BEN TANZER

Welcome.

Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here, and I appreciate the chance to talk with you about my new essay collection Be Cool—a memoir (sort of) from Dock Street press.

 

Well, great, congratulations, truly, should we get right into the questions?

Yes, of course, soft ball questions, right, I hope.

 

Yeah, sure, anyway, so, navel-gazing…?

What?


How did you get into greeting cards?

Well, I started with Seuss and refused to vamoose,
As the pleasures of rhyme found their traction.
Faced with business or law, I’d just doodle and draw
As my studies were spent in inaction.

Stayed a student for years while my friends got careers;
I weighed “marrying wealth” or “adoption.”
When it happened one day I found Hallmark would pay
I accepted. (Did I have an option?)

I should note here as well that though work life was hell,
I’ve decided that this is my curse:
Writing cards 9 to 5 I could barely survive,
But at everything else I suck worse.


Did you ever imagine you’d still be writing greeting cards, fifteen years after quitting?  Particularly since publication, in an enterprise like Greeting Card Emergency, which started as a goofy way to promote your book but has led to actual industry offers?*

Why don’t you have a business card?

I’ve never had a business card.  Even when I was a freaking greeting card writer at freaking Hallmark–the coolest job a person in Kansas City can have–I was unable to prove it and help my social stock rise at parties.  (Sure, you can just say you’re a card writer, but people often demand the long form.) To this day, when I meet someone and we need to trade numbers, I just grab a nearby napkin and draw something like this:



Which is also keen in a way, but really time-consuming.  Also, I’ve never been able to win a free lunch by throwing this cartoon in a business’s fishbowl.



You’re a regular contributor to public radio’s This American Life.  So what’s Ira Glass really like?

I’m happy to report that he’s incredibly sweet, and he really does genuinely like people.  He will listen to bores and irritants–people who drive even me to vexed agony in seconds–for an hour or so, with every appearance of actually caring what they say, and since he’s always in demand at parties, he’s also very adept at juggling people’s attentions without seeming too damn inaccessible.  The man could write a seminar.

Having said that, when he’s at work, you don’t want to interrupt him.  In fact, what Ira Glass is like is actually what every single producer at This American Life is like: brilliant, funny, friendly…and, with the flip of a switch, perfectionistic to the point where it looks like mental illness.  They all work late without even thinking about it. They all care deeply about telling the best story.  They’re all ruthless about what’s not working, cut down inanities in a trice, and are passionate about the possibilities of radio.  This is why the show is still brilliant after 400 episodes, and I’m really glad I know them.  You couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of creative obsessives.  Also, I owe them my life and career.  So there’s that.



Is there anything else you’d care to add?

In a nod to Al Hirschfeld, I’ve hidden the word NINA in consecutive letters six times throughout this interview.  Happy hunting!

*(I believe the answer to this one goes without saying.)