Richard Crouse has made a career out of interviewing people. The veteran film critic is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel, CP24 and hosts The Richard Crouse Show on Newstalk 1010. He’s a staple of TIFF and asks the questions we want answers to when it comes to actors, actresses, directors and anyone else involved in the entertainment business.
Now, with a bottle of wine in hand, Crouse does it in Season 3 of Pop Life. Airing Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel, Crouse welcomes guests from around the entertainment world to sit, sip and converse about their lives, careers and pop culture.
We turned the tables on Crouse by asking him questions about Pop Life, how it’s tied to an old gig and the secret to good interviews.
I’ve never heard the story about you being a bartender before you started out and getting into conversations with people. Why did you think that would translate well into a TV show?
Richard Crouse: When we started putting the show together, one of the things that was really important to me is that the show was different than other things that were on. The idea of doing a talk show isn’t remarkably different. The idea of even having a theme as we do on the show, wasn’t remarkably different, but I wanted the feel of it to be different.
I always thought that some of the best conversations that I ever had were when I was a bartender. I would sit, talk, and now I’m lubricating people with alcohol while I was doing it. People were relaxed, the conversations went to unexpected places, and I just sort of let my mind drift back to those days. It was a long time ago but I did it for a long time. I loved it. I loved bartending, I liked meeting people, I liked the conversations. I learned more about interviewing people, I think, while I was serving them drinks than I ever did in any other way. I thought, ‘Why not try and translate that to television?’
I mentioned it, and they said, ‘Well, let’s build you a bar then.’ Now we have a bar that’s on the old Canada AM performance stage. That’s also where they shot Definition and Headline Hunters. Part of the movie Network was shot there. That place sort of reverberates with history.
How do you decide who’s going to be on the show, and then how do you decide who’s gonna be on the show together with each other?
RC: We look at who we have access to, who we can bring in, and look at their stories. If they have a fascinating story, someone like from our first season, Jeremiah Tower, was a guy who’s not a household name. He was the chef who created California cuisine, and at the height of his fame—he was one of the first rock star chefs—he disappeared. He just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He disappeared for years. More recently, Ken Jeong from this season. He talked about his story that people know about, I think. You know he was a doctor and then went into stand-up comedy. What was less known, and what we managed to get on the television show, was the thing that made him change. Not that he just wanted to do it, but there was a push. I wanted to know what that push was, and he talked about that.
We found people that have incredible stories and can tell them well. And then from there, it became, like the Ken Jeong interview, it was all about reinvention. So then we went out and we found people who had completely changed their lives. A woman who was homeless when she was a teenager and is now one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs. We’ve got a guy who was so crippled by anxiety that it was difficult for him to leave his home, and now he teaches improv and does stand-up. We try and bring together people with really human stories that people will want to hear.
I’ve found over the years, it’s a real skill to be able to kind of go away from the notes. Ask a question that pops into your head and more importantly, just let the other person talk.
RC: Listen. Listen. That is the thing that is probably the single most important part of doing an interview like this, is to listen and see where it goes. I not only interview people for Pop Life. I prepare in the same way when I do all these interviews. There are notes that are made that make my producers and everyone feel comfortable that we have notes and questions, the interview will have some kind of structure. I’ll probably use one of those questions, and it’s usually the first question. And then we’ll see where it goes from there.
For me, it’s about listening. It’s about not being afraid to deviate from the notes that you’ve made. I think to be able to do that you have to show the person you’re interviewing the respect of knowing as much as you can and being able to follow the interview wherever it’s gonna go.
That’s scary, though, isn’t it? Obviously, they’re not there to see you, but they’re there to see you guide the way that the conversations going to go.
RC: Yeah, and you’re absolutely right. They’re not there to see me, and that’s why I often say, and I say it on Pop Life too when we do the panel segments of Pop Life, I’m just a traffic cop. Nothing more than that at this point. My job is to kind of stay out of the way and if necessary, get the conversation back on track.
Pop Life airs Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel, Saturdays at midnight ET on CTV and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. ET on CTV News Channel.
Image courtesy of Bell Media.