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Professor Charles Kupchan

In his new book, The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-First Century, Kupchan argues that the era of American dominance may be coming to an end. This demise will not be brought on by the Islamic world or China, but from an integrated Europe. He says that as Europe's political and strategic goals continue to diverge from those of the United States, Europe will rise as a new rival. Kupchan served on the National Security Council during the first Clinton administration. He is a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Other segments from the episode on November 12, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 12, 2002: Interview with Charles Kupchan; Interview with Ruby Wax; Review of Joe Venuti and Zoot Sims' "Joe and Zoot and More."


DATE November 12, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Professor Charles Kupchan discusses his belief that the
US and European Union will become rivals

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

It's a generally accepted fact that the United States, despite the threat of
terrorism, despite the shaky economy, is still very much the world's leading
superpower. And that's a guiding principle of much of the Bush
administration's foreign policy: its pursuit of disarming Iraq, the retreat
from such international treaties as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The underlying assumption is that, in
end, the US can go it alone because it's simply so powerful.

Charles Kupchan says this assumption is woefully off the mark. Kupchan is a
senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of
international relations at Georgetown University. He served as a director
European Affairs on the National Security Council during the first Clinton
administration. In his new book, "The End of the American Era," he argues
that the United States is far more vulnerable than it appears, and that the
rising challenger to its dominance is the European Union. I asked Charles
Kupchan what he thinks of the conventional wisdom that the United States is
the world's dominant superpower.

Professor CHARLES KUPCHAN (Georgetown University): I agree with those who
claim that the United States today is still dominant, still in a position of
military and economic supremacy. Where I cut against the conventional
is on the durability of American dominance, how long it's going to last, and
there I think people are just taking a snapshot of the world today and not
looking at deeper trends beneath the surface, such as the rise of an
amalgamated Europe that can challenge the United States, and a potential
change in American politics away from the activist and robust
of the past 50 years to something that could become more diffident, more
difficult, perhaps a turning inward.

BOGAEV: So does that mean we're looking at the wrong standards, that we
more on defense than the world's other major superpowers combined, that our
economy is twice the size of Japan's? Those aren't the standards that one
should judge our power by?

Prof. KUPCHAN: Well, I think that military power only gets you so much, and
the fact that the United States spends more than the rest of the great
combined on defense does mean that we will remain militarily dominant for
decades to come. But I think that most people tend to compare the US to
countries--to Japan, to China, to Germany--and there the US is miles ahead
nobody has a chance of catching us any time soon. But where I think the
mistake is in failing to appreciate how revolutionary the process of
integration is in Europe; that Europe is going through a process quite
to the one the United States went through in the 19th century. We started
with a Constitution and then we began to knit together our separate states.
The Europeans started by taking little steps, knitting together their
states through a coal and steel community, through a common market, and lo
behold they now have a single market, a single currency, and there is a
constitutional convention under way as we speak. And so I think what's
happening is Europe is amassing its capabilities. It is emerging with a GDP
almost equal to that of the United States. It will not challenge us
militarily, but it is already becoming a political and a diplomatic

BOGAEV: Now you argue that as Europe's power grows, its relationship with
US will become increasingly antagonistic on many levels, and clearly the
administration has alienated European nations with its foreign policy on
and its unilateralism. Is that what you're talking about? Are we headed
a clash on the question of statecraft?

Prof. KUPCHAN: Well, I think there are two different dynamics that are
place. One of them is simply the balance of power, realpolitik, and that is
that as we shift from a world with only one center of power to a world with
one and a half or two centers of power of necessity, a certain amount of
competition will kick in, simply because of human nature, the desire for
influence, prestige, primacy. Competition of that sort has been absent from
the landscape because no one can come after the United States. There's no

I think that as the EU comes of age, as the EU begins to take a more
collective stand on issues, it will of necessity set its weight against the
United States, and therefore a certain amount of competition is inevitable.
think the question is will competition that is healthy turn into competition
that is adversarial in nature, and that's where US behavior is so important.
Because the United States, since the Bush team has come to power, has been
quite unilateralist, quite dismissive of the Kyoto Protocol, the
Criminal Court, the EU's desire to begin to assume more responsibility for
own defense. And in that sense, the Bush administration has alienated
I think it speaks volumes that the chancellor of Germany, a country that has
been a close ally of the US for decades, runs for re-election on an

anti-American platform and wins. That's just the tip of the iceberg, I
and the potential for the EU and the United States to part ways in ways that
could have major consequences, not just for the Atlantic relationship, but
the global landscape.

BOGAEV: What do you think of the Bush administration's pursuit so far of
struggle against terrorism? What's on the mark and what's troubling to you
you look ahead to our position in the world in the future?

Prof. KUPCHAN: I think the Bush administration has done a reasonably good
in the battle against terror, if we look at the tactical level. The attack
Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the effort to cooperate more
fully on law enforcement and on tracking funding for terrorist groups. And
they're beginning to make necessary changes here at home in terms of
security. If one, however, moves to the strategic level, the big picture, I
give the Bush administration much lower marks, and that's because I think
for President Bush and those around him, they think that the terror attacks
September 11th have changed the world, that terrorism is the new entity that
defines the geopolitical landscape and where fault lines fall on that
landscape. And that's why I think you are seeing them pursue the war on
terror with such fixation.

In my mind, that is a mistake. I think the world has changed less than the
Bush team thinks. There is still an agenda out there that has to do with
great power cooperation, institutions, the environment, development in the
Third World that is being neglected, and in that sense I think the Bush
administration has a view of the world that almost no one else shares, and
that's one of the reasons that we are seeing the United States find itself
such isolation on the global landscape.

BOGAEV: I guess you could argue, though, that this kind of unilateralism is
just a short-term trend, a temporary aberration on the part of the Bush

Prof. KUPCHAN: I don't think it is. There are many debates in Washington
in think tanks and universities around the country on this very question.
That is: Is this a passing phenomenon, a blip that will go away once
President Bush is out of office and those people around him are no longer in
power? I don't share that view. I think that what President Bush
is a secular shift in American politics and American demographics that will
push the US towards both unilateralist and neo-isolationist impulses as time
moves forward. And that is in part because the US has a very long history

being both unilateralist and neo-isolationist. Indeed, from 1781, when we
began life as a country until Pearl Harbor essentially, we were very
about engagement in the world. And when we did engage, we wanted to do it
our own terms. What put us into a centrist course towards institutions,
towards permanent alliances was World War II and the Soviet threat. And I
believe that with that threat gone, we will not practice the same form of
centrist, moderate internationalism, and that's why I think we are seeing
country move toward the extremes of unilateralism for now.

But I would not bet that the neo-isolationism that we saw during the first
year of the Bush administration prior to September 11th--let's keep our
dry, let's pull out of the Balkans, let's not broker the peace in the Middle
East--that's for now silent, but it is by no means gone in terms of our
political culture and our politics.

BOGAEV: Many policy analysts see the world dividing along cultural lines
the poor, non-Western nations and the West, and that that's what we're
seeing in the struggle against terrorism. It's an East-West divide which is
an ideological divide exacerbated by the growing disparity between richer
nations and poorer nations. You disagree?

Prof. KUPCHAN: I do disagree in the sense that I think if you look back
historically, there is much more trouble within civilizations than there is
between them. There is much more conflict, animosity within the Muslim
than there is between the Muslim world and Judeo-Christian countries. And I
think that's partly because countries that live alongside each other that
happen to share a common civilization or a common religion or ethnicity
threaten each other, and that strategic issues, borders, access to water
trumps cultural issues when it comes to geopolitics.

And I also think that the extent to which poverty is going to be the
ground of the new fault line--that is, super-empowered, angry people come
after the United States is vastly overblown in the sense that,
most of the world that is poor is not of geopolitical consequence, and
because, let's say, a country like Botswana with a very high percentage of
in its population may well disappear as a country if we don't do something
about it. So I see this as a humanitarian emergency, perhaps of epic
proportions, but we should deal with it precisely on those grounds as a
humanitarian emergency and not see it as a strategic threat. And that's why
think we ought to pay attention to what has always bedeviled diplomacy and
statesmen throughout history, and that is competition and rivalry between
centers of power.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Charles Kupchan. He's a senior fellow at the
Council on Foreign Relations. He teaches international relations at
Georgetown University. He served on the National Security Council during
first Clinton administration, and he's the author of a number of books on
foreign policy. His new book is "The End of the American Era." We're gonna
take a break now, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: We're back with Charles Kupchan. He served on the National
Council during the first Clinton administration. He's now a professor of
international relations at Georgetown University, and he has a new book
American foreign policy called "The End of the American Era."

Are there successes on the part of the EU's economic integration policies
make you think that Europe will surpass the US as a superpower, even though
Europe has such a small defense capability?

Prof. KUPCHAN: Well, right now we're at a Europe that has collectively
$8.5 trillion GDP. The United States has around 10 or a little bit past
If you look at enlargement, you look at the potential for Europe to grow at
pace roughly equal to that of the United States, then you do see the two
entities begin to pull even as this decade progresses. And I also think
the EU has certain distance to go on the economic front that if it loosens
certain regulations will, in fact, pick up growth, potentially produce
that is beyond what the United States is experiencing.

And one example would be, for example, the Internet penetration rate. A lot
of the start-up money that was in the US during the dot-com revolution left
our shores when the bubble burst and it's now in Europe. And so it may well
be that the Internet revolution, the sort that we had in the '90s, comes to
Europe in this decade, increasing productivity and efficiency. And we also
see a Europe that will, of necessity, begin to cope with some of the
constraints on its economic growth: labor immobility, a state that is a
little bit too interventionist in the economy. And once those changes go
ahead--and, yes, they will be slow, they will be difficult to get, but they
will be forthcoming--I think you'll see European economic growth pick up.

BOGAEV: Let's talk about oil. I think that plenty of foreign policy
argue that the current administration's policy is driven by the politics of
oil, our dependence on oil and financial interest in controlling oil
and the oil markets. You don't spend an inordinate amount of time in your
book on the oil factor. Why not?

Prof. KUPCHAN: Well, I think that there's no question that oil plays a big
role in our foreign policy, that one of the reasons that the US has as many
troops in the Persian Gulf as it does is to protect the flow of oil. It's
central to the health of the industrialized world. I don't spend a lot of
time dealing with it in part because it is an issue that gets a lot of
treatment elsewhere, but also because I think that right now the landscape
one in which access to oil is relatively assured because of our ties with
conservative regimes in the Persian Gulf, because of the gradual diffusion
our sources of supply. And to the extent that I do deal with this issue, I
focus more on American consumption, because I think the real culprit here in
terms of our dependence on oil is simply the US consumes too much. We have
percent of the world's population, but consume 25 percent of the annual
consumption. And in that sense we are setting ourselves up for trouble, and
think our strategic policy on defending oil is reasonably good. Where we
to spend a lot more time is decreasing domestic consumption and looking for
new sources.

BOGAEV: You worked in the Clinton White House and you know how a president
interacts with foreign policy advisers. So what are your reactions as you
watch how the Bush administration is developing its foreign policy, knowing
what it's like to be in the White House and to hash out these decisions?

Prof. KUPCHAN: I find several aspects of the Bush team quite remarkable.
first is its discipline. I have never seen a White House so tightfisted
information, so able to stay on message day after day, whether it's Rumsfeld
speaking or whether it's Wolfowitz speaking or whether it's Condi Rice
speaking. They really hum like a well-greased machine in ways that previous
administrations did not. The other thing that I think is striking is how
little we actually know. The press corps here in Washington complains
regularly that no one is really disclosing how things work in the White
The ambassadors that I communicate with occasionally say they can barely get
their foot in the door. And I think that is part of this discipline. It's
part of the plan of the Bush administration to keep tight reins, both over
formulation of policy, but also over public diplomacy. And it's clearly
off. I think the midterm elections and the success of the Republicans were
directly related to the message creation.

As far as who seems to be running the show, I can only guess because I don't
think we have good information yet, but it looks like the central cleavages
are between Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz on one side, Secretary of State Powell on
the other side, who is more moderate, more committed to institutions. My
sense is that Condi Rice is the person who arbitrates, and that the real
behind the scenes is Dick Cheney, the vice president. He seems to have not
just the president's ear, but I think a relationship with each of these
players that puts him in a central position.

BOGAEV: Do you see George W. Bush's personality or his personal experience
actually driving policy? I'm thinking that other than trips maybe to Mexico
from Texas, he's a man who had only been out of the country three times
he got to the White House. He has very little international experience.

Prof. KUPCHAN: I think he's a changed man. I think if you go back and
his behavior and listen to what he said from January 20 to September 11, you
saw someone who really was not that interested in an America that was out in
all quarters of the globe running the show. He kept referring to an America
that could not be everything for everybody. He wanted to focus on the
Hemisphere. His first two meetings were with Chretien, head of Canada, and
Fox, the head of Mexico. His first state dinner was for Fox. His first
summit was a summit of the Americas in Quebec. So the center of his world
North America and the Western Hemisphere.

That all came to a screeching halt on September 11th. Mexico has
been chagrined because they feel Bush has turned his back on them, and now
it's terrorism 24-7. Whether Bush and the Republican Party stay that way is
separate matter, but I do think that the president was profoundly changed by
those events, and that he continues to keep terrorism as his guiding light
the basis, not just for his foreign policy, but also for his building
support across the American public and on Capitol Hill.

BOGAEV: You have great respect for the discipline that the Bush
administration has been able to maintain its focus on foreign policy. I
gather that wasn't your experience in the Clinton administration?

Prof. KUPCHAN: Well, the Clinton administration was just a little bit more
loosey-goosey. People were talking to the press. There were frequent
There were disagreements among players that sort of snuck their way out into
the public. And in that sense, I think there was less sort of top-down
There was less--it was run less like a corporation and more a little bit
kind of a bull session--sitting around in the room and people throwing in
their two cents. I am much more sympathetic with the policies the Clinton
administration pursued than I am with the Bush people. But in terms of the
actual process, the way it functions on a day-to-day basis, I think the Bush
people have put together a very impressive operation.

BOGAEV: Charles Kupchan, thanks very much for talking with me today.

Prof. KUPCHAN: My pleasure.

BOGAEV: Charles Kupchan is the author of the "The End of the American Era."

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Ruby Wax discusses her career on British television and
her new memoir, "Ruby Wax: How Do You Want Me?"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

If this show were on the BBC, my guest, Ruby Wax, would need no
She's a fixture on British television despite the fact that she is not a
at all; she was born in Chicago. Wax has been a talk show host, a game show
host, a writer and performer on sitcoms and an interviewer of such
as Imelda Marcos, Roseanne, Madonna and Sarah Ferguson. Just to give you an
idea of her style, during the Fergie segment, Wax rifled through the
lingerie drawer, looked for diet foods in her fridge and in the end, locked
Fergie out of her own house.

Wax was also the script editor for the cult hit series "Absolutely
starring Joanna Lumley as Patsy, a booze- and drug-addled ex-model/fashion
editor, and Jennifer Saunders as Eddie, a hilariously self-involved
who jumps on every trend for all it's worth. Here's Eddie giving directions
to her daft assistant, Bubble, played by Jane Horrocks, as she's about to
leave on holiday for France.

(Soundbite from "Absolutely Fabulous")

Ms. JENNIFER SAUNDERS: (As Eddie) You, remember, cancel my aromatherapy, my
psychotherapy, my reflexology, my osteopath, my homeopath, my naturopath, my
crystal reading, my shiatsu, my organic ...(unintelligible), and see if I
be rebirthed next Thursday afternoon.

Ms. JANE HORROCKS: (As Bubble) Consider it done.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOGAEV: Ruby Wax has a new memoir, just published in the UK, called "Ruby
Wax: How Do You Want Me?" I asked how she got involved with "AbFab."

Ms. RUBY WAX (Author, "Ruby Wax: How Do You Want Me?"): I came on board
earlier than "Absolutely Fabulous," because I'd always been writing with
Jennifer Saunders. So, you know, I started right from the start, and I
Patsy, who was Joanna Lumley, as a kind of out-of-work actress in real life.
She had, like, a real hit in this country. She was one of the girls in "The
Avengers," and then had fallen on bad times. I said, `Could she come on my
show?' which was an interview show, and we would film it in a documentary
style of how bad her life had gone since, you know, her heyday in the '60s.
So I pretended to break in her house and find Joanna Lumley sort of snorting
Ajax in the corner and living with some Kitty Litter, and seriously shaking,
drinking and smoking with somebody in bed with her. And she was such a good
actress that people thought this really happened to Joanna Lumley, and there
were letters of complaints, and that swung into Patsy.

BOGAEV: So you created this completely...

Ms. WAX: I created a monster.

BOGAEV: ...decadent...

Ms. WAX: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...self-destructive...

Ms. WAX: But a riot, because, you know it's our biggest fear of what we

BOGAEV: So how did Edwina (pronounced Ed-win-nah) come into the picture?

Ms. WAX: Edwina (pronounced Ed-wee-nah)?

BOGAEV: Edwina (pronounced Ed-wee-nah)--Was that a character that

Ms. WAX: Edwina (pronounced Ed-weena) ...(unintelligible).

BOGAEV: Was that a character that Jennifer Saunders developed?

Ms. WAX: Yeah, but it's based on sort of a multitude of people we know in
who--especially one, who I once sat in the back of her car as she likes to
be--well, she was half-Buddhist, half-insane. So I watched her try and calm
herself down as she sort of screamed at somebody on her mobile phone,
screaming that she was going to kill her and take out her--(in snarling
voice)--insides--(in normal voice)--and then suddenly put the hand over the
phone and go--(imitates Buddhist chant)--and then--(in snarling voice)--back
to the phone again--(in normal voice)--and then--(imitates Buddhist chant).
And so I told this to Jennifer, and so we created a character that was
religiously based, but a megalomaniac.

BOGAEV: So what was your process? Did you and Jennifer Saunders write
together? Did you get together and riff?

Ms. WAX: No, Jennifer Saunders wri--Jennifer Saunders writes a script
brilliantly, and then I just put the--you know, sometimes I'll bump it up
write--you know, if she's talking about models going up and down a runway, I
would add, you know, `They look like newborns. Why not just toss a fetus
a runway?' So, you know, sometimes I'll just put the twist in it.

BOGAEV: I'm thinking of something from your book, that models look like a
spinal cord in a dress.

Ms. WAX: Mm-hmm. Yeah, all that. That's how I write, anyway, so we just
pull those kind of lines.

BOGAEV: One of my favorite episodes, Edwina goes to find herself at an

Ms. WAX: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ...where you have to hold the talking stick to be able to speak.

Ms. WAX: Yeah. Well, I did hold the talking stick. I went on one of
you know, journeys, which I kind of--you know, it did change me as a human
being, where you did have to go into the mountains and smear yourself with
and give up your most prized possessions. So I gave up my mirror. And so
sometimes I would relate certain spiritual experiences and, of course,
great fodder for--well, you know, interesting things can happen, and also
great fodder for comedy, because it's entertainment. And especially in this
country, they have no tolerance for anything kind of psychological or
and they just adore, you know, just tearing it apart.

BOGAEV: They adore send-ups of it.

Ms. WAX: Send-ups, you know. So we have menopause workshops where, you
everybody just screams, `Embrace the dryness.' You know, they just love the
horror of taking apart situations that in America they find quite holy.

BOGAEV: You're...

Ms. WAX: A lot of times we just watch TV and write it. Or people show up
"Oprah," you know, fresh from the operating room, saying, you know, `The bad
news is, you know, I have no more penis. The good news is I have 20 million

BOGAEV: You became known in England for interviewing celebrities for
television. How'd you get into the celebrity interview gig? What
you about fame?

Ms. WAX: I'm not that interested in fame. I started off doing
that were kind of journeys that--for example, I went into Russia. So from
that, they said, `OK, now investigate celebrity,' because in itself, I don't
find it that interesting, but I love the nature of the disease called fame,
and so it gives me an excuse to kind of voyeuristically meet these people
then say, `How do you deal with this kind of almost eczema, you know, that
grows on you?' And I always look for the person who can deal with it well.

BOGAEV: Well, you interviewed Roseanne, you interviewed Madonna, you
interviewed O.J. Simpson...

Ms. WAX: Yeah. O.J...

BOGAEV: ...and you wro...

Ms. WAX: O.J. is--you know, we're talking about this is the highest octane
needing attention in the world, you know. That's such a fantastic mountain
range to plummet through.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Apparently, you drove around in a white van with him for
of the--it...

Ms. WAX: Well, nobody would let us in. We called a lot of restaurants and
said, you know, `Could we make a reservation for two?' and they said, `Who
it, exactly?' When we mentioned O.J., we got that Muzak so fast your head
ripped out of your spinal column. So I actually got stuck in a van with
for the date, and you know, he's so nuts that he insisted on giving me tours
of--we went to Judge--What was it?--Ito's house?


Ms. WAX: Ito's house where he screamed--Can I say?--`Asshole' out the
and then said would I like to see where Nicole allegedly was murdered. And
said, `Listen, I'm just trying to get some lunch here.' So inadvertently,
this guy is saying, `Come on, peg me, peg me.' And then, of course, at the
end of the interview, just to really make my day, he pulled out a banana and
tried to stab me.

BOGAEV: You describe interviewing Madonna, and...

Ms. WAX: That was a terrible interview.

BOGAEV: Yeah, you couldn't crack her.

Ms. WAX: You know, when 35 people are around somebody just to bolster
whatever their self-image is, it's really difficult, and the whole interview
was an argument about who got what camera. Eventually, she got the wrong
camera. I looked like I was three years old and she looked like the surface
of the moon. But it was a terrible interview.

BOGAEV: You mean in terms of the best angle.

Ms. WAX: Yeah.

BOGAEV: The best side.

Ms. WAX: There were two cameras.

BOGAEV: The good side.

Ms. WAX: One obviously had gel on it, and she picked the wrong one.
there was no penetration, and I really don't just need somebody
whatever they want the public to hear. It's not my thing, you know. I'm
"Hard Copy." I just want to get in a conversation that sounds human.

BOGAEV: British television personality Ruby Wax. She has a new memoir,
Wax: How Do You Want Me?" We'll continue our conversation after the break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: I'm talking with Ruby Wax. She has a new memoir of her career in
television in Britain. Also, she's a comedian. She worked on the cult hit
"AbFab," and her new memoir is "Ruby Wax: How Do You Want Me?"

You were born in the US and you grew up in Chicago. How did you get to

Ms. WAX: I went to Berkeley, where I studied acting. And, you know, nobody
knew how to teach acting--I mean, not at that time. You know, you had to
of imagine that we're getting smaller and smaller until you imploded, and
suddenly, you had to go out and do Ophelia. And I remember I didn't know
to act, but I knew she was upset. So I stood there going, `My dog is dead,
dog is dead, my dog is dead,' and then proceeded to give the most nauseating
performance, not to be outdone by the Hamlet who could hardly speak English.
`To be or not to be'? Nobody knew what he was to be. Was he a train? Was
a giraffe? Was he, you know, a candy bar? Nobody knew what he was. And at
the end of the performance, which was appalling, my father was hiding behind
tree. He said, `If I ever see you on stage, I'll murder you.' And, of
course, then I was determined to be an actress.

BOGAEV: Eventually, you ended up in London...

Ms. WAX: Ended up in London...

BOGAEV: ...and you were determined...

Ms. WAX: ...and very fat.

BOGAEV: ...and you were determined to be accepted to the Royal Academy of
Dramatic Arts.

Ms. WAX: Yes, I was driven.

BOGAEV: And you studied to audition as Juliet...

Ms. WAX: Juliet.

BOGAEV: ...for eight months.

Ms. WAX: I lived in a bedsit, and--Barbara, you know those old Rita
Tushingham movies where everybody's in black and white and they suddenly
themselves at the end and have bad abortions?

BOGAEV: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WAX: That's what I lived like. You have to put 50-P, you know, in your
coin meter, and you didn't get heat. You got flickering coals. It just
flickered. And they didn't have showers in this country, so you had to kind
of squat in your bathtub and hold a tube over your head and sort of straddle
your hair dryer for any kind of a heat source, and it was very depressing.
But I learned to be Juliet, and I lived off of Alpen because I was so
depressed. So when I walked, I crunched.

BOGAEV: Alpen is muesli.

Ms. WAX: Muesli.

BOGAEV: All right.

Ms. WAX: But then I could hear I existed, so I showed up fat with my wimple
on and did my audition for Juliet, and they were appalled.

BOGAEV: Do you remember anything about your audition?

Ms. WAX: Yeah, I did `My dog is dead, my dog is dead' again, and then...

BOGAEV: What's with `The dog is dead, dog is dead'? You say that or...

Ms. WAX: It makes you cry. It makes me cry.


Ms. WAX: If I think my dog is dead, I cry. Barbara, you're not with me

BOGAEV: I'm sorry. You were creating your space there as an actress.

Ms. WAX: I was doing my thing.


Ms. WAX: I was getting into my emotional role, `My dog is dead, my dog is
dead.' I say that to this day or sing any old camp songs, I can weep for
crumpled my face up, started, said, `Ruby Wax doing "Romeo and Juliet" by
William Shakespeare, the Bard, and now I will begin'--`My dog is dead, my
is dead'--and then started with, `In the speech, Juliet explains that she's
going to bang out her brains with Tybalt's bone.'

BOGAEV: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WAX: Right? Because she's gone that deranged. And, Barbara, I'm
appalled, but I brought a turkey leg because I didn't realize it was a
metaphor. So when I did that bit, I hit myself over the head, and there was
silence that I still hear to this day. I thought, `What a brilliant
Of course, she banged out her brains,' and I acted every line, like, `The
madness and'--I was screaming. And then at the end, a man with a small
came in the room and said, `You, you and you, we want you for callbacks,'
I said, `But you didn't mention me.' And he said, `No, I don't think so.'
No, it was not for me.

BOGAEV: So you didn't get in.

Ms. WAX: I didn't get in.

BOGAEV: But you eventually went...

Ms. WAX: I said, `You must have made some mistake.' He said, `No, we

BOGAEV: You eventually, though, did get into the Royal Shakespeare

Ms. WAX: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...where you write that you became an RW, resident wench.

Ms. WAX: Resident wench.

BOGAEV: Now is that the equivalent of always playing the prostitute on TV
crime dramas?

Ms. WAX: Yeah, exactly.

BOGAEV: You don't even get a name. There's just Whore One and Whore Two
Bag Lady One and Bag Lady Two.

Ms. WAX: Well, I was Whore One, Juliet was Whore Two, and we covered
ourselves in so many pocks that we actually upstaged the main actors just
scratching our pocks in the back. So for the next--this is from my
the next five years, I played every slut, wench and milkmaid, underpants on
head as a mop cap, squeezed into a corset that brought my navel up to my
and my breasts so high I could wear them as earmuffs; that I was up on the
stage speaking a kind of Elizabethan porno, holding my Little Bo-Peep stick
going (speaking with British accent), "Oh, no, sir, you mustn't shaft me,
sir. I'm just a simple buxom wench, I am. I may look it, but I'm not a
slut."' That was actually how I spoke. `And then from there, I went on to
play a whole range of non-speaking prostitutes, competing with an upstart
tart, Juliet Stevenson. We tried to out-whore each other, spending hours in
makeup to see which one of us could cover ourselves with the most pocks. We
had no lines, but we would improvise as whores in the back of the set,
gossiping about who had what stuffed down their codpiece.' And it started
with socks and then it eventually ended up as watermelons.

BOGAEV: Now how far did you get acting? And I think some famous friend of
yours said, `You really should not be on the stage.'

Ms. WAX: Alan Rickman...

BOGAEV: `I'm begging you, go.'

Ms. WAX: Well, Alan Rickman and Ian Charleson and Zoe Wanamaker used to
at me with horror and, you know, so there's nothing like getting it while
you're on stage, realizing you can't actually do this. And so I said,
what should I do?' I whispered from my nymph outfit--because I was now
playing a nymph--he said, `Start writing comedy.' So...

BOGAEV: This is Alan Rickman recommended that you write comedy.

Ms. WAX: Alan Rickman. Pretty much while I was on stage, because, I mean,
Michael Hordern was in the show, too, and he would sometimes go, `I'm so
ashamed,' when I would perform. And there's nothing more mortifying than
knowing you can't do it.

BOGAEV: Right, nothing like the confidence of your colleagues to...

Ms. WAX: Oh, no, no.

BOGAEV: You began...

Ms. WAX: So I wrote comedy with somebody and called it "The Johnson Wax
Show,"(ph) and we would go into her bedsit and invite Trevor Nunn and the
Royal Shakespeare Company into her bedsit, charging them a lot of money,
in with a blanket, drop it and do our own shows, which turned out to be
a hit.

BOGAEV: So you began to write these comedy shows, and with the help from
friends from the theater, like Alan Rickman and Zoe Wanamaker...

Ms. WAX: Yeah, he directed them.

BOGAEV: ...and Jonathan Pryce, you staged the shows in your apartment, in
your bedroom. What, did people sit on the couches or on the bed?

Ms. WAX: Oh, they sat on the bed and then we appeared on the floor and
eventually, I set other people into my shows, Zoe Wanamaker, Jonathan Pryce,
but they played smaller roles than myself...

BOGAEV: Of course.

Ms. WAX: ...because I was sick of being Garbage Bag Number Two and Garbage

BOGAEV: They played Wench Number One and Wench Number Two.

Ms. WAX: They were wenches now and I was Prospero.

BOGAEV: Now your family life was really shattered by your parents'
Both your parents are Jews who escaped Austria...

Ms. WAX: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...during World War II. And your father served some time in a Nazi
labor camp. Did they tell you much about their war experience when you were

Ms. WAX: No, they never mentioned it. I mean, I only saw what happened
you know, finally my parents, you know, both had strokes. And I went into
attic to, you know, kind of clean out the house, which is already a
experience, and there were letters begging my parents to help them get out
Austria. You know, and I found the passports with the big J on it. And
never mentioned it while we were living together. And I used to say, `Mom,
did I have any relatives or whatever?' And finally in the last few years,
said, `Oh, yeah, but they were all burned. I don't know what happened.'
that was like--and then going on and eating her bagel. It was never
mentioned. So they lived, you know, as most people--I don't know, they
wouldn't tell me what the facts were. And so they built up a kind of
resentment that I came into a world and had a great time, and they were kind
of thrown out of their world in the, kind of, peak of their life.

BOGAEV: You write that your father, in particular--well, really both of
them--criticized you mercilessly and were verbally abusive. Was your father
physically abusive, also?

Ms. WAX: You know, war was created in our kitchen because they were so
again. It was such a dynamic time of people leaving oppression like that,
then you come into this kind of hippie world where, you know, everybody's
having an orgy. And so they kind of created war in the kitchen, you know.
And, yeah, it was very physical. Everybody would kind of, you know, like in
the cartoons, jump on each other and kind of--you know, it was ignitive in
house. It was hysterical.

And my mother had a thing about cleaning. She couldn't stop with the
You know, she'd walk around like Quasimodo kind of with two sponges in each
hand. You know, I got her a black one once for formal wear. I mean, she
couldn't--it was obsessive behavior, and I guess they were trying to blank
out, you know, what they'd left or how angry they were. And I thought,
`Whatever I do, I don't want to grow into this.'

BOGAEV: Were either one of them funny?

Ms. WAX: Oh, man, my father was funny. He was vicious and he was funny.
And my mother inadvertently, you know, would speak in this high kind of aria
type of--(speaking with accent)--`To run with the hyenas, this is insane.
She's a bum and she's living in the slums of Chicago. These are criminals!'
(In normal voice) She would talk about my friends and kind of fly at you in
horizontal position when you were eating and wipe the sponge across your
mouth, down across the plate, across the table, down the thing, wiping
the dog stuff, out the door, and you'd have to, like, bang her on the head
stop this woman with the water running all the time.

And always--you know, when I'd get dressed at night, you know, she'd take
those underpants away from me and iron them, iron them, iron them, iron
clean the gusset and back in the drawer they went. You know, it was
just--they wanted to control everything 'cause they had such a fear that I
would be somehow polluted when I--so I used to escape out the window. And
a way, I created the escape in a small, miniscule way that they kind of did
from Europe. So I always say I escaped back into Europe when they escaped
of Europe.

BOGAEV: So what are you doing now?

Ms. WAX: Well, luckily in this country, again, they don't peg you, so I
a daytime show. But I'm also doing--get back to six big celebrities, you
know, from late night.


Ms. WAX: Oh, you know, Tom Hanks, Clinton, Ben Affleck, that world. It's a
job. And then I'm going to do this book as a one-woman show.

BOGAEV: Oh, Ruby Wax, thanks very much for talking today.

Ms. WAX: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Ruby Wax's new memoir is "Ruby Wax: How Do You Want Me?"

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: Un, deux, trois.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: That's pianist Jacky Terrasson from his CD, "A Paris..."

Coming up, a review of the jazz album "Joe & Zoot & More." This is FRESH

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

Review: Reissue of the 1973 recording "Joe & Zoot & More"

Joe Venuti was born in 1903 and was the leading jazz violinist of the 1920s,
when jazz was young. Saxophonist Zoot Sims was born around the time Venuti
got established, and came up playing the more modern styles of swing and
bebop. Eventually, these two very different musicians came together to
in 1973. The album "Joe & Zoot" has just been reissued. Jazz critic Kevin
Whitehead says they meshed like Velcro.

(Soundbite of music)


Joe Venuti, performing the seemingly impossible task of playing all four
strings of his violin at once. He did it by taking apart his bow and
its back under the strings. Venuti always did go his own way. Violin had
been part of many early New Orleans jazz bands, but just when the instrument
was fading from the music, Venuti helped keep jazz fiddle alive. His clear
and forceful style influenced a lot of later violinists.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Still, in later years, Venuti wasn't working that much until his
proverbial triumphant comeback around the time he turned 70. That was in
1973, the year he recorded as part of a quintet with Zoot Sims on saxophone.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Zoot Sims on tenor sax. He was 22 years younger than Joe
but a bit of a throwback himself. Sims grew up as part of his family's
vaudeville act at a time when vaudeville was fast disappearing. He greatly
admired Venuti and did his best to fit in with him. Sims usually played
tenor, but on this session he mostly features his new toy, the smaller
sax. Where most soprano players then were inspired by the groundbreaking
Coltrane, Sims recalled its use back in the 1920s, when Venuti was young.
unusual pairing of violin and soprano gave a distinctive cast to their 1973
session, reissued on the CD "Joe & Zoot & More." This is "I Found a New
Baby," written in 1926.

(Soundbite of "I Found a New Baby")

WHITEHEAD: Cliff Leeman on drums, backing up Joe Venuti on violin and Zoot
Sims on soprano sax. I love how bright and natural that combination sounds.
Much as Sims acknowledges the 1920s, he doesn't ignore what jazz had learned
since then, either. He's not playing straight Dixieland there, but then
neither is Joe Venuti. The leaders played down their stylistic differences
celebrate the eternal qualities most all jazz musicians hold dear: an
line, a spirit of cooperation and a forward thrust.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: The CD "Joe & Zoot & More" also draws on three other sessions
Venuti did in the early '70s, including duets with guitarist Bucky
and a quartet date with Spencer Clark on the rare bass saxophone. He
swing like Zoot Sims, but it's another unusual color to complement a great
fiddler who is still rarin' to go.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Music from the CD "Joe & Zoot & More." Kevin Whitehead writes for
the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Sun-Times.


BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of music)
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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