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Promotional photograph of Johann Hari

Image via Wikipedia

Everything you are about to read is true. And when I say ‘true’ I mean ‘intellectually true’ rather than the ordinary, mundane, factual sort of ‘true’.

Until this morning I had not met Johann Hari*. When I encounter him** he seems subdued***.

This, clearly, is a chastened man. A contrite man. A man who has felt the rage of the Twitterati. “I can never quite forget,” he coughs, “That there are vicious hordes of prepubescent girls across Britain who would gladly jolt me aside with an electric cattle-prod and trample over my smoking corpse just to be standing here.”****

I feel the urge to reach out and touch him, to grasp his clammy hand to mine. The coffee shop we are sitting in***** is garish and strident in the claims it makes for its beverages. I’m sure the irony of this won’t be lost on him.

“It’s almost over. I can’t take any more of this.”****** The scourge of Kenneth Tong, and the Boswell to Busted’s Johnson has had enough.

Had there been any way of doing it, I would have offered him some comfort. Still, I restrained myself. To take his head into my lap and stroke his hair would be of no help now. Even if it were physically possible.

As I get up from my chair******* his words hang behind me in the air. “Every word I have quoted has been said by my interviewee, and accurately represents their view. I hope people continue to hear their words.”********

And that’s as true now as it ever was.

* I still have not met Johann Hari.

** ‘When’ can refer to the future as well, you know. I’m only using the present tense to heighten the immediacy and intellectual truth of the scene.

*** In my mind.

**** http://www.johannhari.com/2003/12/22/busted-an-interview

*****An archetypal coffee shop.

****** http://johannhari.com/2011/01/12/kenneth-tong-the-interview

******* The chair I am in now, writing this.

******** http://johannhari.com/2011/06/29/my-response-to-yesterdays-allegations

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This is why Bill Murray is always watchable. (Well, some of why…)

You have a lot of lines in this one that get tons of laughs I doubt were on the page. It’s all in the rhythm, the delivery. How do you pitch something like that? How do you make something out of nothing?

I have developed a kind of different style over the years. I hate trying to re-create a tone or a pitch. Saying, “I want to make it sound like I made it sound the last time”? That’s insane, because the last time doesn’t exist. It’s only this time. And everything is going to be different thistime. There’s only now. And I don’t think a director, as often as not, knows what is going to play funny anyway. As often as not, the right one is the one that they’re surprised by, so I don’t think that they have the right tone in their head. And I think that good actors always—or if you’re being good, anyway—you’re making it better than the script. That’s your fucking job. It’s like, Okay, the script says this? Well, watch this. Let’s just roar a little bit. Let’s see how high we can go.

But you asked how you get the comic pitch. Well, obviously a lot of it is rhythm. And as often as not, it’s the surprising rhythm. In life and in movies, you can usually guess what someone is going to say—you can actually hear it—before they say it. But if you undercut that just a little, it can make you fall off your chair. It’s small and simple like that. You’re always trying to get your distractions out of the way and be as calm as you can be [breathes in and out slowly], and emotion will just drive the machine. It will go through the machine without being interrupted, and it comes out in a rhythm that’s naturally funny. And that funny rhythm is either humorous or touching. It can be either one. But it’s always a surprise. I really don’t know what’s going to come out of my mouth.

The rest of the interview is also well, well worth your time. Get over to GQ, and read it…

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