As planned, I was at the October 14 (Neil Young) TCR taping! Took a bus roundtrip from Boston to NYC, so I got out of bed at 8am on Tuesday and wasn’t back in until 6am on Wednesday, with nine of those hours spent on the road.
The crew are, as always, very good at getting you energized. They make you cheer so much between the waiting room and the warmup that I was starting to feel hoarse before Stephen himself actually appeared. The fact that the show is coming to an end is part of the atmosphere, and it’s really been embraced — from the audience wrangler jazzing everyone up about how lucky we are to see one of the last tapings, to the warmup comic mocking a guy who had been to five already: “There’s like twenty shows left [note: actually 30], and you’re taking another seat from someone else?” On the list of suggested “things Stephen loves talking about” for the pre-show Q&A, his move to CBS is right there with things like the show’s trip to Iraq. You feel good about it.
When I went to a taping in 2007, I didn’t ask any questions, and came away kind of regretting it. This time, I didn’t bother…because the question I had back then was “if the show was coming to an end, have you thought about what kind of big finale it would have, and are there character-development-type things you would do, given the opportunity?” And, well. In a couple months I’ll find out.
With all that said, let’s get to the good stuff: the quotes and exclusives! (As best I can remember, with the help of a bunch of notes made directly after leaving.)
The Pre-Show (and Post-Show) Q&A
Stephen says “doyouhaveanyquestionstohumanizemebeforeIsayalltheseterriblethings” like it’s all one word these days. And we get right to it….
Q (in very British accent): Have you ever been to [place]?
A (in matching accent): I’m sorry, where?
Q: [Place]. It’s where J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings.
A: No, I haven’t. I’ve only been to England a couple of times.
Q: It’s where I live.
A (playing it cool): …What’s it smell like?
Q: How do you decompress?
A: I get to tell jokes every night. No, seriously.
Q: Have you ever officiated a gay wedding?
A (roguish): …That I know of.
Q: What brand are those big glasses you wear off-camera?
A: I don’t know. I lost them again. I’m going to have to wear these [the normal ones for the show] all the time.
A: I like these anyway. The other ones are kind of standoffish. These are more inviting. They invite people in. It’s like I’m not even wearing glasses at all.
Q: How do you get the part in your hair so straight?
A: I come in at five, and I have a team. They have lasers. They use a surveying level.
Q: Can you drive me home to Montclair after the show?
A: Uh, I live in The New York Area.
[dude, you have serious publicity-related involvement in the Montclair Film Festival, are people not supposed to have noticed?]
Q: I just turned 40, so I was wondering…what do you hope to have accomplished by the time you turn 40?
A (chuffed): Well, I hope to be established at CBS by then…
A (seriously): I got this show when I was 40, I was 41 when it started, I’m 50 now…the 40s are a good decade.
A: Get yourself a TV show. I really recommend it.
After the interview, they had to retape a couple of lines, so Stephen took a few more questions to keep us engaged while the crew was getting that set up. [He also pulled a lot of faces. That man’s face is cartoonishly malleable. He did this curly Grinch-with-a-plan smile, and a square, wide-mouthed frogface. I lost it on that one when he started doing lizard-flicks with his tongue.]
Q: What’s the story behind the Hugh Laurie photo on your shelf?
A: [gentle explanation for this poor soul who hasn’t watched House, M.D. closely enough, and/or just isn’t enough of a TCR fan]
Q: Is that [on the mantel by the interview table] your real Emmy?
A: One of them.
A: …That was a really dickish way to answer that question, wasn’t it? Like, the most dickish way possible.
A: That’s the one we took to Iraq. You can see she’s in digital camo.
Q: What’s your favorite barbecue?
A: Where are you from?
Q: South Carolina.
Q: James Island.
Q: My family’s in the business, that’s why I asked.
A: [starts talking about places, eventually giving the names Michael and Maurice]
Q: Those are my uncles.
[Turned out she was a Bessinger. Turns out Maurice was famously racist, but Stephen praises the barbecue itself: “You can really *kisses fingers* taste the heritage.”]
The Second Act That Got Cut
There was an entire Sport Report between the first act and the interview. At the end, Stephen mentioned that it was probably getting cut so we could have “as much Neil as possible.” (It sounded like they wrote a table of contents for the top of the show, but they didn’t even film that. Explained up-front that tonight, “we have too many jokes.”)
I remember being a little let down that the middle segment I was getting to see in-person wasn’t, say, political…but hey, studio-audience-exclusive gags! Can’t complain about that. And “Stephen” even opened with “Nation, I love sports. I also love pretending to love things I don’t actually care about.”
Topic was the Fall Experimental Football League, which he described as “Have you ever watched college football, and thought, ‘man, I wish these players were better’, and then watched the NFL and thought ‘wait, not that good’?” One of the FXFL’s selling points is that they expect to have at least 25% their players picked up by the NFL mid-season: “Because what you really want is to follow a team where all the good players keep leaving.” He listed a bunch of previous failed non-NFL football leagues, included the XFL, but added, “You know this one will succeed because they’ve added an F, the letter synonymous with success.”
Miscellanea (with Bonus Neil Young)
The set is so classy these days. When they were getting us settled, the video columns behind the desk and around the front of the platform were playing this fishbowl scene, and it all went together: you could see the same fish swim out-of-frame on one column and into the next.
Between the interview and the musical bit, the crew folded up either end of the platform that table sits on (with the table and chairs still sitting in the middle), used a bungee cord to hook the ends together, and wheeled the whole thing away. There were audible “oooh”s from the audience. So that’s how they do it!
Stephen did surprisingly little guitar playing. From what I could tell looking between the screens and the people, they filmed it well. Basically, any time the camera was just on Neil, Stephen’s hands weren’t moving.
They also filmed another song — a straightforward duet of “You Are My Sunshine” — that didn’t end up on-air. (I don’t see it as a web exclusive, either. Bonus feature for an upcoming best-of DVD? IDK.) They had the same trouble at the beginning that they did with the first song, where Stephen would try to start the bit and Neil launched straight into playing the song, without waiting for the lead-in they’d rehearsed. Eventually, Stephen went “Is this why Crosby, Stills, and Nash left you?!”
(It was fun. They had a great time with it.)
The Report is soaring out on a high note! And I feel good about that. Even though I’m going to miss it so much when it’s gone.