Interviews
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Talking to Fred Armisen About 'SNL', 'Portlandia' And Stuff

After 11 years of creating some of the oddest and most memorable characters on Saturday Night Live, Fred Armisen left the legendary sketch show at the end of this past season to focus on his other soon-to-be legendary sketch show. Portlandia, which he and co-star Carrie Brownstein created with director Jonathan Krisel, has be picked up for two more seasons on IFC. He will also been seen in the upcoming film Justice for Al, from Bad Santa director Terry Zwigoff. I caught up with Armisen over the phone from Portland to talk about great sketch shows and how Game of Thrones influenced Portlandia.

So it is official now that you’ve left SNL?

I think it's clear. I [...]

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Our Culture Needs Better Monsters! An Interview with Brian McGreevy

In an essay for New York's Vulture blog last year, author Brian McGreevy argued that "over the last decade, something has gone terribly wrong with the modern vampire. Take the biggest offender, Twilight. Granted there is an inescapable genius to its command of 14-year-old girl psychology; its premise is that the hot, broken guy who breaks into your house to draw you while you sleep wants to wait until marriage until he nearly screws you to death on a feather bed."

McGreevy's new novel, Hemlock Grove, published as part of the FSG Originals series, goes straight for the jugular, so to speak. Set in a [...]

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How They Got There: A Q&A With Uber-Career Hopper Paul Hoffman

Paul Hoffman's career is long and varied. He ran Discover when he was 30, published a bestseller when he was 44 and opened a restaurant, Rucola Brooklyn, ten years later, which is where I met him recently for a drink. For the past decade, Paul's bounced from project to project, writing, consulting, editing, moviemaking and more. At one point, Michael Douglas called him and asked if he would fly to Los Angeles to help make a movie character "smarter." Yet while the details of his story are unique, the unexpected turns of his career path are not. In the new world, smart people find themselves bouncing from job [...]

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Quit Your Job! A Q&A with Erin McKenna of BabyCakes

The Awl: So the founding of BabyCakes is actually fairly well-chronicled. You were allergic to wheat and dairy! You borrowed some money and started up a bakery, and you did it on a shoestring, and your finances were really tight. But what doesn't get mentioned in all this is: why! Why did you want to become the cupcake and cookie and muffin gluten-free, dairy-free queen?

Erin: Thank you for not asking the obvious. You are the first on record. The reason I wanted to open a bakery was pretty simple: I wanted to open a place I'd like to go to. I've never been a big partier—going to [...]

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Quit Your Job, Live the Dream: A Q&A with Mark Armstrong, Longreads

The Awl: Mark Armstrong, you had a perfectly nice job as the Director of Content at Bundle, and presumably before that you had other real jobs, and then you went and quit your job to really focus on developing Longreads, which, duh, draws attention to longform writing. Why did you do that?

Mark Armstrong: So, here's the thing: I've worked in the Internet coal mine for more than ten years now. I moved from Los Angeles to New York in 2001, and in that time I worked for both giant companies and tiny startups. During this time I noticed that the stuff that works best is [...]

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The Strange Case of Shad, the Positive Political Canadian Rapper

If rapping is for bad boys, Shad has little business being in the field. The Kenyan-born, Canada-raised hip-hop artist with a positive attitude has been nominated for multiple prestigious awards, and was even deemed the #1 rapper in Canada by the still rather-conservative National Post—and that wasn't in, like, 2008 or anything, but just last week. On Shad's third album, "TSOL," released this spring, his lyrics address everything from how the same thing that floats your boat can also capsize it, to the time his sister taught him how to parallel park, to why rapping about rapping isn't that interesting. Shad is performing tonight at the Highline [...]

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Talking with Alan Spencer about 'Bullet in the Face,' Andy Kaufman, 'Sledge Hammer,' and Life as a Hollywood Script Doctor

After spending his teenage years sneaking on to movie studio lots and befriending talented, offbeat folks like Marty Feldman and Andy Kaufman, Alan Spencer became one of the youngest-ever members of the Writers Guild at age 15. The first show he created, Sledge Hammer!, made him the youngest ever-creator of a network TV series at the time at 26, and the program earned a great deal of critical acclaim and inspired a devoted cult following after its criminally short, two-season run. Frustrated with how hard it is to get a show on the air, Alan Spencer then began working as a Hollywood script doctor, fixing other people's movies and [...]

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Artie Lange Preps His Comeback

A week before the Ravens lost to the Patriots, Artie Lange, Howard Stern sidekick turned sports radio host, wasn’t convinced the Pats could even conquer the Denver Broncos.

“The line is 13 and a half, but I don’t know,” he said, considering the odds as the 49ers upset the Saints on the television between us. “Maybe it’s a sucker’s bet, but, I don’t know, that’s tempting. 13 and a half. I think they got a great chance of covering. And Tebow, possibly being Jesus, I think there's a real chance they can win.”

So it’s a good thing Artie Lange doesn’t gamble anymore. No easy task for the reformed [...]

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A Wisconsin Teacher on Teaching After Unions

Last week Wisconsin legislators voted to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees, including teachers. I spoke with one 20-something Wisconsin teacher about the new public service landscape and what it now means to be a teacher. Given how Governor Walker's uninvited use of teacher Megan Sampson's story made her a chit to be exploited in the public debate, Kathryn has asked her last name not be used. The answers are unedited.

The Awl: What do you teach?

Kathryn: High School English.

The Awl: How long have you been teaching?

Kathryn: 6 years. The Awl: How does the loss of union rights make you feel [...]

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Quit Your Job! A Q&A with Dan Shanoff of Quickish (And His Wife Too)

The Awl: Dan Shanoff! Not long ago, after some scheming, you left a job and started your own company and its first publication, Quickish, which is sports-oriented, and in beta, and provides immediate, quickly done news and views and updates. You plan to expand beyond sports in the future. Dan, why did you do this?

Dan: I have wanted to create my own company since I had my first job, where I was employee No. 1 for a couple of MBA drop-outs that got some seed funding from AOL to start a content site to keep AOL subscribers enthusiastic and engaged to be paying by the hour [...]

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A Q&A with Subports

Subports is a retail mechanism disguised as fun. They provides vendors with a text "shortcode"—you know, like the way they vote on reality TV shows—that customers who have enrolled their credit cards can use to purchase products via text message. But instead of rolling out in support of big box retail, Subports chose to work with artists, designers and record stores, and build stores (both virtual and pop-up) as sales points. We spoke to Subports honcho Will Robison.

Q. Are there some retail experiments you have in mind but can't yet pull off?

A. I have a list of ideas the size of my leg. We have played [...]

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Vancouver's Supervised Drug Injection Center: How Does It Work?

Vancouver, Canada is the only city in North America that provides a legal facility for drug addicts to push heroin and cocaine and other types of substances into their veins. It's called InSite, and it's both government-sanctioned and government-funded.

Located in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside—often called Canada's poorest postal code—the supervised injection site opened as a 3-year experiment back in 2003 to curb the neighborhood's high levels of disease spread through shared needles and death from overdose. Now, after nearly a decade of academic research, political debate, public scrutiny and a Canadian Supreme Court ruling last September that stated InSite should remain open indefinitely, Montreal, Toronto, [...]

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How They Got There: A Q&A With Rooftop Farmer Annie Novak

It was raining when I met Annie Novak. One wave of the torrential stuff had already passed—although more would come later as part of a record-breaking 24-hour period—but a steady drizzle was still falling as she showed me around Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, a 6,000-square-foot space on top of a converted Greenpoint warehouse. The view of the East River and the Manhattan skyline was stunning. The peppers looked bright and plump as water dripped off them onto the dirt/gravel/compost mix that makes their beds. For the past three years, Novak has run the farm, growing vegetables, teaching kids through a partnership with Growing Chefs and refining her business [...]

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One Voter Explains: Why I Support Scott Walker

We've published a lot over the last couple weeks about the battle in Wisconsin over labor, and nearly always been critical of Scott Walker and the Republicans. So I found a reasonable 20-something Wisconsinite named Sarah Helms, who was willing to explain her support for Scott Walker and his bill. Her answers have not been edited at all.

The Awl: Where do you live, work?

Sarah: I'm currently unemployed since returning from my tour in Afghanistan. I'm planning on starting school next semester. I live in Madison, WI.

The Awl: How would you sum up your reasons for supporting the bill? 

Sarah: From what I've read [...]

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An Q&A with Ted Hall: He Jumped the JFK Baggage Carousel for Love

Trouble. It’s out there. Sometimes you find it; sometimes it finds you.

I first met Edward T. Hall III last October at TEDxGotham, one of those independent TED offshoots that spring up around the world. A friend had invited me to attend her presentation on social robotics. Edward—Ted to his friends—distinguished himself from the rest of the speakers by reading a poem on the steps of Cooper Union after the event.

As the poem concluded, he wept openly, tears streaking his cheeks between long locks of hair. There’s a special kind of person who can authentically cry in public, bridging the gap between goony political [...]

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A Q&A with 'Electric Literature'

In the summer of 2009, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum published the first volume of their literary journal, Electric Literature. By offering more than the paperback option—in fact, by making their journal available on multiple mobile devices—its founders have not only built a reputation and a business: they’ve also been able to pay writers $1,000 per story.

Q: You still pay well for the stories you publish, and so you’ve attracted big names like Rick Moody, Lydia Davis and Javier Marias. Has it been a challenge with their agents to get agreements to publish across every medium? A: One thing we come up against again and again, [...]