I was honored to speak with America’s great conversationalist, writer, and television legend Dick Cavett for this installation of Questions from the Studio. He was kind enough to share a bit about his childhood growing up in Nebraska and insights into his process for the Dick Cavett Show, as well as thoughts on God…and Justin Bieber.
Gary Komarin: What did you dream about becoming…as a kid in Nebraska?
Dick Cavett: I knew, seemingly from birth, that I wanted to be in show business. I was, in a way, by doing magic shows during high school for as much as $35 a night. A fortune. And I dreamed of and yearned for New York. I knew I’d get there somehow and that something would happen there to make people say, “There goes Dick Cavett.” (When that happened, after a time, it proved a bit less fun than I’d hoped.)
Gary Komarin: How did growing up in the middle of the country shape your point of view?
Dick Cavett: I’m not sure I ever formed what you’d call a Midwestern- influenced point of view. I didn’t feel any great affection for my Midwest upbringing – the elm-lined streets, the fairs, the prairies – until I left it all. Now I can’t get enough of it when I go back on visits and my affection for it looms.
Gary Komarin: Do you believe that the better the question, the better the answer…or is that too simplistic?
Dick Cavett: If you mean in a talk show, it shouldn’t be a matter of questions. Jack Paar told to me never to do interviews. That’s Q and A. “What’s your favorite color?” or “Do you pee in the shower?” Or those dreadful and unanswerable “most” questions: “Who’s been your most interesting guest?” That’s survey. As Jack said, “Make it a conversation.”
Gary Komarin: When doing interviews, did you do a lot of research or did you sometimes ‘wing it’…to get from the known to the unknown?
Dick Cavett: I found it best to (a) have good notes and (b) don’t make the mistake of sticking to them. As soon as something develops from a note, go with it and don’t be afraid to dump and forget the rest of your preparations; again, the goal being – ideally – good, spontaneous, flowing and unplanned conversation.
Gary Komarin: How would you interview yourself?
Dick Cavett: With great reluctance and with a right to censor the final product. I know far too much about myself to make it fair to myself.
Gary Komarin: What would be your dream interview of all time?
Failing that, of course, Justin Bieber.
Watch Dick Cavett and Groucho Marx on September 1969:
Dick Cavett has been nominated for eleven Emmy awards (the most recent in 2012 for the HBO special, Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again), and won three. Spanning five decades, Dick Cavett’s television career has defined excellence in the interview format. He started at ABC in 1968, and also enjoyed success on PBS, USA, and CNBC.
His most recent television successes were the September 2014 PBS special, Dick Cavett’s Watergate, followed April 2015 by Dick Cavett’s Vietnam. He has appeared in movies, tv specials, tv commercials, and several Broadway plays. He starred in an off-Broadway production of Hellman v. McCarthy in 2014 and reprised the role at Theatre 40 in LA February 2015.
Cavett has published four books beginning with Cavett (1974) and Eye on Cavett (1983), co-authored with Christopher Porterfield. His two recent books — Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off- Screen Secrets (2010) and Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic moments, and Assorted Hijinks (October 2014) are both collections of his online opinion column, written for The New York Times since 2007. Additionally, he has written for The New Yorker, TV Guide, Vanity Fair, and elsewhere. [source]