INSIDE Chico State
0 April 3, 2003
Volume 33 Number 13
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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All’s Fair on Fresh Air
Terry Gross tells a lot, if not all, in stand-up commentary

NPR's Terry Gross

NPR's Terry Gross

Broadcast journalist Terry Gross, the mellow voice gently prodding celebrities on Fresh Air, her hour-long National Public Radio talk show, has been making public appearances, where she reroutes stand-up comedy into something more conducive to her persona: stand-up commentary. She gave such a performance to a full Laxson Auditorium on March 6 in a benefit show for KCHO and KFPR public radio stations.

“For those of you who’ve heard me on the radio and wonder what I look like,” she began, “Well—” and she stepped away from the microphone to execute a casual pirouette. The gesture set the tone for the evening, itself a series of verbal pirouettes illustrating not only Gross’s wit and charm but also the unpredictable nature of interviews. Having conducted more than 10,000 during her 28-year career, she wasn’t short of material, though most of the clips she presented highlighted negative encounters. Such bits are easier to pull from interviews, she explained; positive conversations “evolve” and generally are defined as such only if heard as a whole. Also, the problematic interests her. “I often talk to people’s dark sides,” she said, “because I think it’s our contradictions and failings that make us who we are.”

Nancy Reagan, intent on promoting her memoirs, icily turned aside questions about her husband’s policy on homelessness. “When she asked me if I’d read her book, I wanted to ask her if she’d written it,” recalled Gross. Thomas Sowell, who opposed former President Clinton’s multicultural cabinet, walked out after Gross’s second question. Monica Lewinsky’s self-delusion in her memoirs fascinated Gross: “It read like a romance novel with a political backdrop.” Asking if she could “have a minute,” Lewinsky also walked out of the interview. Gross takes these incidents in stride and, in fact, encourages her interviewees to tell her when she’s strayed too far into the personal. “Many of the people I interview don’t want to be there,” she noted. “They’re there because their publicists have arranged it. They all have agendas. I have to be content with the fact that when I do an interview, there will usually be a combination of truth, self-delusion, faulty memory, and lies.”

However, there have been encounters where Gross herself has been taken aback, for instance by the compliment she received from Hustler publisher Larry Flint: “You did the genital questions better than men do.” And the now famous interview with Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, during which the musician quickly gained control of the dialogue and maintained it, chiefly by means of vulgarities. In the end, they called it a draw:

Gross: “I’d like to think that the personality you’ve presented on our show today is a persona that you’ve affected as a member of KISS … but that you’re not nearly as obnoxious in the privacy of your own home.”

Simmons: “Fair enough. And I’d like to think that the boring lady who’s talking to me now is a lot sexier and more interesting than the one who’s doing NPR.”

Rolling Stone
and USA Today gossiped about the encounter, and e-mails poured in. “If I didn’t work for NPR,” she said, “my producer would have demanded this sort of thing every week. I have no trouble with controversy, but I don’t like to manufacture it simply to keep up attention. [Simmons] had the edge on that one because being obnoxious comes easy for him. I had to work at it.”

Gross’s performance was sponsored by Chico Performances as well as Butte College, Chico News & Review, Holiday Inn, and KCHO and KFPR public radio stations.

Taran March

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