Transcript:

Speaker I watched a lot of films growing up. Actually, I don't have any memories of loving TV as a as a kid except for cartoons and stuff like that. Right. I had an MTV face, but I got into real. I feel like I got into serious television when serious television became a thing, you know, like a few years ago, Sopranos and Six Feet Under. And then I was. And now that's what I like to do in terms of like consuming media more than anything else.

Speaker And so it was something you could simulate. You could more and more films than anything else. Was there like growing up?

Speaker Was it was there a lot of conversation around media and film going on in your house that was part of your life or did all this sort of. Coming as happened later.

Speaker I think there are a lot of conversations around. Around media and in culture in general, and I think we all we all watched a lot of films and and and TV, oh, you know, one thing, my dad and I fell in love with South Park together. When I was I was the age of those kids in the show, the first season that it came out, so then I kept growing and they didn't.

Speaker But but that was the thing where we both love this show. And it was so.

Speaker You know, vulgar in a certain way that that that kind of we were excited about that as well, you know, so you turn them on to South Park to those guys.

Speaker Yeah. And then how did it happen that that he became from from consuming it with you to like their wedding and all?

Speaker Yeah, I think I think that we. We have a similar sensibility, even even as a kid, I think we just like the same kind of humor and yeah, and there's and it's I mean, those guys are just so questionably funny.

Speaker You know, that show is so brilliant on so many levels that I you know, as a as an eight year old, I could love it on one level. And he watches it and loves it on another level. And then eventually we can meet on the same level of appreciation. But he you know, he also loved, you know, introducing me to people and doing things for me and the idea of introducing me to Matt and Trey as a kid, showing me around the studio, watching them, you know, watching them watch their animation and talk about it and and and laugh constantly the whole way through. That's I think that's how it happened. You know, he wanted to take me and show me those guys and what they do.

Speaker And then obviously they're huge fans because Cartman and Archie Bunker, the, you know, same guy and a lot of ways.

Speaker Tell me about that. Did they tell you that? Don't know for sure. Yeah. So tell me.

Speaker Yes, well, Carmen, he's he's he's a he's a wreck, irreverent, and he's he's bigoted and he's opinionated and stubborn and funny. And I think he's he's an archetype in that show, in the role that he plays is I just think there's a lot of commonalities. It's a clear inspiration, you know, and they said it immediately. You know, they were stoked to have Norman Lear come and see what they were up to, especially in the beginning.

Speaker Yeah, for sure. I mean, it's funny, like now that I like watching South Park for years, I never had heard the Archie things we start making.

Speaker Yeah, yeah. It's totally a no brainer, you know.

Speaker But Seth Macfarlane would say the same thing, you know, about Peter Griffin in a way, even though they're him, Peter Griffin and Cartman are such different characters, they're tapping from the same well, you know, so all these guys that I grew up loving and admiring, all these show runners and comedy writers, they grew up loving and admiring my dad, which is the funny part about, you know, having such an older father. It's that there's a generation, Skip. So he's the guy that they all grew up loving, you know, which is kind of a it's an interesting dynamic.

Speaker Yeah, I never thought about it that way. Yeah, it's true, though. You've got that Scheps. Yeah, they're there.

Speaker And appreciation. You mentioned that you and your dad have a similar sense of humor. I'm like getting to know your dad slowly, of course, over the month, like a new relationship. But I was still in his arm at the beginning by like somehow he would like turn around and throw like the F bomb at the perfect moment or say something completely, just like. So I'm always surprised, like by his humor. It's like subtlety and body and fun. But describe to me your dad's sense of humor and how you guys together are sort of like how you related as you were growing up.

Speaker Ask me ask me a question about myself, anything.

Speaker Ask yourself anything. What year were you born?

Speaker None of your business. That's certainly it. That's it. You've got a job.

Speaker Yeah, what is that? Describe your dad's sense of humor. That is exactly.

Speaker I mean, he like to sing it. He likes to sing you in an elevator and he'll, you know, ask I remember he'd ask a flight attendant, you know, she'd say, do you need anything else? And he said, what's the meaning of life?

Speaker You know? And he's just I mean, he's he's messing around. But it's just I don't know how to I don't know how to describe it. It's just a way of engaging with life and having fun. He taught me how to he would teach me how to run into a street pole, you know, kick it with your feet to make the sound and then fall over and scare everyone that you're around. And then however long you want to milk it as it gets more and more uncomfortable.

Speaker You know, he loves the physical, the pratfalls he does.

Speaker It's a kind of classical thing. That's what he grew up watching in a lot of ways.

Speaker Yeah, he loves that. This is Africa he's told you all about. What's that?

Speaker Canaletto, is it? Yeah. Yeah. It's like very physical comedy. This guy plays like a street sweeper, you know, he's sweeping up the poo and the motor car has been developed.

Speaker So this guy's going to be out of like this very specific funny thing. And so, like, the stuff that he points to is always a very physical comedy. Have you has he talked about the great reputation contest?

Speaker No.

Speaker So he would tell me about this thing, this radio show that he listened to in the 30s, that was it was a comedy show and it was the great repetition contest. And it was like the championship match between two retailers who had specialized athletic shorts with a hole cut out around the bottom.

Speaker And they would get up and they put their feet down and they lean on a pole and they would capitate and the announcers, the comedies and the announcers saying, OK, he's he's leaning in this.

Speaker Everyone's quiet in the room. There's not a sound in the house.

Speaker And you hear this fart like it was a sponge. It was a three fisted spurgeon's, you know. Twenty nine thousand points for this guy.

Speaker It's like this amazing thing. And it would just be he would kind of I think if I'm remembering it right, he would just tell me about it and enact it because he didn't have a copy of this thing.

Speaker But then when the Internet rolled around, we got a copy of it. So then I got to listen to it for the first time. And it's amazing. It is so funny.

Speaker How old were you as a kid when he was telling you the story describing, oh, six, seven?

Speaker I think that's how old he was when he was shot. The ending is the ending is amazing. It's like Lord Windemere is one of the guys and he's down a few points and he has to pull out some magic. And he he like lays one down and the crowd's roaring and the announcer goes with the animals. Oh, my God.

Speaker Disqualification, I find it's pretty amazing, weirdly, it's never been mentioned to me, so it's so it's so weirdly so. It's so, so weird. Yeah. Did you just go. Yeah. How old were you when by the way, I know you were asking these questions of the girl. I'm going to be asking, who cares?

Speaker No, I'm just so you know, I rather I don't remember myself and forgive me if I'm asking you questions other people ask you, but we need to. There's a few things I need to ask you about.

Speaker Well, how old were you when how old your dad, when you were born, you know, I suppose my my math skills right now, as he was sixty six when one when I was born, my dad was sixty six when I was born.

Speaker And did you ever know you had an older father? When did it ever occur to you. Did you.

Speaker I knew it immediately. Knew what. Complete that and I totally, totally knew. I knew. I knew my father was older than most than all very early, just seeing friends with their dads. And I remember you know, I remember one time being at a boat with a you know, in an inner tube. And my friend's dad is cruising us around and we're having all this fun. I was thinking, man, like, I wish I wish I had that kind of stuff with my dad, you know? But then I would immediately realize, well, what I traded, though. No. So. I liked it, I feel like it's kind of a cool thing to have in your pocket, you know, this older guy. I also like the idea. I don't know why that it it it connects me. Further into the past. And in a way, like I'm you know, where it's not connected indirectly through my father and grandfather to that time period, to the 20s, the 30s, it's a direct connection like I can reach further into the past. And I've always had a fascination with that time in the world. So I don't I don't know. But I like that about it, too.

Speaker That is such an interesting observation, actually, because there are certain things that I you know, you're hearing about that I would have only heard about from my grandfather, but I didn't live with my grandfather. Right. So you get this, like, little connection, but it was always available to you.

Speaker And we're all and we're only alive for so long for such a little amount of time that it kind of an extension of your life can be your children and your parents. And I like the idea of it being so wide, you know. Yeah. That in a way, I am stretched that far.

Speaker So what kind of things did you do with your dad that you're that maybe your friends didn't do with their dads?

Speaker Well, I mean, one thing there are there are a couple different answers to that, one thing that we did together.

Speaker Being a writer and a creative person, he would tell me stories, bedtime stories every night and oh, this is funny actually he won.

Speaker He would tell me these bedtime stories and say, OK, come up with three animals or three animals in an object. And I do. And I'd say a lizard and a frog in a bowl. And he'd make up a story about those things. And, you know, I always loved his stories. I was like part of the routine before going to bed. And I found there's this there's this notebook that both of my parents kept where they would write down funny little things that I did as a kid or that happened. And I was reading through it not too long ago. And my dad wrote this entry, says, you know, tonight, tonight I went in and I and I and I gave Ben a bedtime story. And I don't think it was a very good one. And he was like reviewing a story. And you're a writer. You know, it's just it's a kind of tragic. And I but I feel like I would do the same thing. I would be grading myself, you know, that's amazing. Like, I got I couldn't break I couldn't break in act three, you know, it's something.

Speaker Yeah. Kind of petered out at the end. Right. It's totally. What did you find this on like a diary or something?

Speaker This is a little yeah.

Speaker It's this little book that my mom has somewhere that they would both just jot things down.

Speaker That is so funny. Yeah, it's cool. I hadn't done that. That's I mean, that's a cool show.

Speaker You can it's all about me though. But there's some stuff. I mean there's some insight like that that's really.

Speaker Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker So did you I'm not talking to your dad and it's also in the book and everywhere else he seems to feel like he wasn't a great dad the first time around for the first three or not good enough for I mean, I interviewed Kate. She didn't seem to feel that way, but he felt that way. Did you know how did he ever talk to you or did you ever get an idea that he was doing things different this time around?

Speaker Well, he wasn't a good father.

Speaker I'm sorry, OK? No, no, no, I know, I know.

Speaker I totally know what you mean. Yeah, OK. He was a good dad.

Speaker I know what you mean.

Speaker Kate and Maggie and Ellen, I don't know for sure as much, but I know that they. Revere him and love him in spite of everything that happened, which I completely understand. But when I think back on what I've heard about that time, do I think he was a good dad to them? Not at all. Do I think that he learned a lot of things moving forward and fortunately he had a third chance to do it again? Did he do a better job? Definitely. You know, I felt like there was a lot of love in the house, a lot of attention.

Speaker He.

Speaker He was totally there, you know, he he would do things that, you know, in retrospect, it's clear he didn't want to do like we want we'd go to the Indian guides and, like, sit down and learn how to tie ropes. And, you know, both of us were hating it but didn't tell each other, you know, but there's a lot of that.

Speaker I mean, he was always engaging in my interests and helping me.

Speaker You know, I I started writing really early on and drawing and we'd write books together and I would draw the animations and we'd write it together and he'd write the words out. And we have all these little books and. I never felt I never really felt like he the other thing was he wasn't he wasn't leaving his fortune at that time, you know, he wasn't building his career. I when I was born, I think he had one or two shows on the air that lasted a year, not even. And for the most part, he was you know, he went to the office every day. I don't totally know what he was up to, was trying to get shows off the ground. He was doing a lot of stuff with people for the American way and then the declaration of Altium eventually. But he was more available as a dad at that point.

Speaker What about being the only boy in this family? What is are there certain pressures and advantages and or that come with that?

Speaker I mean, the pressure. I mean, all that ultimately is self-imposed, but what I would imagine is just that. There's. Being there or being the only son, if there was a pressure to continue a legacy, you know, which I don't feel actually that would come down on on me. And I mean, I used to I used to think that I wanted to. There that I had to. Match him, you know, in his career and and then as reality came in, I was just like, oh, God, why would I be so terrible to myself if they're good? Yeah, but that I mean, that stuff went away a long time ago.

Speaker He. It's funny, I don't really know.

Speaker How I feel about being the only other I mean, the word was thrown around like, you know, you're you're going to carry the name along, you know, you're the only one that's going to continue the Lear name, although, you know, all of his daughters have kept their name, so. And it's cool, I think it might have actually given our bond a little more strength, you know, because we could just like lean on each other as guys, I think I think it was really important for him. I think he really enjoyed being a dad to a son, you know, I don't want to say more than to his daughters, but it was a special it's a very it's a different job, you know, and I think he enjoyed having it having that different job as well.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker So did you feel so you felt like you were sharing him too much growing up with always people in the house where they were already, the fundraisers and the parties, he was it a very live action like that going on?

Speaker Yeah, there's always a lot of action going on in the House. Don't remember it too much. Don't you remember, like pretending to be a spy and sneaking into the room and seeing how close I could get to guests at the party without being detected? But that's as far as my interest when you get into home.

Speaker One time I did a.

Speaker I got to, you know, tie Walter mouthwashes together, and he fell over and broke his hip and I said, I know how I would feel horrible, but yeah but no, they used to have these IV screening, like a lot of movie screenings and people would come over for that.

Speaker But I didn't feel like I really had to share. And because I was also an only child until I was six and a half. Right. Yeah. So and then and then just being a son, I didn't feel competition because it was it was a different thing it of a relationship. So you got all the attention. Yeah, I would definitely say that that's pretty sweet.

Speaker And when did you finally, like, connect? When did you finally familiarize yourself with his shows and have you seen them all or do you have chosen not to? Or what's your relationship with that stuff?

Speaker I never chose not to watch his shows.

Speaker But I haven't really.

Speaker Seen anything? Yeah. I just haven't I don't know, I.

Speaker I think I didn't I think I'll enjoy it at some point, I'd love to. Here's the thing. There's. He because he wasn't emotionally available for such a large period of his life, especially at home with his kids, with his family, he was. Depositing his self into his shows, into his writing. I'm sure he would tell you that. So I think more than a lot of other shows out there. His work is so deeply infused with with his spirit, really so.

Speaker In that way, it'll be amazing to watch at some point, you know, maybe when he's gone or what, you know, at some point. But I haven't I don't know, I haven't wanted to.

Speaker They just haven't gone there, I also don't it's also the kind of not I have I just haven't dug it that much.

Speaker Feels you are proud, you are killing me right now. What does that mean?

Speaker You he just doesn't you don't think there's anything culturally relevant or you know, there are things that I've seen and I and I totally respect and admire it for for its brilliance.

Speaker And I see that completely. But it doesn't make me laugh like Monty Python or like Fawlty Towers or. You know what? Some of those are funny shows.

Speaker Those are also old.

Speaker It's funny. Yeah, right. Right, exactly. But I never watch any 70s TV. I never watch any HDTV.

Speaker I just haven't done that yet. You know, I, I think I will think at some point I'll probably sit down and then get it all of a sudden.

Speaker You know, I think it's kind of interesting what you said, the idea of like I'm not putting words in your mouth, but the idea of like extending your dad's longevity in your life in the future by maybe holding off on that stuff. Oh, interesting. Yeah, that's kind of what I heard. But I know it's kind of interesting, like because there is so much of his life in there that.

Speaker Well, the other I mean. To be to be honest, there's you know, they're talking about that idea of having to outdo him or all this stuff, because we were very we were very collaborative very early on in my life, you know, because I've always thought about it this way. One of his greatest skills as a producer was finding talent, and he is you don't you know, you can't count how many careers he started. And I think he really enjoyed the fact that I like to write at an early age. And I think he he he saw that there was talent there and he encouraged it. And we collaborated at a really early age and I think. The upside of that is infinite. The downside would be that my creativity was very infused with his at an early age. So I, I feel like finding my voice is partly a process of separating from his. And as someone who who takes that journey very seriously, I may be I may have avoided his shows and all that stuff for that reason, just by wanting to not kind of slip into that and feel too connected to it and lacking in my own voice.

Speaker Yeah. And.

Speaker It's funny when you have when people walk up, even zevin that are your age or a little bit older and are like.

Speaker Oh, you don't understand what this means to me, I watching reruns and this episode and then are you are you ever like does that surprise you that does it surprise you that these shows are held up by I mean, from Russell Simmons to like know to President Clinton? I mean, people just feel like it's still so relevant.

Speaker No surprise, you know, because they're they're so deeply human because he is living inside of those shows. And I think it's me. That's what I was saying before. That idea of him, he put so much of his life in his personality and his identity into the characters in these shows in different ways for each. But it's but they're so they're they're beyond three dimensional.

Speaker I mean, they're really living, breathing people. And that is that's timeless. I mean, that doesn't that's it. That creates a direct direct line from the character to the audience because they're connecting with with their character's humanity. And so makes all the sense in the world that people would admire to this day.

Speaker He and I had always thought that that his second wife, Frances, was that was the inspiration and had had sort of. No, yeah. Tell me about the model.

Speaker He was the inspiration. How so?

Speaker Well, unfortunately, unfortunately, I don't know my very well, but what I do know what I do know is that she's you know, she's a badass, progressive, super opinionated and argumentative and stands up for what she believes in and cares a lot about the world and about justice and about fairness. And the best part is I don't think he recognized at the time that he was writing himself into that character. You know, I think all of those realizations came a lot later. But it's true. I've asked him before, you know, who do you who do you see yourself in most? And it's not completely always. And I think he's you know, I think he's placed a lot of those values and a lot of those convictions in characters. And. Hopefully not at the expense of owning it himself, but I think now, regardless he does, he can own it himself.

Speaker Yeah, I think I was surprised that mom was the one that makes sense in hindsight. But you said you used to write stories with your dad and collaborate with your dad. Tell me about some of the favorite stories you guys did together on prompting a specific one you can imagine. I'm sure.

Speaker And I heard about you may have to give me a little more than your fantasy World War Two. Oh, yeah, OK.

Speaker All right. I was out on the other interview, probably. Yeah, I read it. Yeah.

Speaker Yeah, we I was I was always really enthralled and fascinated by his being in World War Two, you know, I love the military. I love the Marines. I thought I wanted to be a Marine before I realized I actually just liked the aesthetics of it and like making movies with guns in them. But, you know, at the time, you know, I loved all that stuff. So we would write these stories together. And one of them was about a bomber plane. And he was the main character. And their running mission was basically rewriting history of fantasy fulfillment version of World War Two, where my dad, I think he beheaded Hitler. I don't remember how we got him. But it was it was it was graphic. But yeah, I was like this hero tale of him, of him killing Hitler.

Speaker It's funny because one of the more surprising covers I've had with your dad is asking you about World War Two and how he just says, I wanted to kill Germans. I want to be sure that sort of. I didn't care, I looked down the hallways the way each thought I was chilling, because you realize that I to say that I totally get it, but I didn't expect it even with a conviction all these years later, for someone who's not like rewriting it or maybe is, but people who, you know, like, liked back off of those statements always, you know, probably should have said I wanted to kill Nazis.

Speaker Well, but I get it. Yes. And it's clear what he means. Yeah. But in any case, does he. But I haven't gotten much out of him from that.

Speaker What do you know about that? Does he did he tell you a lot about serving in the war? What do you know about that era.

Speaker Probably learn more from his book than I learned from him about about World War Two, huh? I didn't know that he had a best friend that that died on a mission, you know, I didn't I didn't I never heard anything.

Speaker That had any any emotional weight to it in terms of the stakes for him, his own fear of, you know, of dying out there, of getting gunned down, I think it was all very kind of surface. They attacked Pearl Harbor, I was in a theater class, I left, I signed up, I went flew 52 missions and fortunately it's a place no thing home, but that was the way that he talked about his his whole life, really. You know, I think he found a way to go deeper when he wrote his book, you know, which which I'm grateful for because. Yeah, because I think a lot of my idea of his life, the narrative that I've construed through his stories and other stories, is kind of a surface story that's been filled in recently as I've gotten to know him better.

Speaker So you learned a lot. What else did you learn in the book that you didn't know? What kind of things were you surprised to find out?

Speaker The most interesting. Things that I learned from the book, but I'd also been hearing about around the time that he started writing it because he started doing a lot more work on himself, just that just the truth about his relationship with his father. You know, just the real story he he made up a lot of. You know, I mean, when we talk about me, me writing the story of him cutting the head off of Hitler, he that's not the only story that I grew up. You know, I made that story up. But he would tell me about, you know, there's a story you told me about being in a line at a at a mess hall or something in the army and hearing some guy mouthing off about Jews behind him. And in the story that he told me, he he turned around and clocked the guy in the face and he said, that's the only time I've ever gotten in a fight. And I learned recently that he never did that. He just. I think I said, excuse me, sir, that's very rude, and you know what, I don't know if you know about his. He used to say that when he lived with his grandfather, he had the nickel and he'd give a nickel to the air is a. Some something about him writing letters to the president and all this stuff, and that wasn't actually his grandfather. You know, he's creating this wish fulfillment fantasy about his life constantly. You know, I'm sure he's talked about how he called his dad a rascal his whole life, you know, which is just a way of kind of smoothing over the reality of the situation, which was he was a.

Speaker I was just going to say it was a bad guy, but. I think Jesse was just deeply broken person. That my father couldn't fix, right?

Speaker You're honing in on something really interesting here with things that were created that versus what was true. It was only through the book that you found a lot of things that you told you weren't sure, because this is something we've been finding out as well.

Speaker You talked about it, but no, no, but only because I was around while he was writing the book, you know, and I was around when he started looking at things seriously and changing. And by doing so, changing his life and a lot of ways he could not have written the book before he wrote it. He'd been talking about writing it for 20 years, but he wasn't ready to do the self work that it took to go that deep. I mean, if he wrote the version of the book, that was the version of his life that he told me my whole life. It would be a very different book and it'd be much less interesting. It would be all career, be all show business. We all Norman Lear, the legend. And that's to be totally honest with you, I glazed over that part of the book. I care about him as a child.

Speaker I care about learning about, you know, how hurt he was by his father in that relationship. And I care about, you know, the guy that I know now and I've known all my life. But I'm I'm not I think that's another reason I've stayed away from his shows. I'm just not interested in Norman Lear, the legend. I've had enough of that, you know.

Speaker I'm sure it gets tiresome.

Speaker I actually thought about that when I I thought about many times when I'm shooting this, like how many times you've heard that story or how many times, like, it must be I mean, must be overrated.

Speaker Someone will be. I mean, because especially in his previous marriages and those families, he he wasn't there. He was putting all of his self into his shows. Like I was saying, he was living in that world. He he was Norman Lear, the legend. That's who he actually was at home, too, so. I'm much more interested in going back and trying to find the moments when he was Norman Lear, the guy, Norman Lear, the dad and my past, because he's still he still had that dynamic going on when I was a kid, too. There's a lot of producing, a lot of staging. A lot of this is what I think, you know, a dad would do in this moment.

Speaker So.

Speaker You know, I'm not I'm not interested in any of that, a lot of producing, a lot of staging, this is what I dad would do in this. I think I know what you mean. Can you describe and elaborate on that? It's interesting.

Speaker Yeah, just he always.

Speaker Birthday parties, events. It was all about the production, it was all about, you know, having the band there, having the singer there, there was always had to be some entertainment. There always had to be some something to watch or to listen to it, you know? And I think it was very. Thrilling and exciting and on the surface, do you think this is an amazing party and it is in a way, but there's a certain just kind of honesty that that isn't there necessarily because I don't think he was there. I think he was in producer mode, just trying to make sure it all happened instead of being and I'm this guy, Norman, and I want to enjoy this for myself. And by doing so, I need to be present for it.

Speaker Even in your child that you're describing. Yeah.

Speaker So it's not like it was that was for the other day that he got over, that he was more available.

Speaker No, he he stopped being that guy like two years ago.

Speaker That is so interesting, I'm going to get back to that in one second before we have all the videos that she would make share with us, with them.

Speaker And so there's so many I mean, there's so much like we don't have everything, but we certainly and it's really funny you just said that about the production, because I see birthdays and I see, you know, the cake of the declaration. You know, I just look at events that are he was covering. And I sometimes I think I was thinking, wow, it's very someone really thought about this maybe wasn't your dad, it was somebody else. But like because he likes that, it's like things to be very some people are maximalists and similar minimalize. I think he feels like a maximal you know, at times I think that's an interesting personality trait. So, yeah. To go.

Speaker Then all the time, yeah.

Speaker And I'm sure that's that's that is a presence to deal with his parent.

Speaker His dad was a maximalists till I met yours. I think you're not going to want to use this, probably, but I think it's an interesting insight. He's recently been having these he's been hanging out with a few guys and like he has a guy, he never really had guy friends, just like buddies.

Speaker You don't see that like I never saw that as a kid. Him with a buddy over, like, drinking a beer, hanging out. It was there was never any of that. It was always just like he'd have these parties and there'd be a lot of people there and he would have this friend. But this friend was really just, you know, contained to this part of his life and was usually something somewhat professional then. Anyway, he's been as he's been kind of. Just like being a guy in this at this stage in his life, which is amazing, he's been hanging out with these guys and smoking cigars and playing guitar. And I think it's just been such a good thing for him. But recently he he tells me, you know, where I'm coming up with this pension, I'm going to pitch this idea where we're going to we're going to get a stage and we're going to go to a jazz bar. And I'm going to and we're going to sit up there, the same guys, and we're going to have the guitars out and we're just going to do what we do. And he was just totally transformed. This one thing that was just for him like this, just this hangout into a concept for a performance. And like it breaks my heart really when he does that, because I feel like he's annihilating the the honesty and the real value of all of that activity.

Speaker Did you tell him that? Try to. Sometimes when he has his idea, you know, he doesn't want to listen to that. Why is that?

Speaker What is that about? Why is that what do you think? I mean, that's such a good point. Why make something that's private and enjoyable? Is it just an instinct?

Speaker Is that why he was doing this? I mean, it is partly why he was a great producer, actually, but I don't think it was coming from a healthy place, a thing as a defense mechanism.

Speaker I think part of it was he had to he had to be extra funny, extra showy, extra interesting to get any attention as a child. But the other thing was, I think when his dad went to prison and all the stuff fell apart, he separated from himself and just kind of be in bed and put himself into productions and working and producing and making things. I don't know, like psychologically what the ultimate purpose of that was, but I definitely see it. I can you know, I can feel it.

Speaker I have to tell you, we were the first to give you this moment, the only reason I asked about the grandfather story is because they had loaned me those books. Who knew and who knew to take care of these?

Speaker You know, as I have in my office and I read them to prepare for our first interview with him. So I asked him things that weren't in the book. I had read the manuscript, but so some of the questions I asked had been from this earlier book and that I just stumbled across this grandfather question of the letters to the president and about the rippling through the stone and the reply, yeah, hold in there.

Speaker And he said that never happened. And I was like, Wait, what? Yeah. What I found it so interesting is like I lied about that and it wasn't in the book. So I think he was wondering, like, well, because it was from his family law and then. I think it's such an interesting insight into a person didn't hurt anybody telling the story, right.

Speaker So it's just he hurt himself, right?

Speaker And I want to ask about this, because we've gone and collected all the archives we could possibly find, that doesn't we have his archives, we have our own our sources of archive. He told that story like I have like 15 times. Oh, yeah.

Speaker Male and female, yeah, totally, totally, it wasn't true, and I was like, that is such an interesting thing, but you see the connection where for him the script is more important than the reality.

Speaker In a lot of ways, the production, the performance, if he gets that right, that's that's what matters most. So that comes across when you when you realize, like, you know, he he had a great story and so why not use it? Because I think it's more important for him to have the story than to have lived it.

Speaker Even if you're appropriating some other person's.

Speaker Well, I don't I don't think it's the right thing to do.

Speaker It's a really I think it's such a fascinating aspect of it that I never thought about doing that.

Speaker I mean, we all because we all like complete stories right away. But that one was so interesting because it's my grandma.

Speaker Well, let's just hope to God that his mother actually said, if that's what they want to do, who am I to say?

Speaker Because that was not true or you've heard that story. How many times you read that story?

Speaker I've never not heard it. It's a staple. Oh, I'll tell you, just because it's he used to tell this story. It's so funny, it happens on that level, but it also happens like in the most intimate level, I just it's he's such an honest person, but there is this slippery thing there because he used to tell me one of my favorite bedtime stories was a story about a little boy who. Who wakes up one day and there's a key stuck in his belly button and he has to find a way to get it out, and he goes to the doctor and he says, open, keep your window open. And at night there's going to be a balloon's going to or something else. I don't remember what it was, but there's no bloom with the key in it. You're going to use the key to fix this thing. And and he does. And any he turns the key and his butt falls off. And that's like the punch line. I used to love this story. And then it was like one of two or three stories that I remember. And then not too long ago, I think, when I started to learn about these various things that he was making up, I just thought like stories, two good stories, too good to just make up on the spot. And I and I Googled it. And it's like a it's a children's story. It's a folk story. It's a story that's been around forever, you know? And I don't I don't know if he thinks he if the appropriation what he actually thought he made it or it didn't really matter over time, it stopped mattering. And, you know, it's so harmless, but it's another example of that same pattern.

Speaker Because he because he because, you know, he made no effort to tell me otherwise, you know, that wasn't his story, really.

Speaker But following up. Yeah, he told me that story. I think it's as if it was Hizo. He told me he used to tell that story. You.

Speaker Right, am I crazy or is it the book, the butt story, I know the story. Right. But did he tell you as if it was his story for sure?

Speaker Of course it's not. I could bet on it. I don't know for sure, but I have to. Why he might have made up the buffalo off. But that is the best part. It is the best part. Totally. He used the word ass. Right. And it's hilarious. Yeah. I mean, who would expect that's the punch line? No one unexpected and yet inevitable.

Speaker Oh, God. So people are so weird and interesting, that's why we make documentaries.

Speaker Yeah, right. I mean, like, seriously. OK.

Speaker So, oh, you said, OK, we're going to get we're going to move on the second, but you said, oh yeah, stop being that guy two years ago. What is that? What do you mean how why and why?

Speaker He started he just started taking his own kind of personal growth and learning about himself and. Psychology and understanding his you know, his dynamics and his relationship with his parents, he started taking all this stuff more seriously in the last however many years. And I think, you know, that process takes a while before you really break through and discover what's going on.

Speaker And I think that moment of, oh, my God, my dad was a criminal, you know, my dad was bad. It's a big deal and.

Speaker I think all that stuff, you know, it's it's like he. The baggage can what of the thing I've been holding on to this idea of who he was and that I had to save him, that I had to, you know, make him a good guy as that starts to slip away, then all of the behaviors and all of the defenses and all the stuff that's been built to to achieve that goal can slip away, too. And then what you have left is who you actually are, you know. So I think we're all very lucky. To be able to get that, you know, as late as as it as it's been, you know, in terms of in terms of him just he uses word that was really powerful to me because I felt the same way growing up. And I think I've inherited a lot of those dynamics that I've had to work on myself. And one of the consequences of all of it is just not feeling comfortable. Not feeling uncomfortable in your skin because of the need to perform, because of a need to please other people, because of a need to put something on, because of a need to just take care of others instead of yourself or, you know, whatever, the thing is, it's a little bit stressful. And then he told me, you know, one time recently that he's always felt uncomfortable. And recently he started to feel comfortable, you know, just I don't know. It's such a simple way to put it, because it's very because it's physical.

Speaker You can talk about the mind and your emotions and everything till you're blue in the face. But just, you know, I think you realize that you're doing good work when you start to feel comfortable. You know, so that's what that's what I mean by he started changing in the last couple of years, but imagine anyone changing in their 90s.

Speaker Well, here's I mean, this is that's that's what tells you the kind of guy that he is more than any of the content of who he was.

Speaker And what he's changing into is the fact that at 92 years old, he gives enough to do that. You know, he's he has a very strong survival and instinct. He's a very strong will to be truthful and to be himself. And there's no I made it. You know, I'm just going to coast, you know, that would kill him. So he has to you know, that's why we make work, right? We make work to know ourselves better, to deal with what's going on, even documentaries like to process where we're at in our lives.

Speaker And I think the second you give that up and say, oh, I'm good, I like where I've landed, you know, even at 90 to like I think I figured enough things out. I know myself well enough. I can just consume or I don't I don't even know what you would do.

Speaker Like if you didn't want to keep growing, you know, what would you do? You just. Eat people, don't eat food until you didn't want to eat it anymore, then I don't know.

Speaker But it's like eating out kind of thing. Not that. I mean, I relate to your dad in that way. Yeah, absolutely. I had my dad the same way. He started a new business at seventy three. Didn't mean it started it very difficult.

Speaker I totally relate to him on that level. And what would happen if you stop at ninety two. Ninety three. You know I'm sure you've heard him say it a million times.

Speaker I hope it's, I hope it's his line. I think it is.

Speaker Which is and I'm not going to investigate it because we're going to make sure it is. Yeah. We don't want to scratch to serve it totally.

Speaker But he says, you know, I wake up, I thinking already about the coffee, the taste of the coffee in the morning, you know that I'm going to have to not include that part.

Speaker I told me the ships were the right way. He said to audiences, they didn't say to me, I feel badly about that, but.

Speaker That is indicative of somebody who like it, but also maybe that over next, that over next, is that over that way? That's something also slightly chilling is the wrong word about something about that is like like, you know, stick with me or like I'm moving on.

Speaker I mean, he's oh, that's a really interesting way to look at it. I think that I mean, I think there's a lot of truth to that. To what? Well, I always it over next as just this mantra over, and that's what it is.

Speaker Yeah. So Brandon.

Speaker Over and next. Is this mantra that says, you know, I live in the moment. We're here right now and then I'll be here, you know, and I'm and this was great and it was perfect, but I got to, you know, I'm going to move on to this. So that's what I always interpreted it as, this mantra about being present and living in the moment. But I like I like that that undertone of it's suggesting that, you know, you've got to stick with me, do it my way or I'm gone. And I think there was I mean, he had a.

Speaker He had an in anger and he had a sense of a part of his personality that was a little frightening and threatening that you didn't want to mess with him, you know, you didn't want to mess with them. You didn't want to ruffle things up or else, you know, you're going to get left behind or something.

Speaker It's funny because.

Speaker I just met him a year ago, but we found his archive footage we have from the 70s when he's at the top of his powers, seven shows on 60 Minutes, all that stuff. But we got the raw footage of 60 Minutes not cut piece, and we were waiting for it. It's really hard to get in and. Maher, like he's a friend, he's like the. I mean, he's like the boss man. It's interesting to see him in that, you know, those earlier days, all these interviews from the 70s, there's like Stratman of who wouldn't have it.

Speaker Yeah, I don't blame him.

Speaker I'm like, I get it. But it's interesting to be reminded, you know, I mean, he's still a very powerful person. The way he interacts looks at you. But, man, I can imagine what I'm saying is I can imagine that dad or that person being pretty intimidating.

Speaker Well, that's I think you're right. I didn't that wasn't my experience, though, because he changed a lot over the course of his age and I think calmed down and it came it came more in flashes, little moments for me. You know, the guy who was out there building what he was building and fighting for what he was fighting for. That's all stories to me. You know, that wasn't I would have loved to experience that or love to see in the process.

Speaker Yeah. You know, but I grew up I was born into the of the effect rather than the cause. That makes sense.

Speaker Totally. Yeah. In that part of life is over. Yeah. And it seems like a. oh, that's too short. Oh, my God, we're going to have to go over. I think that so it seems like can't had a bit of a different dad than you did. You said to yourself, what does your mom have to do with this transformation of him? He seems to credit a lot of that to her. I mean, not that you have some insane insight of whatever you're comfortable telling me in terms of what your mom's role has been in his evolution as a person.

Speaker Well, you know, I've heard also just from from the from the narrative of their marriage and all that, that she. She helped to open up his spiritual side and to make him think about a lot of things in that way that he hadn't before, and I think that was a thread throughout their marriage. But she. She cared a lot about the family dynamic and the family being healthy and everybody kind of knowing themselves and communicating openly and encouraging us all to do our own work on ourselves for that to that end. And. I think she she just. I want to say she called him out on his, but she just encouraged him to to keep digging and encouraged him to.

Speaker Yeah. I was going, what was I going to say?

Speaker Called my mishit incursion to keep digging spiritual bread throughout their marriage.

Speaker Yeah. That's pretty much it.

Speaker I don't know, I mean, I think it's a combination of her.

Speaker Encouraging him to do those things and him also knowing on some level that he wanted to and then him just being ready to and all of that coming together at the right time and and having, you know, help and great advice and, you know, all that stuff put together.

Speaker Good answer.

Speaker OK, see, I get this, but you would have loved the thing I forgot. To say he would have fucking loved it was fucking the best. It was so genius, so stingy.

Speaker All right, I'll let you get this. Well, you did that.

Speaker You did this. That.

Speaker Oh, yeah, your dad talks about being shocked. Was going to be a 70 year old Indian guy.

Speaker How do you do? Oh, I don't can't speak to his emotional experience as an Indian guide, but that yeah, that was something that I that I was touching on earlier, just this idea of, you know, I guess part of it is part of it is I think this is what a good father would do. You know, I got this son and let's go out and have this bonding experience and learn. I don't even remember what we did. We go camping and and like I said, like, learn how to tie knots and chop wood and, you know, build a campfire. And I think both of us were bored out of our minds and we did it. We only did it once. And you have a meet up and it'll be a fathers and sons and you meet up once a month and you do something or other, you know.

Speaker But I think the broader statement is just I can't believe I'm a 70 year old dad to a little boy. Yeah. You know, that's what he that's what he's saying. Just, you know, even this kind of thing.

Speaker Do you remember how to wait? Where would you where would you be the end of the declaration purchase. How old you. What year was that?

Speaker Oh, OK, recently, yes, I was never knowing about this or did you care about 12 or 13?

Speaker OK, so can you tell me how old went about the declaration and what was your reaction?

Speaker I think it was kind of embarrassed, like it's because of everything you did on the Declaration of Independence.

Speaker You pay this much money for it.

Speaker I guess I guess so you want to see it, it's under his couch where it lived for many years before he actually did anything with it. I wasn't connected with with those values in that part of our history in the way that he was at the time, especially. So to me, it just felt like, OK, this is this is his next project. This is the next thing that he cares about.

Speaker I know that he he believes it a lot and you know, the meaning of the declaration and freedom of speech and all that stuff, so.

Speaker I got the part that I remember was around the same time we had seen a Def Jam poetry show together and both like fell in love with this form and this guy Boshier, and we met Bo and a similar, you know, similar kind of thing to meeting Mamre. You know, he was like, oh, Ben, you're going to love meeting these guys. And and that ended up being amazing because Bo's one of my great friends now. And it's like a like a lifelong thing.

Speaker But he at the time, you know, we just discovered spoken word poetry and then he being that being a producer thought, oh, well, OK, well, this is the thing in my life right now, the declaration and this is something I love, let's put them together and let's have these poets write a piece about freedom and liberty and the meaning of the birth of our country and whatever. And then he started building that show. But for me, it was just I got to know Steve. I got to know who. I got to know Bo and I got to have all these great people in my life. That's what mattered to me the most.

Speaker They're cool. I met them at your dad's house. But that's that's cool with the people. That's very interesting. Totally individual. Totally. I really like that vibe there. What about this whole like, he's a good liberal and there's a Hollywood liberal like you get to how you and you've got a cause. You've got to come over you guys. He normally goes to the Oracle.

Speaker This is the vibe I'm getting at, which is seems to be true. It's like that's an interesting position. Can you comment on that or what is your question? I'm just that role. What is his role when it comes to the political life in Los Angeles and nationwide?

Speaker Well, I think he is he is a talent just.

Speaker Distilling politics into not like a black or white morality issue, but but just something that's more personal, personal and emotional in terms of just conviction, you know, I don't know. I haven't I don't hear him talk about policy very much or, you know, the details of how to solve certain problems in which politician is going to do it for this reason. But he just has.

Speaker But he does have a strong intuition and a gut feeling about what's right. You know, and I think. I definitely resonate with that, you know, when I think about what I care about in politics and in culture and the world right now, I think a lot about the separation of church and state.

Speaker And I think a lot about, you know, the politicization of of, you know, the conservative or the religious right, you know, regardless of of the fact that he that he hooked into that issue, because I think it really is this matter of protecting liberty and protecting those words in the declaration and in the First Amendment. I think his whole love of politics and everything that he cares about comes back to that, which is interesting because I think he might in that way be less of a liberal than he says he is. I don't think he's I don't think it's all about being a liberal. It's what and what specific instance is protecting these rights more than any other time. But then I think the problem is then you get put in your camp and you start raising money for that campaign. And all and all, they're doing more of the things that you like. So suddenly you have to just be that. And you can't you know, you can't share an interest with with the other side and on any issue, which is just that's just the way that our system, the partisan system works, which is a bummer, because I think if he if I think if there were no lines, party lines drawn, it'd be really interesting to see where he would go on certain issues, jumping around and realizing that, oh, it's OK to believe in this, you know, instead of this.

Speaker And it seems like in reality, he actually has the conservative friends as well. Like, I don't think people realize I've met a bunch of.

Speaker Republicans totally, because they because the only people that care as much about the First Amendment as he does are Republicans, I mean I mean, in a certain way, it's like, look, all we care about is freedom.

Speaker All we care about are having these rights. We disagree on how to achieve that completely. But if we can agree and relate on the most primal, deep, visceral conviction, then then, you know, of course, we can be friends.

Speaker I mean, he talks when you hear him talk about patriotism and the Constitution and the rights and the Bill of Rights, he sounds like that those are those are language that are almost only Republicans use now.

Speaker Well, his whole and that's his whole thing, is he he's pissed off that they have appropriated that language. And it's not even that they have appropriated it. We've let them as we as liberals, you know, which is what I would describe myself as.

Speaker We've allowed them to take over. The most important words in the political dictionary, patriotism, you know, freedom, all of this stuff and then and even conservatism, I mean, conservatism is a great word in a lot of ways. It's a great approach to solving problems and to progress. And it's just a shame that, you know, it's like they get these words and we get these words. I think that that bothers him. And but I also think he's as a creative person. He sees an opportunity to say, I'm a bleeding heart conservative.

Speaker You know, I'm going to take these words back and, you know, so I love that you it's pretty cool when they own the word life pro, right? Exactly. They got pro-life. Right. What do we I mean. Well, choice is important. So this is really important. But they not like we get choice. That was a bad deal. I think it's a bad deal. Yeah. I am not going to ask you.

Speaker I will ask you this, I do not expect you to have a trumped up answer, but I'm going to ask you anyway.

Speaker Is it that you actually did this?

Speaker That's not really a.

Speaker So what are some of your debts, what are some of your debts you kind of did? What is this?

Speaker A phrase he keeps telling me about, it's good to with the universe conspiring the commit, what are some of these what are some of your dad's favorite sayings and which of them do you have like the most? Meaning, if you had to sum up, which I'm not going to ask you, but if you're crystalize like what? Oh, yeah, that that would be my dad that when I get.

Speaker To come to mind, he would always he'd have these little pieces of paper laminated in his wallet. And you should ask them to show you them. One of them is that, quote, I think it's a great quote at the moment of commitment, the universe aspires to your success.

Speaker Which is a great idea. And I think and another one is the the death, and there's one that's the definition of success, which is I'm going to butcher it, but it's like striving to do what you love to the best of your abilities in a world that affords some scope. You know, there's that. There's that one. Then there's the captain of my soul. One there is this isn't on a card, but this is he's he loves self-reliance, Emerson, self-reliance. And then there's another quote. That I don't know who it's from, but it's it's this idea of if I'm wearing a I'm wearing a coat. And in one pocket. I have a card that says, you know.

Speaker You're nothing but dust in the universe or dust and ash or whatever. And then in the other pocket I have a card that says for you, the universe was created.

Speaker So these are ideas saying's. That express. How to live your life, how to see or how to view yourself in the world, how to hold two contradictory ideas in detention together in your mind and live that way. How? And I think what it what it reflects more than what each one of those things mean is that he's a guy. The cares a lot about getting it right and what I mean getting it right, I mean, living your life in the best way and that goes back to everything that we're talking about. Why is he changing? So why is he learning more about himself at ninety two? Why is he doing this? Why is he doing that? I think it's all a piece of he has that great instinct that you hope everybody has to continually strive to be a better person and to and to be a better liver of your liver, to be able to to live, to be a better person in your own life. That makes sense. There's a do you see the documentary, Amy?

Speaker Not yet. I just got invited to a screening at a.

Speaker What's his name?

Speaker Tony Bennett, Tony Bennett has a quote at the end that I'm just going to say I'm not going to tell you. He says, If I had seen him again, I would have told her. Slow down life will show you how to live it, just keep living.

Speaker If you live it long enough. And it's that it's that idea I love that quote so much, so do I.

Speaker What about this this thing always says just another version of you said another saying, or is that not something that's not the same, but that's a new one.

Speaker Which one? He came up just so. Yeah. So just another version of you was that was that's the latest catchphrase. And he's come up with literally put it on a bumper sticker. It's pretty. So we should be expecting another one in the next year or two.

Speaker I can't wait. Yeah, they're pretty good. Yeah. I'm going through the legacy question. I don't know if you can possibly answer this, but what now? That's a good question for you, because the people are. Dad's legacy. What do you think?

Speaker From.

Speaker It's kind of a question I hate, but maybe look at something interesting here.

Speaker What's his legacy to me, to the world to. Well, to me is the most important person in my life. For sure. I have more love for him than anyone, anybody. So he's already done it, you know, he's he's already made the impact on me. The legacy.

Speaker God, I mean, I want I would want it to be everything we were just talking about, you know, that here's a man in the in the public eye who had an opportunity. To.

Speaker Show people to teach people to learn for himself at the same time how to be a human being, you know, and how to how to be a better human being or how to how to or how to deal with having no idea how to be a human being.

Speaker You know, I think it's all it's all that stuff. So it always comes down to, you know, he talked so much about the foolishness of the human condition.

Speaker He had an eye for that at a really young age. And I think part of his legacy was.

Speaker Almost just writing one big love letter to the foolishness of the human condition, not not to just expose it and say, look how foolish we are, but to see.

Speaker How perfect is that and how beautiful is this imperfection? You know, this this crazy.

Speaker Situation that we're all thrown into for however many years.

Speaker I like it, a love letter to the human condition, it's true, it's not just done with derision. You're so stupid. It's like we are.

Speaker So it's everything. We're ridiculous and you're an idiot. And that's. But but so life.

Ben Lear
Interview Date:
2015-07-07
Runtime:
1:08:40
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Ben Lear, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 07 Jul. 2015, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1048
APA CITATIONS:
(2015, July 07). Ben Lear, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1048
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Ben Lear, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 07, 2015. Accessed December 06, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1048

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