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Actress, Writer and Comic Ellen Degeneres

Actress, writer, comic Ellen Degeneres is soon to begin a stand-up tour. Her five-year sitcom Ellen won an Emmy for her much-anticipated coming-out episode. At the same time Degeneres' character realized she was gay, the entertainer revealed her own sexual orientation. Degeneres talks about coming out, her former relationship with actress Anne Heche, and why she resists becoming a lesbian role model. Degeneres is the author of the book, My Point... And I Do Have One.

33:02

Other segments from the episode on April 15, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 15, 2002: Interview with Ellen Degeneres; Interview with Andy Richter; Review of the music album "The element of swing."

Transcript

DATE April 15, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Andy Richter discusses his career and his new TV
series "Andy Richter Controls the Universe"
TERRY GROSS, host:

After seven years as Conan O'Brien's sidekick, Andy Richter left "Late Night"
in June of 2000 to act. Last month, he returned to TV as the star of his own
sitcom, "Andy Richter Controls the Universe." He plays a single guy who works
at a corporation writing manuals. The action alternates between what's really
happening and the fantasy version of events happening in his mind.

In one episode, Andy falls for a beautiful woman and can't believe his good
luck when he finds she's attracted to him. Everything's going great, until
something she says makes him realize she's anti-Semitic. But he doesn't want
to believe what he knows is true.

(Soundbite from "Andy Richter Controls the Universe")

Mr. ANDY RICHTER: It could have been a lot of things. I needed more
information, so I came up with a foolproof anti-Semitism test.

Would you like a bagel, or perhaps a Waldenreichenlebensraum torte(ph)?

Unidentified Woman: Oh, thanks.

Mr. RICHTER: She has chosen the time-honored food of the Jewish people.
She's not a bigot.

"LESLIE": Boy, those Jews are so cheap, they don't even give you the middle
of the bagel.

Mr. RICHTER: Oy!

Leslie, I got to tell you, it bothers me when you say stuff like that.

"LESLIE": Oh, my God. You're not Jewish, are you?

Mr. RICHTER: No, I just think it's wrong to stereotype people.

"LESLIE": Oh, I see what's going on here. You must have some Jewish friends
or something, and you feel self-conscious about it.

Mr. RICHTER: Wait a minute. This is not my problem.

"LESLIE": Andy, let's not argue. We don't have to like the same books, the
same music, the same races. Can't we just agree to disagree about this one
thing?

Mr. RICHTER: No, people are just people.

"LESLIE": And that's your opinion. All I'm asking is that you respect mine.
Oh, look! We've just had our first fight! I'm glad it was over something
small.

GROSS: Andy Richter, who came up with that premise for this episode, of
meeting a woman who you're very attracted to, but the attraction only lasts so
long--because she's anti-Semitic?

Mr. RICHTER: It was just one of the ideas, you know, that was sort of
gang-written by the writers on the show. I think that we, as a group, like
things that are funny that are also kind of uncomfortable.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RICHTER: And this is definitely uncomfortable to a lot of people. And I
felt--what I really liked about that episode is that you see plenty of shows
where somebody is dating somebody that they're mismatched with, but it's
usually some sort of thing about, you know, `Oh, she snores,' or `She, you
know, has a goofy laugh.' And I'd never seen anyone--there be a lighthearted
romp through someone's anti-Semitism. So I sort of felt like that it was, you
know, a funny idea and that it was a different idea, and that, yeah, it's also
uncomfortable and kind of, you know, naughty, in a serious way. But I don't
think that it's unreal. I don't think that it's not true to life.

GROSS: Were you confident when you left "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" that
you would get movie roles and TV roles, or did you feel like you were kind of
jumping off the edge and hoping that you'd land?

Mr. RICHTER: A little bit of both. I--you know, well, a lot more confidence
than there was the fear of the leap of faith, but because I just kind of
felt--in retrospect--I feel scared in retrospect because I feel like I wasn't
even aware--I wasn't allowing myself to be aware of what a leap it was. But I
just thought, `I know enough about Hollywood to know that Hollywood really
wants whatever it can't have.' And a lot of people that worked on the "Conan"
show stay on the "Conan" show because it's a very happy place to work, and
it's a really fun, little, privately run laboratory of comedy that has a
serious lack of adult supervision. So a lot of people love working there and
work there a long time. And when people do leave the "Conan" show, I've seen
sort of the clamor to get them from television networks or television studios.
It has a cache within the industry. So I just knew there'd be something for
me.

It wasn't the first couple of years I was worried about it. It was the third
year. I mean, if I had gone through the development process and nothing
happened and I would--you know, because--like, if this show doesn't go, I feel
like, `Well, I can probably still can get another development deal out of
somebody.' It's just the way the business works. There's plenty of people
here in Los Angeles who have been making money for years just not working for
somebody else. Somebody pays them to not work for somebody else. And
they--you know, you can stretch that out for a few years.

GROSS: Right. Andy Richter is my guest. He's formerly Conan O'Brien's
sidekick on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Now he has his own show called
"Andy Richter Controls the Universe."

When you were growing up, in addition to watching, like, network TV, were
there, like, bizarre local shows that you used to watch because they were so
weird or so amateurish?

Mr. RICHTER: Yeah. In Chicago, there was a guy--there's a station in Chicago
called WGN, which is owned by the Chicago Tribune, and it's been around
forever. And it kind of was a precursor of the Superstation. It was on early
cable systems around the country. And they carried Chicago Cubs' games and
then, also, lots of strange kids shows, like, they have a "Bozo the Clown"
show, Ray Rainer was a children's host who basically was just a grown man who
would wear orange jumpsuits and show cartoons and feed a goose, and then at
times, just put on marching music and march around the set with the goose.
And that would take up an hour every morning. And I think at the time, you
know, as a child, I didn't think of it as odd. It was just television.

GROSS: Now you studied improv for a while. You worked, I think, with Dell
Close in Chicago.

Mr. RICHTER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: He's not a very familiar name. Tell us about him.

Mr. RICHTER: Well, he's one of the--I mean, he's heavily influential because
he taught a lot of people that are responsible for sort of the modern state of
sketch comedy, I guess. He was one of the first people that was with The
Compass, a group in Chicago that was the precursor of Second City. And he
pretty much invented long-form improvisation, which is what most of the groups
in Chicago sort of specialized in, especially the Improv Olympic, which was
what his group was.

But he taught people like Bill Murray and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and,
you know, Mike Myers and people--and Chris Farley and, you know, just taught
many, many people how to be funny and in an artistic way be funny and a set of
rules that if you follow them, you do--you'd be hard pressed to do bad work if
you followed the rules that he teaches you. And he passed away a few years
ago. But he's tremendously--I mean, there wouldn't--I wouldn't hesitate to
say there would not be a "Saturday Night Live," which, you know, good or bad,
whatever your opinion of that show, it's a pretty important part of the comedy
landscape, and just in a historical sense it wouldn't be there if it weren't
for Dell Close.

GROSS: What were some of Dell Close's rules for improvisation?

Mr. RICHTER: Well, the basic--they're basically--they're agreement. It's
treating comedy different from drama and that's sort of the fuel of drama is
conflict. But if you're improvising a scene, it doesn't work to have
conflict. It just sort of stops. It's more about the flow of something. So
if someone comes into a scene and says, `Doctor, my back is killing me,' you
don't say, `I'm not a doctor. I'm an umbrella salesman,' because you might
get a laugh, but then where do you go? You've made the other person look like
an idiot, and that's it. The scene is over. But if you say, you know, `Well,
in order to fix your back, you have to get on this snowmobile,' you know, then
you've started something--they call it, `Yes and,' you agree and add to it.

And then--you know, there's also different--one of the rules--it mirrors an
acting rule, which is that the actor's a slave to the text, that the actual
performance piece is more important than the actor himself. It's the
same--there's a rule in improv, which is no one player is more important than
the group. So it's trying to create a group mind, and, you know, it's
downplaying selfishness.

GROSS: Now you had a small part in the Chris Elliot movie "Cabin Boy."

Mr. RICHTER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now I understand when that movie came out, you were actually working
in a movie theater in Los Angeles as an assistant manager. Is that right?

Mr. RICHTER: No, I had just, actually--I had run out of money and was
starting to apply for jobs. And the day that I got hired on the "Conan" show,
I got called back to re-interview--you know, I got a call-back as an actor.
You know, they wanted to come and interview me for this job as an assistant
manager, which I was deathly afraid of "Cabin Boy" coming out and me being
behind the counter making popcorn when it came out and people thinking it was
some kind of publicity stunt. You know what I mean? It would just be...

GROSS: And it would just be sad truth.

Mr. RICHTER: It would just be sad, pathetic truth.

GROSS: So, you know, you've done all comedies.

Mr. RICHTER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know, on TV, comedy roles in movies, comedy with Conan O'Brien.
Do you have the ambition of, like, doing drama whether it's, like, you know,
playing the hard-boiled detective or having your shot at "Macbeth"?

Mr. RICHTER: The hard-boiled detective more than "Macbeth." You know,
"Macbeth" is way too much memorization. Yeah. But, yeah, that would be fun.
I don't have--I just want to work. I want to work. I really love being in
this business, and I feel tremendously lucky because I feel like I've found
the vocation for which I am suited. And I want to work at it for a long, long
time. I said when I left the "Conan" show and people were comparing me to
David Caruso--who left "NYPD Blue" and then his career faltered--I said, you
know, `Well, I'm not trying to be Warren Beatty, I'm trying to be Ned Beatty.'
So I think I can pull that off. I hope. And, you know, I would be very happy
to, because I think, you know, Ned Beatty's a tremendously talented man, you
know.

GROSS: Well, Andy Richter, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RICHTER: Well, thank you for having me.

GROSS: Andy Richter's new Fox sitcom is called "Andy Richter Controls the
Universe."

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by drummer Ed Thigpen, featuring
saxophonist Joe Lovano. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ed Thigpen's new CD "The Element of Swing"
TERRY GROSS, host:

In the 1950s and '60s, drummer Ed Thigpen toured with pianist Oscar Peterson
and with Ella Fitzgerald, and made records with diverse musicians from John
Coltrane to harpist Dorothy Ashby. In 1972, he moved to Copenhagen. From
there, he's worked with many European musicians and fellow expatriates like
Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin and Thad Jones. In the '90s, Thigpen hooked up
with younger American musicians like bassist John Lindberg and put together
his own Danish trio. On Thigpen's new CD, he puts them together with a
visitor from New York: saxophonist Joe Lovano. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead
says it was worth the trip.

(Soundbite of song)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:

A jazz drummer's a bit like a Western bad guy who shoots at strangers' feet to
make them dance. Both aim to get folks moving with precision firepower.
Drummers tend to have more benign motives and generally show off less than
gun-slinging bullies, although there are exceptions like Buddy Rich. Ed
Thigpen gets the job done quietly, shoring up a tune's beat or coaxing
soloists along with sympathetic comments or a snipe at the heels. But he also
knows when to leave a soloist be and let the story unfold without kibitzing.

(Soundbite of song; audience applauding)

WHITEHEAD: Ed Thigpen is the son of a jazz drummer, and tenor player Joe
Lovano is the son of a jazz saxophonist. They had the music in their ears
from infancy. Lovano and pianist Carsten Dahl have also played drums from
childhood, which enhances the quartet's crack timing. Bassist Jesper Bodilsen
keeps up, too.

Joe Lovano is a strong and consistent player, but he sounds especially good
here. One showcase is Billy Strayhorn's ballad "Chelsea Bridge," where Lovano
fine tunes his tone quality the way Thigpen keeps refining his brush work.

(Soundbite of "Chelsea Bridge")

WHITEHEAD: Ed Thigpen's new CD, recorded live in Copenhagen, is "The Element
of Swing" on the Stunt label. True to the title, every piece deals with swing
time from a slightly different angle or tempo. Swing isn't everything in
jazz, but it's always been a quick shortcut to the pleasure receptors and has
a happy effect on soloists lucky enough to catch a wave.

Lately, Joe Lovano's own records have been concept driven, tributes to Sinatra
and Caruso and such, which can rein him in a bit. Freed of the
responsibilities of leadership, he makes the most of his working vacation and
the locals get to watch the stranger dance.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead reviewed Ed Thigpen's new CD "The Element of Swing."

(Soundbite of song)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)
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.

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