Not long ago, I had the opportunity to interview Gedde Wantanabe. He is probably best-known for playing Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. However, our discussion was about his role in Gung Ho with Michael Keaton. Had I reached out to discuss Sixteen Candles, I would’ve been turned down.
He eventually realized after answering the same Sixteen Candles questions over and over again that there was nothing left to say about the movie or his character.
In his specific case, it was probably true. However, it also makes me think about a more significant issue surrounding podcast interviews:
Asking the easiest/typical/repetitive questions gets old.
Gedde isn’t making the rounds on major networks or entertainment shows talking about a film that is over 30 years old. So, any recent interviews were probably coming from smaller and more independent outlets. It’s not uncommon for inexperienced interviewers to ask very simple or very common questions. In this case, it could be:
I recently caught up with one of my past guests at a convention. He’s an author who frequently gets interview requests from podcasters. He told me that he’s cutting back on them now, and one of his reasons is that he’s tired of the same questions.
“It always starts the same way,” he said. “It's, ‘How did you get started?’”
He went on to say that it would be nice to have someone tweak that and ask, “WHY did you get started in this field?”
That’s a concept I’ve shared with aspiring podcast interviewers - If you have to ask what might seem like a “common” question, rephrase it in a way that might generate a unique answer.
If you’re interviewing an actor who has been in a popular production, you can probably guess what they get asked all of the time. If not, use Tom Wilson’s (Biff in Back to the Future) Question Song as a guide.
Look, I’m not suggesting that you have come up with nothing but questions that have never been asked, but make an effort to do so. If anything, make an effort to craft an in-depth conversation that requires you to prepare by listening to previous interviews and doing research.
Your audience will appreciate it, and your guest will too. In fact, the guest will likely tell you they appreciate it because it’s not something they always experience in a podcast.
When I approached Anthony Michael Hall about an interview, I told him it would take 10-15 minutes. He asked if it could be a little shorter. I always thought it was because he was expecting the typical questions. When our exchange became an engaging discussion about John Hughes, the changing styles of humor and the portrayal of youth, he comfortably talked for more than 10 minutes.
When I had an in-person interview with David Giuntoli and Bitsie Tullock of GRIMM, I pulled out my questions before we started. David immediately called that out as impressive. Yes, his first comments were how pleasantly surprised he was about a podcast interviewer showing up with prepared questions.
It’s a nice compliment, but a critical commentary about common podcast interviews.
It’s not limited to interviews with actors and authors. Shows featuring expert and thought leader interviews often conclude with no takeaways for the listener. So, you really have to make sure your interviews have a set of purposes:
Also, go back and listen to your interviews as a way to continuously improve your craft. If you can gain a reputation among listeners and guests as an interviewer that’s a step above many others, you’ll be able to consistently book great guests and provide your audience with engaging content.