After our obligatory Portlandia conversation, myself calling from Portland, Vulture Senior Editor Jesse David Fox was quick to joke, “Is this what the interview’s about, I can’t remember?” Unfortunately the answer was no, although I would have loved to hear more of his thoughts, of which he assured me, “I have so many things to say about it, it’s annoying.” I have to imagine his thoughts would be anything but, that morning finding myself devouring his riveting entertainment commentary, spread across innumerable articles on Vulture. His writing feels both personal and unbiased, critical yet fair. He is a fan first, his passion shown through his choices, where he puts his energy, curating the upcoming Vulture Festival LA, and his newest endeavor, the podcast Good One, Vulture’s podcast about jokes and those who tell them.
Tell me about your humble writing beginnings, how and when did you get started at Vulture?
Vulture is about 10 years old and I have been reading it the entire time, obsessively. I would comment on articles and, they use to post a recap commenter of the week. I thought, “If I do this every week, they’re going to make me one of their people.” So I did, and I was, and then they just stopped doing that article. Years passed and I started writing, yada yada yada, contributed a bunch of places. I was doing these recaps of 30 Rock with infographics for a site called splitsider.com and someone at Vulture asked if I would do some for them. That sort of parlayed into me interviewing for a job here. I’ve been here exactly 5 years, a blogger for 2 and a half years, a News Editor for a year, and now I’m a fusion comedy writer/editor, Vulture Festival Curator, podcaster person.
A hybrid position if you will. And your focus has mostly been on comedy, have you ever done stand-up?
No. I mean, I have done stand-up once. But I watched it. And I liked it. And then found places to write, where they covered comedy. I just sort of got the hang of it, and was able to do it in a way that people were willing to read. I am able to understand how comedy works for whatever reason, but unlike a comedian I have the ability to translate my understanding to an audience who is definitely not as immersed in the form.
So talking about form, was that your inspiration for the podcast, Good One?
Yes! I’ve written about comedy in a lot of ways, but I really started gravitating towards writing about form. I like hearing about how comedians work, and how their process relates to the finished product. So it’s partially from listening to other podcasts, and realizing that they briefly talked about jokes, but then moved on to their childhood or whatever. I was like, “I just want to keep hearing about how they did that joke.” So Good One grew out of both that interest and also trying to figure out a way to give people a frame of reference if they hadn’t heard the comedian before. If you play the jokes beforehand, you immediately understand who this person is, having heard their best joke.
Who picks the jokes?
They usually pick the joke, which was not always going to be the case. But when I asked, they always had an answer. What I realized is they all have an answer for a reason, and I think my main skill as a host is guessing why they picked the joke they picked. Like the Kyle Kinane episode. He picked this joke and I was like, “I bet this joke sort of taught him what his voice was,” and that’s what it was. Or Tig Notoro picked this joke about Taylor Dane that’s really long, and I guessed that it made her realize she could kind of do anything she wants with form and it’ll work. And that’s what it was.
I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s kind of like holding a mirror up to their career.
Yes! They’re just living it. The Paul Scheer episode, we went through the process and by the end he was like, “I didn’t realize that my career had this laser focus, ’til you put it this way.” And that is kind of the hope, that they are realizing and learning as much as I am about how intentional their work seems to be.
What’s been your greatest takeaway?
I talked to Jerry Seinfeld who I thought would be the most deliberate comedian that existed, and then I met Roy Wood Jr. who is so aware of his material, how his material relates to the material of other comedians, how his material has changed over time, what point he’s in in his career, and what type of material that means he should do. He’s like, “I couldn’t do a certain type of political comedy until I had enough status to justify me having an authority.” Most comedians are not that aware of how the framing of themselves relates to the comedy that they’re able to do. That episode is going to come out, right around Thanksgiving, I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Do you have a favorite episode, or one you recommend?
The Jen Kirkman episode I remember thinking, “this is exactly why I did this podcast.” She has a ten-minute bit at the end of her most recent special about street harassment, and it involves a couple stories. She revealed, “I made that up.” I have never heard a comedian just reveal that a story is completely fictional. And then she explained every part of the story, that this was because of this. “I thought the joke needed one of these. Once I realized the joke was going to be my closer, it needed one of these.” All of it while you’re also getting her point of view as a very specific comedian. And I think one of the best comedians working. It’s really why I created it.
Also, If you’ve seen the new Thor, the Ragnorak episode is fascinating, about how a person makes a movie funny, how they shoot it and how they approach the script and specifically how they approach not using the script.
And I’m going to say one more, because it’s totally different, which is the Tim Minchin episode because there’s a piano.
Those last two are two ends of a pretty broad spectrum, is that something you’re interested in? Crossing over into musical comedy, or film?
I had Weird Al on pretty early in the podcast, I think I’m always looking for more musical comedy and even beyond. I want to talk to authors who write funny passages, like a David Sedaris.
I’m going to have Paul Feig do the live episode at Vulture Fest. And for that we’re going to be talking about shooting and editing jokes and making up jokes on the spot and figuring out which joke works. And that is still in the world of what the podcast is meant to highlight.
I feel like, Vulture is always a go to source for all things entertainment, but a few weeks ago I found myself sending the Vulture Festival LA link to everyone I knew saying, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS LINEUP? How did it come about?
We’ve done four in New York and we’re about to do the first in LA. I’ve been a kind of curator since the second one in New York, and it’s just a matter of finding a really fun way of bringing what we do on the site to life, connecting to our readers, but also connecting to our the talent.
The LA Fest was born out of a lot of things. If you look at the lineup, there’s tons of directors – Ava Duvernay, Ryan Coogler, Sophia Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Feig doing the Good One episode. These are really exciting directors and we were able to get them, because this is where a lot of their stuff is happening. And we have some regular famous people, Natalie Portman, Robert Pattinson. To be fair, James Franco is a famous person and a director.
I like that you called them regular famous people. This line-up is Unreal.
Well, thanks. And UnREAL is going to be there. Pun intended?
Not until it came out of my mouth. What event are you most looking forward to?
The Clone High reunion is incredibly essential thing that we’re doing. That show was really seminal for my enjoyment of comedy. An MTV show from 15 years ago that, who knows how many people watched, and didn’t even get 10 episodes because it got cancelled because of protests. The fact that something like that is having a reunion is a really exciting thing to me.
Oh! And the Damon Lindelof and Mike Schur event is the thing I’m most excited about. Which was generated out of “Hey, do you guys want talk to each other?” and they were like, “Yeah, alright.” There’s something about this event that can only exist in this space.
I guess we kind of already covered what’s next for you.
The podcast will run through the end of the year. It’s been the most rewarding thing that I’ve worked on. I enjoy doing it and people enjoy consuming it and that is enough for me.
And we’ll see how the fest goes in a couple of weeks. In terms of the response that we’ve got on both sides there definitely is a hunger for it and it’s been really exciting for me to see who we’ve been able to get and how excited they are to do the festival.
You should come! And if you leave now you could probably start walking, which I believe was the premise of a Portlandia sketch. Seek that out, Portlandia, which is what I am here to promote. Portlandia, now on Netflix.
I recommend driving, or flying. Tickets are on sale now for the Vulture Festival LA on November 18th and 19th. Good One is available on iTunes.