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The Internal Dialogue |
Kilduff gets up close and personal with himself.

You might be wondering what poor sap gets grilled by Paul Kilduff this month. Turns out it’s, well, Paul Kilduff. This outside-the-box journalistic first deserves an explanation. The man behind the Kilduff File reluctantly agreed to sit down under the bright lights with himself as a birthday present to the magazine that gives his column a home. Kilduff’s media juggernaut began in the mid-’80s and, after several missteps, propelled him to the semi-lucrative gig as the "Man on the Street" for the Peter B. Collins show on KSFO, before it turned into a right-wing hate station. His first Q&A in The Monthly appeared in June 1994–a truly unforgettable interview with Oakland’s then up-and-coming female professional pool shark Christina Alexander. Rather than jade him, Kilduff’s 100-plus Q&As have bolstered his sense of wonder about how the interview process unfolds–even with himself.

Paul Kilduff: How did you prepare for this interview?

PK: The usual. Some Sanka. Meditated for about half an hour. Popped a couple No-Doz.

PK: Aside from your own, any careers been launched in this space?

PK: Are you asking me if I got a cut of anyone’s box office?

PK: I really hope you’re not going to resort to the Socratic method–answering questions with questions.

PK: Socratic what? Actually, I have helped a few formerly low-radar folks gain national publicity. Probably the best example is the Oakland A’s official sports astrologer Andrea Mallis [May 2002]. I heard her on a sports call-in show a few years ago giving her predictions and contacted her for an interview. Afterwards she was all over the local and national media, culminating in a full-on ESPN profile. Now if I could only just find those charts she did for me.

PK: Who stand out as your favorite interviewees?

PK: Wow, that’s a toughie. Who do you leave out? Some of my favorites include New Yorker staffer Calvin Trillin [August 2004], who generously put a round of Bloody Marys on his publisher’s expense account; Men’s Wearhouse head honcho George Zimmer [May 1995], who almost made me want to buy a suit; and Berkeley High alum Jack La Lanne [July 1998]. I actually thought about doing some push-ups during the interview.

PK: There must have been some bummers. Want to get even?

PK: Well, yeah, sure. There have been some small-minded people who let me down but I don’t really think it would be fair to name them.

PK: Come on, don’t wuss out. Name names.

PK: How about I just describe the interviews in excruciating detail?

PK: Sweet.

PK: There was the comedienne who told me she was going to make the interview a living hell and then proceeded to cringe at every question like a whiny five-year-old. The all-time worst interview experience I’ve ever had was my attempt to profile then California State Senate Pro Tem John Burton, a notoriously gruff, but caring, soul, for another publication. It was supposed to be a day-in-the-life kind of deal with me following him around Sacramento. He gave me about 15 minutes, but I did get to see his palatial office.

PK: Who’s turned you down?

PK: Jerry Brown (I guess he was too busy renovating the shoe department at the old Oakland Sears into his master bathroom–"Put the bidet near where they had the hiking boots display, okay?"); Dave Eggers (see what happens when you move to Marin?); Cheech (pot-induced paranoia relapse?)–that guy on public TV who’s forever in search of California’s gold.

PK: Didn’t you start out wanting to be a cartoonist?

PK: Didn’t we all, mein freund?

PK: Mine what?

PK: Actually my first gig at The Monthly was as a cartoonist. It’s my first love, after cheeseburgers.

PK: How do you pick your victims?

PK: We started out looking for only East Bay—based characters. Originally, the column was called "The East Bay Grill." Before that the space featured Mal and his wife Sandra Sharpe’s column (they even interviewed me in the mid-’80s). Over time we decided that since The Monthly’s readers aren’t provincial, we didn’t need to be either. If somebody of interest was coming to town or had something to plug locally, why not throw them into the mix? That’s why I’ve been able to interview some pretty big national names like Camille Paglia [July 2005] or that shameless provocateur Christopher Hitchens [May 1998], for instance. But, we still focus on local yokels whenever possible. For the East Bay this means tons of authors and foodies. Thankfully, I like to talk with my mouth full.

PK: So, what’s the secret to a great interview? Being utterly detached?

PK: Possibly. But more importantly, it’s getting people to throw away their script; to deviate from their well-rehearsed sound bites. Ever been to a party where you don’t know anyone and you start telling the same, shopworn anecdotes about yourself and what you do? That’s not interview gold. That’s the stuff the public relations exec in your head thinks people want to hear. What’s fascinating is the real, unvarnished you. To help you get there the interviewer can’t have a formal agenda–he’s got to make the whole process seem like nothing more than a conversation. If you get to the point where it feels like you’re simply talking, there’s no telling what even the most guarded person will reveal, even to himself.

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 Paul Kilduff