Eat It Raw: The Joe Queenan Directory

Barnes & Noble chat with Joe

Wednesday, June 24, 1998 10pm ET

Joe Queenan


On Wednesday, June 24, welcomed Joe Queenan, author of RED LOBSTER, WHITE TRASH, AND THE BLUE LAGOON. Moderator: Welcome, Joe Queenan! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

JQ: Perfectly well. from xx: What initially prompted you to embark upon this experiment?

JQ: I used to walk past the theater where "Cats" played for the past 16 years and I realized that it had never ever occurred to me to go and see it. It seemed like the Abyss, and I didn't want to fall in it. One day I got tired of the life I was leading and thought it might be fun to try something like that, something I would never do. Saw I saw "Cats" and it was hair-raisingly awful. And that sort of set this whole thing in motion, spending a year looking for things that were like "Cats" -- things that were insanely popular and seemingly insanely stupid. That would include reading the BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, seeing Kenny G, listening to Phil Collins, reading Danielle Steel, eating at Red Lobster, eating at Planet Hollywood, seeing every Shaquille O'Neal movie, and just constantly testing how awful things are.

Brad from Fort Collins, CO: Were you at all fearful of slander lawsuits from Red Lobster or The Olive Garden?

JQ: No, because when I went to eat in these restaurants, I was not accusing them of any kind of immorality or unacceptable business practices. I just think the food at these two restaurants is horrible. I am not too crazy about the Admiral's Feast at Red Lobster or the pasta primavera at The Olive Garden.

Dover from NYC: I agree with much of what you have to say, but dissing Adam Sandler and Chris Farley? Do you think the reason that you don't think they are funny is because you are of an older generation?

JQ: I have all of Nirvana's records, and I didn't think Kurt Cobain is an idiot. There are a lot of young actors and actresses I like. These two make moronic movies -- it is not a question of age, it is a question of what type of humor you like. I never liked the Three Stooges. One of the things I never liked about the "SNL" movies is that when Belushi started doing it, it was funny, but that was a quarter of a century ago. I don't see any evidence that we need any more dumb people in this country, and we are pretty well covered in rude, moronic behavior. I want to see someone who is not an idiot. There are people who do stupid humor who are great -- look at Jim Carrey. I think Jim Carrey is funny, but I don't think Adam Sandler is.

Niki from I'm curious to find out who you personally think is the best satirist of the 20th century. Would you consider yourself as a satirist?

JQ: Yeah, I would definitely consider myself a satirist. The best of the 20th century? (I always hate this type of question.) Certainly Ionesco, the Roman playwright. As far as satirical writers, Tom Wolfe is pretty good. There are a lot of people whose names don't immediately come to mind.Thomas Berger, who wrote NEIGHBORS and LITTLE BIG MAN -- he is a great satirist. Marcel Aymé, a French satirist. If talking about outside the realm of books, "Monty Python" would have to go right in there and early Woody Allen -- his early work in The New Yorker. I am sure I have left out a number of important people but I don't care.

Chris from Sudbury, MA: Are you sometimes embarrassed to be an American? I mean, look at what is popular in this world. Look at what is on the bestseller lists. I mean, Jimmy Buffett a number-one bestseller for not music but books! Look at who Americans turn to for literary recommendations. A daytime talk-show host should not dictate what sells. I sure am embarrassed...

JQ: No, I am never embarrassed to be an American. One of the reasons is that the good gets sorted out from the bad in the fullness of time. So over a long period of time, the bad stuff gets forgotten and the good stuff remains. People forget that Faulkner was almost forgotten in the '40s. It was after his works were put out again that people realized how great he was. When we talk about great culture and fame John Fogarty, Elvis, the Beatles, Picasso. Then there are people who were not famous in their lifetime, like Monet and Bach, but in the fullness of time, the good things come to the top and the bad stuff is forgotten. Burt Reynolds was the number-one star in America for five years in the '70s -- nobody remembers that. Peter Frampton had the biggest-selling record at one point, and everybody now just makes fun of him. I am not embarrassed to admit I bought that record -- everybody bought that record. Some of the books that Oprah has suggested are actually quite good; she has picked some interesting books, like STONES FROM THE RIVER. She is making an effort to get her viewers to read stuff that is interesting, not just trash. I wouldn't come down on Oprah as hard as some people might.

Courtney Miller from Akron, OH: Do you at all feel like a snob writing this book? Just because we aren't all as culturally elite as you, does that make you a better person?

JQ: It doesn't make me a better person, but it probably makes me a better-educated person.

Ron from Brooklyn, NY: I know the decade isn't over yet, but would you rather relive the '70s, '80s, or '90s? Why?

JQ: I liked the '80s because for one thing, Jimmy Carter was voted out of office, so if nothing had happened, that would have made the '80s great. Communism disintegrated, the Phillies won their only World Series -- so I would go with the '80s. I don't even want to think about the '70s...

Martin from Santa Monica, CA: You write about how you cheated on your saturation of pop culture with your trip to France. I'm curious to know, when you were in France, did you partake in their popular culture and watch a bunch of Jerry Lewis movies? You should have went to Germany, where you could have experienced their modern-day hero, David Hasselhoff.

JQ: Jerry Lewis was popular in France 30 years ago -- that old joke is pretty dated. French people aren't interested in Jerry Lewis. French popular culture is scary, but in a different way. French music doesn't have the peaks and valleys that American [music] has. America has great musicians in addition to the bad. In France popular music is just horrible.

Nicholas from North Carolina: What do you think is some of the best TV out there? Do you think "Frasier" can ever match up to the high Thursday night prime-time expectations?

JQ: The best two shows, "Seinfeld" and "Larry Sanders," aren't around any more. I think "Ally McBeal" is the best show around now. It is very well written and funny. It is recognizably different from any shows on TV. There are shows that I like, like "Drew Carey," but it is still the traditional sitcom. I like shows that are different. I like "Win Ben Stein's Money," "The Simpsons"; I really like "News Radio," and I don't know if it will continue with Phil Hartman gone. I think "Frasier" is a good show, but I just don't get Kelsey Grammer. I have enjoyed "The X-Files," but I definitely feel that it is running out of gas.

Steven S. from NYC: You told us what plays you didn't like. Are there any plays out there that you are a fan of?

JQ: I like "Chicago." I like the same kind of musicals that people have always liked -- the Gershwin stuff. I like plays that have good songs. I don't like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals because they all sound like the music from "The Mod Squad." I find I am not a big fan of theater in general. I don't go much. I am much more interested in music or movies. I think the musical must have and truly needs a good song. "Victor/Victoria" has no good song and neither does "Titanic." You can go days seeing every musical playing on Broadway without hearing a good song. If they don't have any good songs, why do they call them musicals?

Monica from Concord, CA: Have you seen any movies of note this summer? Any surprises out there that are atop the lists of highest-grossing movies of the year?

JQ: There is David Mamet's movie "The Spanish Prisoner." It is the best movie I saw this summer. I went to see it and thought, Why don't they make movies like that all the time? I actually thought "A Perfect Murder" was pretty good. When it came out, most critics slammed it, but it is actually a good movie. Michael Douglas does a good job, well photographed, good story -- I thought it was actually a good movie. "The Truman Show" was okay, not nearly as good as other Peter Weir movies. I thought the most interesting movie I saw was "The Horse Whisperer" -- similar to "The Bridges of Madison County" [in that] they made a good movie out of a horrible book. That is what Hollywood is good at, making good movies out of bad books.

Hank from Fairfield, CT: Do you enjoy writing your column for TV Guide? How much autonomy do you get in that job? Does it scare you that Mr. Murdoch has sold the magazine?

JQ: Yes, I like writing the column -- they let me write about whatever I want. Writers never think about who is in charge. That is not the way it works.

Doreen from Dade County, FL: What do you think about the recent dramatic increase of the popularity of professional wrestling? Does it scare you that the top-rated cable programming is consistently WCW or WWF wrestling?

JQ: It doesn't scare me, because I guess people in Grand Rapids have to do something with their time. The other thing is that if you watch wrestling, it has a real theater-of-the-absurd quality. They are now comic-book characters come to life, like the Raven. I mean, Hulk Hogan is pretty funny. It has become very theatrical. I would much rather watch pro wrestling than watch women's basketball.

Anthony from Rye, NY: What actor of the past 25 years has been the best selector of movie projects? Who do you think has made some great career decisions in scripts they chose? Joe Pesci excluded, of course....

JQ: I would say Harrison Ford. He is a guy who really pretty much knows what he is doing. You don't see him playing Polonius in "Hamlet," and you don't see him playing bad guys -- which is what you do when your career is in the tank, although many actors can play the lead as well as the villain. Bruce Willis is great at playing villains -- he was pretty good in "The Jackal." Richard Gere can be a great villain. The public wants someone to be a sort of Gary Cooper role. He accepted it and pretty much stuck to it, with a few exceptions -- "Sabrina" was pretty horrible. He has been pretty crafty about what he has chosen; even movies that didn't work out too well, like "The Mosquito Coast," were pretty good. I would also put Tom Cruise in that category -- he is recognizable in the same class as the Gary Coopers, and even the Gregory Pecks. He sticks with projects in which the audience wants him to succeed. He is a pretty smart guy and has made some good movies.

Moderator: Thank you, Joe Queenan! Best of luck with your new book. Do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?

JQ: My parting thought is to do one these things for yourself go to see John Tesh, see Kenny G in concert...go to see "Cats," and then you will have a vision of what is waiting for you in the afterlife if you are not careful.

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