Alphonso D’Abruzzo Speaks!

October 10th, 2005

Probably better known by his stage name, Alan Alda, he's written a terrific memoir titled Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (And Other Things I've Learned). He stopped by recently to chat with me about his life and craft -- and he was so there with me in the conversation, so emotionally available, that I got as relaxed as I think is possible for me at this point in my interviewing arc. Our conversation runs tonight at 7:30, and then will be repeated on Friday night at 10:30.

To give you a quick sense of the quality of his writing, here are the opening lines of his book:

My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that. Her detached gaze, the secret smile. Something.

By that point I was hooked. He tells his story in the tone of one who is still working out the sadness and ironies of it, and I got the sense, while reading it, that many of these issues didn't really get resolved until he'd written about them. His father, Robert Alda, was a burlesque performer who later became a leading man in Hollywood. His mother, tragically, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia -- a condition that was not diagnosed in her lifetime, and that caused her and her family enormous grief.

Sitting with Alda on the couch, I felt that he was letting me -- and, I hope, you, the viewer -- into his still-tremulous inner life. He spoke not as an extremely successful actor (his 11-year stint as Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H being his most well-known role, of course, but he's been doing great work on stage and film lately as well) but as a person who's still fully engaged in trying to work out the meaning of everything.

And he ate a Rice Krispy Treat! I still can't get over that. ...

Entry Filed under: tv episodes

20 Comments

  • 1. pogblog  |  October 11th, 2005 at 3:14 am

    When are you going to tell us your non-stage name? Do we have to wait for your memoir with the droll name?

  • 2. Louis  |  October 11th, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Greetings Josh,

    I caught your interview with Alda, and it was a splendid show. I was very impressed by how well you established a rapport. It was moving and uplifting.

    Excellent!

    Louis Swaim

  • 3. Arica Reinhardt  |  October 11th, 2005 at 11:22 am

    Josh, I saw a one man show you did in SF about your time in Princeton a few years back and really enjoyed it….but last nights show with Mr. Alda lifted my impression of you even higher. The moment when Mr. Alda discussed how by listening, you grew to know each other and had a much better time illuminated for me why i was enjoying this interview so much. I’m sorry I missed so much of it, your show is now going on my calendar so I don’t miss another one. Oprah and Regis can just move right the heck over. Your genuine interest, commitment to doing your homework prior to the interview, and absolute sincerity and honesty make you the best interviewer since Terry Gross in my mind. Keep up the good work…you are FABULOUS, and I look forward to many of your wonderful shows to come. Kind regards, arica

  • 4. adavis  |  October 12th, 2005 at 8:30 am

    I completely agree with Arica (?) about this last show, Josh. I’ve watched them all so far and the quality of listening here was a real contrast to the earlier ones. A relief, actually. While I have been impressed each time by the interesting digressions your guests take, I confess I have found myself nervous about how much talking you were doing over the guest. With Alan Alda you seemed relaxed into the listening part of interviewing and we got a whole wonderful, almost private, view of a man a lot of us grew up watching. I would bet that was a great experience for him as well as us. I’m sure it is not every interview that gets him talking about that stuff and in that way. I mean he was relaxed enough with you to eat a rice krispie treat and talk with his mouth full. How cool was that? Thank you. And all the best with this gig. It should go national!

  • 5. Mary McQuaid  |  October 12th, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    This week I became a HUGE fan. Your interview with Alan Alda completely blew me away. You demonstrated the rare skill of an intelligent and witty interviewer who understands how to get the best from a guest. You know how to have a dialogue with another person, not just a Q & A session.

    Thanks for a truly enjoyable experience. I look forward to more.

  • 6. Sue T.  |  October 13th, 2005 at 10:31 am

    I must admit that I shrieked with delight when Alda reached for the Rice Krispie Treat. If there was a JKS drinking game, the guest eating a Treat would definitely be the occasion to chug.

    I was fortunate enough to see Alda in “Glengarry Glen Ross” on Broadway a couple of months ago, and it was a real delight to see him doing live theater. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and look forward to reading his book. I’m glad the format of the JKS allows for these longer, uninterrupted chats with certain guests; without the constant interruptions you get on commercial network talk shows, you have the time to develop a real rapport with the subject, and the Alda episode was a perfect example of that.

  • 7. Ron West  |  October 14th, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    Josh, Your interview with Alan Alda was possibly the best interview that I have ever seen. Your show just continues to get better and better every week.

  • 8. Gil  |  October 14th, 2005 at 11:11 pm

    It was a good interview and Alan is a very refreshing person to see and hear. Imagine Larry King barking inane questions, cutting people off, etc. Great point he made there about listening, it applies across the board. You had some insights into the book and you were able to use them to draw him out, kudos.
    Please, if you talk with him again, tell him that there were a lot of people in San Francisco who watched and would like to thank him for spending the time to share so openly and authentically some of his experience. It was a great pleasure.
    Keep up the good work.: )

  • 9. Josh Kornbluth  |  October 15th, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Wow — these are all such wonderful comments! Thank you, everyone!

    And pogblog, since you ask: my birth name was “Louis Rukeyser” — but early on I realized that name would never work on public television. …

  • 10. Sean Lockwood  |  October 17th, 2005 at 12:28 am

    Bravo. I really enjoyed the interview. Keep up the good work.

  • 11. steve hamner  |  October 17th, 2005 at 1:00 am

    Add my voice to the chorus: amazing interview with alan alda. I didn’t catch alan’s actually picking up the rice krispie treat, I was so engrossed in what you and he were saying. But at some point, I noticed he was EATING. ON TELEVISION. My jaw dropped. Take that Charlie!

    Maybe I mis-heard, but I think mr. alda slipped and called you larry?

    steve.

  • 12. Sean Lockwood  |  October 17th, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    I just checked the Berkeley Public Library for Mr. Alda’s book and there were 35 holds placed on the three copies they own!

  • 13. Audrey Hall-Mendoza  |  October 22nd, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Loved the Alan Alda interaction. . your “awe” was charming,
    but now I’m trying to find your interview with the equally
    charming “bunny-rabbit-lady, and hopefully a replay of that
    little visitation. . .and your new family-member, that delightful
    White Rabbit? Where does this program appear iin this
    website line-up, Josh? Would llike to recomment it to family
    in Pinnacle Peak, AZ, who have just acquired a wonderful
    new , mottled-gray & white, rabbit, and who would like to see
    a replay of this particular -program of your. . .OK? Many thanks, keep the good shows coming! Cheers! Audrey

  • 14. Noelle  |  October 23rd, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    I liked how Alan Alda gave up planning everything and realized life was improvisation.How very wise.

  • 15. Josh Kornbluth  |  October 23rd, 2005 at 8:23 pm

    Sean: That’s really cool to hear how popular Alda’s book is at the Berkeley Public Library!

    Steve: I don’t think he called me “Larry” — but as you probably know, when someone is eating a Rice Crispy Treat, he can easily be misinterpreted!

    Audrey: If you haven’t found the bunny-rabbit-lady segment yet, it’s in the middle of the Craig Newmark interview. You can find the streaming video of that episode by clicking on the “TV Program” tab at the top of this page. (Currently, that episode is near the start of that page.)

    Noelle: Yes, I also found Alda’s insights about improvising in one’s life to be very powerful.

  • 16. Patricia Rambo  |  November 18th, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    Hi, Josh,
    I just watched your show for the 1st time. You were interviewing the author of Jughead. A great interview. I then when to you home page to discover you sister is training for a marathon. Well, I am too, in Hawaii December 11st. Is that the one she is doing? I am so jazzed. We did the whole 26.2 miles this past Saturday in SF, as a “practice run”. Yes, and they gave us medals for it. Now we get to do it all over again in 3 weeks. I leave on the 7th and will be there a week. I have my 68th BD the 13th. I came off my sofa June 11th to start this journey and I am changed! I really liked the show and blog.

    New fan,
    Patricia Rambo

  • 17. Josh Kornbluth  |  November 21st, 2005 at 9:36 am

    Hey, Patricia: So great to get your comment! You did a marathon just for practice? Amazing! … I believe my sister is practicing for the next NY Marathon, but I don’t think she’d mind running in Hawaii, either. … I’m glad you came off your sofa to run, but I’m also happy that you stayed on it long enough to watch my show. …

  • 18. vicki olds  |  January 2nd, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    Dear Mr. Kornbluth;

    I rarely watch TV as I work in the biz and own a design and media production studio. When I do, it’s a guilty pleasure … a reward for a job well done, or if I’m just plain sick. Somehow I caught your show for a second time last night—a rerun of your interview w/Alan Alda—and I just had to write to let you and KQED know what a great program you have. You are a fabulous, present, emotive, quick, comprehensive and witty interviewer … and of course, Mr. Alda is great, too. Do you mind if I compare you to being the next Terry Gross? I hope not.

    Your fan,

    Vicki
    aka shibumi

  • 19. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 2nd, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Okay, Vicki — you just made my week! Thanks!!

  • 20. Rus Healy  |  April 4th, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Josh,

    I recently discovered, quite by accident, that there’s a great collection of interviews on Google Video. The series is called Archive of American Television. Among other wonderful segments, it includes a six-part, three-hour interview with Alan Alda. I’m a lifelong fan, as I was about five years old when M*A*S*H came on the air; when I was growing up, my entire family watched the show every week. It was no secret to any of us that Alda is a genius, which is remarkable in itself considering the strength of the ensemble cast that was M*A*S*H.

    After watching the Archive of American Television segments over the last several weeks, I found your interview with Alan Alda this evening on Google Video. It was riveting. I felt like a little kid–your interview made him so accessible that it was almost as if I was there with you two in the guest chair–right across the table from him, in front of the bowl of Rice Krispie treats. (Did . . . he . . . just . . . take one of those?!)

    I’ve already placed his book on order and I can’t wait to read it.

    Strong work; thanks for a great interviewing job!

    Cheers,

    Rus


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