This interview by The Hollywood Reporter of Jerry Lewis is making the rounds. It’s painful to watch and you don’t need to watch the entire thing to get the gist of it. I think the majority of people see this video and think “What a jerk Jerry Lewis is!” However, I believe this video and the description around what happened illustrate why “interviewing” – whether an interview with a comedy legend or an interview with a valued customer for a corporate video production – isn’t as simple as you might think. Being a good interviewer is more than being able to ask questions. What happens BEFORE the interview is as important as the interview itself.
Getting a great interview is about developing a rapport with and understanding of your subject. What’s very telling in this case is that the “reporter” had a sense that his subject was getting frustrated and angry about the amount of gear and time spent on photography before they even sat down to talk. A good interviewer is also a good “producer” and recognizes when there is a need to regroup: Have the crew take some gear back out to the truck, quietly ask the photographer to wrap-up early, use the time to get to know your subject or shoot either the photos or the interview at a different time – these are just some ways to avoid the result we see here. I wasn’t there, so I can’t second guess exactly what should have been done but, trust me, a seasoned interviewer/producer would have likely had a different outcome. If you want great interviews, learn to read and empathize with your subject.
And, yes, Lewis was being a jerk – at 90, I think most of us would have been furious (or just plain tired and cranky) by the time this interview finally began… Particularly someone who knows a thing or two about production and about being interviewed. Jerry Lewis is Jerry Lewis, and yet there are plenty of other interviews where he doesn’t appear to be this big of a jerk. That’s a reflection of the person behind the camera, not just the one in front of it.