It’s that magical time of year again, somewhere in the news cycle limbo between Christmas and New Year’s, when those of us in the media can get away with recycling old material and passing it off as end-of-the-year retrospectives. I enjoy a little pointless navel-gazing as much as the next journalist, especially if it fulfills my contractual obligations to Vanity Fair and ensures me yet another year of dubious employment.
Revisiting some of these interviews may be a terrible ideas. These are the conversations that inspired some readers to call me a “douchebag” and a “stupid teenager” and a “disrespectful child.” (It would appear that being hated actually ages you in reverse.) They’ve used “sarcastic air quotes” and begged my editor to fire me. (“He’s hurting people,” warned one concerned if slightly confused VF.com monitor.) I even received a few death threats, which is nothing if not adorably misplaced rage. Writers like Salman Rushdie and our own Christopher Hitchens get death threats, and deservedly so, because they tackle weighty, controversial topics. But sending a death threat to a journalist because he asked John Cusack if he ever put his testicles in a jar of mayonnaise, well, I appreciate the attention, but you’re giving me way more credit than I deserve.
So here, for absolutely no reason other than my unwillingness to do actual work over the holidays, are my favorite (or, for lack of a better word, “best”) awkward exchanges from 2010. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to heavy drinking and exchanging passive-aggressive barbs with my relatives. See you in 2011!
CNBC’s ERIN BURNETT
Eric Spitznagel: I’m trying to understand the Wall Street bailout in ways that make sense to me. Let me know if this is a good metaphor: The world is Silence of the Lambs, and the taxpayers are the kidnapped girl at the bottom of the pit, and Wall Street is Buffalo Bill, the creepy serial killer who wants to make a suit out of our skin, and he keeps screaming down at us, “It puts the lotion in the basket!” Does that sound right?
Erin Burnett: I’ve seen the movie, but the references are a little too pop-culture savvy for me.
Well, the lotion in this metaphor is the bailout, right?
Okay, I got it.
Do we put the lotion in the basket, or do we just flat-out refuse?
So you’re saying stop all the bailouts altogether?
Exactly. And then we’ve got to somehow trick Wall Street’s dog into falling into the pit so we can use it to negotiate our escape.
Well, at this point, you can’t stop the money that’s already gone out the door. It’s kind of water under the bridge.
Ah, I get you. If we don’t put the lotion in the basket, we’re going to get the hose again?
I get the concept, I get the point. But in practice, I don’t know how you do it.
Eric Spitznagel: Is sexting the modern equivalent of standing on somebody’s lawn with a boombox, blaring a Peter Gabriel song?
John Cusack: I guess it is. Either that or Twittering. As long as you can tell somebody how you feel in 140 characters or less.
That might be enough. (Sings.) “In your eyes, the light the heat, in your eyes, I am complete….”
I don’t know. I don’t think any of that really counts, you know?
Would you travel back in time if it meant you could alter the past? You could warn Jeremy Piven about mercury poisoning!
(Long pause, laughs.) I try not to dwell on the past. I’m not a big go-back-and-try-to-relive-your-past kinda person. I’m looking to plan some stunts for the future, but that’s about it.
You’re not even slightly sentimental for the 80s?
I don’t know. Not really. I personally remember it being a kind of dark decade.
Because John Mahoney wouldn’t let you date his daughter?
I remember the 80s being about the Cold War and Reagan and the homeless problem and AIDS. To me, it was kind of a dark, depressing time.
GEORGE A. ROMERO
Eric Spitznagel: Zombies have a weird fixation with eating human flesh and brains. What is it about being undead that makes somebody so ravenous?
George A. Romero: First of all, why does everybody say that zombies eat brains?
Because… it’s true?
I’ve never had a zombie eat a brain! I don’t know where that comes from. Who says zombies eat brains? Whenever I sign autographs, they always ask me, “Write ‘Eat Brains’!” I don’t understand what that means. I’ve never had a zombie eat a brain. But it’s become this landmark thing.
What about gorging on human flesh? Your zombies do that, right?
Where does that come from? Is it like when poor people eat too much fast food because it’s cheap and it gives them an endorphin rush and helps them forget their troubles?
I don’t know. I suppose the ultimate question is, do they shit? (Laughs.) I have theories about it, but I don’t know.
Eric Spitznagel: When you finally hang up your gigantic jersey, what’s your ideal post-basketball career?
Shaquille O’Neal: Something in TV or radio would be my first option. Then maybe writing books or public speaking. And I’ve always had an interest in law enforcement.
You want to be a cop?
I do, yes. I was just offered a chief of police job somewhere, which I can’t talk about, but I had to turn it down. I’m a volunteer or honorary policeman in a couple of different states. I have a badge in Arizona, Florida, and California.
So you could totally arrest me right now?
I could. But trust me, you wouldn’t want me to. You really, really don’t. If I’m in your living room, you know you’re in trouble.
That’s the understatement of the year.
I’m not kidding.
Neither am I.
As long as you stay on the right side, you’ll be fine. For the last seven years, I’ve been a detective for Internet crimes against children. So if you ever see me, you know we’ve got you. If we come to your house, it’s all over. You’re going to be arrested. You’ve been having Internet conversations with me, and we’ve got all the evidence we need to take you down.
What’s your arrest catchphrase?
My catchphrase? Like a motto?
What do you say when you’re roughing up a perp? “On the floor, dirtbag!” “Book ‘em, Danno!” That kind of thing.
Well, uh. (Long pause.) My job is to be a little girl.
I play a little girl on the Internet. So whatever name I’m going by, that will probably be my catchphrase. If I’m Tanya, then it’ll be something like, “Tanya says hello.” And they’ll be like, “Tanya who?” And I’ll say, “You don’t know no Tanya, huh? I’m Tanya. Let’s go.” And that’s when the cuffs get slapped on you.
I’d be less concerned with the handcuffs than the fact that a seven foot bald man just introduced himself as Tanya.
(Laughs.) Yeah, they don’t like that very much.
Eric Spitznagel: I don’t know if you watched the MTV Movie Awards, but apparently the big thing now for female singers is glowing vaginas.
Sheryl Crow: Really? No. Really?
I swear to god. Christina Aguilera performed a song on the show, and at the end the camera zoomed in on her crotch, and it was a flashing neon heart.
Wow. (Long pause.) I don’t even know what to say. How do I miss out on some of this stuff?
I guess it means you’re not particularly concerned with what the kids are doing these days?
I guess not. (Laughs.) I had no idea you could have a glowing vagina. Is it too late for me to get one of those? And would it help my record sales?
As soon as we hang up, I’m going to check it out and see where I can get a glowing vagina. I have a record coming out, I don’t want people to think my vagina isn’t glowing.
Eric Spitznagel: How do you pee and poop in your astronaut suit?
Buzz Aldrin: We were well skilled in the art of disposal waste. There was such a thing called a “blue bag,” which was kind of messy. There was a stickum on it, and you could stick it around your posterior. For urinating we had an ego-buster, which was like a condom catheter. We were cautioned not to overestimate our size. (Laughs.) Because if the condom was too big, there might be a little leakage.
That doesn’t sound very hygienic. Were you walking around the Moon with a spacesuit filled with wee?
No, no, no. There was a connection to a one-way check valve in your thigh, so you could kind of move around like this (wiggles his leg) and squeeze the urine out into a larger bag that you could then dispose of.
Dispose of when you get back to Earth?
Or on the lunar surface.
On the Moon? So in addition to your footprint, there’s a big bag of your excrement up there?
(Laughs.) Well no, probably not anymore. Sometimes we’d dispose of it during an EVA (extra-vehicular activity), when we were getting rid of a bunch of extra stuff. We did that on Gemini 12. I remember we were headed local horizontal, local vertical, and we opened the hatch and I had three bags worth gripped between my legs,
Three bags of…?
Yeah, yeah. And I just tossed them like this. (Pantomimes throwing bags over his shoulders.) Straight up! Being very familiar with orbital mechanics, I should have realized what I’d just done. I’d put those three bags on a free return trajectory. (Laughs.) Straight back to us!
Eric Spitznagel: Does everybody in the Royal Family have email addresses?
India Hicks: They do have email. We have all the modern conveniences.
Obviously you can’t share it with us, but could you give us a hint about the Queen’s email?
I really couldn’t.
Just the first few letters.
I would not know.
Is it QueenBitch23@aol.com?
I have no idea.
I cannot begin to speculate, and I’m not going to be drawn.
Okay, here’s something I’ve always wondered. When you’re in the Royal Family, is it more difficult to identify spam email?
I wouldn’t think so. How do you mean?
Say you get an email from somebody claiming to be a Nigerian prince. The rest of us know it’s bullshit. But if you’re royalty, you might pause for a minute and think, “Do I know any Nigerian princes? Shit, where did I meet this Mr. Kumalo guy?”
You’re not thinking this through. Of course they would all have personal emails, which they would share with their inner circle. But they also have press secretaries and assistants who would handle their general email, as with any celebrity.
Eric Spitznagel: You are the Butter Queen, right?
Paula Deen: Yeah, I have been called that. I do love butter. I don’t care what you’re fixin’, butter makes everything taste better.
I’m assuming your butter enthusiasm has nothing to do with the movie Last Tango in Paris.
I don’t think so. Do they eat a lot of butter in that film?
Well, they don’t eat it exactly.
What did they do with it?
(Long pause.) Uh… I don’t think I know how to explain it without embarrassing both of us.
Is it something dirty? (Laughs.)
You could say that, sure.
Does it have something to do with how your wife got pregnant?
Actually, no. You have the wrong… It’s a different, you know… It’s lower down on the… (Long pause.) Wow, this is amazing. You’ve actually turned the tables on me. I’m flummoxed!
Well honey, you’re the one who brought it up.
Here’s what I can tell you. Marlon Brando used butter in a slightly more intimate way than you do on your Food Network shows.
Ooooh. Well I will definitely check that out.
Eric Spitznagel: LL Cool J got into a feud with Sarah Palin after she used an interview with him without his permission for Real American Stories. Would you go on Palin’s show if it helped sell records?
Lil Jon: (Long pause.) I mean, Sarah Palin is… I don’t know. It’d be funny, but I don’t know if we’d agree on enough things. You feel me? But I think it’d definitely be good television. I bet you Sarah Palin’s daughter listens to my music. I betcha she’s said YEAAAH before. In fact, I betcha both she and Sarah have said YEAAAH before.
Or maybe Bristol said YEEEAAAH and then Sarah said WHHHUT?
Yeah, yeah, that’s how it went down.
And then what did Levi Johnston say?
And that’s essentially the story of how Bristol got pregnant.
It’s all right there in the music.
That’s actually kind of brilliant. Three words and you can perfectly sum up any major news story. Let’s try it with Tiger Woods. First Tiger said…
And then his wife Elin said…
And then his mistresses got a call from Vanity Fair and they said…
Wow. I think I just figured out why the mainstream news media is dying. We’re going to be replaced by rappers.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)