Jian Ghomeshi could teach a master class in the art of the interview.
Ghomeshi is the quietly intelligent and charmingly unassuming host of "Q," the Canadian Broadcasting Company's nightly entertainment talk show heard through Public Radio International in the United States including on Salt Lake City's KCPW 89.5 FM, weeknights at 6 p.m.
Ghomeshi is bringing "Q" to The State Room, 638 S. State St., on Thursday, Jan. 19, for a live show that includes a performance by the Denver band Tennis, and an interview with author Margaret Atwood and Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal (who collaborated on the Sundance Film Festival documentary "Payback").
On "Q," Ghomeshi talks music, movies, sports, politics and an array of other subjects, through thoughtful and expansive interviews that dig deeper than most entertainment shows.
How Ghomeshi gets more from entertainers can be broken down to five lesson points:
Lesson #1: Let them talk
Over the phone recently, I asked Ghomeshi about an interview he conducted late last year with Krist Novoselic, bass guitarist for the seminal Seattle alt-rock band Nirvana. "If you can, in 20 minutes, get a sense of someone, then it's mission accomplished," Ghomeshi said. "I felt like in that 20 minutes, we got a real sense [of Novoselic]. You could tell he was a rocker, but you could also tell he was a thinker."
Someone arranging the interview asked Ghomeshi, or his producers, not to bring up Novoselic's deceased bandmate Kurt Cobain. "I wasn't that intent on going with the Kurt thing," he said. But then Novoselic mentioned Cobain, and it gave Ghomeshi an opportunity.
This leads into the next lesson in interviewing:
Lesson #2: Prove yourself to the subject
Knowing something about the person being interviewed helps the subject feel more comfortable talking. "If it's clear the interview isn't going to be about that [one thing], the interviewee is more at liberty to talk," Ghomeshi said.
As an example, Ghomeshi turned the tables on me.
"If you had asked me, 'Tell me about Billy Bob,'" Ghomeshi said, he would have known I hadn't done much research before interviewing him.
Ghomeshi's April 2009 interview with actor-turned-rocker Billy Bob Thornton in which Thornton evaded Ghomeshi's questions, bristled at an introduction that mentioned Thornton's acting career, and had the subject lecturing the interviewer about how to do his job became a viral sensation, and probably will get mentioned in the first sentence of Ghomeshi's obituary.
Lesson #3: When you see an opening, take it
When Ghomeshi mentioned the Thornton interview to me, it gave me an opportunity to ask about it. "On the day, I wasn't quite sure what to make of what happened," Ghomeshi said. "I knew I held my own in the interview."
Ghomeshi still had to finish the show on the CBC, it's a 90-minute show, and he had another 70 minutes to go, which he did "in kind of a zone." After the show, his producers and other staffers came into the studio and began cheering.
That's when Ghomeshi found out "Q" had received 4,000 emails and that was just the start of the media onslaught. Entertainment journalists and gossip writers from all over sought to interview him, some of them wanting him to stoke the flames by saying something provocative about Thornton.
"I feel like I could become prime minister of Canada the next day, and the Mumbai Times wouldn't want to interview me," Ghomeshi said. But getting in a radio dust-up with a movie star is a different thing.
Lesson #4: Go deeper
It's a major strength of "Q," like only a few other entertainment shows (NPR's "Fresh Air" comes to mind), that Ghomeshi has the time to let guests talk awhile.
Ghomeshi credits that to Canada's public-radio tradition. "There isn't always the imperative for the soundbite, or the gotcha moment, or the sensation," he said. "There's still some notion that, with a world leader, you should sit down with a real interview. But ultimately, with cultural affairs and entertainment, there's a knee-jerk tradition of red carpets and soundbites, and the presumption that there isn't that much more to get from these people."
Lesson #5: Let the subject plug his gig
Performing "Q" live, as he will in Thursday's show at The State Room, is "a chance to see and feel an audience I don't normally see," Ghomeshi said.
"I'm only ever broadcasting to two people on the other side of the glass," he said. "When I'm in front of an audience, there's an energy there that's infectious and exciting."
'Q' live in SLC
The Canadian Broadcasting Company's radio talk show "Q" will record a live installment in Salt Lake City pegged to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Who • Host Jian Ghomeshi will interview Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and author Margaret Atwood, who have collaborated on the documentary "Payback" (playing in the World Cinema Documentary competition), based on Atwood's essays about wealth, debt and reparation.
Where •The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City.
When • Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m.; doors open at 6 p.m.
Tickets • $15, thestateroomslc.com or at the venue.