Interviewing the funny and famous | Mann Overboard

Bill Mann
Posted 5/19/22

I read a Page 1 New York Times profile last week about much-missed comic George Carlin. There’s also a new HBO special premiering this weekend about the feisty, often brilliant comedian and …

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Interviewing the funny and famous | Mann Overboard

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I read a Page 1 New York Times profile last week about much-missed comic George Carlin. There’s also a new HBO special premiering this weekend about the feisty, often brilliant comedian and social commentator. 

I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with him up in Montreal, where I was the daily’s entertainment columnist. 

My “luck” was being in the newspaper business, which gave me access to so many interesting and famous people for years. I’m lucky to have been part of it for so long. You encounter the crazy, the spiritual, the boorish, and … the stoned. 

Although my pot-smoking days are several decades behind me, it was Carlin asking me then, in his Place des Arts dressing room, if I had any dope — and I usually did in those days, especially at concerts — that led to my interview with him. We lit up. 

Carlin warned me about the dangers of cocaine, which was just coming into fashion in the ’70s. He told me it was turning people into “monsters,” and that he was having much trouble resisting it. (He later got addicted, and when asked what doing cocaine made you feel like, he accurately joked, “It makes you feel like doing more cocaine.” Great line.)

Upon my telling him that I was a Baby Boomer, I remember Carlin, who was born in 1937, telling me sadly, “It seems like most people in the world are your age, and my generation is tiny.” True. 

So two months later, I’m sitting at home in Montreal, cannabinated as usual. There was no premium cable back in the early ’70s, and on my TV screen appeared, “George Carlin in Concert,” on NBC, as I recall. 

To my amazement, it was the same show in Montreal I’d seen two months before. So I turned to a friend and said, dumbly, “Hey. Carlin’s stoned … on MY dope!” 

Not long after, Carlin was the first-ever host of “Saturday Night Live.” 

———

I had a repeat visitor the other day who likes to hear my celebrity-interview stories. It got me thinking how my newspapers have given me rare access to so many well-known people over the years.

The most historic interview I ever did, was also the last one Jackie Robinson ever gave, also in Montreal. He died two weeks later. A dear, sweet man. 

Continuing the newspaper name dropping…

— My most memorable interview? Probably the one with Oprah Winfrey, conducted in a small interview room at Channel 7 in San Francisco. I was allotted a scant 15 minutes with Oprah, who was busily promoting her upcoming syndicated daytime talk show, one that became a monster success. She was intense, and certainly not someone to be trifled with. So I skipped the usual snarky questions. Oprah was, well, spiritual. 

— And then there was a strange lunch I had with someone I’d never heard of, an actor named Bruce Campbell, also down in the Bay Area. He was plugging a TV movie. Suddenly, people started coming up to our table, asking in awe, “Are you… Bruce Campbell?” I knew he’d starred in a movie called “Evil Dead,” which I figured was just another forgettable “splat” film. Turns out “Dead” was a huge cult hit and triggered the zombie movie and TV craze that continues today. I said goodbye to Campbell out on the street, where more starstruck passersby came up to him asking for autographs. 

They certainly weren’t looking for an autograph from the guy with him. 

— Working as a Canadian correspondent for England’s biggest music paper, Melody Maker, got me access to the big British bands. I remember sitting in Led Zeppelin’s dressing room and seeing their manager, a burly behemoth named Peter Grant, burst into the room. Suddenly, he began ripping the speakers off the wall. Why? Because he could. And because it made Messrs. Plant, Page, and Bonham laugh. 

— One of my funniest access opportunities was going into recording studios in Montreal to hang out with famous dopers Cheech and Chong, who were recording their second album.

Afterwards, Cheech Marin asked, “Wanna go see a lecture?” Really? A lecture? With these guys? It got even stranger: It was Tom Wolfe.

I couldn’t pass on this opportunity, and we went to Concordia University to hear “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”/“Bonfire of The Vanities” author. Afterward, the famed writer, resplendent in his trademark white suit, was approached by the equally famous stoners, who had the top-selling album in the country at the time. Wolfe had no idea who these two were. Had never heard of them, to the pair’s surprise and my satisfaction. I had a good celeb story … about a writer! 

(PT’s former celebrity interviewer Bill Mann is now known as Newsmann9@gmail.com.) 

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