Hi, my name is Eric Spitznagel. I’m a journalist and writer of various things. Let’s learn about some of those things together!
I write for magazines. Most of them are made with glossy paper and filled with pictures of beautiful people with white teeth and flawless skin. Some smell like newsprint, and some not so much. My words have appeared in Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Bloomberg Businessweek, Rolling Stone, Details, Men’s Health, Harper’s and The Believer, to name just a few. I’ve interviewed hundreds of famous or semi-famous people from movies, music, TV, and stage. Here’s a semi-incomplete list of the individuals with whom I’ve had interesting conversations:
Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Charlie Sheen, Sir Ian McKellen, Buzz Aldrin, Louis CK, John Cusack, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Jason Sudeikis, John Cleese, Gordon Ramsay, Craig Ferguson, Isabella Rossellini, Magic Johnson, Paul Reubens, Danica Patrick, Mike Ditka, Willie Nelson, Peter Dinklage, Jimmy Fallon, Chelsea Handler, George A. Romero, Jon Hamm, Steve Carell, Tracy Morgan, Christopher Guest, Danny Trejo, Jeff Garlin, Cee Lo Green, Deion Sanders, Aaron Paul, Billy Bob Thorton, John Slaterry, Eli Roth, Jane Lynch, Jeff Daniels, Kate Hudson, Steve Coogan, Robert Crumb, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Ridley Scott, Roseanna Barr, Kristen Dunst, Barry Manilow, Kristin Bauer, Carson Daly, Lee Majors, Marc Maron, Paul Giamatti, Eugene Mirman, Nick Kroll, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Chiklis, Kevin Smith, Questlove, the cast of Jackass, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson, Olivia Munn, Harold Ramis, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Merle Haggard, Dave Foley, Amy Sedaris, Katee Sackhoff, Paul Rudd, John McHale, Greg Norman, Dave Sedaris, David O. Russell, John Oliver (of The Daily Show), Rashida Jones, Danny Devito, David Hyde Pierce, Zach Galfianakis, Emmy Rossum, Martha Plimpton, Jon Glaser, Dave Navarro (of Jane’s Addiction), Li’l Jon, Dan Aykroyd, Flava Flav, Clive Davis, Michael Shannon, Dean Ween, Bill Maher, Olivia Wilde, Adam Scott, Moby, Evan Rachel Wood, Nicole Richie, Andy Samberg, Ke$ha, Michael Ian Black, India Hicks, Rainn Wilson, Erin Burnett, Beck, Emma Stone, Adam Goldberg, Lauren Graham, David Wain, Will Arnett, Emmitt Smith, Phil Jackson, Angela Bassett, Ed Burns, Demetri Martin, Seth Green, Snoop Dogg, Rev. Al Sharpton, Russell Brand, Sheryl Crow, Bill Paxton, Stephin Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields), Martin Lawrence, Mark Wahlberg, Kid Rock.
Let’s take a short break. Here’s a photo of me getting intimate with some holiday Snoopys.
Here are more celebrities I’ve interviewed.
Sarah Silverman, Ed Helms, Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Zombie, Fred Armisen, Bruce Vilanch, JB Smoove, Mischa Barton, Johnny Marr, the New York Dolls, Paula Deen, Seth Rogen, Aziz Ansari, Chris Regan, Sammy Hagar, Timothy Olyphant, John Darnielle, David Hasselhoff, Marilyn Manson, Ricky Gervais, Andy Richter, Bob Saget, Penn Jillette, James McAvoy, Lewis Black, Martin Freeman, Dave Mustaine, George Meyer (writer for The Simpsons), William Shatner, Mike Tyson, Arthur Conan Doyle (deceased), Ronnie Spector, Sarah Vowell, Patton Oswalt, Shaquille O’Neal, Sam Rockwell, Ed Burns, Richard Simmons, Ice T, Ice Cube, Stephen Malkmus, Rob Corddry, Michel Gondry, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Mike Doughty, Stan Lee, Scott Ian (of Anthrax), Flight of the Conchords, John Taylor (of Duran Duran), Michael Cera, Pam Grier, Analeigh Tipton, Sean Avery, Billy Chilish, Rebecca Hall, Ed Koch, Raquel Welch, Peter Hook (of Joy Division/New Order), Charlie Murphy, Will Forte, Grandmaster Flash, Kristen Schaal, Dominic Monaghan, Sloane Crosley, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, Malin Akerman, Wavy Gravy, Susanna Hoffs (of the Bangles), Ty Burrell, Richard Hell, Judd Apatow, Sharon Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Jason Lee, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Sam Raimi, Chad Kroeger (of Nickelback), Roberta Flack, Amanda “Fucking” Palmer, Tom Green, Vince Neil (of Motley Crue), Dolph Lundgren, Warren G, and Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine).
Impressed? No? Well maybe you’ll be impressed with this photo of me dressed in a mink stole for some reason.
I don’t just talk to celebrities.
I’ve also done reported stories on a wide range of topics. I’ve covered a Bigfoot conference in Texas, loitered in the Yankees locker room during spring training, traveled to a Christian theme park in Florida, and gotten naked on a rock cruise ship. I’ve written gripping exposes on breast milk sold to pervy dudes, the pet funeral boom, Civil War reenactors, Apocalypse yacht sales, and the whale poop black market. I’ve eaten burgers named after metal bands, hung out with Charlie Sheen’s personal wristwatch dealer, and interviewed seven David Bowie impersonators. I’ve stayed up all night with a strip club DJ and a bounty hunter (on separate occasions), all for the glory of journalism. I once wrote a feature story for Bloomberg Businessweek that began with this sentence: “Jeff Edwards, the owner and funeral director at Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio, wants to make one thing perfectly clear. He isn’t flushing your grandmother down the toilet.” I wish every story began with a sentence like that.
I’m a contributing editor for The Believer Magazine, where I co-created the popular Sedaratives advice column (originally written by Amy Sedaris). It spawned two books, You’re a Horrible Person But I Like You and its sequel Care To Make Love In That Gross Little Space Between Cars, both of which I edited (or co-edited), and both featuring questionable life advice from the likes of Sarah Silverman, Dave Eggers, John Hodgman, Nick Hornby, and a bunch of other people you’ve probably heard of.
Here’s a photo of me at a reading.
I don’t remember where or why. Maybe it was LitQuake in San Francisco? I’ve done that a few times. (Best literary festival in the world, by the way. Check it out if you like books and people reading books.) Please enjoy my eerie radiation eyes.
I’ve written some books.
Six of them, in fact. And only a few of them ended up on the remainder table. I’m responsible for books like Planet Baywatch (co-written with Brendan Baber, St. Martin’s Press, 1996), A Guy’s Guide to Dating: Everything You Need to Know About Love, Sex, Relationships, and Other Things Too Terrible to Contemplate (co-written with Brendan Baber, Main Street Books, 1998), Cigar Asphyxianado (Warner Books, 1998), The Junk Food Companion (Plume, 1999), Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter (Manic D Press, 2006), and the New York Times bestseller Ron Jeremy: The (Hardest) Working Man in Show Biz (HarperCollins, 2007).
I’m working on a new book, which I can’t tell you about. I can tell you that it’s non-fiction, and it’s about music, and I haven’t written a word of it yet. I sold the idea to a big publisher in New York City whose offices are like something from the Hudsucker Proxy. I expect to be paid with one of those ridiculously large checks like they give to lottery winners. Print media is dead my ass!
Here’s what a sign said about me on a shelf at Powell’s Books in Portland.
What else, what else? I’m originally from Michigan, and since then I’ve lived in every time zone in the country at least once. I briefly wrote plays in the early 90s, a few of which were produced in Chicago by kind people with access to storefront theaters. My personal favorites were Romeo & Juliet Died For Our Sins and Nothing Cute Gets Eaten, if only because I think the titles were kinda clever. I’ve got one more testicle than Hitler, which I consider a moral victory. Oh, and I was a guest on The View once. That’s pretty interesting, right? Maybe not? Depends if you like The View, I suppose. There’s actually a pretty funny story about that experience, but it’s a long one. But what the hell, where do you have to go? You’re reading an already unnecessarily long bio on a writer’s personal website, so I’m guessing you don’t have a busy day ahead of you. Crack open a beer and I’ll tell you the whole weird tale.
It’s easy to feel invisible when it’s 3:30 in the morning and you’re alone in your apartment and you’ve just polished off a bottle and a half of discount Australian wine.
The self-confidence of solitude is one of the many pitfalls of being a writer. If you’re any good at your job, you don’t leave the house all that often. The best writers can go weeks without feeling sunlight on their face. You forget that the outside world operates under a very different set of rules. When you’re alone with your computer, you can close your eyes and almost believe that you’re Oscar Wilde, sipping absinthe and exchanging bon mots with foppish socialites in fin-de-siècle Paris.
But when you finally leave the comforts of home, you’ll discover just how untrue that home-office mirage really is. The people who get up every morning and get dressed and go to work aren’t easily charmed by your sleep-till-noon eccentricities. They don’t think it’s cute or funny when you wear a “Bukkake Ruined My Carpet” t-shirt, or that you haven’t bathed in so long that your skin smells like brisket. You may think you can win them over with your delightfulness, but human beings aren’t nearly as forgiving as computers, and somehow the brilliant one-liners barreling down the superhighway of your brain always miss the intersection to your mouth.
But one tends to forget these irrefutable truths when, as I mentioned, you’re alone and tipsy and it’s 3:30 in the morning. Too drunk to write, you end up watching a repeat of The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart is interviewing some author you’ve never heard of. You think to yourself, “That lucky bastard. I could do that, if somebody just gave me a chance. How hard can it be? This douchebag’s not even funny. Put me on TV and I’ll show you how entertaining an author can be. I’ll sell so many goddamn books, you’d think I’d written a novel about Mary Magdalene’s affair with a college professor dying of ALS while shedding pounds with the Atkins-approved Black Swan diet.”
Getting on a bestseller list isn’t the only reason writers dream of guest spots on talk shows. We crave it for much the same reason anybody wants to be on television. Because we think an ex-lover will see us, remember how attractive and/or witty we are, and immediately call us with offers of unconditional love and oral sex.
So you lie on your bed, not noticing that it’s almost 4 a.m., chugging the last of your Australian wine straight from the bottle, brushing away the crumbs of whatever it was you had for dinner from your chest hair, and think, “Yeah, that needs to happen. I need to get me on the talking picture box. That would totally rock the casbah.”
You’re going to make some bad decisions in the morning. But sometimes, like a child touching a stove or a liberal arts college student being gay for the weekend, that’s the only way you’re going to learn.
My anti-authority streak has made me do some stupid things, but nothing quite as personally embarrassing as plotting a coup d’état of Vanna White’s dressing room.
“I think she’s in there,” I whispered to Brendan, my writing partner. I could hear movement across the hall, and the hairs on my forearm bristled with excitement.
Brendan just shrugged. “So what?” He muttered. He had far more pressing concerns, like trying to decide between an assortment of colorful neckties.
“We should bum-rush her dressing room,” I said. “Just kick down the door and introduce ourselves. Maybe fill our pockets with some of her complimentary buffet. C’mon, we’re both guests on the same show. It’d be impolite not to say hello.”
Brendan glanced at me with an expression somewhere between pity and fear. “Since when do you care about Vanna White?” He asked.
He made a good point. I didn’t care. But my feelings of self-worth had been challenged. This was my first appearance on a major TV talk show. Granted, it was just a morning talk show, something called The View which, in my egocentric universe, I’d never bothered to watch before today. And the only reason Brendan and I got the gig at all was because one of the producers owed a favor to our publicist. But I still felt like this was a crossroads for my career. This was my opportunity to prove myself, to show the unwashed masses just how infectious my personality could be. I was David Sedaris without the expatriatism, Lenny Bruce without the swears, Bill Cosby without the speech impediment, Ira Glass without a dependable source of income.
I wasn’t asking for much. I just wanted America to fall in love with me.
That’s a tall order for a morning talk show in which your segment is scheduled for the final 5-to-7 minutes, when most of the audience is either taking a piss or have long since turned off their TVs to become productive members of society.
It didn’t help matters that we got second billing to Vanna White. That was like slathering insult frosting on an injury cake. I knew we weren’t exactly a ratings magnet, but c’mon, Vanna White? The Wheel of Fortune chickapoo who managed to become a trophy wife to her own gams? If you really want to chip away at a writer’s ego, tell him that he’s valued just below somebody whose sole job is identifying vowels.
I glared at the closed door of her dressing room, cooking up conspiracy theories on how she was being pampered. I imagined a full spread of fruits and exotic dips and hummus sculptures in the shape of The Pieta and veal cutlets wrapped in pork chops and stuffed with bacon. I glanced over at our snack table, which contained a sad bowl of carrots and bottled water so tiny it wouldn’t quench a midget’s thirst. I was ready to make a scene, to charge the gates of Vanna’s heavily-guarded sanctuary of entitlement and snatch a measly loaf of bread from her greedy clutches, like a modern-day Jean Valjean – albeit a Jean Valjean who’d make sure to mention as he’s fleeing the building that he has a new book coming out from Doubleday next week and he’d sure appreciate it if you picked up a copy, and hey, if come down to the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 82nd next Tuesday, he’ll sign a copy just for you, “Viva la Proletariat!”
But I never got the chance. A team of six or so interns and production assistants stormed our small dressing room, surrounding us like they thought we intended to escape. They were all women, all somewhere between the ages of 22-and-26, and all breathtakingly beautiful. I never had a sister, but I assumed this is what it felt like to be the youngest male living with a gaggle of female siblings. They combed my hair with their fingers, roughly tucked in my shirt, frisked me for unfastened buttons, plucked stray hairs from my back, tightened my tie until I choked in protest, patted me down like they were searching for needles or weapons – generally just primping and preening me like I was a porcelain doll preparing for a tea party.
One of them eventually noticed what I was wearing, and she fixed on me with a disapproving frown. “You’re not really going to wear that, are you?” She asked.
I gave myself a quick self-exam. Everything looked fine to me.
The other women realized what their associate had spotted, and they responded by clucking their tongues and violently shaking their heads in protest. “No no no no no no no,” they repeated like a Greek chorus. “That won’t do at all.”
I had no idea what they were referring to. Did I forget to zip up? Had my nipples inexplicably started lactating, ruining my freshly ironed shirt? What exactly did they find so offensive about my appearance?
“You can’t wear shorts,” one of them finally told me.
“I can’t?” I asked, honestly perplexed. “Why not?”
I looked at my naked legs. They didn’t strike me as particularly offensive. Actually, all humbleness aside, my calves are delicious. They’re like two grapefruits balanced on a pair of stilts. It’s the only part of my body with noticeable muscles, at least enough to flex and not make onlookers point and laugh. I’m so proud of my legs that I rarely, if ever, consent to wear trousers (my least favorite word in the English language, second only to slacks. Try saying it without sounding like the Penguin from Batman Returns. “Slacks. Slaaaaaaaaaacks.”) Unless I’m being audited by the IRS or attending the funeral of a parent, I just don’t see why I wouldn’t want to show off my best feature – or more importantly, distract from my less bewitching physical traits, such as the belly that makes strangers want to tickle me until I giggle like an albino anthropoid shilling pancake mix.
The women were circling me, dressing me with their eyes. I let a hand drift across my crotch, just to make sure a testicle hasn’t slipped out. Surely they couldn’t be so worked up over a few exposed kneecaps.
“You do what you want,” the head production assistant said, shaking her head in disbelief. “But I’m warning you, if you walk out on The View set in shorts, Star Jones is gonna make fun of you.”
I probably shouldn’t have laughed quite so hard. I’m a coward by nature, and my German roots have conditioned me to be subservient to any and all authority figures. But there are few things in this world that terrify me as little as the sentence “Star Jones is gonna make fun of you.”
Really? That’s your threat? My people had to deal with the Schutzstaffel, and you think I’m going to be intimidated by a woman whose wedding was sponsored by Continental Airlines?
The six or so interns and production assistants were not as amused. They folded their arms and flared their nostrils, glowering at me with such apparent animosity that I thought they were trying to melt my brain with their eyes.
“Well,” I announced. “I guess that’s just a chance I’m gonna have to take.”
I don’t want to get into the messy details about what happened next. Okay, fine, I caved. I wish my reasons were more original. But sadly, sometimes I’m just a dude. And like all dudes, I get flustered when an attractive woman smiles at me, and brushes her fingers across my forearm, and laughs at my jokes a little too hard. I’m helpless when just one attractive woman fawns over me, but when it’s six or so attractive women — who (let’s not forget) are paid to shamelessly flirt with schmucks like me — I am a spineless toad. I’ll do anything they want me to do, because like all dudes, the moment an attractive woman shows any interest at all, I’m convinced that there’s a very real possibility, however remote, that she wants to have sex with me in the nearest unoccupied bathroom stall.
There is no act two. But there is a VHS tape somewhere of me on national TV, talking to Star Jones and wearing slacks. Slaaaaaaacks. Slaaaaaaaaaaaaacks.