Harry Shearer's New Comic Novel
Comedian Harry Shearer has a new book called Not Enough Indians, a novel about Native Americans and gambling. He also has a role in the new film For Your Consideration, directed by Christopher Guest. Shearer is a voice actor on The Simpsons, playing the roles of Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner and many more characters. Shearer is also the host of the weekly public radio series Le Show.
Other segments from the episode on November 6, 2006
DATE November 6, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Comedian Harry Shearer discusses his life, career and
new book "Not Enough Indians"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is actor and satirist Harry Shearer. He starred in the
mockumentaries "This Is Spinal Tap" and "A Mighty Wind," and with many of the
same actors made the new movie comedy "For Your Consideration" which opens
this month. He also does many of the voices on "The Simpsons," including Mr.
Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders. On Public Radio he
hosts a program of music and satire called "Le Show." And now he has a new
satirical novel called "Not Enough Indians." It's set in the fictional town of
Gammage, New York. Just as Gammage is about to declare bankruptcy, the town
council comes up with a scheme to save it. Gammage will petition for Indian
tribal status and try to open a casino. The only problem is, Gammage doesn't
have many Native Americans so it takes some fancy lobbying to get Indian
tribal status and transform the town into the Filaquonsett Reservation.
Harry, welcome back to FRESH AIR. I want you to do a short reading from the
book and this kind of describes what happens in the casino once they open it.
Mr. HARRY SHEARER: (Reading) "Ladies and gentlemen, the management of the
Filaquonsett Casino welcomes you and reminds you that at no time during the
show should flash photography be used as it may panic the snow leopards. And
now, first up, please welcome the Elvis of Bangkok, Szughat Thunicorn."
"I thought this place used to have big-time entertainment. What the--"Tony
Silotta put a firm hand on the forearm of Vince Wynn-Stanley.
"The price of front row comps is you don't knock the talent," he hissed
through his new mustache. Then he flashed the $10,000 Silotta grin at Eileen,
and with a flourish poured some more Dom in each of their glasses while
Szughat Thunicorn began a rousing rendition of what sounded like "Fats alyde
"By the way, Eileen, the Warhols really jazz up the fashion arcade. I never
knew he painted Geronimo and those guys."
"He didn't," Eileen Wynn-Stanley said while sipping her Dom, "but Studio
Warholia does, by the hundreds. All the NADAM casinos are buying them. Not,"
she added proudly, "at the price we got them for."
GROSS: That's Harry Shearer reading from his new novel, "Not Enough Indians."
So did you go to Indian gambling casinos to see what they're actually like?
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah, I wanted to absorb some, as they say, local color, so I
went to some casinos. There's a fabulous Indian casino in eastern San Diego
County, and I went to some casinos along the Mississippi Gulf Coast before
they got whacked by the hurricane. And I did a lot of reading on the subject
of Indian--they like to call it gaming, of course we would understand it to be
GROSS: What did you see there?
Mr. SHEARER: Well, I saw the sort of--everything from the most utilitarian
kind of get-in-here-and-gamble-and-get-out, to fairly lavish, if mismatched,
you know, arrays of tapestries and carvings and, yes, Indian lore up the
whazoo, as you might say.
GROSS: So is it a landmine to write a book about Native American gambling
without feeling like you're inadvertently insulting Native Americans? Do you
know what I mean? Like you have to walk a line here between figuring out what
it is you're satirizing and what it is that you want to just respect.
Mr. SHEARER: Well, you know, in many cases when I satirize something that
may seem like it's walking the line, I'm really satirizing the way that it's
being exploited or treated by the modern American media-political universe.
And I think that's true here, you know. I'm satirizing the way white folks
have discovered that it's now hip to be an Indian or a Native American and how
to do that in a hurry, you know. And I guess I draw that from the way I had
my bar mitzvah on the fly, you know? I had the...
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait, wait.
Mr. SHEARER: I had the quick...
GROSS: Exactly how does your bar mitzvah fit in?
Mr. SHEARER: I had the quickie bar mitzvah, you know. I didn't go to Hebrew
school. I just studied the thing that you're supposed to read real fast and
then had a bar mitzvah so I could get the gift. And it's sort of the same
approach that these white folks are taking to how to be a Native American.
That's the similarity.
GROSS: Oh, that's a funny similarity. They don't have to learn the HafTarah
to do it.
Mr. SHEARER: That's correct.
GROSS: You don't gamble, so what do you do when you visit casinos?
Mr. SHEARER: I appreciate.
GROSS: Not very risky, is it?
Mr. SHEARER: I'm an appreciator. No, I just, you know, I'm a fan of--I'm a
student of how they have been students of human psychology. And a lot of that
is reflected in the book. So, you know, the absence of right angles in the
architectural planning of casino buildings always fascinates me because they
have learned--they have mastered the art of decontextualizing you. You know,
the early version was no clocks, but they've gone way beyond that. As I ask,
now there are no right angles. And they've just learned the ways to make you
feel so disoriented and so apart from your normal environment cues that you
will be--that your inhibitions will be loosened as a result even before you
GROSS: Well, Harry, this is a busy time for you. In addition to your new
novel, you've got a new movie coming out called "For Your Consideration."
That's the same crew that also did "Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman," "A
Mighty Wind," and also some of the same people who were from "Spinal Tap."
Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But this is not a mockumentary. This is, what?
Mr. SHEARER: Well, it's a mock-you-very-much. Christopher Guest always
bridles at the term mockumentary because he doesn't think he's mocking in
terms of the tone of those films. But in terms of the camera technique, it is
not a mock documentary in the sense that it's not a handheld camera that's
moving around a lot. Chris wanted to make a movie that looked more like a
formal narrative film, so the camera is more in place, except when it's on a
dolly. But in terms of the acting, we're still improvising. The actors are
still doing the same thing that we've been doing in in all these films, which
is taking the story that's written by Chris and Gene Levy and improvising our
dialogue. The only twist to that is this movie has a movie within the movie.
And in the movie within the movie we have scripted dialogue, so there's
scripted dialogue and then there's improvised dialogue. And we would have
days where, you know, the morning is scripted and the afternoon is improvised,
and as an actor, you can't think of a better day than that.
GROSS: So what's the story and what's the movie within the story?
Mr. SHEARER: The story is about a group of independent actors of, let's say,
second or--let's be realistic--third tier, who finally get a break and get to
make this fairly OK film, question mark, called "Home for Purim." That is the
movie within in a movie. A warm family drama that takes place during World
War II. And now we're outside the movie within the movie, and we realize that
at some point in the filming of this, there's some Internet buzz about Oscar
possibilities for one or another of the actors in this film. And our story
was really the story of Oscar buzz and how weird and silly it is and the
effect it can have on people's lives and psyches.
GROSS: And you play one of the third tier actors?
Mr. SHEARER: Yes. I'm one of the stars of "Home for Purim," Victor Allan
Miller, an actor who--although he's worked for many years in the theater as
well as film--he's best known for his work as Irv the foot-long wiener in the
Felber hotdog commercials.
GROSS: And did you pattern yourself on anybody in particular? Do you feel
like you know a lot of actors who are like the actor that you're playing?
Mr. SHEARER: No, this is the first time as an actor that I've really
patterned myself after me. I basically realized that if I just stripped away
all of the parts of me that I liked, I would have Victor. If I just took away
what I--and may be conceited to regard as--my coping mechanisms, Victor would
be the quivering pile of protoplasm that resulted. So this really is the
first time than I looked inward to create a character rather than outward.
GROSS: And what about your ego vs. Victor's ego?
Mr. SHEARER: Equally vulnerable, just equally fragile. It's why my friend
Christopher Guest said to me at one point, in sort of horror, `You don't read
reviews, do you?' And I realized, yeah, that's kind of a stupid thing to do
when you have a vulnerable ego, so I stopped and I'm happier. You know,
they're usually, I guess, they're usually good, people tell me. But I mean
it's just never a good thing for people in this psychic environment to read
reviews. But, yeah, I mean, actors, you know, the only people who are more
perpetually afraid of rejection than actors are salespeople, and unfortunately
they're the people who run America's major corporations, which tells you why
our economy's in the shape it is today.
GROSS: You know, by working with this repertory company all the time...
Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...you know, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean and, you know, the
people who you've made a lot of movies with.
Mr. SHEARER: John Michael Higgins, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Jennifer
Coolidge, Jane Lynch. Yes, go ahead.
GROSS: You were all insulating yourself from the kind of rejection that you
were just talking about, because you're making your movies together, only what
you need is the money to make the movie but you're not submitting yourself to
a casting director, or to a director who's never met who will completely
misunderstand the true Harry Shearer and where your true genius lies.
Mr. SHEARER: Well...
GROSS: You know what I mean?
Mr. SHEARER: ...that...
GROSS: It's like, they're not--you don't have to...
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah. You're correct. It's a safe zone we're in when we work
together and certainly that's one reason why when we sit around, when we know
that Chris and Gene are working on another script, waiting for the phone to
ring so that we get to do it again. But I would possibly substitute another
word for "safety" and that's the word "trust." Christopher trusts us as actors
to be able to take a story that he and Gene have written and improvise the
life of dialogue into it. He trusts the audience to get a comedy that's not
shrill and exaggerated. And we trust Christopher not to put us in situations
that we don't think are, you know, our areas of best expertise. So I think we
feel safe, yes, but it's because something very rare in the business is
happening, which is this atmosphere of trust. Normally, yes, you've gone
through these processes and you're working with somebody you may never have
worked for before. My fear is a director will make me--the last take he'll
always say, `Can we have one that's bigger?' And I know that's the one he's
going to use and I'm in dread of that because I don't think I'm good big. I
think I'm good at this kind of low-key realistic comedy and fortunately that's
the style that Christopher likes to work in, as well.
GROSS: You have another movie coming out and this one's coming out next year.
It's a new "Simpsons" movie. Can you tell us what the premise is?
Mr. SHEARER: I can't tell you anything about it, except that it's coming
out. There is such a penumbra of secrecy that surrounds this movie that it
has a code name. I went to the studio one day...
Mr. SHEARER: ...and it didn't say "The Simpsons," and I was there for a
recording session for the movie, and I went to every studio we possibly used
and none of them said "The Simpsons," and I called my office and said, `What's
the deal?' And it turned out they had adopted a code name and just forgotten
to tell me, which is good code. And I was recording. We were still recording
the dialogue for the movie and I was in the studio last week in New York, and
at the end, I said to the guy in the studio, `Now are you going to shred the
script pages?' Because that's sort of the common practice. And he said, `No.'
And I was a little surprised. He said, `I have to send them to LA for them to
shred them there.' They didn't even trust him to shred his own pages.
Mr. SHEARER: So...
GROSS: ...did you each have your names written on the scripts so they could
tell who the scrip is...
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...absent and...
Mr. SHEARER: Oh, yeah. We would be...
GROSS: ...and hold you responsible if your script doesn't show up for the
Mr. SHEARER: Oh, I think would be shredded if there were a copy that made it
out, but we were made to give them back every time, even though, yes, our
names are imprinted. Our names are imprinted so frequently on a script page
that it's sometimes hard to read the dialogue because our names are all over
it. So if you hear my...
GROSS: OK. So I understand that. So tell us the premise anyway. No, just
kidding. I mean right.
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah, right. No, but if you see the movie and you hear Mr.
Burns just saying, `Shearer, Shearer, Shearer," over again, it's because all I
could read was my name. The premise is that they want to make a lot of money.
GROSS: My guest is Harry Shearer. We'll talk more after a break. This is
GROSS: My guest is actor and satirist Harry Shearer. He's written a new
satirical novel called "Not Enough Indians." He stars in the new movie comedy
"For Your Consideration," which opens this month, and he does many of the
voices on "The Simpsons," which started its new season last night.
Harry, as a satirist you do a lot of political voices, including the
president. You also always do the voices of TV news anchors.
Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: You're in a new era now because...
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...on broadcast news all the voices have changed, you know. It's no
longer, you know, Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather...
Mr. SHEARER: I know.
GROSS: ...Peter Jennings, who I'm not sure you did.
Mr. SHEARER: I never did Peter Jennings, and Peter made fun of me for not
doing--he turned the tables and made fun of me for not doing him. I knew the
melody of Peter Jennings but I never quite had the thing. But I know...
(As Ted Koppel) ...Ted--Ted Koppel, if you will, has gone to cable Vineyards,
to plow new territory, if he might.
Mr. SHEARER: And Dan is in even weirder territory now with HDNet. And I'm
sitting by my television trying to work on my Katie Couric impression. How
sad is that? But there we are.
GROSS: What are you getting from her?
Mr. SHEARER: Well, a certain corn-fed earnestness. I can't even begin to
start doing it. My vocal impression of her yet, it's really still a work in
progress. But there's a sort of roughness and sweetness to her voice, and a
lot of nose in it, too. It's like a whine, if you like. A big nose in that
voice. But I must say I'm equally fascinated by the Katie Couric dance, the
choreography of that broadcast. You know, she's--at least in the early weeks
of it--she started off standing. The first segment, she's standing next to
the desk, right side, just touching her desk. Then the next two segments
she's sitting at the desk, in the traditional anchor pose, shuffling papers
like a pro. And in the next two segments she's standing nowhere near the
desk, in the Tom Brokaw...
(As Tom Brokaw) "I'm an anchor but I'm standing pose."
Mr. SHEARER: And then, because you've waited 20 minutes to see her legs, the
last two segments, she's sitting on the desk. It's so remarkable. If they
just played music to that, they'd have a broadcast.
GROSS: Well, what about Brian Williams? Do you feel like you can get his
Mr. SHEARER: I feel like I probably can if I can ever get past my grudging
admiration for him, which I'm working on.
GROSS: Is that a problem, does it get in your way?
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah. Yeah. Of course it is. You know. The thing that makes
me want to do people's character is something about them drives me crazy. And
I've always recognized the big distinction between people like me, who are
drawn to satirize those they have a critique of, and other people that have
been on shows that I've been on who seem to want to do characters because they
want to be those people. They're doing characters they admire or had admired
as kids. You know, the names supplied on request.
Mr. SHEARER: Oh, you know, when you saw Billy Crystal doing Muhammad Ali.
There was no critique of Muhammad Ali. Billy, you know, in another life would
have loved to be Muhammad Ali. When you saw Joe Piscopo do Bruce Springsteen
and Frank Sinatra...
Mr. SHEARER: ...there was no critique there. Just Joe wanted to be those
guys, would have loved to have been those guys. I don't particularly want to
be anybody I've done. I'm doing them because there's something about what
they do or the way they do it that bothers me, and humor is my way of making
GROSS: Harry, you've been living for several years in New Orleans a good deal
of the time.
Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: As your listeners know cause your show is often broadcast from there.
How did you first decide to move there?
Mr. SHEARER: It was a weekend that I took off from doing a movie in Seattle
and flew down to New Orleans for the jazz fest. And I'd--New Orleans was one
of those places like Rio or like Brazil, generally, that I thought, `Well,
yeah, I'd love to go there. I've heard such great things about it.' And the
minute I finally got there, my instantaneous response was, `What has kept me
from being here so long?' It was an almost instantaneous falling in love with
the place. And finally, when I met my wife--met the woman who was to become
my wife, Judith Owen, and took her down there for the first time, I was just
praying that she would love it as much as I do. And, fortunately, she loves
it, if anything, even more. And so we bought a place there.
And it's a very deep place. It's 300 years old, and it hangs onto tradition
and history in a way that no other American city really does. It doesn't have
a little oldie townie section. It is an old town. And so when what happened
last year happened, it was like seeing a loved one mugged, and you were angry
and sad, and yet your love had, if anything, strengthened and deepened. And
it's going through a mental health crisis right now. It's going through a
slow motion disaster that's comparable to the flooding disaster in the erosion
and disappearance of the wetlands, which protect us from hurricanes, and so
there's a lot still to be done.
GROSS: Did you feel like you've been changed as a person by living in New
Orleans and seeing your adopted city through, you know, just really a
horrible, tragic period? It's a really sobering thing for someone like you
who always kind of, you know, professionally dwells on the funny side of
Mr. SHEARER: Yeah. It's changed my public persona. You know, I've always
been a fairly serious person with a funny front to me. You know, one of the
reasons I love New Orleans is because the city never lost its sense of humor.
This year's carnival was a spectacularly moving public ritual in which
people--who had been having these incredible arduous days gutting their houses
and fighting with insurance adjustors and all the other stuff--came out in the
streets to laugh at this two-week parade of editorial cartoons making vicious,
wicked, bawdy fun of all the miscreants that had created their disaster. And
to see that as a civic response, you know, that laughter could really be a
civic response to a disaster, you know, that's my town. I'm so proud of it
for having been able to do that, and for, you know, facing down everybody who
said, `Oh, Mardi Gras. Why should you be doing that when you've got serious
business to do?' It was really serious business to be able to laugh at the
people who had put us in this mess.
GROSS: Well, Harry Shearer, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. SHEARER: My pleasure, Terry. Thank you.
GROSS: Harry Shearer's new satirical novel is called "Not Enough Indians."
His new film, "For Your Consideration," opens next month. He also has a new
CD of his satirical sketches from his Public Radio program "Le Show," and a
new DVD of his sketches from "Saturday Night Live" and his comedy specials.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Lebanese TV anchor May Chidiac discusses her life,
career and the bombing where she lost an arm and a leg
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
In spite of the bomb that was planted in her car a year ago, and in spite of
the fact that she lost an arm and a leg in the explosion, May Chidiac is back
on the air. She's a journalist who works for the Lebanese Broadcasting
Corporation and had hosted its popular morning program. She believes that
Syrians were behind the bombing and that the murder attempt was retribution
for interviews she conducted that were critical of Syria's involvement in
Lebanon. On the last broadcast she did before the bombing, she spoke with an
analyst from the Lebanese daily paper Al-Nahar and discussed the possible
involvement of Syria in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime
minister, Rafik Hariri. After several months of recovery in France, she's now
back on the air, hosting a weekly program. Last month she came to the US to
accept a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media
May Chidiac, welcome to FRESH AIR and congratulations on your award. When you
were speaking out on your program, did you think that you were risking your
life? Did you think that you were going to be hurt as punishment for what you
were saying on your broadcast?
Ms. MAY CHIDIAC: So many persons were threatened by that time. We were
hearing a lot about a list, meaning that the list was about the persons who
were supposed to be killed next. But I thought that everybody was threatened
except me, because it was not a habit in our country to target women
journalists, so I was a pioneer. And I know they were not happy about what I
was saying, but I never thought that that they would reach that point of
killing me and putting explosives under the seat of my car.
GROSS: So you thought that because you were a woman, you would be safe? This
is like a strange form of chivalry, or etiquette, to not kill a woman?
Ms. CHIDIAC: I didn't hear before about a journalist woman killed in Lebanon
for her outspoken. And maybe because I was not really involved in politics,,
because the journalists who were killed before me were really activists in the
Cedar Revolution, and I was only a journalist covering what was going on and
giving comments on the situation. So I was really astonished. I really
didn't believe that they could attack me because I was just doing my job as a
journalist. I was not an activist in the politics so.
GROSS: You said that there was a list of journalists...
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly.
Ms> CHIDIAC: Not only journalists, politicians. I mean politicians, even
journalists involved in politics.
GROSS: Were you on the list? Did you know if your name...
Ms. CHIDIAC: No, I didn't. Nobody told me I as on the list. I had some
friends who, for example, a friend of mine asked me once to pick him up from
his house because we were invited to have dinner at another friend's house, so
he asked me to pick him up and take him with me. So when I arrived to his
house, I saw many in security guards. I asked him. `Why are these men here?'
He told me because, `I'm threatened,' Knellis told me, `I'm on the list and I
needed some protection.' And after a few days, I was the one to be targeted,
the one who they wanted to finish with and to kill. So, you know, they were
talking about a list, but nobody told me that I was on this list.
GROSS: What happened when you got into the car on the day that you were
Ms. CHIDIAC: That day, after finishing my show, I asked a friend if he would
be interested in going with me to visit St. Charbel Monastery. You know, I'm
Christian and I felt that I needed to go and to pray. So I went with my
friend and we had--it's a very beautiful region, so we had lunch there after
finishing praying. And I came back to take my car and to go back home. My
mother was waiting for me to have coffee with her. So I got into the car. I
closed the door. I turned towards the backseat to be able to put the candles
I brought with me, and suddenly the explosion took place.
I heard the blast and I wondered what was happening. It was terrible. I was
turning around myself like a chicken, when you cook it in the oven. I saw
black snow around me, and I passed away for a few seconds. And I heard a
voice telling me, `Get up, my girl. Get up, my girl.' And suddenly I woke up.
I found myself laying on the backseat, and I was pushing myself out of the
car, pulling myself out of the car. I wanted just to have fresh air. That
second I was feeling better, I had to put my head out of the car just to be
able to breathe.
It was so painful, but I didn't realize at that moment that I lost already my
left leg and my left hand. I was pulling myself out of the car, and I as
shouting, maybe someone could hear me, because, you know, on a Sunday
afternoon in Lebanon, especially in the Christian area in Jezzine, nobody is
in the streets. Everybody's having rest at home. So I felt it was really an
eternity before somebody heard me and before I saw somebody coming to help me.
But the most terrible thing is that I saw my left hand still attached to my
left arm with a small piece of...(unintelligible)...and I was pointing at my
hand just hoping that maybe in surgery they would be able to save it. I
didn't know that a big part of my left arm was damaged and that it was
impossible to save it. So after a few days, when I woke up, I knew how much
my body was damaged.
GROSS: Do you have any idea who bombed you, who attacked you?
Ms. CHIDIAC: I'm confident, I'm sure, that the Syrians are behind it, but
GROSS: The Syrians.
Ms. CHIDIAC: ...at the same time. Yeah. I'm sure at the same time that
they gave orders to local agents, pro-Syrian people in Lebanon, who placed the
explosives under the seats of my car. And it was a cold-blooded person who
saw me getting into the car and who decided at that time, at that second,
minute, that he had to push the button to kill me.
GROSS: So it was a remote control bomb.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly.
GROSS: It wasn't a bomb that was set off by your car ignition.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly. Exactly.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. So when you say you think the Syrians were behind that, do
you mean the Syrian government?
Ms. CHIDIAC: The Syrian regime. The people on the head of this regime.
Because they wanted to keep their control over Lebanon, be certain that there
would be chaos in Lebanon after they leave. And I as threatened once even
before they left Lebanon. After one of my shows, they called my boss and told
him--the big officer, the Syrian officer in Lebanon, whose name was Biston
Bizali. And we used to call him in Lebanon "Abu Abdu." And he told my boss,
`I will drink from her blood.' But really, I thought at that time that it was
just for intimidating me. I didn't think it was that serious, and at the end
they would try to kill me.
GROSS: OK, you thought that they would try to intimidate you, but not
necessarily try to kill you.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly. Exactly.
GROSS: Well, they tried to kill you but it doesn't sound like they've
succeeded in intimidating you because you're back on the air, you're talking
about this here and in other places. Did you considering being intimidated?
In other words, did you consider backing down? Did you consider leaving
Lebanon? Did you consider staying out of sight...
Ms. CHIDIAC: Never ever.
GROSS: ...and not speaking out, not going back on TV?
Ms. CHIDIAC: No, no, no. Because all my suffering would have been for
nothing. You know, after you go through all what I had to suffer from. I had
26 surgeries in less than nine months. I had 26 general anesthesia, so I had
very terrible moments. I suffered a lot. So I never, never could imagine
that I'll hide in a corner and prefer to stay away of the danger, because all
of my suffering would have been for nothing. And I considered that I have a
mission in one way or another because I have to be the voice of those who
disappear, who were killed and didn't have the chance to escape. So even
though I lost my left arm and my left leg, I have now prostheses which are so
perfect, and I'm back on air.
I was on air exactly 10 months after the attack. It was quite a miracle to be
able to be back on air. Thank God, my face was saved. It was not damaged, so
people were looking at me and were saying, `Oh, God, how come she's even more
beautiful than before?' This is what I heard after being on air, and it's
because I have an aesthetical hand. It doesn't show that have problem with my
hand. I cannot move it the way I want, but at least it's beautiful. It's not
a problem if I appear with it on air. And I'm still an outspoken journalist,
and I still consider that I have to defend the freedoms of sovereignty, the
independence of my country, and I consider that Lebanon deserves to have this.
GROSS: My guest is Lebanese journalist May Chidiac. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is May Chidiac. A journalist who hosts a program on the
Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Last year a bomb was planted in her car
and she lost an arm and a leg in the explosion.
So how do you think your mission as a journalist has changed since the attack?
What do you do on your show now? Do you speak out yourself? Do you have on
other people who are outspoken? Do you take a point of view on the show or
have on both sides?
Ms. CHIDIAC: You know...
Ms. CHIDIAC: ...I do the same--my job the same way I used to do it, that
means I really consider that I have to be objective, in a way or another.
That means I'm a professional, after all. But, you know, the difference
between a journalist and another is that when you put the light on some issues
and some other journalist may be afraid to do so, or prefer not to put the
light on this because it's dangerous. So I take all the information I can
find in the newspapers, all the information I can get from everywhere, and I
dare to put the light on all these informations and to ask my guests to do
some comments on this. And I think that this is the best way of clearing
things and the best way to attract the attention on some delicate issues that
maybe some other journalist won't dare to do.
GROSS: You say you're a journalist and not an activist, but I know you were
considering a run for Parliament.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly.
GROSS: And I believe you postponed that for medical reasons, but you're still
considering running sometime in the next few years. Why do you want to run
Ms. CHIDIAC: Because I have a place to express myself and it is on air, but
my role is to ask questions and have the answers from others. Sometimes I
feel like if I would like to give the answers myself, to be free to give the
comments on the situation. And I consider that I am a part of a certain
environment. That means I'm a Christian Lebanese woman, and I consider that
our presence in Lebanon is really threatened because everything has been done
to push people to leave the country because they are so desperate they want to
leave. They have no more hope in Lebanon, and they want to go abroad to find
some opportunities to be able to work safely without having to rebuild
everything. So maybe I'll have to be the voice of these people, and maybe the
the Parliament would be a place where I can be the voice of all those who lost
their voice or of the voice of all those who don't have the way of expressing
themselves directly on air.
GROSS: When you're talking about how a lot of people feel forced to leave
Lebanon now, are you referring to the war over the summer between Israel and
Hezbollah, in which Israel bombed Lebanon? Is that what you're referring to?
Ms. CHIDIAC: During the last 30 years, many Lebanese left Lebanon, but
especially during this last war in July. The Lebanese people were not
expecting this war. They were expecting to have a prosperous summer. They
were expecting to have many tourists coming to Lebanon. They were thinking
that we'll have peace at the end and the situation in Lebanon will come back
to its normal status. But what happened is that the war started, we didn't
have a word to say about it because the Hezbollah was the one who decided this
war. And Israel responded in a very terrible way, killing so much, so many
people, but Hezbollah was the one to start and they attacked Israel.
We had the example of what happened in Gaza when they kidnapped an Israeli
soldier, and we saw how Israel responded to that. So when Hezbollah attacked
Israel because the Arabs consider themselves as resistance and that we still
have the Shebaa Farm to free, because it's Lebanese land which is still under
the Israeli control, so it was an excuse to attack Israel and to kidnap two
soldiers, two Israeli soldiers.
And then Israel decided to respond. We found ourselves stuck in the middle.
We didn't know what to do. That means that Hezbollah can declare war whenever
they want and Israel is here, ready to answer and to destroy all the
infrastructure in Lebanon. So the Lebanese people found themselves in the
middle. They didn't have a word to say between Israel and Hezbollah. We were
here and watching what was going on in our country, losing our hope in
rebuilding our country because it was not a decision made by the Lebanese
GROSS: I believe that you returned to Lebanon in July after having had
medical treatment in France. So did you return just in time for the war?
Ms. CHIDIAC: It's really amazing. I arrived to Lebanon on the 11th of July,
which means a few hours before the war started. So I don't know if I was the
lucky one or if it was meant to be. That means if I had to go back to work in
an urgent way, this is why I was in Lebanon anyway, I wouldn't have been happy
to be outside.
GROSS: Can you talk about what it was like to return home, planning to
finally go back on the air, you know, months after you were attacked? You
were in a very fragile state when you get back. You know, you've lost a leg,
you've lost an arm, you're still recovering from that. So in this fragile
state, you're now facing a war. I don't know if your neighborhood was bombed
or not. I'm not sure where you live and where you work.
Ms. CHIDIAC: My neighborhood was not bombed, but where I was, where I live,
I heard every, every bomb that fall on the southern suburbs of Beirut. So it
was terrible. You know, the last explosion I heard was the one that took a
part of my body away, and I was really tense when I was hearing all these
explosions beside me. But I considered that since I was in Lebanon, I had to
go back on air and to resume my work, and this is what I did. It was the 25th
of July. And it was a coincidence, but the last time I was on air was the
25th of September, and I resumed my work on the 25th of July.
GROSS: So did you ever think to yourself that you had possibly survived the
attack on you only to come home just before a war and then possibly die in the
bombing? I mean, did you think that maybe you'd survived only to die in the
Ms. CHIDIAC: You know, I believe in God and God's will. That means,
whenever my hour will come, I will die. Because it was a miracle I survived
that blast when my car exploded. So if I was meant to die in that war, I
would have been killed. So I consider my life will continue until God will
decide that my life has to stop somewhere, and I'll die at that time.
GROSS: My guest is Lebanese journalist May Chidiac. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is May Chidiac, a journalist who hosts a program on the
Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Last year a bomb was planted in her car
and she lost an arm and a leg in the explosion. Now from what I read, it
sounds like before you were attacked, before the car bomb, you hosted a show
called "Good Day."
Ms. CHIDIAC: Exactly.
GROSS: But now you're hosting a show called "With Audacity," which is...
Ms. CHIDIAC: Yes.
GROSS: ...a different tone than "Good Day." So is the show changed or is it
just the title that's different?
Ms. CHIDIAC: No, the show changed, because I used to present a political
talk show, but it was a morning talk show on LBC, and it's a daily program.
That means we are three to present it. And I didn't choose the name. I
started in this program and the name was--like if it's "Good Morning,
America," or something like that.
Ms. CHIDIAC: So when I came back to work, you know, it's not easy to me to
be able to be ready on air at 10 in the morning. I have some preparations, I
have to put the prosthesis, and I'm still really fragile, so I prefer to have
an evening talk show. And it was my talk show, that means once a week. And I
had to choose the name. I've chosen it because of the spirit of my program,
because I used to say things with audacity, without being afraid, and I invite
my guests and ask them to speak freely and with courage. So it's related to
my personality and to the way I want the program to be.
GROSS: Are more guests willing to come on your program now that they know
what happened to you? I mean, I'm sure that made you even more famous in the
country. I'm not saying you were looking for that kind of fame, don't get me
wrong, but I'm sure you're quite famous now. So does it make it easier for
you to get people to come on the show who you want to talk to?
Ms. CHIDIAC: No, I used to have all the guests I wanted in Lebanon because
in Lebanon everybody is interested in politics, and I used to have my Sunday
morning show, and Sunday morning, it's like a big time. It's a prime time,
like in the evening because everybody's resting at home and everybody is
watching the TV, especially in winter. And they used to watch it so I was
able to have all the guests I wanted. But now it's different because when you
have one weekly talk show, you can have special--and cover special events or
have special guests. That means I was able to do an interview last week with
Ms. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state. So it makes things different and
another caliber of guests and of interviews so. And I wanted from the
beginning all the guests and all the audience, the viewers, to forget what
happened to me. That means, when I'm on the air, I look exactly the same way
I looked before. And this makes people forget what happened to me, and I'm
happy about it because I don't want them to say, `Oh, pity.' No, what I want
them to do is I want them just to give their comments on my show as a
journalist, not as a journalist who suffered and who lost her arm and her leg.
GROSS: Do you still face threats against you?
Ms. CHIDIAC: Yes. I'm still on the list. Now they've told me, I am on the
GROSS: So what does that mean? That means there's no safety for you as long
as you're in Lebanon.
Ms. CHIDIAC: No, there is no safety for anybody in Lebanon. All those who
dare to speak on behalf of the freedom of Lebanon are still threatened.
GROSS: Do you have bodyguards?
Ms. CHIDIAC: Before the accident, I prefer to be on my own all the time.
Even though I was attending social occasions, I used to go back home, maybe
sometimes at 2:00 in the morning, alone. I'm really independent. And now
things changed, especially because I cannot drive anymore. I need to have a
driver with me, so and I need somebody to help me to get into the car. So now
I have two men with me all the time because I really need them to help me to
drive and to get into the car. But they are at the same time as bodyguards,
if you want, and as drivers, but it's not a way to protect yourself. You
know, whenever you'll be targeted, they'll find a way to kill you.
GROSS: You've resumed your life as a journalist. Do you feel comfortable and
adjusted to your prosthetics?
Ms. CHIDIAC: You know, it's not easy to sit on the chair because they have a
long talk show. It's a two hours talk show, so sometimes it's really painful
because I feel a backache, and especially that I had a surgery in my back. It
took 12 hours and I have a metal stick in my back. And, you know, whenever
I'm tired I feel this very painful and--but nobody--I don't show it to the
public. I try to keep things as normal as I can till I finish, and then when
I go back home, sometimes I'll start crying because it's so painful. But I
wanted to go back to work and I wanted to do my job the best way I could. So,
anyway, it's OK with me.
GROSS: Do you ever watch videotapes of the broadcasts that you did before you
were attacked, and is it difficult for you to watch yourself before you were
Ms. CHIDIAC: You know, the IWMF, who is giving me this award for Courage in
Journalism, they are showing a small report on me, and they put inside some
features, some tapes before the accident. So really, believe me, I still look
the same, but the problem is when I look to myself in the mirror, when I'm not
dressed, you know?
Ms. CHIDIAC: I'm another woman right now, a half of me is not here anymore,
so it's not that joyful but I accept what happen to me and I have to continue.
GROSS: Well, good luck. Thank you very much.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Thank you.
GROSS: And congratulations on your award.
Ms. CHIDIAC: Thank you. Thanks a lot.
GROSS: May Chidiac hosts a program on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.
Last month she received a Courage in Journalism award from the International
Women's Media Foundation. I'm Terry Gross.
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