There’s a whole lot of Mervyn Peake going on here. (Photo by Belinda Waymouth)
It’s easy to throw a word like “pugnacious” on Greg Fitzsimmons. Yes, he’s fiercely confrontational, but mostly, we blame the Notre Dame mascot. Thanks to that scrappy leprechaun’s tiny balled fists, whenever we think of “Irish” and “combative,” it’s the first thing that pops in our head. So, good work Knute Rockne.
Fitzsimmons, who does his weekly The Greg Fitzsimmons Show on Sirius XM’s Howard 101 channel, has added a podcast, Fitzdog Radio, to his repertoire. A book, that draws on that Irish-Catholic New York upbringing, Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox, comes out Nov. 9.
First, though, he does a set tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. at Sunset Station’s Club Madrid. Tickets are $20. We had the chance to talk to Fitzsimmons on Election Day about Sharron Angle, the future of satellite radio and fans of porn.
It’s Election Day. This is right in your wheelhouse.
I get the big picture. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal with just a hint of conspiracy theorist. I feel fascinated by America’s inability to take a step back and see what a narrow distance there is between the two parties.
Here in Nevada we have the Sharron Angle/Harry Reid race. Everybody is on edge about it.
How long has Harry Reid been in office? 30 years? What’s this woman’s name he’s running against?
She couldn’t be dumber. There’s this new breed of outspoken women in politics that don’t seem to need anything except attitude. It’s like bad comedy. I kind of look at Obama, he got stuck into just a shitstorm. There’s no way he was going to come out of it a winner. Predictably, he’s been attacked and held back and he’ll be seen as a failure. Even though I think like Jimmy Carter, I think he is in some ways a guy who is true at least to his ideals. He might not be the most effective leader, but I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to see somebody believe in something and it’s just so sad to see him have to keep giving in because he’s facing so much attack.
Speaking of people believing in something, what was your take on the Daily Show/Colbert rally?
I liked it. I think it falls in line with what I’m talking about. They’re killing the messenger. They’re trying to get people to – you got to strip back the entertainment part of politics. The disingenuous blowhards who are doing it for their own ratings. I just want America to take a look at who is funding the ideas that they’re so excited about and just to maybe examine how much of the issues that they’re taking a side of are really helping them and how much of it is not in their own interest.
I read this thing online, it was a nonpartisan poll that collected data from people on their lives, their income level, how many kids they have, where they live, and then it asked them what political party they’re aligned with. What issues they feel strongly about. In the end it would spit out the candidate that was most likely to represent their life situation and their beliefs. It was often way, way different. I think there’s too much in who your dad voted for. There’s too much in who your community supports, who your church is telling you to support. I don’t blame people, I blame the media for playing on people’s fears so that they can’t think straight.
Tell me a little bit about the book you’ve got coming out.
It’s called Greg Fitzsimmons is a Soapboxy Blowhard. The book is about the very American-Irish tendency to do the opposite of whatever you’re told to do. How in America you’re not really seen as a success if you just followed all the rules and then you got rich from it or famous from it. You have to be an outlaw. We get off on that. Especially the Irish.
It shows how in my life I was bred to do this by my parents’ reaction to the letters that were sent home my whole life. I’d be in trouble in school and they’d send a letter home. My parents very often would read it out loud and laugh. My mother saved all these letters and the book is filled with dozens of letters I found in a box in the basement. It sparked me to go, “Wait a minute, what’s wrong with my family? Why can’t I get along? Why can’t I follow directions? Why am I so angry?”
The book kind of looks at my relationship with my dad as my first authority figure, with him being a big, tough alcoholic and how that played out with anybody who’s in a position of power over me. How I made peace with it and the changes I made in my life, and in the end how it didn’t make a difference because now I’ve got a daughter who’s getting the same letters sent home about her.
You spent a couple of years hosting the AVN Awards.
I’m coming back to do some stuff around the porn awards this year, but I’m not going to host them. I’m done hosting them.
My wife is a very understanding woman, and I’ve done it twice. I think asking more of that from her would be bordering on abusive.
It’s a very interesting scene. The most fascinating part of it are the people who go, and are there as fans.
My relationship to porn does not include the word “fan.” A fan wears a T-shirt of what they love and they go to live events. I would call myself a begrudging addict, but it’s my little secret. Other than this interview. There’s no mystery to the fact they do it the same weekend as the computer electronics convention.
How’s everything going with the radio show?
It’s good. It’s a little funny right now because Howard is on the verge of making a decision to whether he’ll stay at Sirius/XM. His contract is up, and obviously, all shows on the network are there by the grace of Howard. I’m not really worried about it because I’ve been doing it for a few years. I gained a lot of experience. I basically learned from the best. Not just from Howard, but from Tim Sabean, who’s the program director. They gave me a lot of great advice. The experience has been amazing. I launched a podcast out of it that’s been pretty successful. I’d love to keep doing it, but if it goes away, in a way I’d be more just sad that Howard wouldn’t be on anymore.
If Howard does walk away, do you think that’s it for satellite radio?
Yeah. It’s not a sustainable business model without him. I think with what people can download now to their PDAs, I don’t see people paying for premium content when it’s no longer premium. Howard’s exclusive. People will pay for that. But a football game or music from the ‘60s is something you can get anywhere.
Even with Howard, there are a ton of great podcasts out there. Do you think satellite is just in the vice anyway between free content of terrestrial radio on one side and podcasts on the other?
No, because it’s being installed in new cars. Once you have it, you really have a hard time listening to commercials again. Being able to travel from state to state and being able to hear talk shows that are current, day and date current, and also hear music that you choose without the commercials. For people who are driving a lot – truckers are a big, big share of Sirius/XM — there are going to be people who it really works out perfectly for.
Right now, podcasting is something that has gotten traction like it didn’t 10 years ago when podcasting first shot up with a lot of the dot-com boom. I think this new wave of podcasting that’s really just been around for a couple of years, it’s grown steadily and it hasn’t exploded. The people who are more tech-savvy are doing it. Now with more people having iPods, you’re starting to see more. I have people who come to my stand-up shows that are in their 60s, and they listen to the podcast. I think it’s starting to trickle into mainstream more, but there’s not a business model for it yet. None of us are making much money with it.
Some people say they are, but I know for a fact nobody is making real money on it. If that changes, then you’re going to start to see the corporations get involved. You’ll start to see Warner Bros. and Viacom handle the traffic and handle the supply and wrap some kind of a price tag on it. I feel a little bit like this is the golden age of podcasting, but I don’t feel like it’s a competitor for satellite radio yet.
What’s it like having Howard as your boss?
He’s not really my boss. He gave me the show. Tim Sabean is kind of my boss. I’ll tell you, in three years of doing the show, I’ve been told to identify the guest more often a couple of times, and to talk into the microphone. Short of that, I have not gotten notes. I’ve gotten a lot of advice on broadcasting. I’d call none of it in the form of “You’ve got to do this.” It’s more of a professorial role that they have with me. I guess it’s probably the best boss you could have. And he pays me.
With your expansion into satellite, podcasting and the book, how has that affected your approach to stand-up?
A lot. No. 1, I draw an audience that a large portion of them are listening to the podcast, so they know my back story. They know my front story. They heard me probably a few days before talking about what’s going on in my life. There’s a level of honesty I have to bring to it now. I think I’m more comfortable just going on a rant and not having to hit jokes as often.
I did a street team for the first time this past week in Palm Beach, Fla. I basically just put it out on my podcast that said I’m looking for a few people that might hand out some fliers, promote the show locally, and I’ll take you to dinner and give you tickets to the show. I had three young people come out and they spent three days just hitting the town and putting out these fliers. I took them to dinner and I was a little nervous.
I didn’t know what they were going to be like. They were such big fans. They knew everything about me, yet it wasn’t a gross stalker-y fan. It was more like we were friends. I was interested in knowing who they were, because I don’t know who listens to my show.
Sometimes I really get freaked out. I’m talking into a microphone. It goes up on the internet an hour later, then tens of thousands of people are listening to it. It’s weird. I don’t know what they look like or who they are or where they live. So to sit down for a couple hours and talk to them was great for me.
What else do you have going on? What’s in the works?
I have two TV deals. I have one at 20th Century Fox for a sitcom I wrote. We’ll be going out and trying to sell that and see if it can actually get made into a pilot. I’ve been developing that with 20th for like a year and a half. I’ve got another pilot with Nickelodeon for sort of a hybrid game show/sitcom.
I don’t think anyone would immediately think Nickelodeon when they think about you.
Nickelodeon, they’ve got the daytime for kids and the nighttime for adults. This is a show that would kind of go in-between and appeal to both. I can’t go too much into detail with what the show is, but it’s like three generations of people living in the house, and there’s an element of a game show to it. That’s kind of exciting because it’s never been done before. I love developing and creating and thinking of ideas and trying to figure a way to do something that’s different.
The sitcom for 20th, it’s called Dear Mr. Simmons, like my book. It’s about a guy who’s Irish, and comes from a pretty wild area and family, and moves away and gets sober and marries a Jew and is very progressive. Then he comes back to his roots and is trying to protect his kids from being corrupted by the world he came from.
With such personal material, do you worry about doing it in a sitcom, that it would be too watered down?
I think it’s the spirit you’re trying to capture. With a sitcom, with Everybody Loves Raymond, I think that Ray really kept the dynamic that was in his stand-up and in his life. You have to really try to deliver the show as close to how it’s going to be as possible. If you come in with, “My life is kind of like this, and my father is sort of like this guy,” then in the end you’ll have a show you don’t even recognize. There are a lot of people that are paid to give notes and to develop. They will jump in and put their print on it.
I’ve been doing stand-up and writing long enough that I have a very clear picture of what my show is, and I will fight for it. I fought really hard for what was in my book. It’s about the politics of knowing what battles you can pick. I think my life is an open book, and I think the executives that gave me this deal know that this is what they paid for. If they’re going to water it down, I’m going to fight back. They don’t really have a leg to stand on, because this is what they bought.