Jonathan Goldstein Talks The Bible, Family Guy, KJZZ, and Friday's Performance in Downtown Phoenix

Eavesdropping can be an immoral (if not downright illegal) activity -- unless you're Jonathan Goldstein

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The Canadian humorist and writer turns eavesdropping into an art form every weekend on his National Public Radio program, Wire Tap, while staging hilariously erudite telephonic debates with friends in order to tell a certain story, or playing vitriolic voice mails left on Barney Rubble's answering machine by Fred Flintstone.

Wire Tap is currently on its summertime hiatus, which allowed Goldstein some time to speak with Jackalope Ranch about his show at Civic Space Park on Friday, his newest book (Ladies and Gentleman, The Bible!), and the nature of truth and comedy.

What are you planning for your performance at Civic Space Park?
When I do live appearances, it's primarily a reading. Mostly the monologues from the show, because the bits are more produced. It's not like that Bob Newhart style where I can sit down and pretend to talk to someone for 15 minutes. Along with the stories I might do some readings from the book. Some of its going to be accompanied by slideshows and some of it will also have a tape component. Like I'd dug up this old monologue performed by Barney Rubble about his friendship with Fred Flintstone that involves an exchange of voice mail messages.

What will be included in the slideshow? 

There's this artist [Arthur Jones] who does something called the "Post-it Note Reading Series" where he illustrates writer's stories on Post-it Notes. So I was going to be doing a story about my nephew's bris and he made illustrations that I'll be projecting onto a screen behind me. People love it and it gives a different dimension to the story. You get some gags in that are on a visual level.

Our local NPR station KJZZ dropped Wire Tap in favor of another show. What's your reaction to getting axed in Phoenix?

It seems weird to say, but I'm a little out of the loop with regards to where the show airs outside of Canada. What was cool was like we did a thing last year after KJZZ had dropped the show and we still got a nice turnout. So it seems like people are still liking it as a podcast, at any rate.

You cover a lot of religious matter in both your book and on Wire Tap. Have you ever wondered what God thinks of your work?

I think -- on moments where I kinda live my life as if there is a god -- if I might be more inclined to wonder what he thinks of my life or me ... Whether it makes him laugh or he thinks it's good stuff, I don't know, I guess I would just leave that to the people [more than to] god.

He's often the harshest critic and heaven might just be the toughest room you ever have to work.
Yes, because historically, he gets rather "smitey."

The Bible has been described as a fractured historical record that's just been transformed over the eons by different retellings. Do you think that in any way your book is another oral interpretation of these old stories?
Yeah, I do. I mean, like, not to take myself too seriously or whatever. Uh, yeah, there's definitely history of that, with the old testament, with famous interpreters [inaudible here] like Rashi or whatever, Maimonides, who were extrapolating on these stories, and who knows, maybe they were makes jokes in their own way, that are kind of like, lost on us for loss of context.

A lot of these stories, I found when I was kind of rereading them for the purposes of writing them, they are very small. They are very economical, and once you start unpacking them, like literally, the story of Noah's Ark is only like a few lines long. Once you start unpacking them, you, inevitably, you being to humanize them [and] as you add details, and they become goofier, too.

Wire Tap often features stories of confrontation and the harsh emotional pains of being human. You once mentioned you won't make fun of someone else's "real pain." What did you mean by that?
There's just certain kind of things that step over a line, that make the viewers or listeners kind of feel robbed of some part of their humanity. Do you watch Family Guy?

Yes. I like it.
Yeah. I like it too. I mean I find it funny, but at the same time -- I feel like they [the characters] are targets. I'm not on board with them. There's definitely funny gags and funny writing, but there's no characters, you know? Which means there's a little bit of a problem with the heart, because you just have these objects unraveling random jokes. The Simpsons also, [the] characters are kind of plastic because Homer can be a real jerk some episodes and maybe a better dad the next, but it still feels like there's some core.

I think that sometimes there's a kind of discomfort when you don't have kindness toward your subjects. Maybe kindness is the wrong word. Maybe sympathy. Yeah. I think, otherwise if feels like you've gone nowhere. I know that at the end of the day you just want to get laughs, but I feel like there's different kinds of laughter. I think There are certain kinds of laughter that ring a little bit more hollow.

I'm reminded of Michael O'donoghue [from] The National Lampoon had a quote once about how comedy, or something like 'getting laughs is the lowest form of comedy.' And yeah, I don't know, a lot of stuff that, I think that, I don't know, I'm looking at "Family Guy" as an example, it just comes to mind [but] there's a presumption that we're all sort of post-racist, and we're all in on the joke, and I don't know if -- I think that's easy, and it's raising a new generation that is, that's kind of presumptuous somehow. 

Goldstein will pay a visit to the Valley at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 1, at Civic Space Park, 424 North Central Avenue. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 day of the event and can be purchased online

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter.

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