for me, since I was such an admirer of Lipton’s long career. I put on Angelo Badalamenti’s “Suite from Inside the Actors Studio” soon after I saw the first headline, and even though I’d had some ideas for a blog kicking around in my head over the weekend, I knew that I had to write about Lipton here. Since I now know that I’ll never sit across from him to ask me his version of the Pivot Questionnaire, please pardon my ego for answering it now.

What is your favourite word?

This seems to change on a weekly basis, but right now it’s “bumfuzzled.”

What is your least favourite word?

The N-word. I don’t think there’s another word on the planet with so much hate attached to it.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Finding that intersection of old things that I can make something new about. Seeing the difference I can make through my teaching. Remembering how Mom helped me become the person I am today.

What turns you off?

Willful ignorance. Selfishness. Greed.

What is your favourite curse word?

Fuck. It’s the most versatile curse word, or maybe the most versatile word in general. (Hunt down George Carlin’s treatise on this topic if you’re not already familiar with it.)

What sound or noise do you like?

Too many to count, but one of the sounds I miss deeply since I left Toledo is hearing cars driving down rain-soaked highways on stormy nights. All the rest of my favourite sounds are either music or natural sounds, but this one sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Screaming babies and toddlers when I’m out shopping. No matter how much I try to alter my shopping plans when I hear that sound, the little noise machines always seem to be in the aisle right next to mine.

What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

If I had the voice for it, I’d love to be a public radio host.

What profession would you not like to do?

Proctologist.

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Eh, close enough.”

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