Earlier this month, you hosted a night of readings at
Irving Plaza. What was it like being onstage with Eric
Bogosian? Did you feel like you were doing performance
Stahl: I actually introduced Eric Bogosian and Karen Finley
to the stage. Its an honor. Its intimidating,
and its interesting, just being around great people
you feel like you were doing performance art?
dont know exactly what performance art is. I just
know that most readings are totally boring. I figure if
someone takes the trouble to come out, you might as well
give them a little something.
know that the main characters in your new book, Plainclothes
Naked, are trying to get a photo of George W. Bush
with a smiley face tattoo on him.
its George W. Bushs testicles that have the
smiley face on them.
you have or know of anyone who has a smiley face tattoo
like George Bush in the book?
heard you did, but I didnt want to say anything.
did you know?
easy to mix George W. and me up. I saw you read in New
York City at the bar The Half-King recently. During the
Q and A, one person asked how your daughter was and it
seemed to get silent. Is it weird for people to know so
much about your life because of the film Permanent
think the question before that one was something completely
heinous. I cant remember what it was; it was just
the juxtaposition of that and bringing my daughter into
it. It just caught me off guard for a second, but I think
I bounced back. They know what is in the movie, and they
know what is in the book. They dont know me.
mentioned that Anthony Bourdain (writer of A Cook's
Tour and Kitchen Confidential) is one of your
favorite writershe wrote a blurb on the back of
your book. What is that like, having someone you admire
do such a thing for you?
a great guy and a friend of mine.
must be nice to have people that you admire know your
work. Do you have many famous people approach you about
assaulted by people has not been a problem. Oprah hasnt
called. I dont know what my failure is in that regard.
I spoke to Chuck Palahniuk about his book Choke,
I asked him why everyone in his book had such major drug
problems. The same can be said of Plainclothes Naked.
He said it was because the main character had major drug
problems and people like that seem to attract others of
the same ilk. Would you say something similar about your
think that is true in life in general. If your hobby is
collecting antique kitten dolls, you probably attract
antique kitten doll people. If youre a crackhead,
youre more likely to run into other crackheads.
Its a parallel universe I created, with many people
with problems. As opposed to the real universe, where
people have no problems whatsoever.
you first started in television, did you ever think about
taking items from the sets or dressing rooms and selling
them for drug money?
stealing Bruce Willis toupee? I guess I thought
about it, but its pretty hard to get away with.
They didnt have E-bay back then, so what would I
do with it? Who would believe me?
when Thats My Bush went on Comedy Central,
the creators were told to stay away from Bushs two
daughters in terms of jokes. Did you receive any kind
of indication from any source to back away from the subject?
was too thrilled with it, particularly after he became
Americas favorite low-IQ president. But the book
was done. What are you going to do?
you rather have had this book come out six months from
now or six months ago?
totally fine with it right now. What I find in the media
is that people will whisper, "This is great and cool,
but we cant say anything on television." Its
a weirdly conformist fear-based mentality. I dont
really find any problem with riding the wave in the wrong
direction. I dont know if its gotten more
attention. My books never get that much attention. They
never get reviewed in the New York Times. My last
books were both bestsellers in the Los Angeles Times
and not reviewed there. Ive always been an under-the-radar
guy. I dont know if that is necessarily going to
be changing now.
consistently do you write for C.S.I.?
what they call a consultant. I wrote an episode that aired
on November 15; its a good gig for me. Its
a few scripts a year, but Im not an office guy.
So it allows me the freedom to write books and do other
is it different writing for television this time around?
a different thing. Usually they hire you, in spite of
your voice. They know youre this dark weirdo who
writes about drugs and violence. They think that thats
interesting, but they ask if you could do this instead.
This time I got the gig because of my books, so theres
a lot of freedom in that. Now they want my voice instead
of asking me to hide it and be Beaver Cleaver.
like cleavers in that show.
they do, and beavers for that matter.
did you meet the star of that show, William Petersen?
and I both go to the sort of Hollywood low-end YMCA, which
is a very untrendy gym frequented by out-of-work, aging
comedians and trucks drivers. We were just sitting in
the sauna, and we just started talking about books. It
turned out he knew mine, and I knew his work. Billy said,
"Ive never done TV, but I have this one show I might
do and would you be interested in writing for it?" It
was one of those fluky things where someone in Hollywood
did what they said they were going to dohe got a
show and he called. I wrote an episode last season. I
guess they dug it.
the original Hollywood dream about fifteen years late.
I wasnt exactly wearing a tight-fitting sweater
and Schwabs. It was an odd thing. Stuff comes when
youre not looking for it. I guessed I would have
become an astronaut before I ever wrote TV again.
were just in Ben Stillers latest, Zoolander.
Do you like acting?
you could hardly call shouting two lines acting. That
would be pretentious, but its great being in movies.
You work two hours a day. You get SAG minimum, which is
a nice chunk of change, and you get all the food you could
something funny you could help me with. The doctor you
played in Permanent Midnight who told you that
you would never get clean really existed, right?
The People vs. Larry Flynt, the real Larry Flynt
played the judge who sentenced him to prison. And you
played the doctor who treated you like shit.
guess its a trend. I never really thought about
wasnt like you wanted that role.
didnt really think about it at the time. They asked
me if I wanted to do that role, and it seemed like a great
role. What the hell. I think all junkies are inherently
actors because they have been scamming so long. I once
interviewed former junkie Samuel L. Jackson about how
he learned to act. He explained that he had been a crackhead
for many years. Its not the traditional school of
acting, but I think its an effective one.
youre writing a film for Philip Kaufman (director
of Quills and The Right Stuff). That must
is, but Im not a scriptwriter. I never really wrote
a script. Ive written one screenplay with Ben [Stiller]
called What Makes Sammy Run? It was one of those
wild things again where because of my books I got a job
writing in Hollywood. Kaufman is a literary guy, and he
tracked me down.
youre adapting someone elses life for that
film. Seeing your life portrayed onscreen, does it make
you wary of what you want to show?
really conscious of honoring this guys experience.
This guy is doing time for manslaughter. Hes paid
enough dues already. The last thing he needs is for some
mook to come along and gussy up his life in some embarrassing
way for purposes of entertainment. That would be a travesty.
mentioned What Makes Sammy Run? Is that really
going to happen?
according to Variety magazine, Ben just got an
overall deal with DreamWorks contingent upon them letting
him star and direct in What Makes Sammy Run? They
did indeed pay Warner Bros. two million dollars for the
rights to it. Thats a lot of money on the table;
I would imagine theyre serious.
happened to the animated cartoon you were supposed to
do with Mark Mothersbaugh [Devo]?
was something we wanted to do about five years ago. Marks
an unbelievable artist.
everything I read, there are multiple references to your
liver. Hows it doing?
writes me occasionally; it lives in an adjoining county.
I dodged the big one, but I got Hepatitis C. But I cant
complain. There are a lot of people worse off than me.
is it that you told the BBC when they asked to see your
of the good ones are on my penis. But thanks for asking.
said youve written about five or six other books
that havent been published. Are they more extreme?
of them were partially published in Playboy magazine.
Others appeared in different publications. A lot of it
was written before I shook myself off smack. Maybe I lost
some level of pretension or phoniness. By the time I got
around to writing Permanent Midnight, I had nothing
to lose and nobody to impress.
used to write the letters page in Penthouse magazine.
was that guy. I would sit on one side of the table and
write Dear Penthouse. Then I would run to the other side
and answer it. I had to find my emotional center.
the letters ever been real?
I dont want to slam the whole organization. But
I would guess that maybe someone somewhere wrote a letter
in once. Its almost like being an apprentice. It
wasnt like I was one of those guys who went to Harvard
and then got a book deal. I just wrote all kinds of stuff
for many years.
do you feel about drugs now?
dont do them, but hey, knock yourself out. I dont
the fact that so many of your heroes, like Lenny Bruce
and William S. Burroughs, did drugs entice you to try
dont know about entice, but all my heroes were dope
fiends. Some of them paid the price, and some didnt.
Burroughs was on methadone, god bless him, right up until
the day he died.
was the first thing you wrote after you kicked drugs?
was the article that became Permanent Midnight.
I wrote the article in a now defunct glossy called LA
Style. It was called "Naked Brunch." Somehow an agent
found it, and amazingly enough, I went from being penniless
living in the basement of a crack house to a second chance
with a book deal and the movie was going to be made. It
was all very surreal.
read that it was the story where ALF was scratching at
the door coming to get you.
when you did as much cocaine and heroin as I did at the
time, ALF just might come to get you.
something you wrote for television comes on, like Moonlighting
or ALF, do you ever watch it?
was such a pitiful TV writer that, if anything ever showed
up with my name on it, I can guarantee you that the only
thing left in it that I wrote was my name in the credits.
I dont spend a lot of time watching Moonlighting
reruns. That would drive me to drugs.
bizarre thing is that on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)
there are only two writers credited on ALF, and
you are one of them.
I guess the other ones have had their names exorcised.
Its like having your prison record wiped clean.
I first saw Permanent Midnight, the scene that
blew me away was where you and Peter Greene throw yourselves
against the window in the high-rise building.
wasnt in the book. Thats actually an anecdote
I told the screenwriter. In real life, me and the janitor
had smoked PCP. Peter Greene is an amazing actor and really
great with Ben.
your TV days, Jack Klugman spit pea soup on you.
he didnt like something I wrote. He demonstrated
his love of my talent. But I probably deserved it, I sucked.
Is he still alive?
saw him on an Odd Couple parody commercial. It
was him and Tony Randall being Oscar and Felix.
was all raspy because they removed part of his throat
due to cancer.
should just leave that poor man alone.
it like living in Los Angeles and seeing all the places
where you did your heaviest drugs?
I was sitting in a room filled with people shooting up,
I would definitely get squirrelly. People do what they
do, and it doesnt really freak me out.
Veloz, the director of Permanent Midnight
titles in Permanent Midnight were so coolthe
way Stiller shot the blood from the hypodermic needle
and it drew the titles.
thought it was great. The director is a really talented
guy. I havent stayed in touch with him. [Just a
sidenote: the director of Permanent Midnight, David
Veloz, recently had a writing credit on the Owen Wilson
film Behind Enemy Lines.]
last question: do you think you would have been the same
kind of writer if you hadnt been a junkie?
hard to say; its like asking a dancer would you
have been the same if you had been born with one leg.
I wouldnt be here if I hadnt been there.