Talk Show Host

Heather Gold is not here to push your product

What happens when talk show hosts stop being pushers for celebrity  product and start getting real? Well, they look a lot like Heather Gold.
What happens when talk show hosts stop being pushers for celebrity product and start getting real? Well, they look a lot like Heather Gold. (Photo by Scott Beale)

So I was supposed to interview Heather Gold, but it didn't quite happen that way. There's a format to a quick, journalistic phone interview, where I start with a list of prepared questions that should guide discussion toward a particular angle I've chosen in order to narrow the focus to issues that can be coherently covered in a tight word count on a deadline. While I don't know the answers in advance, of course, and while I should be listening closely to what the interview subject says and adjust my questions accordingly as we go along, the main idea is for me to filter it all into information that you can use to decide whether you are going to attend an event that we're promoting here. Plus, make sure there are jokes.

But Heather Gold is in the business of subverting formats and makes quick work of my intentions for a quick interview, turning it into – oh, shit – a rangy, expansive, and thoroughly delightful conversation. She asks more questions of me than I had prepared for her, giving me plenty to think about for days afterward and thoroughly dashing my expectations that this piece would write itself. Expect nothing less of what she'll do leading her panel on gossip at South by Southwest Interactive (with Owen Thomas, managing editor of Valleywag; Alan Citron, general manager of TMZ; Shaila Dewan, national correspondent for The New York Times; and Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter). "I keep trying to get South by Southwest to stop calling it a panel," she says. "I'm trying to get away from the whole thing of sitting across a table from people. Part of my life's mission is to get people to stop doing presentation."

Comedian, cook, blogger, lawyer, and Silicon Valley dropout, Gold has now taken on the reinvention of the talk show for the Web. "I think online it's got to be more about making questions," she tells me. "The traditional talk show circuit is based on this market contrivance, where it's really less about the person or what they have to say than it is about this thing they've come on to promote." Gold's show, available in 90-minute audio podcasts, is organized around topics, such as "Corruption" or "Earnestness," with guests chosen to bring contrasting ideas and practices to bear in the conversation. The live audience is in on it as well, asking questions or offering their own takes on the topic and responses to the guests. And soon, Gold hopes to have each episode sponsored by individuals who will propose the topics for discussion. "So you, Spencer, could tell us what you want to see a show about and fund it. The point is to connect people for real. To talk, not bullshit."

But why choose to talk about gossip? (After all, that's what the interview is supposed to be about.) The answer comes in bits and pieces from all over the transcript of our hourlong Skype session about all kinds of different issues. "Well, [gossip] interests me. So that's a good place to start from, and it's having a huge effect on how we communicate. It's related to what I find so interesting about Twitter. You just send out these little messages about what you're doing, and for me there's an impulse of trying to figure out why you want to tell somebody something. ... If Amy Winehouse or Britney spent as much time blogging about themselves, would you be able to gossip about them? That's what interests me. ... If traditional media and entertainment have been built on corporatizing and making artificial versions of people, then anything that breaks beyond that creates a gap that's interesting. If Britney had never been held up as this untouchable Lolita sex toy, then we would never be watching what she's going through now. It would just be seeing somebody falling apart in life. ... What's become disturbing about the Britney gossip to us is maybe that it's stopped the celebrity and made her a real person." Heather Gold won't have to fall apart before your eyes to be a real, living person, and you can go have a conversation with her of your own.


Gossip March 9, 5pm, Room 12AB

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Heather Gold, sxsw

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