The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Tom Lavis

February 26, 2012

Tom Lavis | Interview with jokester not so funny

For readers who own computers, no one has to tell them that, although computers are great technological tools, they also are giant receptacles of electronic junk mail.

No matter how many blockers, firewalls and “do not disturb” signs I put up, this nuisance mail somehow squeezes through.

In the newspaper game, writers and editors are bombarded by publicists, public relations directors, consultants and press agents with requests to interview their clients.

One such request got me to thinking about who takes these seriously.

I clicked on a recent junk email. A line in bold print read:

“People may be shocked to find out that their family, doctor, kids’ teachers or neighbors may be swingers.”

I’m not naive. I realized that this message was not a teaser about Dodge Darts, although I knew plenty of people who had purchased Swingers in the ’70s.

Some guy looking for publicity for his Web site wanted me to interview him about this offensive lifestyle. He promised the interview would not cause me legal issues.

As the sun begins to set on my career, I started to reflect on some of the interesting interviews I and my fellow writers have had over the years.

One of the more memorable interviews was conducted by former Tribune-Democrat writer Ron Mackell.

Mackell and I worked in features.

We got notice that one of Mackell’s favorite entertainers, comedian George Carlin, was coming to Johnstown.

Mackell begged me to let him do the interview.

Arrangements were made through Carlin’s management company, and Mackell prepared for nearly a week for the monumental opportunity.

He had Carlin’s biography down pat and knew that Carlin’s dad had worked in the newspaper field.

The afternoon of the interview arrived and the phone call was placed.

Mackell was so cordial, I thought syrup would start oozing from the phone’s receiver.

I couldn’t help but overhear that things weren’t going as well as expected.

During the course of an interview, I have found that after a question is asked, it takes time to write down the response before going on to the next inquiry.

Generally, a response often generates another question that is not on the reporter’s list.

I saw that Mackell had prepared about 30 questions for Carlin to expound upon.

That is more than enough when publicists give reporters only 15 to 20 minutes of their client’s time.

Mackell went through his questions in machine gun-like succession, and I also noticed him doodling instead of writing.

Mackell’s telephone interview came to an abrupt end after only about three minutes.

“Sounds like it went well,” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.

I was expecting him to tell me that Carlin was sick, off his game or was in a hurry.

To say that the interview burst Mackell’s bubble of admiration for the late comedian is an understatement.

“What an idiot,” Mackell said, his eyes looking down at his notepad in disgust at the “yes” and “no” answers he had just received.

I felt bad, too, because I even thought Carlin was a swinger.

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