Skip to main content

British Comedian Steve Coogan's Improv-Based 'Trip'

British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trade barbs and impressions in the new comedy, The Trip. Coogan, best known for his character Alan Partridge, talks about the improvisational film, which sends the two comedians on a road trip in Northern England.

21:53

Other segments from the episode on June 9, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 9, 2011: Interview with Steve Coogan; Interview with Rick Harrison.

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20110609
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
British Comedian Steve Coogan's Improv-Based 'Trip'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

British comedian and actor Steve Coogan has appeared in several American films,
including "Coffee and Cigarettes," "Night at the Museum" and "Tropic Thunder."
He's better known in England, where he's a veteran of TV and film. His most
famous character is the self-absorbed and clueless talk-show host Alan
Partridge.

Coogan and fellow actor and comedian Rob Brydon starred in the film "Tristram
Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," directed by Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom
recently brought them back together for a BBC TV series called "The Trip," in
which they play themselves. Coogan invites Brydon to accompany him on a road
trip to review restaurants in the north of England.

The series has been condensed into a film, which consists largely of improvised
conversations between the two comics. Both are accomplished impressionists, and
they often lapse into dueling mimicry, like this exchange done in the voices of
Sean Connery and then Roger Moore. Coogan goes first.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. STEVE COOGAN (Actor): (as Himself) I'll have a vodka martini, shaken but
not stirred.

Mr. ROB BRYDON (Actor): (as Himself) I'll have a vodka martini, shaken, not
stirred.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) I'll have a vodka.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) I'll have a vodka.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) You look very worried.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) So do you. You should take a look at your face.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) I'll have a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) You look like you're recovering from a stroke and
learning how to get mobility again.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) I'd like a vodka martini, shaken but not stirred.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) I can feel my legs. It's a miracle.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) I'd like a vodka martini, shaken but not stirred.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) I'd like a martini, shaken, not stirred.

DAVIES: I spoke to Steve Coogan about "The Trip" earlier this week.

Well, Steve Coogan, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I wonder if, you know, because
there's not really a story, it's you and Rob in a series of conversations,
whether you found yourself wondering: Gosh, can I be that interesting, and does
it put pressure on you when the camera rolls?

Mr. COOGAN: Absolutely it does. At first, I took a lot of persuading to do it
by Michael the director, and the same goes for Rob. It's very difficult to
envisage it before you start doing it. You don't know what it's going to be
about until you start making it. So there's a certain kind of insecurity that
goes with that.

But we knew that we were good enough improvisers. My biggest fear, really, was
that it would be self-indulgent because, of course, I play myself in it. And
actors play my parents, actors play various people I meet, but the only real
people are Rob and I.

So it's a very difficult thing to try and be creative in that kind of
environment. But if you trust the person you're with, the way - Rob and I have
worked together many times, then you know when we're improvising, we'll be able
to create stuff and come up with ideas. So that sort of takes the heat off it a
little.

But you need to have a certain kind of confidence to go to places. I mean, when
Rob and I were improvising, when you go to places in each other's personality,
that can be sensitive. Rob would ask me - Rob and I had an agreement at the
outset whereby we gave each other license to offend each other, as it were, so
that we could talk about things that would maybe be slightly unsettling.

And there are a couple of times in the improvisations it got frosty, and it got
kind of uncomfortable, because we were sort of pressing each other's buttons,
so to speak.

But that's what makes it interesting is that there's an edge to it and a
discomfort to it that makes it engaging. It's not just - although there's a lot
of comedy in it, it's not just a couple of actors saying get a load of me
laughing at myself, you know.

DAVIES: You and Rob Brydon sat down with Michael Schulman of the New Yorker. He
wrote a brief piece about this. And he wrote: When comedians get together, they
tend to compete, which to the untrained observer can look a lot like funny
people being funny. Would you agree? Do comedians compete when they're
together?

Mr. COOGAN: I think they do. That is true. I mean, I try to - it depends. If
you're in good company, then there's a kind of a - you can compete to entertain
each other. But it's a nice kind of competition because the competition
involves - the competing involves lots of laughing on both sides.

But I try - I'm not - there are certain comics who feel like they have to be on
all the time and be, you know, entertaining constantly. And as you can probably
tell from the way this interview's gone so far, I'm not obsessed with being
funny all the time, nor am I capable of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: All right, well, listen. I want to play a clip. You're a terrific
impersonator, as is Rob Brydon, and there's plenty of that in the film.

And this is a clip, where it actually begins by the two of you kind of having a
bit of an argument about whether Wales, which is where Rob Brydon is from, or
the north of England, where you're from, is sort of more culturally
significant.

Rob starts impersonating a bunch of famous Welsh actors, and you observe that
somebody who's over 40 who has to spend his life doing voices ought to think
about himself. And then Rob responds this way. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) Well, broadsheet journalists have described my
impressions as stunningly accurate.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) Well, they're wrong. I've not heard your Michael
Caine, but I assume it would be something along the lines of: My name's Michael
Caine.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) That is where you are so wrong. And you can look at my
live video to prove it because that's the very thing I don't do. I say that he
used to talk to like that.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) Do your Michael Caine.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) OK. I say: Michael Caine used to talk like this in the
1960s, right? But that has changed. And I say that over the years. Michael's
voice has come down several octaves, let me finish, and all of the cigars and
the brandy - don't, let me finish - can now be heard.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) OK.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) Look, I'm not (bleep) finished - in the back of the
voice now. Well, I'm still not finished.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) Because you're panicking.

Mr. BRYDON: (as Himself) No, because you look like you're a back of bloody
talk. Let me finish. Right. So, Michael Caine's voice now, in the Batman movies
and in "Harry Brown," I can't go fast because Michael Caine talks very, very
slowly.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) Right, this is how Michael Caine speaks. Michael Caine
speaks through his nose like that. He gets very, very specific. It's very like
that. When he gets loudly, it gets very loud indeed. It gets very specific.
It's not quite nasal enough the way you're doing it, all right?

You're not doing it the way he speaks. You're not doing it with the kind of -
and you don't do the broken voice when he gets very emotional, when he gets
very emotional indeed because she was only 16 years old. She was only 16 -
you're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off. That's Michael Caine.

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, doing a Michael
Caine-off in their new film "The Trip." That's an example of the film where the
two of you get testy with each other and entertain us in the process.

And one of the themes of the film is that Rob Brydon, who unfortunately
couldn't arrange to be with us in the interview, but he does these
impersonations just all the time. He does them when you visit your parents. He
does Hugh Grant to his own wife.

Is Rob Brydon like that? Is he just so entertained by himself he can't stop?

Mr. COOGAN: No, he's not quite - no, he's not. I mean, he can do them, and he
does do them, and he is - to be truthful, his real character, how he is in
reality, he's a bit more on or more so than I am in terms of being
entertaining, if you like.

But, no, he's nowhere near as forced or exaggerated as he is in "The Trip,"
when he's doing these voices constantly. You know, he'll do them recreatively,
shall we say, from time to time with me. But, no, he would be insufferable, I
think, if he really did do that all the time.

DAVIES: Yeah. And do you pepper your own conversation with this? Do you ever
lapse into a James Bond?

Mr. COOGAN: No.

DAVIES: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COOGAN: I don't. I try to avoid it. I sort of - it's a very strange thing.
I had started out 20 years ago in this business being a stand-up comic doing
impersonations, and I sort of - I don't know. I sort of really disliked being
an impersonator. To me, it was sort of like a substitute for being talented.
It's - or a substitute for having any substance.

It's sort of - it's a trick, you know. It's impressive, but it doesn't mean
anything. And I like to have a - you know, I sort of search for a bit more
depth. So it's something I can do, and I do it at parties, basically, if I've
had a drink.

DAVIES: OK. Our guest is Steve Coogan. His new film with Rob Brydon is "The
Trip." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is comedian and actor Steve
Coogan. He appears with Rob Brydon in the new film "The Trip."

You've done a fair amount of work in American movies recently, and I thought
we'd listen to a clip from "Tropic Thunder." This is one where you play the
director of a Vietnam War film that's being shot on location in Asia somewhere,
I guess Thailand or the Philippines.

And the film is in trouble. You have these, you know, temperamental actors. And
so, you've decided you're going to go out on a limb and put these prima donnas
in a real situation and do some cinema verite filmmaking, and you kind of
deliver a speech here out in the jungle. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of film, "Tropic Thunder")

Mr. COOGAN: (as Damien Cockburn): Gentlemen, I've got good news and bad news.
The studio wants to shut us down. That's the bad news. And the good news, if
you want to save this movie, you will become a unit. Your objective is to head
north to the D'ang Kwook River to liberate the POW camp, at which point Four
Leaf will get himself captured, at which point you will rescue him, at which
point we will chopper you home.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as Character) Damn.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Cockburn) Four Leaf, since you're the staff sergeant, there's a
map, this is the scene list. Think you can handle it? We have rigged this
entire valley of death with hidden cameras. And I will be shooting, as well,
from unseen (technical difficulties)...they have a certain sort of confidence
and, I mean, there's a certain sort of innate pretentiousness that goes with
being a British director, I'd say.

I think there are a lot of British directors who go out to Hollywood and who
will get a shot with a big budget and, you know, the pressure produces a kind
of neurosis.

So - but no one specific. I mean, you can spot various people in it. I wouldn't
libel anyone.

DAVIES: It's the kind of director who isn't sort of directing techniques so
much as almost acting himself and inspiring his troops.

Your aspirations for more Hollywood roles is one of the themes of "The Trip,"
the film that you're in with Rob Brydon. There are moments where you're talking
to your agent in America.

And there's a scene where Ben Stiller appears, and I thought we would listen to
this. This is a dream that you have while you're sleeping in a British inn. And
you see Ben Stiller walking around a pool, presumably in Hollywood, and telling
you, Steve Coogan, in effect, that you are a hot commodity, and every Hollywood
director wants you. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of film, "The Trip")

Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (as Himself) Everybody wants to work with you. I got a
call from P.T. Anderson. I got a call from Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Todd
Haynes, Alexander Payne, look, all of them.

Mr. COOGAN (as Himself): They're all auteurs.

Mr. STILLER: (as Himself) Yeah, and they're all geniuses, and they want to work
with the genius.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself): I want to do mainstream movies.

Mr. STILLER: (as Himself) Well, the Farrelly brothers want to work with you,
OK? The Scotts, Tony and Ridley, they want to do a movie together, never done
that before.

They want to do a thing with you, where it's like the future, but it's 500
years in the past, and you're like some guy who is like a warrior that came - I
don't even know what it is, but they want to do it with you, OK? It's
incredible.

Cohens calling up, Wachowskis, both of them want to work you. All the brothers,
my man, all the brothers want a piece of Coogs.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) It's, like, I can't believe it's happening.

Mr. STILLER: (as Himself) Well, Steve, guess what? Wake up, smell the coffee,
all right? The dream is happening right now. You're living the dream, Steve,
it's all a dream.

Mr. COOGAN: (as Himself) Come back. Wait, come back.

Mr. STILLER: (as Himself) I can't, I've got a thing. But - I don't think I'll
talk to you later but at some point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Ben Stiller with Steve Coogan in the film "The Trip." Did you write
that scene?

Mr. COOGAN: Did I write - Michael, I think Michael Winterbottom wrote that
scene and I helped, and Ben chipped in. It was a collaborative piece. We sort
of cooked it up and made some suggestions, emailed them to Ben, and then when
we arrived on the day, Ben embellished it. We tried it different ways, and
yeah.

DAVIES: You played Hades, the ruler of the underworld, in a film called - was
it "Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief," right? It's where he's - a bunch of
kids who are demigods and trying - they're involved in essentially a modern-day
mythology.

And you play the ruler of the underworld, and you kind of adopt a, what, a
rock-star persona. How did you come up with that?

Mr. COOGAN: Well, I mean, it was just the take on it was that the god of the
underworld would, rather than being some sort of a frightening beast, it might
be funnier to make him sort of a British, decadent louche, hedonistic rock
star, a sort of a modern take on Satan, as it were.

Something that people would recognize, you know, because there are so many
reality TV shows these days. And, you know, we've all seen Ozzy Osbourne, and
there's lots - you know, the British rock star is quite a sort of recognizable
cliche for American audiences. So that seemed like a more interesting way to
go, really.

DAVIES: Yeah, so there's Hades in a mesh shirt and heels and a vest. It's very
funny. What's next for you?

Mr. COOGAN: Well, I'm making a film in New York with Julianne Moore and Evan
Rachel Wood called "What Maisie Knew" based on the Henry James book. And, yeah,
and after that I'm making a film in Tanzania. I'm writing some Partridge - I'm
writing a Partridge movie, an Alan Partridge movie, which we're going to shoot
next year. I'm in the middle of writing that. And I'm involved in the day-to-
day running of my production company here, making television comedy shows that
I'm not in.

DAVIES: OK. The Alan Partridge show, of course, was a talk show. Do you want to
tell us anything about the movie? Is it about his life outside of...

Mr. COOGAN: It's about - well, Alan was a talk-show host in his original
incarnation on television, hosting a talk show. Then that was followed by a
sitcom about a failed talk-show host. And then subsequent to that, we've done -
we're writing a movie about a talk-show host whose career is on the skids. And
there's a kind of a siege at a radio studio that he exploits for his own ends.
So - anyone who's seen "Dog Day Afternoon," a little bit of that in it, but a
comedy version.

DAVIES: "Dog Day Afternoon"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Wasn't that about a hostage situation?

Mr. COOGAN: It was, yeah, yeah.

DAVIES: OK.

Mr. COOGAN: There are hostages in this. I like to find - I think hostages can,
in the right circumstances, be very funny.

DAVIES: All right. We'll look forward to that. You know, I wanted to come back
to "The Trip" for a second. You have some very melancholy moments in the film.
And, you know, there is this notion that comics are, at their core, lonely or
sad and that they've sort of made a profession of their coping mechanism. Do
you buy that? Is that you?

Mr. COOGAN: I think there's some truth in it, but I don't think it's all-
defining. I think there's a certain kind of introspection that I have that -
but, I mean, at the end of the film, you see me right back at this very
soulless, sterile bachelor pad, which I don't - I live in a sort of a rambling,
ramshackle Victorian house, which is a bit more warm and sort of more family
oriented.

So I don't feel quite like that, but of course there is a certain insecurity
and certain - I think sometimes a kind of a malcontentedness that you just
channel into your work.

Like I say, being creative means that some of the things, things that bother
you, stop bothering you because the work - you exploit them creatively. So it's
a kind of a strange process, but you need to have hang-ups and neuroses to be
creative. If you're just in a state of Nirvana, you're not going to be very
interesting or funny.

DAVIES: OK. Well, Steve Coogan, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. COOGAN: Thanks very much.

DAVIES: Steve Coogan stars with Rob Brydon in the new film "The Trip." I'm Dave
Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
137063175
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20110609
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
'Pawn Star' Rick Harrison On His 'Deals And Steals'

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

If you were tapped out in Vegas, you might find your way to our next guest,
Rick Harrison. He, his dad and sons own the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop on Las
Vegas Boulevard, where over the years he's bought jewelry, gold teeth, watches,
power tools, antique guns and Picasso paintings. Yeah, that's right. I said
Picasso. He'll explain that in a few minutes.

Harrison's willingness to buy or pawn just about anything has made him a unique
sort of pawnbroker, and it's gotten him on television. He and the crew of the
Gold & Silver are featured in the History Channel series called "Pawn Stars."
And he's written a book about his life in and out of the shop. It's called
"License to Pawn."

Rick Harrison, welcome to FRESH AIR. You run a pawn shop in Las Vegas. A lot of
our audience has never pawned anything. Let's just start with some of the
basics. Now your customers do come in and sell things outright. But when
somebody pawns something what are the rules? How does it work?

Mr. RICK HARRISON (Owner, Gold & Silver Pawn Shop): It's pretty simple. It's
the oldest form of banking. It's been around for thousands of years. Just say
you have a wedding band. You bring the wedding band in my store. Say I offer
you $100 and you accept it. I give you the $100, plus a pawn ticket, after I
fill out some paperwork. You have 120 days to come back in my pawn shop and
pick your merchandise up and pay me my money back.

So say you come back in 30 days, you give me $115. I hand you your ring back,
everything's good in the world. Now, if you don't pay me back at all, I end up
keeping the merchandise and I put it in my showcase for sale. Nothing goes on
your credit report. No one chases you down to break any legs or anything like
that. You just simply lost your merchandise. It's that simple.

DAVIES: Now you make the point that this is actually a banking service that a
lot of people really need, right?

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. Most people don't realize, you know, OK, it's 20 percent of
the adult population in the United States does not have a bank account. And
most of them can't get one. They don't have credit cards. They don't have
anything like that for like when some small emergency pops up. And a lot of
people don't realize up until the 1950s, pawn shops were the number one form of
consumer credit in the United States.

DAVIES: Hmm. I didn't know that. Now the interest rates I guess are high if you
calculate it on an annualized basis, right? I mean $15 on $100 is a lot for a
short-term loan.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. I mean you got to realize most pawn shops around the
country, the average loan is $50 and most pawn shops charge between like $2 and
$5 service charge, and they average right around 10 percent a month. So if you
get a $50 loan, it's going to cost you $7.50 for the first month and $5 a month
after that. It's a lot less money than if you go to one of these payday loan
places. The interest keeps on accruing and accruing and accruing, and if you
don't pay them back they end up suing you, garnishing your wages and you end up
a lot of times owing them as much as 10 times as much as you gave them, as you
got in the loan.

DAVIES: Now one of the things you want to do when someone brings you something
is make sure it's not stolen to the extent you can. Are there particular clues
that tell you something might be hot?

Mr. HARRISON: I mean we always ask the questions, you know, where did you get
it, and a lot other things like that. Most people don't realize how regulated
the pawn industry is, especially where I'm at in Nevada. When I take something
in pawn or I buy something, I just don't take ID. I take their ID, it's their
driver's license number, it's their height, it's their weight, their eye color,
their build. I turn that into the local police department, and then I also have
to turn into Homeland Security; it's part of the Patriot Act. And that goes to
leads online, which is put in a central database across the United States, it
checks for stolen items.

DAVIES: Now if something does turn out to be stolen – I mean because when you
make that transaction you don't know, and I'm sure this happens, what, do you
take a hit? Does the...

Mr. HARRISON: Oh, I take the hit. Oh, yeah, two years ago I took a hit for
$40,000 on a set of diamond earrings.

DAVIES: What happened?

Mr. HARRISON: You know, basic procedure. Asked him all the questions and he
showed me receipts. Apparently, he had committed some credit card fraud. I was
out $40,000.

DAVIES: So...

Mr. HARRISON: Police came in the next day and just took them.

DAVIES: So the lady who lost her earrings gets them back. The miscreant gets
prosecuted. Justice is served, but you're out the money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRISON: I'm out the money and it's the price of paying - doing business.
That's the way I look at it.

DAVIES: All right. Now the other thing that you've got to do is figure out when
somebody is trying to pass off a fake. So I guess you get pretty good. One of
the things you see a lot is Rolex watches. How can you tell a fake Rolex watch?

Mr. HARRISON: It's not as hard as you would think. There's just a list of
things that's right on a Rolex watch that's not right on a fake. I mean the
case has to be right. The face – the dial of the watch has to be right, the
hands, the crystal, the stem, the movement. If everything checks out,
everything's fine.

I mean in my book I talk about how so like 15 years ago, someone spent, they
probably three- or four-thousand dollars to make a fake Rolex. And I got burned
on that one, so it won't happen again. Someone took a – went out and bought a
probably 1970s Rolex. They could have probably got a really beat-up one for
like $700 or $800. They take the movement out. They went and bought a - got a
new Rolex face for it, new Rolex hands, new crystal, made an 18-karat gold case
and band for it. And they were probably in the watch $3,000 or $4,000, and I
ended up buying it for $5,000.

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. It's an entire industry, making fake things.

DAVIES: Do you see a lot of fake Rolexes?

Mr. HARRISON: Oh, I see them every day. They come in every day with them. And I
try to explain to them why would someone sell you this watch for $50 when they
could go to a pawn shop or someplace else and get a lot more? Someone's trying
to sell you a Rolex for $50, it's fake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: A little piece of advice from Rick Harrison, right. The $50 Rolex is
not a Rolex. And if word gets out that a pawn shop has taken a fake anything,
does word spread and suddenly people rush over?

Mr. HARRISON: Immediately. I know of a pawn shop where the owner thought he was
going to make a lot of money. He was going to start cashing income tax checks.
It's like a golden rule in the pawn business: never cash a government check. So
he started doing that. Word got out. Six months later he just - he realized he
had cashed a half million dollars in bad checks.

DAVIES: Now why is it a golden rule that you'd never cash a government check?

Mr. HARRISON: Well, the problem is with a government check you can deposit it
in your bank account and all of a sudden four or five months later they come
along and say oh, the check's bad. We're pulling the money back. I mean so you
could literally cash hundreds or even thousands of checks and five months later
you're burnt.

DAVIES: That's because the government is slow to deposit them?

Mr. HARRISON: No. The government is just slow on their paperwork. What happens
is with this particular scam, what it was is people were going around to
mailboxes and stealing income tax check returns. And it was really simple. What
they would do is they would just look at the check. Here's the name. Here's the
address. They would make themselves a phony ID, put their own picture on it and
the information on the check on it, and go cash the check.

The reason this person got burned is because he thought he was doing a great
thing. All this money was piling up in his account and all of a sudden it
started pouring out five, six months later. That's how long it can take the
government to realize they screwed up.

DAVIES: Now is running a pawn shop on the Strip in Las Vegas different from
running one any other place?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes it is. I mean it's a real eclectic mix of everything I get.
Las Vegas is a crazy, crazy town at times, so there's a lot of high-end things
I get. I've – so you have to know about those things. It's - you got to know
about really large diamonds, really expensive watches. I'm open 24 hours a day,
seven days a week. There's the whole problems of dealing with that. Yeah, it's
a lot different than most places.

DAVIES: You write that the best nights are fight nights, especially Mike Tyson
fight nights. Why?

Mr. HARRISON: It used to be insane. Well, because well, what happened is you
would get 150,000 fanatic fans in Vegas, every one of them betting on this
fight. And generally, you know, someone's got to lose. And people, I don't know
what it is about fight fans, they always bet more than they can afford to lose.
I would - they would be lined up down the street to get money.

DAVIES: And so, after they lose, why did they come to you?

Mr. HARRISON: Because...

DAVIES: And what do they offer you?

Mr. HARRISON: It's usually gold jewelry. A fight night in Vegas, everyone's
wearing the bling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: So they bet more than they can afford. They got to pay.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. It's that sure bet thing.

DAVIES: Interesting. You write about jewelry. You say that pimps buy a lot of
jewelry and always the real thing, right?

Mr. HARRISON: This is the neat thing about my job. I have talked to every
aspect of society in the past 30 years. I have talked to pimps and prostitutes.
I have talked to billionaires and everything in between.

And, you know, I've always been a really curious person so I just talk to these
people. I mean and this was the story I got from actually a few guys that were
pimps. And it was when you get arrested for pandering, that's being a pimp,
they take your cash. That's because the cash was obtained illegally and they
put it away for evidence. But they don't take your jewelry. And a pimp knows
that if he buys jewelry in a pawn shop, if you bring it back to the pawn shop
to get a loan against it, you'll always get half of what you paid for it - as
opposed to buying it in a jewelry store, you don't know what you're going to
get when you pawn it.

So, when they get arrested, they will always have someone bring their jewelry
down to me. I will loan them half of what they paid for it - and that's their
bail money.

DAVIES: Do you have a lot of regular customers?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes. A lot of people, I mean, I have, it's really odd. I do have
a lot of regular customers. Some of them are well off and that do pawn stuff a
lot because they go out and gamble too much or do too much of one thing or the
other. And then I also have single moms that show up that need that $40 or $50
at the end of the month. I have literally thousands of regular customers.

DAVIES: You know, I think in the popular imagination, a lot of people think of
pawnbrokers as ruthless people who kind of prey upon people in tough straits.

Mr. HARRISON: I really believe we've been vilified by Hollywood and it's one of
those odd things I don't understand. If you read the newspaper, you watch the
news, there's some doctor. He did some very bad things. No one assumes every
doctor in the country is a bad person, just that one. But if you see the news
where there was a pawn shop owner or something that did something bad, took
some stolen merchandise, something like that, it's immediately equated to every
pawnbroker. I don't understand why that is but it just sort of happened that
way.

DAVIES: You know, you write about one lady who comes in, pawns stuff, goes out
and gambles but always comes back to retrieve her stuff. And when I read that I
thought, well, you know, if someone is really a steady, steady gambler, isn't
the rule, you know, the casino is going to grind you down. You're going to end
up broke.

Mr. HARRISON: Yes. That's the truth. And I don't understand why some people do
it but I have regular customers. I mean like on a weekly or monthly basis pawn
the same stuff, pick it up, pawn it, pick it up, pawn it, pick it up. I have
customers that if you look in my computer database have pawned and picked up
the same thing over a thousand times.

DAVIES: Really?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: We're speaking with Rick Harrison. He owns the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
in Las Vegas. His new book is called "License to Pawn." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Rick Harrison. He and members
of his family own the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. And they're
featured in a reality show on the History Channel called "Pawn Stars." He's
written a new book about the business called "License to Pawn."

Now the show is fun to watch. You, the people who come into the show to give
you stuff are usually selling not pawning, right?

Mr. HARRISON: Generally. The people who pawn stuff never want to be on the
show. And the reason behind that I find out is when people are pawning
something it's - they're getting a loan. They have to admit they're broke. For
some reason or the other something has happened or they're financially
irresponsible. But the fact is they're broke. When people are selling something
it's a financial transaction. It's completely different. It's just perceived
differently.

DAVIES: Right. So people come to you with all sorts of stuff that they've
gotten from a friend or dug out of a basement or whatever, and if they agree to
have the transaction videotaped, it might make the show. So I thought we would
listen to a clip. This is a case of a guy who brings in a big like 19th century
coffee grinder. Do you remember this item?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes, I do.

DAVIES: Yeah. Just describe it, if you would.

Mr. HARRISON: Good 30 inches tall. Has a wheel on the side of it. Has a
flywheel on the side of it. That way you start cranking, it keeps its own
momentum going. This would have been used for like a large restaurant or
something like this. And it was pretty beat up and ugly when I took it. And
then a lot - like a lot of these antiques I do get restored because an old ugly
antique doesn't look nearly as nice in your home as something restored and that
basically looks pretty.

DAVIES: OK. Yeah. And it was sort of a big industrial looking thing. And I
thought we would listen to that part of the show where, you know, the guy
showed you the thing, you like it, and now it comes down to a price. Let's
listen.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Pawn Stars")

Mr. HARRISON: The big question is, what you want for it?

Unidentified Man: Well, I'm thinking like $500, man.

Mr. HARRISON: Nah. Nah. Nah. Nah. Nah. Some people buy it like it's sitting out
on their front yard like this. But if you're going to put it in your kitchen,
man, and you're going to put it inside somewhere nice, it's got to look nice.

Unidentified Man: We'll clean it up a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: There you go.

Mr. HARRISON: It's going to take a lot more than spit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRISON: I'll tell you what. I'll give you $200 for it.

Unidentified Man: That's a quality piece, man.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. But I mean I'm going to have to spend $300 or $400 to get
it powder coated to make it look nice.

Unidentified Man: That's a drop in the bucket for what you'll get for it, man.

Mr. HARRISON: But, you know, there's a limit to what I can pay for something.
So $200.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Deal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRISON: All right. Come on. Let's go do some paperwork.

Unidentified Man: All right.

DAVIES: And that's our guest Rick Harrison closing a deal at his pawn shop in
Las Vegas on his reality show "Pawn Stars."

So how did that one work out for you?

Mr. HARRISON: It actually worked out pretty good. Like that thing I bought, I
paid $200 for it. I think I paid $400 or $500 to get it - make it look
attractive again. And when it was all...

DAVIES: To get it sandblasted and painted and, right.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah, and all that thing. When it was all said and done, I think
I got like $1,300, $1,400 out of it.

DAVIES: So it worked. Now what are some of your rules that you have for
negotiating with customers?

Mr. HARRISON: And this applies to just about everybody, especially if you're
out buying a new car or something like that, never give the first price.

DAVIES: Now why is that?

Mr. HARRISON: Just suppose you're out and about, you go to a yard sale or
something like that, you never want to give – you're negotiating against
yourself. You don't want to offer someone $1,000 for something when if you ask
them what they would pay for it they might have said $500.

DAVIES: Right. So you might have a really uninformed customer who doesn't
realize the value of what he has. And if he says something really cheap you'll
luck into a really great deal.

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah. A lot of people go with that. Unfortunately, I really
believe in that karma thing and that six degrees of separation, so I've done
that before and the price they've set is way too low and I wouldn't - didn't
give it them. I actually paid them more. But the other most important thing
about negotiating is...

DAVIES: Wait a minute. You're blowing my image of a pawn shop owner. You
actually negotiate up with somebody?

Mr. HARRISON: Actually, we actually filmed this. I had a lady come in with a
Faberge brooch into my pawn shop. And she wanted like $2,000 for it. And I just
explained to her, you know what? I can't do it to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRISON: I ended up giving her $15,000. You know, it's, I really do
believe in six degrees of separation. If I did give her $2,000 for that, she
would have eventually found out that I ripped her off, and she would have told
everybody for the rest of her life that don't go to that store. They will rip
you off. And just through that six degrees of separation everybody in the world
would know it. And...

DAVIES: Yeah. So Rick Harrison buys $13,000 worth of goodwill or good karma or
something.

Mr. HARRISON: And I believe it works, because I'm sure that lady right there
will be worth her weight in gold in advertising because she will tell everybody
for the rest of her life what I did for her.

DAVIES: Rick Harrison and his family own the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las
Vegas and they're featured in a History Channel reality show called "Pawn
Stars." And Rick's written a new book called "License to Pawn." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Rick Harrison. He and members
of his family own the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, and they're
featured in a reality show on the History Channel called "Pawn Stars." He's
written a new book about the business called "License to Pawn."

Now, you know, it's interesting. When you look at your, the TV show, the
reality show you're on, it's not most people's image of a pawn shop. It's
clean. It's brightly lit. The counters are nice. The people are friendly. It's
a big operation you have there. Now you close at nine and then there's the
night window, right where...

Mr. HARRISON: Yes.

DAVIES: ...it's Plexiglas. Is it a different scene then?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes. It's - the world flips upside down. The weird thing is my
pawn shop is located downtown Las Vegas, which is a wonderful neighborhood
during the day, it gets bad at night. And people's attitude changes when there
is a - that big sheet of bulletproof glass in between you and the customer.
They're more apt for confrontation. And I say this a lot if it's 3 o'clock in
the morning, 3 a.m. on Sunday and you've got your microwave wanting to get
cash, you should just go home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: But that's what you're there for.

Mr. HARRISON: I know. It's a double-edged sword and I chose it as my
profession.

DAVIES: OK. Now, but you'll bought my microwave, right?

Mr. HARRISON: Microwaves I don't buy anymore. They're basically worthless. You
can buy them for $29 at Walmart.

DAVIES: All right. All right. But my wife's wedding ring you'll buy?

Mr. HARRISON: Oh yes.

DAVIES: OK. OK. Now even if I'm drunk and looking surly?

Mr. HARRISON: If you're drunk I can't buy it off you.

DAVIES: Is that a rule or just your own principle?

Mr. HARRISON: That's my principle down at the pawn shop. If someone's really
intoxicated or something like that, they don't know what they're doing, they
don't know what they're getting into, and I'm not going to deal with it.

DAVIES: Now is that from experience where you bought something and everybody
regretted it?

Mr. HARRISON: It's, over the years, yeah. I mean a few guys, a little tipsy,
come in the pawn shop. They come back a few days later, no, I didn't borrow
that much. It's an argument. I tell my employees, a drink or two is fine, but
if they're - got a good buzz on, it ain't happening.

DAVIES: OK. Now what kind of people show up at night? You said people are a
little more confrontational. Give me an example of a confrontation.

Mr. HARRISON: Remember, I'm the party stopper. If it's 2 a.m., you come up with
your jewelry or something like that, no I'm not going to take it. It's not
real. No, I'm not going to give as much money as you want. I've just stopped
the party.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HARRISON: And it can really piss some people off that were in a good mood
and I suddenly stopped everything. And that happens a lot at that night window.
It's been a great 20 - I mean it's been a great time working in this pawn shop.
It's amazing seeing what walks up.

DAVIES: Yeah. Do people ever sell you their gold teeth?

Mr. HARRISON: All the time. I have - the majority of the time the teeth are
taken out by the dentist. But there is - my son has a story when he was working
the nightshift once where an elderly lady came up to the window, wanted a pair
of pliers. He figured she - car troubles or something like that. And she came
back a little bit later with - she had actually pulled her tooth to get the
money.

DAVIES: Mm. And at that point I guess, you buy it, huh?

Mr. HARRISON: Yeah.

DAVIES: And you tell a story about - I'm trying to remember the details, but
somebody who would come to you who was like a finance minister for an Asian
country?

Mr. HARRISON: He would come to town like every six months. He had the
diplomatic passport. I looked him up online. He said who he was and he would
get broke. Come to the pawn shop, pawn a lot of gold. Gamble some more. Come
back, pawn a lot of gold. This would be over a weekend. And on Monday or
Tuesday he would get a bank wire in and pick everything up.

DAVIES: And what kind of gold? Are we talking about coins, bars, what?

Mr. HARRISON: You know, what baht gold is?

DAVIES: No.

Mr. HARRISON: It's 24-karat gold chains that they where in different parts of
Asia. They call them baht because one baht chain, two baht chain. Each baht was
15 grams. They also traded it back and forth as money.

DAVIES: And so...

Mr. HARRISON: Heavy, heavy, heavy jewelry.

DAVIES: Do you know how this guy got so much gold?

Mr. HARRISON: I have no idea. I do know he was the finance minister of an Asian
country. Real character. Real flamboyant. When he did get his money wires in
not only did he pick up all of his jewelry but they bought a lot of jewelry
from my pawn shop.

DAVIES: Do you ever get something from a customer that you felt you just had to
keep personally, you're not going to sell it?

Mr. HARRISON: Oh, I have lots of those things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Give us a couple of favorites.

Mr. HARRISON: I have four Olympic medals that I kept. I am a big sports - I
have a really neat sports collection. I have four Olympic medals. I have four
Super Bowl rings, a World Series ring, three pennant rings. I have three NBA
championship rings.

DAVIES: Now do you keep this stuff like the gold medals and the Super Bowl
rings on display?

Mr. HARRISON: All the time. It's what keeps people coming back into my store.
Before I had the television show I needed that draw and that was one of the
things – the motto of - one of mottos of the pawn shop. We always have at least
one Picasso on the wall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: You have a Picasso on your wall?

Mr. HARRISON: Yes. I always keep it...

DAVIES: Where do you get a Picasso?

Mr. HARRISON: People bring them in. You have, one of the reasons I get such odd
things and expensive antiques, remember, wealthy people come to Las Vegas to
retire. And retirement communities get a lot of people who pass away. The
children come to town and generally there's a lot of stuff they want to get rid
of. And I have a reputation of being honest and paying a fair price for those
estate pieces. So that's how I get a lot of the stuff.

DAVIES: Rick Harrison, thanks so much. It's been fun.

Mr. HARRISON: All right. Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Rick Harrison and his family are featured in the History Channel series
"Pawn Stars." His new book is called "License to Pawn." You can read an excerpt
on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our
show. You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.

Here's George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

(Soundbite of song, "Golden Ring")

Ms. TAMMY WYNETTE (Musician): (Singing) In a pawn shop in Chicago on a sunny
summer day, a couple gazes at the wedding rings there on display.

Mr. GEORGE JONES (Musician): (Singing) She smiles and nods her head as he says,
honey that's for you. It's not much, but it's the best that I can do.

Ms. WYNETTE AND Mr. JONES: (Singing) Golden rings, golden ring, with one tiny
little stone, waiting there...

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of song, "Golden Ring")

Ms. WYNETTE: (Singing) In a small two room apartment, as they fought their
final round, he says, you won't admit it, but I know you're leaving town.

Mr. JONES: (Singing) She says, one thing's for certain, I don't love you any
more and throws down the ring as she walks out the door.

Ms. WYNETTE AND Mr. JONES: (Singing) Golden ring, golden ring, with one tiny
little stone. Cast aside, cast aside, like the love that's dead and gone. By
itself, by itself, it's just a cold metallic thing. Only love can make a golden
wedding ring.

In a pawn shop in Chicago on a sunny summer day, a couple gazes at the wedding
rings there on display. Golden ring.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
137033690

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Democracy Is 'Strained' But Not 'Broken,' Former President Obama Tells 'Fresh Air'

In his first interview with Terry Gross, Obama talks about what he misses most about being president and reflects on the turmoil of the Trump White House. Obama's new memoir is 'A Promised Land.'

20:56

'Alex Rider' Novelist On The Joys Of Reading (And Writing) Mysteries

Anthony Horowitz's novels about a reluctant teen spy have been adapted into a TV series for IMDB TV. Horowitz is also the author of Moonflower Murders, a mystery for adults.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue