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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  November 2, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm EDT

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>> charlie: welcome to our program. we begin this evening with tom brocaw. his new book is called the time of our drives, a conversation about america. >> i spent a lot of time in montana. there are those who are federal judges or physicians or bankers, i hear from the cowboys in the street and the fishing goes and other people, i think there's a real anxiety in the country about the general direction of this nation and our society. >> charlie: we conclude this evening with calvintrillin his new book is called quite enough of calvin trillin. >> some people are funny.
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i don't think it's true you can't teach people to write because writing's ju thinking and you can teach people to write down their ideas. but you can't teach people to be funny. there was a professor who kept sending in these pieces. he's brilliant, absolutely brilliant. >> charlie: and they weren't funny. >> no. they were always sort of satire. you sort of felt a crane lifting this switch rue from one place to the other. there's definitely a new correlation of intelligence. >> charlie: brokaw and trillin, next.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> charlie: tombrocaw is here. for more than 20 years he preside as th sole an cur managing editor ofbc tighty
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news. he continues to report for nbc news and launched a second career as a best selling author. his newest book is the time of our lives, a conversation about america. i'm plsed to have tom brocaw back at this table. welcome. >> charles, it good to be back thank you. >> charlie: my mother would thank you very much for that sir as i remind you every time. this is montana or where might this be. >> no, it's montana. it's a road outside of our ranch that leads to a camp ground up into the wilderness. taken by a aot lthey did a lot w stone and a lot of places. that valley behind me leads down to the boulder down to the river. it was a reservation at one time. >> charlie: when you go to montana or go to south dakota, when you travel around, is it the same concerns and can you in a sense tell me what people are saying to you so that you say in this book wherever i go, i'm asked but it's happened to us have we lost our way.
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often repeated questions and the troubling of all because it challenges an american belief so fundamental it might as well be carved from stone. will our grandchildren have better lives than we do. >> i hear that where i g i was hunting and visiting with old college friends, spent a lot of timen montana. i hear from those not happening to be federal judges but who are physicians or bankers but i hear from the cowboys on the street and the fishing guys and other people. i think there's a real anxiety in the country about the geral direction of this nation and our society. now having said that, in south dakota for example and north dakota they're doing well economically. they got very low unemployment. they didn't do anything dumb before the downturn with some prime loans. commodity prices, that is small grains, wheat, corn, soybeans. they're doing well. sothey feel they've done the right thing but they're worried
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about what's going on around them. i think that's an appropriate concern. i've been trying to recalibrate that whole question about our children and will they live better. i think we ought to concentrate on will they live better quitatively not necessarily quantitily tatively. there's a point to how many cars we shoe. we should be concentrating on the quality of life not the rule of law but expansion of tolerance and opportunity. >> charlie: civility in our conversations and all of at that time. >> yes. >> charlie: are we doing badly on that score card. >> i think we are. i think we're not talking about it a. it's kind of kill and kill again in our political culture. a lot of operatives are out there and a whole idea is to get a candidate and bring them to their knees as quickly as possible. money across the board has had a cancerous effect on politics because you can buy so many attack ads and then too we did
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not have a national dialogue about the place of the internet in our lives in terms of bloggers and what they have to say and whether or not that's toxic to the political system. >> charlie: and do you think it is? >> well, i'm a free speech absolutist for the most part. people have a right to say what they want to say but we have to keep in context. i have a friend in montana who comes to me often, this is somebody who is pretty apolitical you're not going to believe what i read on the internet and i said you're right, i'm not going to believe it. i think that's part of the problem. >> charlie: you're a absolutist in terms -- you go black -- >> in fact, the internet has given voice to people we otherwise would notave heard from. there's a lot of wisdom out there as well. >> charlie: but there's editing taking place. >> no. bill clinton uses the phrase we atomize our society and we need some kind of a safe havenhere you can sort out wham to be true and what's not. an awful lot of stuff just flies through the air. i made a critical comment about
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herman cain and his commercial with his campaign manager smoking. >> charlie: that's on meet the press on sunday. >> i did it on meet the press. it's stunning to have that as a central part of your campaign, it's one of the most lhal parts of our althcare system in this country is we're dealing with tobacco-related diseases. the plawrg lit up and said brokaw never went after obama with all of that. in fact, i've written bit, president obama should stop smoking, i think john boehner should stop smoking. there was this whole long train. this is pretty incidental stuff of people attacking me for not going after obama or other people who smoke. and it turns out not to be true at all. >> charlie: you go out every chance you get because you have seen firsthand. >> i have friends i've lost to lung cancer. my father died too young from coronary artery disease i think smoke is a big part of that you talk to any physician in this country whether it's a family
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practitioner or leading up call tice, if they could do one thing they'd stop smoking because it's expensive to deal with. >> charlie: mothe was a smoker and my father stopped smoke. nevertheless smoking contributes to both of these diseases, in fact. you said something interesting the other day and i'll come bk to the arica and what we ought to be looking at. if you were reconsidering a career todayou might think out going to medical school. >> y. well, i was kind of kidding about that. it wouldn't have worked very well in medical school. i have a daughterand are meredith's family has eight doctors in the family. i love. i think there's a confluence between journalism and medicine because you're trying to find out what's going on. at the end of the day you like to think you've done some good, you know. the best doctors i know when you ask them what motivates them they say making people better, helping them with their health. i'm involved now as a member of the board of the mayo clinic, it's a non-profit organization.
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and it is one of the most exsill rating experiences i could ever have. >> charlie: because you could -- >> i bump up against these world class physicians every day and they're so excited about what they're ing and how they're working together to solve these problems. so that's been very gratifying to me. in fact i would take the system in a way and say can we just transfer that to our political culture. >> charlie: i'll come back to that but what do they think about healthcare reform as enacted by the u.s. congress. >> well they're still sorting their way through it. they don't know how they're going to play out and there's some concern about the impact. they do think there's a need for reform. medicare costs are spiraling out of control as you ow and you have that situation where in miami they spend so much more on the medicare patient on average than they do in oregon. >> charlie: how mucyou spent in the last six months. >> in the last six months of life. we ought to be thinking big
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about these reform. i was not happy with the aarp coming out with that ad that's running everywhere now we're 50 million strong don't cut our benefits we vote. it would have been better it seems to me for the aarp to say there are people in our organization who really do need all the benefits they can get. there are others who can look at it in a different way. we're here to help. we have lived with these entitlement programs. let us help you reform them, let's change them because they have to be changed. >> charlie: i never quite understood other than the political reason why the president hasn't been more specific about the cuts that he would guarantee in orr to bring more dialogue to the process. what am i missing? >> i don't think you're missing anything. i don't thk he was specific. i think that he doesn't likeo engage in that kind of across the table grab you by the neck tie let's make a deal here debate. that's just not his style and more and more people are commenting on that. mechanics of his own party, admirers of his wanted him to
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step up more than he did. it was always just alittle bit elusive about what it was that he had in mind. he wanteto bring everybody to the grand bargain, what did that mean. recently he seems to have found what appears to be his voice fr 20012 going out there and taking on the republicans. >> charlie: and the executive orders which suggests action. >> we can't wait. my guess is that down stream we'll hear him saying i tried to get something done last fall. and they wouldn't cooperate with me. unemployment stayed gh as it probably will. higher than we'd like. certainly he will be able to say it's their fault. >> charlie: he run against congress or what. >> my guess is harry truman is a bit of a model. >> charlie: they try to find a narrative as he has often said the narrative in 2008 was his own personal life in an american narrative and he was able to merge those and therefore
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exactly, the change and create the sense that he represented in a america. >> look, i'm not a political strategist but my guess is that they've got to find a way to get that independent moving more to their side. the independents are sti sittg out there as you look at the polling on the republican side, there is, no one has fallen in love i suppose. it's kind of a flavor of the week almost. herman cain is up, rick perry is up, marriage bachman is down and mitt romneytayed in the same level. people are moving around. it's important to remember we have not cast a vote yet. in my long experience in this business at this stage people are responding what they hear on cable or reading in the newspaper. when they're asked who they like, i kind of like that guy herman cn. >> charlie: can you tell about how this most recent explosion about him can impact his chances. >> i don't know. i think we need to know a lot more about the disclosure and
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about what was involved here. but it's one more demonstration that if you're going to run for president of the united states, a kennedy advisor a long time ago used to say if you want to run for president of the united states you have to be prepared to strip naked and take a bath at high noon in the busiest intersection in your town every day. this is one more demonstration of that. >> charlie: someone said to me i would rather go naked down fifth avenue than to run for president of america. when you look at these themes -- let me go back to one quick thing. the reason i thought you said the thing about medical school is so much of what we understand about finding our way to e future has to do with science and technology and values. and that medical school education might very well give you a way to look at some of those kind of things. >> the fact is thati've always been attracted to scientists because they have great range and they know how the world works but they also have other interests as well.
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i write about that that book. i'just not hard wiredo be a scientist, i know that at this stage of my life. algebra two. that pretty much told moo 345e what my future would be. i gave a lecture to journalists one time and they moved us into the chemistry lab. i stood at the bottom of the lecture hall at the periodic table behind me. i would look at it and look back at them and say that's why i'm a journalist. i don't think i could make it. but i do think that medicine is essential to who we are and how we take care of ourselves and how we take care of this nation collectively for all the plans put out there no one has found a way to reduce the 7.5% of the gdp being spent on healthcare. that is not stainable. >> charlie: healthcare reform priorly would access rather than cost. >> it should be access and will be, we need to take more personal responsibility. i think you were at a conference
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two years ago when i asked the audience how many of you here. this is a very high end group if you remember. how many of you here know how much money you spend on your healthcare last year. i knew the warren buffett would know to the last decimal point but he's the only one i thought would. roger goodall who runs the nfl he says don't know who to ask. for them it's out of site out of mind. they don't know how much they're spending on it and how much is unnecessary and a good deal of it is. >> charlie: do you think, look at all these recent studies about income disparity. do you think this notion of 99 and 1 has some resonance and has some kernel of something that comes out of that of a powerful force in the future. >> two things. one is this country now has 40% of its economy and financial services. they don't make it even. they trade currency in some fashion. it's transactional and the other piece of it is 99 and 1. you and i are the beneficiaries
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of that. we are at the upper end of the income scale and the middle class we're losing ground. almost every family i know is we have mother and dad both working just trying to keep their head above water. and then when the recession hit, as i said or as i thought really when i looked at graduation classes in 2011, the spring of this year, i looked at those kids and i goow many of them entered school in 2007 with both parents with good jobs, the house was holding its value, they thought they were going to get a job when they graduated. four years later. one or thether of the two parents probably has been furloughed and lost the job. the house is in trouble under water the expression we've come to understand means that the mortgage is worth more than the value of the house itself. this goes right to the heart of security in a family. it's got t cause enormous enormous emotional anxiety because most people have their
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greatest part of their net worth invested in their house. >> charlie: and it goes right to the house of hearts of america. the american dream of owning your own house was an essential faith an article of faith for people. >> it really began in the last four years with as we all know levitt town. they were affordable for working class people because they matched up with what they were earning. th we got into the mcmansion house. three garages and huge huge family rooms and then you've got to fillate up with all the awe fliensz. i have flown in a lot of helicopters across america i often look down and say where does that come from, where does thatoney come from in california frida and texas and other places. >> charlie: do you mean when we see these vast houses. >> huge housing. there's be a reversal in that
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trend. square footage is now beginning to go down. >> charlie: some people think to have an economic recovery it's got to be immenly down so the housing stockis less than the population. >> what's been surprising is neither party has come up with any kind of solution for mortgage relief. i would think that that would be something that would resonate with this country. >> charlie: smart people sayites -- >> we heard martin feldstein say that at the conference the harvard economist. if you go out into these neighborhoods where people are just in the state of paralysis they don't want to buy anymore appliances, they don't want to buy new cars or to upgrade their home because they're stuck with where they are and until we get some relief of them in some fashion, some kind of long term buyout program that would make the banks take a bit of a hair cut on it, spread the risk of these mortgages. we're going to be stuck in it for a while.
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there are 20 million homes in peril. >> charlie: when you look at occupy wall street, what do you think? what's your assessment? >> i understand the rage. the qstion i ask myself is so what's the end game here. where do you want to go with this. what is it that you're trying to achieve? i mean i know that you're giving voice to your unhappiness with economic disparity in the country, the fact that wall street got bailed out, continue to pay itself bonuses. but we can't have wall street disappear. this is not like ending the war in evaluate numb. you're not going to end wall street. >> charlie: we need credit to be circulating throughout the arteries of the country. >> you need to have one. part of the problem in the last come yearsnce they begin to clamp down the bank couldn't loan any money and people couldn't get credit therefore the economy was stuck in first gear and it needso get beyond that. >> charlie: when i listen people saying the economic clout of, this is an argument you and i heard for a number of years which is the fluence of money on politics and nothing has changed about that. >> no. and we're going to spend a
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come billion dollars on our presidential campaign next year. and this is a blithe across all parties. what's been interesting to me as a political reporter, i began doing this in califora a long time ago i would go cover money in politics, i would go look at the reporting and they would report by not even double spacing or single spacing the name, they would jam them altogether and it would be hard to find how much democrats or republicans. i could never allow a public interest in it because they felt that's the way it's always been. now it's citizens united. it's unleashed a whole other torent of money and other spent outside the campaigns. the only way to beat this guy or woman is to go after them all day every day until the end of the election. in effect what we've done is make voting a marketplac and the highest bidder very ten is one who does best. >> charlie: people wonder why
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democracy is in trouble. >> yes. >> charlie: i wonder too if what's happening today will offer itself, will make it more likely that we will see demagoguery. >> yes. i think we're already dealing some demagoguery ani think we'll see more. e next question is will a third party type candidate emerge. will there be another ross perot of some kind. elect usa, we'vegot this on-line under way whether they can encourage someone to step up on to the stage and take their place. >> charlie: because they had already done the ground work in terms of getting on the ballot. >> that's right. and we'll see whether that works out. they're very encouraged by what they're doing. i don't know. i really do believe that politics ultimately comes down to someone. it's not just a process but it's really -- >> charlie: but it's someone also with an idea. it's someone with an idea and a narrative. >> and an ability to sell i whatever else with a he thought about ross perot he made his no as a salesman and he had it going for a while and it kind of
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ran off the track. he still got almost 20% of the vote if you stop and think about it. >> charlie: the out pouring and respoask appreciation with steve jobs that came with his death and the publication of isaacson's would be says what. >> it says there's a large conjugation of worshipers of steve jobs. i am are neared to one who was loved steve jobs to the point we can launch a nuclear rike from our kitchen, i'm not sure. >> charlie: the big main frame is right there. >> i think that had a lot to do with it. he produced products that we find not only entertaining but very useful in our lives. >> charlie: and had quality and was a greatriend and somebody who insisted on perfection so it reflected not only the best technology but design. >> it didn't affect, i have a
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favorite guy that i, in washington who drives me and meets me at the airport and we've become great friends. i got off the plane a couple months ago and said bobby, i've got to go to apple. he said okay and he drove me to whole foods because i want to buy an apple. >> charlie: you made that up. >> i did not. it did happen. >> charlie: you made that up. it's a good line. >> i've been waiting to say it on the air. my point is you go into the apple stores and it's exciting. >> charlie: i was a pc user this/7. >> i was a pc user for a long time because that's the nbc system. i've now moved over all the way to mac. >> charlie: it's a closed system so he could have more control. >> exactly. everything works one with the other and there's an elegance about it and i get it and i think that what walter has done in this book is given us contemporary history of a very very important time not just in the history of this country but the world and thean advcement offor rsal
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and communication. i'm just sorry i have to be road kill and the road to steve jobs. >> charlie: that's just the question. do you have enough about publishing to know if there's a book that big just to suck all the air out -- >> a couple years ago stephen colbert wrote i am american and so can you. and that just stayed as number one all the way through the christmas season. i wasn't entirely happen because steve's a friend i got a wrapped gift from himt christmastime i opened it up and it was his book with a card that said i thought you'd have at least like to hold the number one book. >> charlie: i think publishing bill riley's book about the lincoln assassination -- >> it's doing very well. and bill gratefully using his program every night to promote that book. some of you have written in about that stuff. >> charlie: a couple of conference to chris matthews. >> right. >> charlie: and well it
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should be. if you have a show you ought to be able to at least do something. >> exactly. >> charlie: give us a sense of how you go in search of america. and how you go in search about what's boati and how you find those stories that you think reflect the essence. >> in my case what i do because irspend so muchime on main street as i describe it out there as well as new york expuft places. i went across the country on highway 50 and talked to a lot of people. because of the nature of my interest and the kinds of things i like to do i find myself in small and medium size cities and then i began here with family, with my own family experience. which is -- >> charlie: there's a bunch of them by now. >> there's a bunch of them by now because we have a son-in-law and their families and we're spread out across the country. what i've looked at are all these family histories and we all pretty much began at the same place. very working class.
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government workers here in new york, for example. high school teachers i oklahoma one son-in-law. his family began with farming. and our familyand my family, my dad came from a railroading fami. my mother came from a farming family. and they all began really at ground zero. and both theslives kind of of brick by brick where they had middle class prosperity and hopes and values and dreams for their children. ey didn't, i suppo overwish for things. they just wanted to get things done in the rig way and they always saved their money and they always were looking to send their childn to school hoping at their children would then be able to do the same for their grandchildren. and it worked out pretty well, that's good formulation for the country in a lot of ways. as i go around america, i find more prosperity now with my home state or wherever i go.
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>> charlie: is this the 1%. >> i think there are the middle class people which have been you know as a class we know they've been falling behind but they're still living very well. one of the things i see in new york especially when i'm in a big crowd at a benefit of some kind is that you're doing the right thing by being here tonight for the international rescue committee with the refugee organization or recently for diana tailor's organization called axion. by the way who in this audience has so much more now even with this downturn than you could have imagid 40 years ago. i did say that one night. there was a rock sitting there -- >> charlie: not exactly. there was also this when you look at where we are and what's going on, this notion of whether this is a center-right country or is it essentially a pragmat country.
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>> i think it's kind of a combination of the two. i think it's always been a little center of right in my life i'm when you look at the pure objective politics of the country. and it's pragmic but it meets big problems in not just a pragmatic way but a ogressive way. look at our society. the most dramatic development domestically. we are an entire different country than when you grew up. >> charlie: i grew up in the south. >> you grew up in the south and that's been a huge change in this country and it's strengthened us in so many ways because opportunity is out there across the board. if you just look at the economics, for example, of the african american population alone and what they bring to the marketplace now in terms of consumer power that's changed the country in a lot of ways. and then the place of -- i really believe that the 21st
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century is the time of women. >> charlie: they're moving into the ceo ranks. >> loo at sharyl sanders, she got organized as a business. >> charlie: they're the frontier and the next generation will be more and more. >> yes. >> charlie: it's certainly happening in law and medicine too. >> yes. >> charlie: whats it about silicon valley that's important to know for you? >> well, what's important for me to know is that this is a gin race that decided not to play by the old rules. they were making up their own world. if you look at the store of steve jobs and wozniak, bill gates and paul alan, what they did was go out and be completely bold and completely unconventional in how they did everything. the instrumentation that they built, their vision about how they wanted to get there and how they ran their businesses. >> charlie: in order for obama to win, the president to win re-election he has to own it. >> i think the other piece is you've got to risk being roughed
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up to get to the center. there's not been a lot of evidence that this president has been willing to be roughed up. it's a tough game and he's now beginning to understand that more it seems to me. we'll see whether it works to his advantage or not. you go back and look at other successful presidents. john kennedy was an example you. he was an aristocratic guy but he's a street fighter. indeed and actually relished it. >> and he lovedt and that's the nature i ronald reagan was never above the fray. he was this elegant guy but when hegot to a so down in new hampshire with george bush and they were going to have an gument about who was going to participate in the debate it was reagan who looked into the camera and said i paid for thi microphone and turn that campaign on. >> charlie: this book is called the time of our lives, a conversation about america, tom brocaw. thank you. >> thank you charlie, it's always a pleasure.
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>> charlie: calvin trillin is here and i'm very happy about that. the new york time has said of him it's hard to think of another writer who delivers so much pleasure sentence for sentence. his new book quite enough of calvin trillin gathers some of his humorous frailz in the last 40 years. 40 years, that's a lot of writing. >> this was grade school stuff. it wasn't bad. >> charlie: you started early didn't you. >> yes, i smoothed it out a little bit. >> charlie: this is a very handsome picture of you, sir >> i think dashing is the word. >> charl: it looks smart, alive. what else can we say about this. >> better than the alternative. you don't want to look ugly and dead. still and dead. that's a very handsome picture of you there. >> i was at dartmouth doing one of those visiting wind bag gigs.
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>> charlie: like the three days you come up and you're visiting in the campaign. they get to hang out with you and fine food. >> people from new york, they want to sublet part of this house. living there pie -- >> charlie: once again my wife -- your wife -- the book is dedicated to her memory. she's there. >> right. >> charlie: in choosing these pieces what's the criteria? did they make you laugh? >> yes. if he this made me laugh because you know with humor, there's just, there's no predicting who is going to laugh and who isn't going to laugh. also it's very subjective if the woman in the second row doesn't laugh it's not funny to her and you can't persuade her >> charlie: she doesn't get it. >> quite sophisticated people laughed at this very same line and you're not laughing. >> charlie: you're not so
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therefor >> i think tt's one of the reasons stand up comics are so neurotic. not the only reason. it kind of runs through stand up comics because in one show the lineets a huge laugh and the next show nobody says anything. >> charlie: why is that. >> iuess they have a lot of mystic reasons for it. i think, i did a couple, the closest ever done to stand up comedy, i did a couple what my girls called one hand shows that took place. >> charlie: your daughter. >> yes. and i found that when a line got a laugh one night and didn't of the night, something caused it. either i swallowed the line or somebody coughed. so it wasn't a perfect reproduction. >> no it wasn't a perfect reproduction. you can't rsuade a stand up comic. >> charlie: you were often on the johnny carsen show, the late great johnny carsen. what d he have?
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timing for one. >> timing. he never said anything that wasn't faintly drawing -- derrogatory. you were never stuck there without anything to say. >> charlie: he was always faintly derrogatory. >> yes. he was able to, tend a laugh without seeming to take the joke away. he knew it was his show, his reaction time. and he had some little talents. once during the reagan administration, i was tking about the way the johnson administration got sort of swallowed by vietnam. the reagan administration was going to be subsumed by plastic surgery. and i said even george h.w. bush who was then the vice president in his annual check up at walter reed said to the doctor can you do something toake me a little
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less preppy around the eyes. he got that wordut without seeming to emphasi he had a lot of skills. he was really brilliant at it. >> charlie: people said, they've always said to me because i was always fascinated by him that he could make, he always made you better. >> he did. and also he had sort of feeling that no matter what happened he could probably save it. >> charlie: look at the scanner. >> yes. famously when people fail to start the two-stroke motor that was going to show their new invention. >> charlie: 40 times? how many times. >> they counted at the end i think it was 33 or something. i was almost always in what they called t author's ghetto. i was once -- >> charlie: it was like a quarter to 1:00. >> to 1, yes. i was once followed by i think somebody played the harp or the
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cello. but ordinarily the author was at the end. >> charlie: why did johnny do that. was he interested in writing. >> i think he was and he liked. he liked people, somebody was a chicken plucker. i actually got somebody on there once that was a smoke screen blower. >> charlie: how did you do that. >> i used to go with my uncle to this mexican restaurant before i caught the red eye and he sd john really wants to have more civilians. and i said well i know this great smoker, he's the guess smoker. he's kind of an entertaining guy but he's great smoke screen. he looks like a guy chaplain with a three-piece suit. and so what's his name.
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and i gave him the name. a couple days later he calls watch friday. it's on, it's already booked. >> charlie: on friday. >> it's on friday. and then i forgot what and i was having lunch the next day with a friend. did you see carsen last night he said no. the weirdest thing there was this guy trying to blow smoke rings. did you say trying to blow smoke rings. apparently they hadn't taken into account the ventilation system and he went right through withis act. he would say here's one for you johnny, to smoke, right. here's one ring inside another and more smoke. i calledll the talent coordinator and said well i told
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you he wasn't much of a smoker. i said he was a charming guy. he said are you kidding, he will be in the best of carsen. >> charlie: letterman did that too taking ordinary people, whether it was stupid pet tricks some guy who ran a dell cause testen. >> johnny was good with spelling champions. >> charlie: iention the late great alice. did you really right about her. did she giggle or not. >> i was trying to impress her in a number of ways. the piece was meant to be funny. otherwise i thought that didn't bode well for my rewrite. it is meant to be quite serious. >> charlie: also --
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>> as you probably know charlie, i am the highest paid poet in the united states. >> charlie: i didn't ma that. >> i am, because when was -- he said he would pay me -- i looked into it and post are paid by the line normally. $10 a line was e highest paid up in new york. so all i had to do to write, to be the highest paid poet in the country was to write say a two line poem. so when i wanted to get that buzz you get for working for the absolute top dollar in your field i will write a true line poem. when i first started remembering when lloyd benson of texas was made secretary of treasury i ote a poem about his dealings, the special terest groups which was the man is known fo
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proquoness. when the college tnscript was nobody in the primary to no effect to the campaign at all i wrote a two line poem which was -- >> charlie: y can make a living at this. >> not quite. sometimes people say aret you awe shame of making a living by making fun of respecble public servants. i said my only defense is it's not much of a living. the first magazine, monaco bought one of my pieces and sent me a bill. it's very bad. my shortest moment was i think is in a book as the poem called something like the political
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societ and philosophical impact of the o.j. simpson trial and the poem is o.j., oyve. that's a very short poem. >> charlie: you only got $10 for that. >> a hundreddollarso matter what. >> charlie: so $50. >> so that was a higher paid poet. >> charlie: that was at your top. >> that was me. >> charlie: what was the john -- compilation. >> what happened was john sununu was my inspiration to write what we cal deadline poetry. not the senator bis father, some peopl aren't onough to remember the real chief of staff. and a real stand on the bush administration partly they all looked alike in the bush administration except john wasn't even shaped like the rest of them. and also was very interested in showing he was the smartest guy in the room. an also had that beautiful name, sununu and i thought it was a really beautiful name.
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i wrote a poem called if you know what sunu knew. that was the start of my poetry career. >> charlie: and it's still going strong. >> yes. i still write every week. well not every wreck -- week because the nation publishes every other week in the summer even though they are down trodden every day of the year. >> charlie: so when you get up in the morning and you read the "new york times" or "the new york post" or the new york bay news or whatever you read or when you go on-line, do you see funny stuff? >> sometimes i see things that would make a poem or a column or whatever i happen to be writing. when i do a column. i don't do a column anymore. when i di a column i used to watch those sunday morning shows
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from washington that i call the savage gas backs. >> like meet the press. >> sort of picked things up. so i guess i read for material a little bit i do read and sometimes things that make other people unhappy. it's bad for the country or something but good for a small joke trade. i think it's like dennis feels about tooth decay. >> charlie: here's what's interesting about it to me. humor is like mimicly, just having a way of expressing it. most people i know have been doing it all their life. they didn't go to learn it. >> no, i don't think you can learn it. i've always thought of as a mir facility some people v it's sort of like the guy in your family that can bend his thumb back and touch otherwise wrist or throw a cigarette in
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the air and catch it in his mouth. >> charlie: this is bigger than that. >> but it's a minor persistence. >> charlie: that makes it very good to you by the way. >> it's not much of a living, yes. >> charlie: it enhanced the brand. >> that's right, extended the brand. that's true. >> what's the best lesson you ever learned about writing. >> i think it was in daily themes which was a course at yale when he had to write a vignette every day. and yale had a number of grades like 83 or 76 but daily themes used letters and then later transferred the numbers. and you got either an a, b, c, d or w. most people thought w stood for worthless. i know some people would get three or fou w's. w plus stuff like that.
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and they had some rules that they had, they wrote on the board. one of them which i think is important for humor is vised by specific detail. so if you describe, say eating a cheese steak, philadelphia in the best known cheese place people say you have to go outside there are no chairs. they say it tastes better leaning up against a pontiac. well if you said leaning up against a car i don't think it would be funny. >> charlie: no it wouldn't. >> but it brings another problem which is that that means that the people have to recognize the details. >> it's also a gift that certain people on a more serious note it's the ability to quote feel your pain. certain peoplead nothing to do with intelligence i don't think. >> no there's no intelligence t
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all. >> charlie: it's a way to communicate that says to someone i hear you. >> yes. and some people are funny and some people aren't in. i don't think it's true that you can't teach people to write because writing is just thinking and you can teach people. you can't teach people to be funny. actually at monaco there was a professor who kept sending in these pieces. a brilliant man. absolute brilliant. >> they were funny. >> n they were always sort of satire. you sort of felt a crane lifting this switch rue from one place to the other. there's definitely no correlation of intelligence. >> charlie: two things are true in which you write about. one you said specificity of the pontiac and the other is brevity. >> yes. nobody's ever campaigned that something is too short. it's absolutely true. >> charlie: your book's never fat. this may be the fattest book you ever wrote.
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>> wellit's 40 years charlie. i mean come on. it's particularly true in verse the closer he got. for instance i did a poem about john edwards that was the title is yes i know he's a worker's son but these hollywood in that ir. well the poem doesn't match the title. it's not as good as the title. i think the more you can boil something down the better. my father's shortest poem. >> charlie: whi was. >> my father was a grocemost of his life but he had a restaurant for a coup years d he used to play it on the menu every lunchtime usually about pie. like all right warden i'm read to fry i've had my last piece of mrs. trillin's pie. he wasn't much on meat my father. >> charlie: i'm ready to fry that last piece of
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mrs. trillin's way. >> he was saying don't sigh eat pie. his best poem i think was eat your supper mom said gently to the little son rode. if you don't i'll break every bone in your body. >> charlie: as a comedian talk about delivery. does the comedy one have a different skill than a comic writer. >> yes. some people who are both. >> charlie: i know and increasingly most of them are both. bob hope was not writer. >> no, that's right. it works the other way. sometimes th writers also do stand up. >> charlie: frequently they start as writers. >> yes. but because you can hear the they're on the page so the timing is different. >> charlie: to write well you have to hear with your ear. in other words, if you do what i do. >> right. >> charlie: you have to write to the ear, you can't write something to be looked at good on the page. it has to found and have rhythm
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to it. >> there are certain pieces that when i have to read a piece i read those pieces rather than me other pieces because they read well. i mean, i've read the piece about playing tick tack toe with a chicken in chinatown. she says i'm going to duc you $500 if you mention that chicken. >> charlie: if you mention the check i. >> it's 500 less. $500, i will be paying you for this piece. but he just told the chicken story two nights ago because it's part -- >> charlie: just tell it now. >> well, this is about taking people down and walk to lower manhattan. i live in greenwich village as you know -- >> charlie: you're a famous denison. >> i describe it as a neighborhood where pple in the
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suburbs come on saturday night to test their car alarms. and when people come in from out of town, i takehem on a little stroll from my house through the various neighborhoods inting on you thingsnd eat a little bit. what we used to do after dog some lunch they would have the at any time to play the chicken and tick tack toe. this is a live chicken and the chinese played mostly video games there. it's in a glass booth and there are buttons on for you to make yourove. and they're back lit letters saying your turn, bert choice. >> charlie: i'm laughing because i know where it's going. >> looks over the situation. remember it only costs $.50 to play. and if you win, you get a large
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bag of fortune cookies $.35 or $.40 but the chicken is very good at tick tack toe. and the people look at it and then they always say the same thing. the chicken gets to go first. i said he's a chicken. you're a human being. surely there isn't some advantagin that. and then not all of them but a lot of them say the chicken plays every day. i haven't played since i was a kid. it costs me $500 just telling you this story. >> charlie: so is there anything that you have wanted to do? i mean you have always said i'm a reporter first. >> right. >> charlie: you define yourself as a reporter. not a poet, not even a critic.
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>> right. i always say i'm a reporter. alice my wife said at one point you're really not a reporter, you're a writer. you should say writer. we life in na scotia in the summer and the customs guy says what do you do for a living. i said i'm a writer. he pickedthe car apart. i said can i go back to being a reporter. so yes i think of myself as a reporter. i guess the one thing like to do that i haven't done is nobody's asked me to do is to write the lyrics for a broadway musical. >> charlie: you would really like to do that. >> no wait a minute, a hit broadway musical. wait a minute, a mega hit
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broadway musical. >> charlie: to fill out your resume. >> it would just be fun. i was on a radio show years ago and someo said, the interviewer said is there a line you wish you had written and i said flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do. that's it. >> charlie: amazingly you remember all t lines. either that or you practice. >> i started at 10:00 this morning, charlie, practicing. >> charlie: knowing there would be these deep penetrating questions. >> charlie will ask his usual deep questions. >> charlie: of it. >> right. >> charlie: we can have at it. you haven't broken the law have you. >> no, absolutely not. never. i he suggested that once for a campaign slogan for senator sully, do you remember him. >> charlie: yes, from new jersey. >> i thought it was a good
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slogan, never been indicted. >> charlie: you see politicians and you see other people at these washington events. you're speaking and it has to be funny. the calloes to the staff of letterman or the staff of jon stewart. >> yes. >> charlie: do you get calls saying hey bud help me out on this. remember me i went to yale with you. >> i don't. a guy who says remember me i went to yale with you wants money. however, although i'm not here to boast, charlie, i was a speech writer for the lt successful democtic peace candidate lyndon b. johnson when the other guy said you might send troops to southeast asia. i stopped that. so my defense in that one is that lyndon johnson did not use one word that i wrote. so i'm not responsible for the war in vietnam. >> charlie: that you wrote. >> i did write.
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i wrote speeches i wrote a beautiful speech called the spirit of st. george. >> charlie: you would write these for publications. >> no no. i was in the whitehouse. >> charlie: oh. >> if you want to be absolute e ten cull, -- technical, i was n the office building. >> charlie: i didn't know. you were a speech writer there. >> i was a speech writer. >> charlie: what happened. >> i wrote, well it was just for the campaign. i wrote a speech about how that when mormons got to salt lake city and got comfortable and they said no push on to st. george and then they came i and they said he's not going to utah he's going to philadelphia and i said just cross out mormon everywhere and put quaker. it's the same speech won't make any ditches. >> charlie: quite enough of calvin. 40 years of funny stuff. thank you. >> thank you charlie. >> charlie: pleasure to have you here. >> thank you. good to seyou.
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