Mike Daisey is an artist I’ve written about more often and in greater detail than only anyone else. He’s certainly the artist with to whom I’ve spent the most time speaking directly. The reviews I’ve written of his monologues and the features I’ve reported about how he creates them and the op-ed I was once moved to write in his defense all reflect my great admiration for his work.
That has not prevented me from condemning him when I think he’s deserved it, and he did do something that warranted condemnation, years ago. I will say that in the third year of a Donald J. Trump administration, it seems awfully quaint that so many journalists who had never publicly discussed theatre at all before they lined up to express their outrage at Daisey in the spring of 2012 got so steamed over a guy who tells stories in theaters for a living taking some liberties with one of them.
Anyway, Daisey’s wildly ambitious current show A People’s History—an 18 part retelling of American history circa 1492-to-now, based heavily on the work of Howard Zinn but also on Daisey’s own life—is the subject of my second Washington City Paper cover story about him, available today wherever finer Washington, DC alt-weeklies are given away for free. My 2012 WCP story detailing the problems he created for himself with his show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and his effort to remedy them, is here. In fact, all of my writings about Daisey are mere clicks away! How much time do you have?
This took a few days longer to appear than it should’ve, for boring reasons only partly within my control. Anyway, last Friday I attended a workshop of a new monologue by Mike Daisey — an artist I’ve written a lot over the last six or seven years. I didn’t find room in the piece to mention that the monologue was directed by Isaac Butler, who has been doing some terrific writing on the theatre for Slate. The oral history of Angels and America that he and my sometimes-editor Dan Kois posted this week is marvelous piece of historical journalism. Anyway, my Washington City Paper review of the still-developing The Trump Card is (finally) here.
I’ve written about monologuist Mike Daisey a lot in the last four years, but especially last year, in the wake of damaging revelations about his show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
He and I met again at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, his performing home here in DC since 2008, last Friday to talk about his new piece, American Utopias, which I review in this week’s Washington City Paper. I’ve just posted an edited, partial transcript of that talk up on Arts Desk. Continue reading →
If Uncle Sam is now reading PARADE magazine, we’re screwed. Photo by Heidi May.
I’ve had the privilege of speaking with the great raconteur Henry Rollins a few times now. When I interviewed him in 2008 about his plan to play the Birchmere on Election Eve, we spoke in September, several weeks before the show. He was predicting at that time John McCain would be elected president. A few days after our conversation, Lehman Brothers collapsed, the fiscal dominoes started falling and the dynamic of the race changed dramatically.
Once again, Rollins will be speaking here in DC — in DC, where we don’t have voting representation in Congress; not the “DC area” this time, at the 9:30 Club — the night before America chooses a president. I’ll be there. I was surprised to learn when we spoke the other week that he hadn’t heard of Mike Daisey.
The interview is on Washington City Paper Arts Desk today.
I’ve already written at length about my reaction to the news that Mike Daisey — a stage storyteller whose work I’ve admired for years — fabricated the most emotionally resonant elements of his tech-manufacturing expose monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. He’s bringing the show back to the place of its birth, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, for a three-week engagement starting next week.
I spent a vacation week from my day job writing about him again. It was not at all restful. It did not help that my usual and customary stress valves — running and boxing — were both severely impaired by a record-pummeling 11-day heatwave here in Our Nation’s Capital that included the hottest day ever recorded in Washington, DC: 105 degrees Fahrenheit on July 7, if you care. On the plus side, my electricity stayed on.
But I digress! My cover story in this week’s Washington City Paper does some chin-scratching about Woolly’s decision to stage Daisey’s controversial show again, and attempts to explain why I think Daisey remains an important artist despite the poor decisions he made during his perilous crossing of the artist-activist Rubicon. I’ll take what he says on stage from now on with a grain of salt, but then I always did. The main thing is I’ll keep showing up to hear what he says. Continue reading →
Wait, wait, I'm still apologizing! Don't start the music yet!
Mike Daisey appeared for a one-hour public Q & A session last night at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the place where his controversial monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was born — or, to use his creepy syntax, “birthed.”
It was an interesting hour highlighted by a fascinating exchange near the end, which I reproduce in my Washington City Paper Arts Desk post about it.
More than 3,000 words later, I’m still sorting through my thoughts about what Mike Daisey has done. While I think it’s unfair to compare him to Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, as many have, I’m still puzzled by my inclination to defend a guy who endangered the reputation of This American Life by lying to Ira Glass and Brian Reed to prevent them from fact-checking his story as thoroughly as they should have.
And yeah, as someone who has been a part of Daisey’s theater audience for years, I guess I could say he lied to me, too. I know a lot of people who paid to see (full disclosure: I didn’t pay for my ticket) The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs feel indignant on those grounds.
I don’t go to the theater for news, any more than I go to a dentist when I need my car serviced. Even when something is billed as “a work of nonfiction,” as this show was, I approach it skeptically. And I don’t consider myself an unusually cynical person. I consider myself to be the kind of person who, after seeing a show or a film or reading something that moves me and deepens my interest in an issue, then consults other sources. Continue reading →
Before you ask Mike Daisey’s opinion on a subject, make sure you’re sure you want to know! (I am, and I do.)
Remember when I wrote that Daisey, raconteurius nonpariculus, was “one of the most imaginative and entrancing talkers in America”? Dude, I was totally right. Daisey generously gave me an hour of his time, and he had way more interesting things to say than I could possibly use in my preview of The Last Cargo Cult, his latest solo show at Woolly Mammoth.
After the jump, luxuriate in the cogent and persuasive glow of a few more of those glorious “lucid, flowing paragraphs” I mentioned, which Daisey freestyled live and uncut into my iPod one week ago.
It isn’t that he has too little, or, God knows, too much. To hear the 36-year-old raconteur tell it, his money problem is the same one that afflicts us all.
“Money — currency — is corrosive to human relationships,” he says flatly. “It corrodes the human connections that create communities, and replaces them with fiduciary connections.”
Strange talk from a man who once made his living as a business development executive for Amazon, an experience he chronicled in his 2002 monologue and memoir of the late-90s tech bubble, 21 Dog Years. But on a break from preparations at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, four days before his latest solo show opens here, Daisey has the confidence of certainty, however provocative his premise. Even in what is ostensibly an informal chat, he unspools his argument in lucid, flowing paragraphs, seldom restarting a sentence the way amateur conversationalists are prone to do. Continue reading →