Friday, June 18, 2010

Samantha Bee: I Know I Am, But What Are You?

"I have a knack for penises," isn't the kind of confession you'd expect from a memoir penned by Samantha Bee, The Daily Show's Most Senior Correspondent. But then I Know I Am, But What Are You? isn't the kind of book you'd expect her to write. Leaving politics and talk of Jon Stewart & Co. mostly to one side, the collection of humorous essays sheds light on Samantha's unconventional upbringing, which in turn sheds light on why her recipe for success includes a hearty helping of sexually explicit material - ergo her theory that "we need to bring more of a porn sensibility to our financial regulatory mechanisms" (see April 27, 2010 Sex-curities XXXchange Cumission report).

I spoke with the Canadian-born not-news show funnywoman (who is married to fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones) about her Granny juice steeped childhood, her affairs with Jesus and her cat, her rebellious dislike of hot ham, and the repercussions of her exposure to penis-laden literature and videos at an exceedingly young age.

Read my interview with Samantha Bee at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tilda Swinton: I Am Love

I Am Love is a cinematic tour de force that explores the revolutionary power of love. The film is the result of a long-term collaboration between British actress Tilda Swinton (Orlando, Michael Clayton, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Italian writer and director Luca Guadagnino, who first worked with Swinton when she took the lead role in his 1999 feature-length debut, The Protagonists.

At the center of I Am Love, is Emma Recchi, played by Swinton. She's a trophy wife acquired by her Russian art-loving husband on a foray into the former socialist republic. By marriage, Emma is part of an Italian industrial dynasty that is born of fascism but embracing capitalism. But having served her primary purpose, giving birth to and raising those that will carry on the Recchi lineage, Emma is searching for a place in life beyond that at the end of a well-laid dinner table. At a point where she's at a crossroads in her own life, Antonio Biscaglia, an associate of her son's, crosses her path. As a chef, he's below stairs and below her status, but he proves to be irresistible to her, and their passion ignites a chain of events that rocks the stability of the Recchi patriarchy.

Though I Am Love is a work of fiction, there are distinct parallels to Swinton's own life. "You're always playing yourself," the actress told The Observer newspaper back in 2005 while promoting the film Thumbsucker. "It's all autobiography, whatever you're doing. It's using them as a kind of prism through which to throw something real about yourself."

With luminous pale skin, Celtic coloring and disconcertingly vivid green eyes, Tilda is clearly not born of Italian capitalist / nouveau aristocratic stock. However she comes from one of the oldest feudal baronial families in the United Kingdom, and can trace her bloodline back to the ninth century, so understands what it is to be a woman in a grand family. The mother of twins by Scottish writer John Byrne, who is twenty years her senior, since 2004 Swinton has been in a much-speculated about relationship with German-born painter Sandro Kopp, who is her junior by 18 years. Though this love triangle has echoes of that in her latest film, ultimately the outcomes are very different. The choice Byrne made to give Swinton his blessing in order to preserve their love and family life for the sake of themselves and their children is as progressive as her partner's alternate choice in the film is archaic.

I sat down with Swinton at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons to talk about her philosophies on filmmaking and love.

Read my interview with Tilda Swinton on

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jake Shears: Scissor Sisters

When Scissor Sisters first burst forth with their debut self-titled filthy gorgeous album in 2004 their brand of hedonistic dance was too hot for mainstream America to handle (the CD was even pulled from Wal-Mart's shelves). It was a different story across the Atlantic in the U.K. however, where the band were welcomed with open arms - and notable record sales. There the release spawned a total of five Top 20 singles, and became the country's top-selling album that year (and the 9th biggest seller of the decade). The band's follow up full-length, Ta-Dah, released in 2006, also fared much better outside of the U.S. It went straight to the top of the U.K. album charts, and the first single, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'"(a collaboration with Elton John), also hit the number one spot - and stayed there for four consecutive weeks.

The wide chasm in reception and record sales between the two continents - the Scissor Sisters' first two albums each sold in excess of 3 million units across Europe - can easily be explained when looked at in the context of cultural attitudes. The more liberal Europeans have been dancing continuously since the '70s and dance-based music is ingrained in the fabric of European life. In America however, seizing on the opportunity afforded by AIDS, the disproportionately influential Christian right whipped up a frenzy of anti-dance "disco sucks" hysteria, stopping the party in its tracks and creating a deep-seated prejudice against the genre as a whole that remains prevalent to this day in significant pockets of society.

However mainstream America has started to loosen up, shake its collective booty and dance again. The success of European-produced tracks from the likes of Madonna (who enlisted William Orbit for Ray of Light and Stuart Price for Confessions on a Dance Floor) and Britney Spears (who prominently featured Bloodshy & Avant's production talents on her past two albums) has brought the dance aesthetic back to the mainstream, and paved the way for 100% domestic-raised spawn of disco to return to the fore.

So as Scissor Sisters prepare to step back on the dance floor with their much-anticipated third album, Night Work, the mirrored ball is at least proverbially spinning above middle-American heads. Though this bodes well in many respects, it does pose a new set of dilemmas for the band. Previously, against a background of overbearing earnestness as practiced by a generation of shoe-gazing indie bands, their tongue-in-cheek flamboyance seemed refreshing. Now, their once unique style has become de rigueur in pop culture thanks to the Scissor Sisters-influenced and much-imitated House of Gaga. Hence, to stay ahead of the pack, they’ve been forced to switch things up visually and musically.

I caught up with Scissor Sisters' frontman, founder and driving force, Jake Shears, to talk about Night Work, what inspired it, where his party is headed, and what he'll be wearing to it.

Read my exclusive interview with Jake Shears at