A Toast to the Host

Mark Bazer
Perspectives from six years of running a talk show in a bar.

Six years ago, I came to The Hideout—the intimate, beloved and nuts-in-the-best-way music venue in Chicago’s historic Department of Fleet Management neighborhood—with a really original idea: I wanted to do a talk show exactly like Dick Cavett’s old show. I told them I wanted to do it just once.

The owners of The Hideout are the kind of people always up for letting people try out ideas, and they quickly said yes. With one hitch: I’d have to sign on to do the show every month.

Putting together the show? That’s the hard part.

Some 70 shows later, The Interview Show is the best, most enjoyable, creative thing I’ve ever done. We’ve built a nice following. I’ve met more interesting people than I could have ever imagined. And every month I get to experience that high that only comes from being on stage in a confined area where it’s difficult for audience members to leave.

But I won’t lie: the idea of quitting the show invades my brain often.

Like many performance-based things, the 90 minutes of doing the show is the easy part. My interview guests, no matter how famous, haven’t agreed to be on the show because they think it’s going to make their career; they’re there to have fun, play along and talk a lot.

The trick is to build a diverse show.

Putting together the show, though? That’s the hard part. Or, at least, the worrisome part. Can I find good guests? Will my boss at my day job overhear me on the phone with said guests? Will any media do advance coverage? Will the guests themselves spread the word? WILL PEOPLE COME?

For me, the trick, if you can call it that, is to build a diverse show. No two writers, or musicians, or politicians, or people with the exact same fan base on the same show. Hopefully, you’ll come because you know you love one of the guests and end up loving the others, too.

When I get desperate (most months), I try to find an angle that will attract people and attention. Come to our third anniversary show! Come to our 50th show! Come to our fourth-annual show in November. Last month, we had a barbecue after the show, with food from two chefs from Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality group.

My job (I think!) is to provide structure to the interviews with the guests.

Once a show starts, I kind of have to hope for the best. Over the last six years, I’ve found talk show guests fall into three categories: guests who barely need me there and would probably keep talking even if I left the stage for a while; guests who want a real give-and-take between me and them; and guests who are more reluctant to talk but will if you have the right questions.

To keep the show interesting, my job (I think!) is to provide structure to the interviews with the guests who would talk forever, knowledgeable questions (and perhaps a bit more talking) to the more reticent guests, and keep my wits about me for the guests who want a give-and-take.

For my own sake as much as the audience's, I also hope to have conversations that are different than what you’d hear elsewhere. If I interview a famous chef, say, I know he’s already said everything under the sun about why farm-to-table is important. But if I can get him talking about his last haircut and why it was so great, then maybe I’ll be on to something. I guess that’s true of any show: make what happens something that can only happen at that show.

As I write this, I’m in the middle of planning my biggest-ever show. We’re doing it at The Abbey Pub as a one-time-only deal, and, I’ll be honest, it’s driving me a little crazy. Or, rather, I’m driving myself crazy.

Don’t put on a live event because you expect it to make you famous.

With the goal of building the best show ever, I’ve found myself paralyzed to do much of anything. Now, I need to play catch-up. I guess what I’m saying is that you should definitely buy tickets right now to this show.

The truth is: I can't stop. I love the show, even the “can I pull it off again?” worries.

This may be a cliché, especially in Chicago, but it’s true: Don’t put on a live event like The Interview Show because you expect it to make you famous, or lead to bigger show, or even make a living at it. That can make you miserable fast. But if you enjoy doing it—and that clearly shows—people here will join you for the ride. Unless, of course, it’s terrible.

Mark Bazer is co-host of the WTTW TV show "My Chicago" and the host/creator of "The Interview Show," a live talk show held monthly at The Hideout. Mark is also a writer, whose work has appeared in Chicago magazine, the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Tribune and other publications that don't begin with the word "Chicago." He spends his days as editorial director on Leo Burnett's Growth Team.

Photos: 

Leigh Hanlon

Published by CAR_Editor on Mon, 08/25/2014 - 8:44am
Updated on Wed, 08/27/2014 - 5:07pm