Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Awesome Louisvillager: Gabe Bullard

Sorry for the lag between Awesome Louisvillagers!  But I promise you, this week's Louisvillager is well worth the wait.  

WFPL's Gabe Bullard is a stand-up guy.  He's smart, funny, a good friend, and has excellent taste in women. He interned with Conan (not the Barbarian, as I originally thought, but the redheaded O'Brien guy) and occasionally gets ragged on by Uncle Mayor Jerry.  But what really makes him awesome is that he loves his job, and he's fantastic at it.  Gabe is a reporter for WFPL and is the host of The Edit, the station's on-line news blog.  Listen for him Monday through Friday on WFPL news.  Sometimes he pops up on "State Of Affairs," too.  Like many Awesome Louisvillagers, Gabe's a fairly recent Louisville transplant, but he's doing our fair city proud.  

Here's WFPL's Gabe Bullard: 

LOU: Who's your favorite panelist for "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" and why?

It used to be Mo Rocca. He and Paula Poundstone were the only two panelists I knew when I first started listening to WWDTM. I shifted to Paula eventually, because she always seems to be the most willing to be foolish, and I like that. Now, though, Roy Blount Jr. is my favorite. I don't like everything he's written, but some of his work is fantastic, and I like what he brings to the panel. I like Charles Pierce's books, and I used to like old P.J. O'Rourke Rolling Stone articles, but I don't like Pierce or O'Rourke as much as the other panelists. I think it's because P.J. stopped being funny and Charlie is kind of loud sometimes. This was too long of an answer, huh?

LOU:  Everyone knows that NPR-types are also literary types.  Do you have literary ambitions?  A book in the works?  What book would you like to write?  Fiction?  Non-fiction?  (And if the answer is no, you don't have literary ambitions-- humor us and tell us what book you WOULD write if you DID have literary ambitions.)

As strange as it may sound, I enjoy the grind of daily news. I have to produce so many short pieces a day, and I'm also free to work on longer investigative pieces. It's great. I like journalism, and that's up front for me. 

I've done a few live readings of non-news stories I've written. The true ones get the most laughs, but I like telling those unscripted. I haven't had any life-changing experiences, though, so I think it's funny to go read a story about how I threw up in a K-Mart on my 8th birthday. Some personal nonfiction is so heavy, I wanted to do the opposite when I was invited to read stories in venues. No trauma, no learning, just awkward experiences. 

If I were to write a book, I'd want it to be nonfiction. I have this idea for a book that explores drinking in America. Not necessarily a tour of American alcohol, but a look at the ways people enjoy drinks. There are high-end bars and there are little rooms with picnic tables outside. There are people who go out to happy hours with their friends and there are people who have a highball alone before bed. I'm not interested in the characters who drink, but in the characteristics of drinking, and the attitudes that surround it in different locations and classes. 

I'm also interested in pop music criticism. I wrote music and comic book reviews in St. Louis before I moved to Louisville. 

LOU: I know you once got poked by a sword-wielding Ben Folds.  As awesome as that is, that's probably not your favorite story from your journalism career.  What is?  I'm not talking about the most important thing you've ever done as a journalist; I want to know what story left you feeling gobsmacked and thrilled. 

The Ben Folds encounter wasn't in the line of journalism. It happened when I was an intern on Late Night. I was gobsmacked a lot that semester. Conan threw (well-intentioned) insults at me, I went to the bathroom while a shirtless Frank Black brushed his teeth a few feet away and I asked Christopher Walken if he was calling me fat. In my journalism career, I've recorded a lot of phone interviews with exciting people. In 2007 and 2008, I covered every major candidate for President and Vice President. The closest I got to any of them was a brief chat (30 seconds maybe) with Obama in 2007 in St. Louis. I'm sure there are some very exciting stories I'm forgetting, but the most memorable encounters have been with total strangers.

LOU:  Also, because I'm famously shy, I'm wondering how you gather up your courage to ask people questions in the line of duty.  Especially hard questions.  Especially hard questions voiced to people who aren't very nice.  Have you ever had a really bad experience interviewing (or trying to interview) someone?  (In my brief, brief foray into radio journalism, I was cussed at by Alan Ginsberg.  And I gave up radio journalism immediately.)

I'm very neurotic in real life. I usually play interactions over and over in my head to analyze them, and my conclusions are rarely positive. I'm shy about meeting new people, too. Somehow, though, I can turn that off when I'm working. I don't do anything special to psych myself up. I'm just able to stop second-guessing myself about interviews. It may be because I put such a high value on reporting. I realize how useless these neurotic tendencies are when I'm on duty.

As far as asking tough questions or handling hostile subjects, there have been bad reactions, but they've never been a problem. I ask what I want to know and if a person reacts poorly, that's going to come through later. If I'm interviewing someone, there's probably a reason, and I'll stand by that. I'm not trying to make any friends. I'm not trying to make enemies, either. I'm doing my job.

LOU:  Louisville is really lucky to have you, so I refuse to even entertain the notion that a career-minded Gabe Bullard may NOT make Louisville his "forever home."  So let's do a little role playing, shall we?   Let's pretend for a moment that some fictional, honey-tongued local NPR reporter is offered some big-timey NPR job in a larger market and perhaps the opportunity to have his face featured on an NPR tote bag.  Gabe Bullard: convince this misguided young reporter to stay in Louisville. 

I can't convince anyone, but maybe I can help this fictional person decide. "Think," I would say, "why did you come to Louisville, and what have you accomplished? What will this other job and city offer you? If you feel like you can responsibly move on, having left a mark, and if you feel like you'll be happier, then go on...Also, can I move into your apartment if you leave?"

Check out Gabe online at The Edit and at GabeBullard.com.  

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