Please enjoy this transcript of my second interview with Cal Fussman, New York Times best-selling author and a writer-at-large for Esquire magazine. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello boys and girls, lemurs and squirrels. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferris Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world-class performers, or attempt to do something lofty like that, but to drill into the specifics and that is where this podcast is different. I will ask them all of the nitty gritty details so that you can tease out the habits, routines, favorite books, etc. to apply to your own life. But this episode involves Cal Fussman, and for those of you who know Cal, well, he is a master storyteller so sometimes the best policy is just to let him go.
Cal appeared on this podcast. Pretty much no one had heard him interviewed at that point and he’s become quite the internet favorite. Cal, @calfussman, F-U-S-S-M-A-N on Twitter, is a New York Times best-selling author and was the writer at large, or is the writer at large, for Esquire magazine, where he’s best known for being the primary writer of the “What I Learned” feature.
Austin Chronicle has described Cal’s interviewing skills as peerless, and he’s really transformed oral history into an art form in many ways. He’s interviewed icons who have shaped the last 50 years of world history: Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Bezos, Branson, Jack Welch, De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino. It just goes on: Woody Allen, Muhammad Ali, John Wooden, Serena Williams; everybody. On top of that, Cal spent ten straight years – ages ago – traveling the world, swimming over 18-foot tiger sharks, rolling around with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and searching for gold in the Amazon.
This is the second episode with Cal. It’s completely self-sufficient. You can listen to it without having heard the first one. The first one includes all sorts of stories about him trying to box Julio César Chávez, about Mikhail Gorbachev, etc. In this episode, we talk about Muhammad Ali, what he learned from Muhammad Ali, his entire experience with Muhammad and so much more.
I asked many of you via Facebook and Twitter, what should I ask Cal in this round two? And probably 70 percent of you just said: he is my favorite storyteller of all time; please just let him talk for another four hours. So that’s effectively what I did, but it’s not four hours long. So I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. I never get tired of talking to Cal. He’s so good at what he does. He’s such a nice guy and he’s such an incredible storyteller. Here you have it, Cal Fussman, @calfussman on Twitter. Enjoy.
Cal, my good friend, welcome back to the show.
Cal Fussman: Thanks so much. I’m ready to walk the tightrope with you.
Tim Ferriss: Speaking of walking the tightrope, someone who’s not ready to walk any tightropes is my poor pup Molly, who got sedated for X-rays earlier today, who’s been entertaining us and gaining our sympathy by wandering around and staring off into space. She looks as high as a kite. You mentioned to me that she should be listening to…?
Cal Fussman: Tom Waits.
Tim Ferriss: Tom Waits, a name I did not recognize, I’m embarrassed to say.
Cal Fussman: Well, if Molly was to hear Tom Waits sing, “The piano has been drinking, my necktie’s asleep.” That’s pretty well the way she’s looking right now.
Tim Ferriss: Thematically appropriate. I thought we would start, and of course we’ve been chatting over the last two days – spending time together – about Muhammad Ali. I just want to pass it over to you because I know it hit you quite tremendously hard, it would seem, and unlike most people listening, you had direct interaction with Muhammad Ali. So I’ll just pass it over to you for your thoughts.
Cal Fussman: For me, it was almost like having your childhood end when you’re in your 50s – on the day that he died. It’s very hard to describe the feeling. I hadn’t ever really felt anything like it.
In fact, at a time where everybody was sitting down in front of the television looking for reports, I just curled up in bed. I kind of knew the story. I knew everything, so there was nothing more for me to learn. I was just terrifically saddened because he was my childhood hero and there really are no longer many like him.
Tim Ferriss: What made him unique? And how did you grow to or get to know him?
Cal Fussman: I didn’t meet him until 2003. At that point, the world knew that he had Parkinson’s disease. We had seen him at the Olympics with the torch. So let me back up to when I was a kid seeing him for the first time.
It’s very hard for a lot of people to understand what the ‘60s were like if you didn’t live through them. Because every day, you woke up and something else happened that made you go what? What? What? Whether it was, sadly, the shootings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bobby Kennedy, or it could have been Woodstock, or landing on the moon. Every day seemed to bring something that you didn’t expect. Ali was in the middle of it. That’s when he came of age. He won the heavyweight championship in 1964. So he kind of embodied, for me, the spirit of asking questions. Because at the time, he had won the Olympic gold medal in 1960.
The story goes – we don’t really know if it’s true – that when he came back to Louisville with his medal, he wasn’t allowed into a restaurant and able to sit with white people. So he took his gold medal and he threw it in the Ohio River. Whether the story is true or not, it makes a point. He was, in my mind, the voice of reason amidst what, at the time, was just crazy behavior. It’s hard to imagine that there were places where black people couldn’t walk into and sit next to white people. I’m walking around now and I’m just seeing in these days of Black Lives Matter, just how integrated we are. You go to an airport and there’s no longer a thought about this.
But back then, that was the order of the day. Muhammad Ali was somebody who stood up to that and let people know: hey, this is wrong. And he did it in a way that made people laugh at times, through poetry; he was like the first rapper. You could not take your eyes off him. The other thing that’s kind of interesting about it was there were only three networks that you could really watch in those days.
Tim Ferriss: Right, we were talking about that; it was kind of like BBC 1, 2, 3, and 4, in a sense.
Cal Fussman: Right. And if you have the camera on him, one of the most charismatic figures in the world, nobody else is going to compete with that. So everybody was watching him. It’s not like now in the days of the internet and TMZ, where he would have been followed relentlessly and every detail of his life would have been on the internet.
You only knew so much, but he was everywhere. Probably the most popular or the most well-known person in the world. When the Vietnam War really started to kick in and Ali was inducted into the draft, the way he stood up to it and his famous line, “I ain’t got nothing against no Vietcong. It’s just white people sending black people to kill yellow people.” At the time, this sliced the country in half. Either you loved him for it or you hated him for it. Either you were with the kids out on the street who were protesting against the war or with the people who were beating them over the head. Very hard for somebody who’s young now to understand that time?
We talk about the conventions that we’re having this year. People should go back and look at the 1968 Democratic Convention. It was a free-for-all. There was all kinds of violence outside of it. And Ali lived amidst this, and he was always, in my mind, asking the right questions. Why are we in Vietnam? Why can’t I sit next to somebody who has white skin in a restaurant? It was very simple. And then, there were so many people who hated him for asking those questions and for changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. He was really reviled by a huge number of people in this country. For him to constantly stand up and risk going to jail for what he believed in, the faith that he had.
Then it was backed up by his bravery in the ring when he fought with Joe Frazier and he fought with George Foreman. People thought he was going to get killed when he fought George Foreman, who was undefeated and had knocked out just about everybody.
Tim Ferriss: What about the Incredible Hulk? I think it was in the warm-ups leading up to – am I getting this right? It was in Zaire. I might be getting my locations mixed up. I sometimes conflate the Frazier and Foreman fights. But Ali and others didn’t want to watch Foreman warming up on the heavy bag because it was just such a spectacle of force and impact.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, you didn’t want to believe that was coming in at you. And yet, when they got into the ring to fight, Ali basically laid back on the ropes and let Foreman throw that at him, all the while saying, “That all you got, George? That all you got?” And a funny line by Foreman was after four rounds, “Yeah, that’s about it.”
And then by the eighth, Ali hit him with a few straight punches and down he went; he was just exhausted. But over again, we saw him take tremendous punishment and come back as he aged. You just had a tremendous sense of belief when you followed him. So for me, the idea that he was always asking these questions that were important to ask, that were the most important issues of the day, and then when he stood up to everything that was in front of him with full faith in himself, in my mind that was the definition of a hero. In 2003, Esquire magazine was celebrating its 70th anniversary.
It had always been my dream to do a magazine story about Muhammad Ali, from the time I was a kid. So they sent me out to write this cover story based on reportage in Dublin, Ireland, where Muhammad was in town for the Special Olympics. He was going to help inaugurate the games. So I went out there and it was one series of experiences after another that were completely surprising to me. Because do you know when you have a hero, you often don’t want to meet them because they’re your hero before you know who they really are.
Tim Ferriss: Right, and you might encounter the hero with clay feet.
Cal Fussman: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: And suffer the disillusionment and disappointment.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, and you don’t want to walk away from your hero disappointed. So I didn’t know what was going to happen.
But keep in mind – we should cite this; this is seven years after 1996, the Atlanta Olympics – when he did something else that I thought was very brave. Because at that point, everyone knew he had Parkinson’s disease. And he stood with the Olympic torch in front of the world. The torch is in his shaking hand. He had to put it into the Olympic cauldron to get it to light. And for what seemed like an endless amount of time, he couldn’t get it in the right place, and his hand is shaking, and it was like the world was holding its collective breath.
And all of a sudden, he got it in the right place. The flame erupted, and so did everybody’s heart. And from that point on, ‘96 to 2003, we hadn’t really seen that much about him. So the editors basically said, “Tell us, how is he doing?” So I go to the Special Olympics to meet him.
He’s in a hotel, and he knows in advance that he’s my childhood hero. He comes through the double doors of his bedroom suite and he’s walking kind of slowly, and I just put out my hand to shake his hand. And he just threw out his arms and hugged me with a big embrace. After that, he’s moving on really slow, tender steps. And then he kind of slumps down in this cushy leather chair. I take the sofa on the side. And I say to him, “Champ, I came here to find out all the wisdom that you’ve accumulated in the world.” But he doesn’t seem to be paying attention. He seems to be paying attention to his right arm, which is trembling back and forth. And now both of his arms are really starting to tremble.
And I’m starting to think, what should I do? Should I call his wife? And now, not only his arms are trembling but his torso, his legs are shaking, his breaths are coming almost in gasps. And now I’m really starting to get nervous. I said, “Champ, Champ, are you okay?” And then slowly, his head rises to the point where he is at eye level with me. And he looks me in the eye and he says, “Scared ya, huh?” And it only got more confusing. It only got more confusing. So the Olympics get started, Special Olympics, and there was one moment when it really hit me. Like you asked why was he your hero?
Muhammad is going to meet with Nelson Mandela. Muhammad’s best friend and photographer, Howard Bingham, is with us, and Muhammad’s wife, and I’m coming along. We meet Mandela, and we’re walking to a hotel suite to sit down and talk. And on the way, Mandela is saying how when he was imprisoned in his younger days and he would hear news of Muhammad Ali, how much it inspired him. And I’m standing there looking at Nelson Mandela thinking: hold it; my hero is Nelson Mandela’s hero. And that’s when it really hit me what Muhammad Ali meant to the world.
We had this nice meeting. And then the Olympics get started, and Ali was there to go around the track in a golf cart and kind of wave to the crowd and just get everything started off on a really high note.
So I’m down at the base of the stadium with him, and the golf cart comes out and Muhammad slowly gets on; he gets into his seat. Howard, his best friend and photographer, gets on the back and he waves me – come on, get on, get on. So I run and I hop on the golf cart and it was an amazing experience. Because you’re driving around, and there’s 80,000 people in Croke Park. And wherever Ali went was that same chant: Ali, Ali! And it was almost like this energy is coming from the top of the stadium down on us. Then Ali would put up his hand, and then the energy would get pushed back all the way to the top.
Then it would come down again, and so back and forth and back and forth. I was always the one at the top of the stadium screaming, so it was an amazing experience to see the power that he still had. And yet, when we had to leave that day, he needed a wheelchair. So it was like a mystery to me because he had all this power, and yet he was very vulnerable and his body was breaking down. I was just trying to figure this out to write this story, to explain how is Muhammad Ali doing? It was confounding to me.
Because one day we would go out to dinner and after dinner, we’re coming out of the restaurant and a huge throng of people is coming.
It’s time to get in the car and go. We just can’t be avalanched like that. He needs to move fast, and he does. And then, the day after that, he can’t speak much above a whisper at that time but he’s doing magic tricks for people. When we got back to his home in Michigan, I remember he had just taken his medicine for Parkinson’s disease. We’re sitting on the couch. The medicine turned his tongue orange. We’re talking and just all of a sudden he falls asleep, and his left leg is jangling into mine. I’m thinking, how can I possibly make sense of this?
I can’t really describe these contradictions. There’s no question I can really ask that’s going to unlock this mystery. So I’m getting down to the last day that I’m scheduled to be with him.
And Muhammad’s wife, Lonnie, says, “You know, you don’t work out much anymore, Muhammad. Why don’t you just go with Cal to the gym and just do a little workout?” Muhammad kind of rolls his eyes: oh, okay, come on. So he takes me over to the gym on the property, and it’s not really a gym; it’s more like a museum. We walk in and the ring looks like nobody’s ever-stepped foot in it. There’s no smell of sweat. There’s exercise equipment all around the ring and it looks like it’s just out of boxes. All four walls have mirrors on them, and above the mirrors are photos, great photos, of Ali fighting his archrival Joe Frazier.
There were other photos, too, but those were the ones that really stood out to me. Because the trilogy that they fought was like the thrill of my childhood.
It’s what I lived for. I knew everything about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier down to the childhood stories that define their styles in the ring. Like for instance, Muhammad, when he was a kid, he would have his younger brother, Rudy, pick up rocks in the street and throw the rocks at Muhammad’s head. Back then, he was Cassius. And as the rock would be approaching his head just about to hit, he would just throw his head back, lean away from it and let the rock slide by. And that was exactly the style he adopted in the ring. He would dance like no other heavyweight ever before him danced.
If you got close enough to throw a punch, he was just going to lean back, make you miss, and then he’d hit you like 20 times, faster than a shoeshine guy could buff a pair of shoes.
Joe Frazier, on the other hand, very different story. Short, stocky, and here’s where that left hook came from. When he was a kid, he grew up on a farm in Beaufort, South Carolina. His dad had only one arm. Nobody knows the real story, but apparently there had been trouble with some other woman, and some shooting, and so Joe’s dad only had one arm. And they would work this cross saw back and forth, Joe and his dad. Joe’s dad would use his right arm, and Joe would be using his left. So he’s just sawing back and forth for years with that left hand.
He had the muscles that are developing as he’s going back and forth, back and forth. The power that he developed in this left hand turned into this phenomenal left hook that came out of the side out of nowhere.
It was the only punch that a kid who could move away from rocks in the middle of the street was vulnerable to because you didn’t see it coming. All the times, except at the very end of his career that Muhammad Ali got knocked down, always with a left hook. It was his kryptonite. And here you’ve got a guy who is like 5’10”, 205 pounds of relentless kryptonite coming at him. And when Ali fought Frazier, it was like thunder versus lightning. The thing about it was, when they fought, Ali had already refused to go into the Army.
He was stripped of his heavyweight championship. The government wouldn’t let him fight. The state commissions wouldn’t let him fight for three and a half years. He lost the prime of his career.
When he was finally able to come back in 1970, he wasn’t as fast. He couldn’t dance the way he danced when he was 22 and 23. At this point, he’s 28, 29. He’d never had anybody like Joe Frazier coming at him before. So you had on March 8, 1971, thunder versus lightning, never before seen: two undefeated legitimate heavyweight champions confronting each other. Frank Sinatra, there was a photographer in the front row; everybody had to be ringside for this. The whole world was watching. It was like the sporting event of the century. So what happened, what happened in the first fight anyway is Ali started to get in trouble because Joe Frazier just would not stop.
The left hooks kept coming. Ali was able to get into the minds of a lot of his opponents. He tried to get into the mind of Joe Frazier. Frazier would be hitting him with shots and Ali would be saying to him, “You can’t beat me, I’m God!” That would have worked on some other people. Joe Frazier just looked at him and said, “Well, God’s gonna get his ass whooped tonight!” He kept throwing punches. And so when Ali would get into trouble – and Frazier got him into trouble – he had this corner man named Drew Bundini Brown, who was the guy who, when you hear the phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” that came from both Muhammad and Bundini.
They would kind of sing it, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; rumble, young man, rumble!”
So when Ali got in trouble, Bundini would, in the most poetic ways, say things to help lift him up, anything. “The world needs you, Champ!” “Go to the well once more! Go to the well once more!” Almost always, Ali would reach inside of him, find whatever was deep in the well, and use it to lift him over the bar. So I’m looking at these pictures above the mirrors on the wall, and I’m almost hearing Bundini’s voice in my head: “Go to the well once more!” And I realized that’s what I’ve got to do. That is my question, here. In order to write this piece, I’ve got to find out what’s still in the well.
So I look around the gym and there is a rack of boxing gloves. And I’m saying to myself, “You think you should take the risk?”
I don’t know. Then I said, “What the hell, let me try it.” Because one of the things that I’ve learned as an interviewer is when you get to the end of an interview, that’s when you can always ask the toughest question. So I take four gloves off this rack and I put two on Muhammad’s hands and two on mine. Now, actually if people heard the first –
Tim Ferriss: Installation of our conversation.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. Then they know about the story of me fighting against Julio César Chávez.
Tim Ferriss: Which begins – just as a side note – with you sitting on the couch eating potato chips berating Julio César Chávez on TV and your wife saying something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, okay. You’re going to fight Julio César Chávez?” And you’re like, “Damn right I’m gonna fight Julio César Chávez.” And long story short, because you should listen to the long version, you ended up traveling by hook and crook and donkey and everything else to make it happen.
Cal Fussman: Yes, we did.
Tim Ferriss: But you did a lot of serious boxing training.
Cal Fussman: And that’s the whole point, here. When I trained, I trained for six months to get in the ring for one round with Julio César Chávez. And I trained in the exact style of Joe Frazier. I could do Joe Frazier so well, I could even sound like Joe Frazier. So I’ve got these gloves on, he’s got the gloves on, but I don’t come at him. I don’t ask to go to the ring. I just start to move toward the heavy bag. Smokin’ Joe had this style where he’s like bobbing back and forth, his head moving left to right, and his left hand would be doing like a figure eight in front of his head and his right hand would be figure eighting in front of his jaw. And he’s going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
He’s low, and he’s in a crouch and he’s just relentlessly pursuing. Then he’d get close with the left hand saying, “Hit me ta, hit me ta.” He’d be throwing that left hook. So I’m in that crouch, I’m bobbing and weaving. I’m looking at Ali out of the corner of my eyes to see what kind of reaction I’m going to get. It was like watching his eyebrows arch. It was like watching a sleeping lion awakened by an old, familiar scent. He looks over and he says, “You good!” I hear that and now I’m starting to hit into the bag saying, “Hit me ta, hit me ta!” I’m throwing my left hooks right at it: hit me ta, hit me ta.
Ali steps up. And he’s throwing left, right, left, right, left right. I said, “You think that’s gonna keep me off?” Now I’m really in a crouch.
Hit me ta, hit me ta, hit me ta. He steps in, lefts and rights, lefts and rights, jab, jab, jab, lefts and rights. I come back, and all of a sudden he looks at me in a way that says: “Okay. So that’s your question.” Slowly, with his left hand, he waves me away from the bag, and he waits until I’m away from the bag. Then I saw something I never thought I would ever see again. Muhammad Ali started dancing. He’s dancing around the bag. He’s moving not like when he was 20, but he still had the rhythm, he still had the grace.
He’s moving around the bag, and he’s looking at himself in the mirror. As he’s looking at himself, you could see his chest come up.
Then his head came up, and he’s dancing, and he’s dancing. Then all of a sudden, he stops, pivots, and there were like 40 straight shots right into the bag, really rapid fire. I’m in disbelief. His last shot, if the bag had been a heavyweight fighter, he might have knocked him down. I’m standing there just staring, don’t know what to say. It’s hard to process what I’ve just seen.
Tim Ferriss: You’re thinking, no one is going to believe me.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. What? As he’s going away from the bag, his legs cross and he starts to go down. I’m going: no, no, this is not happening. No, please! And now he’s going down, down, down and there are mats on the ground, and he falls on the mats.
Now I’m thinking, “What did you do, Cal? Oh, you idiot! Why did you do that?” I’m paralyzed for a second but then I start to move over to help him get up. Before I can reach him, he flips over and he starts doing stomach crunches. Then he’s doing sit-ups. Then he’s on his back, legs bicycling in the air. Then he gets up and he goes over to super leg press. It’s on like 250 pounds. He grips it, pushing it back and forth. I said, “Champ, you don’t have to do this. I seen you, Champ. I seen you. Don’t worry about it. I know what’s in the well.”
And he just looked at me and he said, “Feels good.” And I thought I had pushed him as far as I could, but he had more to give. So after this, we go back to the house and he knew that I wanted his wisdom.
He tells me to sit down at a table outside the kitchen. I’m sitting down, and he comes to me with a piece of paper. On this paper, it’s just filled with wisdom. I’m going down the lines, one after the other, and he points to one in the middle. It says, “God will not place a burden on a man’s shoulder knowing that he cannot handle it.” And that kind of summed everything up. But for me, the story went a little further. Because he went into the kitchen, and he came out with two bowls in his left hand and a quart of ice cream in his right. You know how much I love ice cream, Tim.
So I got a chance to sit at a table and have ice cream with my childhood hero. That is my enduring memory. It was just sad to in one minute know that this man who had been with me all my life was not with us anymore. The thing that really pushed me, because I was called by the editor of Esquire because the magazine was shipping out on the exact day that Muhammad died. So he wanted to hold off the issue and make sure that we represented. Esquire had followed Ali’s career like just about no other magazine; maybe Sports Illustrated can make the same claim.
So I’m sitting there charged with writing this essay of what he meant to me. What really hit me was when I started to think forward. I started to think of all of the kids now. I’m wondering, what kind of heroes do they have? Do they have a Muhammad Ali? I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is because we don’t have a Nelson Mandela who saw Muhammad Ali as a hero. It’s just a completely different time. I wondered what this absence might mean for this next generation going forward. Who are their heroes? What are they going to get out of it?
It really has pushed me to think, and to think a lot about this millennial generation, which we were laughing about yesterday because everybody says the word “millennial.”
Tim Ferriss: I tried to look it up. I was like, we need to sort this out. We were at dinner having some wine. And the first article that pops up says, “Everyone can agree that millennials are the worst.” And the next line was something along the lines of, “But no one can seem to define what exactly a millennial is.”
Cal Fussman: Well, there you go. The amazing thing to me, for some reason – I don’t know what it is, and I think you have the same characteristic – certainly you do. I’m just starting to see little vibrations of it. Where there’s an attraction among the millennials to you. I know that because they all come over to me and say, “Oh, I heard the podcast that you did with Tim Ferris.”
So there’s like this whole arc of millennials out there that I know are listening to you. They’re also starting to come up to me. I really feel for this generation. I feel for them because I don’t think they have a Muhammad Ali. A lot of them were behind Bernie Sanders. To me, I love seeing Bernie out there pounding on the podium. He’s in his mid-70s and he’s throwing himself into it, and it looked like what could be better than that? You’re that age and you’re throwing your entire passion into your every day. You can’t beat that. But to me, there’s a difference between having Muhammad Ali as a hero and to having Bernie Sanders as a hero. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe people will –
Tim Ferriss: Well, I think there’s a difference in stakes, right? And I think that – who was it? Cus D’Amato? I want to say it was Cus D’Amato, the famous trainer of Mike Tyson starting in the Catskill days, who said, “The hero and the coward feel the same thing. The difference is how the hero responds.” And I’m paraphrasing, of course. But the fact of the matter is if – and I’m sure some people will disagree on some level – but the stakes of engaging in the theater of politics for an election are very different from going up against the norms and laws of your country. The stakes are just different.
So you have someone who has put their livelihood where their mouth is, and reputation where their mouth, is to make sacrifices. I think that engenders a certain type of loyalty and respect that is very hard to mimic in the sort of charade of politics as we see a lot of it play out.
But I would say that if there is a problem related to heroes among younger generations right now, I don’t think it’s because there is a lack of heroes. I think it’s because there is so much noise that one needs to sift through to find the signal that is a hero they can believe in. If that makes any sense. Instead of having four channels, you have an infinite number of channels in the form of websites and feeds and apps and push notifications, and so on. So it becomes more of a sort of cognitive burden and time-consuming task to find someone that one can dedicate their admiration to. Does that make any sense?
There are a few exceptions, though. I would say that, as you said, we didn’t have all of the details when he was the greatest.
Much like all of this sort of came up at the time, for the nature of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – the adultery. People are flawed human beings; they make mistakes. They make bad decisions. But in today’s environment, that gets showcased and put into a permanent record that comes up as a top five Google result for your name. So I think it’s more challenging to have heroes now because they are more clearly human as a result of the abundance of information available.
But I do think there are some out there. Elon Musk I think is very inspiring, has made great decisions, has all of the flaws that human beings do, of course. But I’m cautiously optimistic. I think that there are very few Muhammad Alis, period, in the world.
Cal Fussman: Well, yeah. What I realized is a lot of this is the time, as you’re saying. Because when you look at what Elon Musk is doing and the grandiosity of his vision, and then also to have failed, failed, and then put the craft in the air. So you see, yeah, this is a big timer. And yet, if you were in South Dakota at a movie theater and Elon Musk was ten people in front of you in line to get in, how many people would know who he was?
Tim Ferriss: I see where you’re going. He is sort of unassuming compared to a heavyweight champion of the world, right?
Cal Fussman: Yeah, but to my mind when you think of a hero – this is what I’m trying to grapple with, this question.
Has the hero changed now so that Elon Musk is the hero now? But to think of him in the way I think of Ali is just foolish because everything’s changed.
Tim Ferriss: It’s entirely possible. I want to actually ask a couple of questions that were sitting on my mind during your story. The first is, do you remember the flavor of ice cream that you had?
Cal Fussman: Vanilla.
Tim Ferriss: Vanilla? Just straight vanilla?
Cal Fussman: Straight vanilla.
Tim Ferriss: No decoration on the vanilla?
Cal Fussman: No, just vanilla ice cream.
Tim Ferriss: How did you end up opening and/or closing the piece that you wrote, if you remember?
Cal Fussman: It’s interesting because one of the difficulties that you have – and this always happens. You’re a writer and they say okay, you’ve got 1,500 words.
Then you start writing, and then there are 2,500 words on your page and you know that only 1,500 are going to fit in the magazine. They basically pull this thing away from the presses, and there are a certain amount of pages and so there’s no extra room for you. The editor said, “This is what I can give you.” He’s giving you an opportunity to make the most out of it. Of course you want to make it even better than that, somehow. So you go overboard and you write a thousand extra words. Then you have to look at it, have an editor look at it, and then say okay, what’s the 1,500 words that we really want here?
The interesting thing about this piece was exactly what I was just talking about. There was everything that I had seen in the past, and then there were these questions of where does this put the future?
But at the time, it really was an obituary and so it really was a look back. So the thousand words that got cut were the thousand words that were looking ahead. And it basically ended with this point that you just were never going to see this again, ever. It’s passed. We don’t know where it’s going. Maybe it is going to the Elon Musks of the world and people will just have a different definition than I did.
Tim Ferriss: It’s possible. Or if you look at just a broader time scale, right? I mean how many Genghis Khans are running around? Not that many. And if you look at it in a broader, 1,000 year increment, maybe we’re just in a lull period between heroes.
Cal Fussman: That’s an interesting point. I guess we’re accustomed to – we want heroes.
Tim Ferriss: We need heroes. I think human beings need heroes. I think we’re hardwired to search for heroes. We find them in real life, we find them in mythology, we find them in religion, or we find them somewhere else. I think we are by nature very hierarchical animals. There’s a very interesting book called Chimpanzee Politics for people who are very interested in looking at the reality of our evolutionary biology. I think we look for rulers and heroes, and it’s an important signpost for the mammals we’ve evolved to be. Do you recall any of the other pieces of wisdom on that paper?
Cal Fussman: There were a lot that ran in this “What I’ve Learned” that I really like. My favorite was “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” That was a good one. “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.” “The sun is always shining someplace.”
I remember asking him about his definition of evil. And he said, “Unfriendliness.” I thought that was a really good answer. “The more we help others, the more we help ourselves.” “What you’re thinking about you are becoming.” Oh, how about this for a kicker? “When you’re right, nobody remembers. When you’re wrong, nobody forgets.”
Tim Ferriss: Dot, dot, dot; especially with the internet.
Cal Fussman: Looking back, I think it captured the experience that I spent with him. So there were two stories. One was the cover story that came out on the 70th anniversary of Esquire in 2003. Then in January of ‘04, the “What I’ve Learned” came out. I think both stories captured the essence of what I wanted to bring out. On top of that, I should point out for me, the best part of the experience was spending a week with my childhood hero.
And at the end of it liking him even more than I did before I met him. He was even more heroic to me for that reason, once I knew him. Just seeing the kindness. There was this great obit in Time magazine written by a guy named Bob Lipsyte, who was a New York Times columnist for many years and spent 50 years with Ali. They did a book in Time magazine that was filled with Lipsyte’s story and photos. The story starts in an interesting way. He and Ali are going through an airport. They’re late for the plane and Lipsyte doesn’t think they’re going to make it.
As they’re moving through the airport, a woman appears and notices Ali and pulls out her camera to get a picture. Ali stops, goes over to the woman, and makes sure that she has the picture that she wants. Lipsyte is thinking, “Look, the plane’s going to leave.” Ali said to him, “That was the only time that woman was going to have a chance to have her picture taken with me. I wanted to make sure she got the best picture.” I don’t know that there are many people who are thinking that way. Obviously, part of it gave him internal satisfaction, but he really was thinking a lot about everyone around him.
Tim Ferriss: Who are other people, heroes or just well-known folks who have exceeded your expectations?
Cal Fussman: I have breakfast every morning with Larry King, and so I see him when we’re in town together at the same time probably 300 days a year. If you’re an interviewer, it’s very likely you’re going to really look up to him. I’ve formed a very close friendship with him and that’s something I never could have anticipated. It’s beyond what he accomplished in a career; now it’s about friendship. So it has gone way beyond that sense of a hero from afar. In fact, I helped him write a book and he inscribed it to me saying, “To Cal, my friend, my writer, my hero.” When your hero calls you – he was joking, but still he wrote it on the page.
Tim Ferriss: It’s still on the page.
Cal Fussman: It’s still on the page; it still counts. But that’s emblematic that he would write that to me. It tells you about him. It tells you about the kindness and the friendship underneath it. So that’s probably my best answer to the question.
Tim Ferriss: I have some requests from fans, or I should say listeners, who had a lot of follow up questions for you and of course we’ll have to pick and choose. But this is from Ozro Hepworth: ask him if he’ll talk about the time in Brazil he used a camera under his shirt as a fake gun to scare off some guys. Is that a real thing?
Cal Fussman: How did he know?
Tim Ferriss: He said, “I heard the story from someone who knows him pretty well. I would love to hear about it via Cal Fussman storytelling style.”
Cal Fussman: Oh, man. Wow. Let’s see.
Tim Ferriss: My fans are everywhere, man. Eyes and ears in all corners.
Cal Fussman: You know what? That’s pretty impressive. Okay. This is early, I believe, 1994, February carnival, Rio de Janeiro.
Tim Ferriss: Carnevale.
Cal Fussman: My wife is Brazilian. I met her headed to a beach near the equator eight years before this carnival.
Tim Ferriss: The bus story that we talked about in part one.
Cal Fussman: Right. And so we get a chance to go back to Carnival where we’re going to dance in the samba parade and spangles and feathers at 3:00 in the morning in front of the huge crowds. It’s like a fantasy.
Tim Ferriss: Custom thong for yourself, I’m assuming?
Cal Fussman: When you join a samba school – they call them samba schools – various neighborhoods all band together and they compete against each other. So when an outsider comes in, you go to one of the samba schools and you wear their regalia. But it’s all spangles and feathers no matter what. When it comes to the beautiful women, there’s not too many spangles and feathers to be seen; it’s just the beautiful women. This is a wonderful experience. My wife couldn’t resist. She always wanted to dance in the samba school. She was five months pregnant at the time so it was probably not the best of times for her to be flying halfway around the world and dancing at 3:00 in the morning.
Tim Ferriss: Up on some float potentially, who knows?
Cal Fussman: Yeah, we weren’t on a float. We were following the floats. We had a great time; it was a blast. The thing about the way I traveled was I always liked to live with the people. So the people that brought us into this samba school lived in a favela, which is in the mountains overlooking the city.
Tim Ferriss: Very poor, typically; cobbled together electricity, oftentimes. If you haven’t seen The City of God, Ciudad de Dios, I think it is, check it out. That will give you a pretty good glimpse.
Cal Fussman: Some of the favelas are actually decent places to live. It’s not all like you’re living on a dirt floor. People figure out how to cobble electricity.
This area wasn’t an intensely poor area, but it’s dangerous to be moving around on the streets. But look, we were in a group of people from this area. I felt completely safe because when you’re with the people, you’re with the people.
Tim Ferriss: Safety in numbers with the locals.
Cal Fussman: The locals, exactly. So we go through the dance, it’s a really great time; the music, the crowd, the sheer pageantry of the whole thing. We’re starting to walk back home; it’s like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Now, right around that time we had heard of – I hope I’m pronouncing it right; it’s been awhile now. But the word was “ahasdao.” Which was – what would happen is there are a lot of bridges in Rio that people can walk over.
What young toughs and thugs would do is they would line both sides of the bridge and just be like looking over the water casually and waiting for an appropriate moment where everybody would just attack somebody or a group of people, to either steal something or you can get beat up. Stuff that wasn’t so good is going to happen to you. We’d heard about this. We knew it was kind of a dangerous time and we were staying in a place that while it was not dangerous on that street, we were still walking through dangerous places to get there. So it’s really early in the morning, and we’re walking across this bridge.
My wife is Brazilian, and she looks Brazilian. I do not look Brazilian; I’m like a gringo. It’s the middle of February and at that point, I’m back in New York. It’s winter and I’m looking really white.
Tim Ferriss: Ghostly.
Cal Fussman: I wouldn’t say ghostly. Come on, Tim, give me a break.
Tim Ferriss: Just trying to expand my adjectives; sorry.
Cal Fussman: I know that, okay, if they’re going to be looking to get somebody, they’re coming after me. So we’re all walking and now I’m seeing these lines of people on the side, and I can see that they’re looking over at us. I immediately know this is not good.
Because we’re in the middle of a fairly long bridge and we’ve got like a half a mile to get to the other side where at least you could run or do something. There’s nowhere for us to go except over the side and take a long tumble into the water.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom situation.
Cal Fussman: It was really scary. It’s interesting because when I think back on it, I have some measure of pride because there are just certain moments where you know, okay, bad shit’s gonna happen. What am I going to do? You have no time to think. So I immediately say to my wife, who really understands what’s going to happen even far better to me. I say, “You stay toward the middle but get away from me,” because I know they’re coming after me.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I may get thrown off the side, I may get pummeled; who was to know? But I’m just thinking if I could have them all turn on me, then my wife and my kid are going to be able to get away. So I move away and she is really nervous. I just said, “Walk as fast as you can to get to the other side.” I’m going to slow it down and have their focus on me. In the meantime, one of the guys that was in our neighborhood, Toco – God bless him – he has stopped to take a piss under the bridge. This piss saved my life. Because what happened was, after he was done he came back up to the bridge and then he saw from behind what was going to happen.
And he just came running, shouted to a few people and went running, and literally as everybody was about to turn on me – and the other thing about it I should point out, this is right after I fought Julio César Chávez. So I’m also in the back of my mind saying the first guy, I can hit him. Maybe if he goes down, maybe it’ll stop things for a second. Or maybe they’re all just going to mow me down. But there were a lot of men looking, and they’re coming after me.
Tim Ferriss: No shortage of firearms in Brazil, either.
Cal Fussman: You know what? I don’t even think it was a matter of that because the setup was you didn’t need it.
All you had to do was just get 50 people to line up the side of a bridge and then wait for a moment of attack, and then attack. A gringo tourist dressed in spangles and feathers, what’s he gonna do?
Tim Ferriss: I’m sorry. Just the sheer shock of some gringo in spangles and feathers knocking out the first guy would have been quite something. But please continue.
Cal Fussman: Okay. So at this point, there’s two thoughts. The first thought is, this could be it for me, but at least my wife and my son get out of here. So now I’ve slowed it down. I’m seeing she’s moving really fast away. Okay, now I’m waiting for the onslaught. Now, in the meantime, Toco sees what’s going on, calls a few of his friends and he just sprints with his hand inside his shirt. He and his buddies, they literally surround me and they just stop the group.
He’s a guy who’s looking like he’s Al Capone, like hey, I’ve got some serious firepower here. I’m going to mow you all down if you don’t leave him alone. He’s with us. Then there’s this fear among the crowd because we don’t know what Toco’s got under there.
Tim Ferriss: Who knows?
Cal Fussman: But he’s got something. Toco says, “Just back off, let us get to the other side of the bridge, we’re not going to have any problems. Otherwise, there’s going to be a lot of problems.” And these guys, just everybody’s staring at what’s inside Toco’s shirt. And so the others just remained still while I get to the other side. I’m walking straight but Toco and the others are walking backward, making sure nobody’s – with his hand in his shirt the whole time.
We get to the other side and I said, “Man, I didn’t know you took a gun.” And he pulled out a camera.
Tim Ferriss: Man, what a bluff.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. I owe my life to him and that quick bathroom stop and the camera. How did these people hear this story?
Tim Ferriss: I have no idea. You can ask Ozro, @ozrohepworth can tell you more. You might be listening, Ozro, so let Cal know. One more and then perhaps we’ll have to be continued. It’s from a friend of mine, actually, a chef. “Ask about his acceptance speech for the JBF.”
Cal Fussman: James Beard Foundation. That was something I didn’t expect. Man, it’s amazing.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the Oscars for food.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, it’s like the Oscars for food and it was in a beautiful setting with thousands of people in New York. The thing about the James Beard Award is there are a lot of awards given out during these ceremonies. In the beginning people are paying attention, but then you get everybody coming up and you’re warned. You’ve got three minutes. You win an award, like no more than 180 seconds up behind the mic. Everybody knows there are a lot of awards and if people talk for 20 minutes, you’re not going to get out of there until 4:00 in the morning. So you’re told: three minutes, that’s it.
As the evening is going and more and more awards, and people are going up and I don’t want to make fun of it but when you get people getting up and saying I’d really like to thank Aunt Penelope for showing me how to skin a cucumber. Like it’s over and over and over again.
Tim Ferriss: A thousand variations of Aunt Penelope.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, exactly. And so naturally, the crowd’s attention is going to start to drift away. Then once it starts to drift, it’s just not coming back. Unless Ted Allen gets an award, a well-known TV personality, people will: oh, there’s Ted Allen, and there will be a silence. But if you’re going through categories where only a few people know the person who has just won, the thing is just going on and on and on and now the whole crowd is having a good time at their table. Everybody’s talking and having a great time but nobody’s paying attention to Aunt Penelope no more.
So here it is, I’ve just written this story that took me ten years to write about being the sommelier at Windows in the World at the top of the World Trade Center just before the planes hit and the twin towers go down. It takes me ten years to be able to write this story; I was so traumatized. And I win the award for best essay. The award is called, I hear my name, and I go up to the stage to give my speech. And I look out and nobody is paying attention. There must be like three or four thousand people there in this grand setting; nobody.
Tim Ferriss: Having a thousand conversations.
Cal Fussman: That’s right. I cannot describe all of the pain that I had to go through to get this piece out of me. And here I am, you get your medal and then you’re going up to speak.
I’m looking out at this crowd and I can’t speak out into that crowd because I feel like I’ve got something important to say that goes back to 9/11, and there’s nobody out there listening that I can see. So I just get behind the podium and I don’t say anything. 15 seconds pass, 30 seconds pass. There’s a woman over on the side, the one who’s saying, “Three minutes, three minutes.” I’ve just gone like 30 seconds and I haven’t said a word. 45 seconds, a minute. Now you can start to see some people are saying what’s going on? Why isn’t he talking about his Aunt Penelope?
Then, after it must have been a minute, maybe a minute and a half, Ted Allen stands up and in the crowd, throws his arm up like no!
Like, Cal must speak! He didn’t say that but something like that. A hush comes over the crowd, and still I said I am not going to say a word until there is complete silence in this place. And I just wait, and I wait and my three minutes is all up. Now there are people all around with their arms up saying, “Let him speak! Let him speak!” Then I spoke. The beauty of the experience – because I’m only now understanding that speaking was something that I was born to do.
When I look back on those moments, like that moment tells me yeah, you were born to do this. Because afterward, a chef like Paul Bartolotta, who has a great Italian restaurant, had it at the Win for many years, has won James Beard awards for himself, came over to me and he just said, “You took back the crowd.” At the time, I didn’t understand it. But now that I’m starting to give speeches, now it makes sense. Yeah, I do have this and I have to use it. It would be terrible for me not to use it. I’m supposed to use it. But that was only like a flicker, and it was about five years after that before I started talking, but it was there.
Tim Ferriss: Some more questions when we get back from festivities?
Cal Fussman: A hundred percent. You know, we could spend all tomorrow talking if you want. I’ve got this guy who’s managing me now, Kevin the Manager. And he says, “Cal, you go on and you do these three and a half hour podcasts, like three and a half hours. Do you realize how long that is?” And then I said to him, “Kevin, it was fun. Why wouldn’t I?” So we can talk all tomorrow.
Tim Ferriss: Alright, fantastic. [Inaudible] barrel sauna use, which I’ll fill people in on, perhaps. One of my newest distractions/saviors but to be continued. This is great fun and we will continue.
All right. This is round two picking up in the a.m. We have two mugs full of yerba mate tea and I thought we would tackle some questions from listeners. One we can start with is Nick Styman: which interview in his career went worst? Discuss the aftermath.
Cal Fussman: Okay, there’s a good story to that one. I don’t know if many people remember a guy named William Buckley. He was an incredible intellect who was at the foundation of the Conservative party. But he had a TV show back in the ‘60s that was just fantastic. This guy had an amazing intellect and a vocabulary that you’d only dream of. I don’t know why but he was the only person I have ever been frightened to interview.
Just because – well, I’ll tell you why. Back in the ‘60s, he challenged Robert Kennedy to a debate on TV on his show. Robert Kennedy wouldn’t go. So Buckley comes on the next show and he spoke in this kind of effete way, and he basically says, “Well, you know, I invited Robert Kennedy to come and debate me. He has refused. This is clearly a case of the baloney rejecting the grinder.”
Tim Ferriss: What a line, wow.
Cal Fussman: He was like that all the time. He could take you apart if he wanted to just with the magnificence of his language. And I don’t know what it was but I was really scared.
Look, the guy was way older than me. He had seen much more than me.
Tim Ferriss: How old were you at the time? Just roughly.
Cal Fussman: Oh, let’s see. Probably late 30s, early 40s?
Tim Ferriss: So not totally green.
Cal Fussman: No, that’s the point. That’s the point. I had no reason to fear him. I’d already done many “What I’ve Learned” interviews. I’d already met a lot of famous people, people who had done big things. But I was just scared. So I said to myself, you’ve really got to be prepared for this interview like no other interview before. And so I did all my research. I read and read and read, and I watched what I could of him. For two days before the interview, I stopped eating.
Tim Ferriss: Was this part of your performance enhancement plan or was that just nerves?
Cal Fussman: I just wanted to be laser focused when I walked in there.
Tim Ferriss: Like a hawk.
Cal Fussman: That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: Or hunting like a peregrine falcon; they’ll starve to make their senses more acute, okay.
Cal Fussman: That’s exactly it. I wanted my senses to be laser focused when I walked in there. There was no way that this guy –
Tim Ferriss: Food was going to throw you off.
Cal Fussman: I’m outside of his apartment in New York like a half an hour early. I’m just pacing back and forth. I’m like, there’s no way he’s going to take you apart. You’re gonna stay with him, Cal. This guy is amazing but you’re going to stay with him. Finally, the appointed hour arrives. It’s like 11:00 in the morning. I go and I knock on his door. The door swings open, and he throws his arms out wide and he says, “Welcome to my home.”
And then he starts rubbing his hands together and he says, with a big smile on his face, “A little scotch?” Now I’m screwed. Now I’m screwed because when I traveled around the world, if you offered me something to eat or something to drink, I drank it or I ate it. I did some crazy stuff. I remember going to the Nile for the first time and just walking up and drinking out of it just to say, okay, I’m at one with you here. And the next three days, I couldn’t leave my hotel room; I was over the toilet. But that was my mentality. If you serve it, I have ultimate respect. I will eat it or drink it.
So now he’s saying, “Have this scotch.” I know if I put this scotch to my lips, within 20 minutes I’m going to be slurring my words or out of it because I’m just too clean for it. So I looked at him, and I said – God, I regret it. It gives me shivers just to repeat it. I said, “How about a little water?” And he looks at me and his nose goes up in the air and he says, “Oh.” And in that “oh” was, “It’s going to be that kind of interview, is it?” And the interview was done. It was just – I had not respected him. Look, my whole way of interviewing is I’m going to make you feel like you’re at home.
So here’s a guy who opened the door to his home, threw out his arms to embrace me, offered me – who knows – probably a 50-year-old single malt and I just said no. I couldn’t even make him feel at home in his home. We sit down and in fairness to myself, when I went back and listened to the interview, it wasn’t that bad. But it could have been great.
Tim Ferriss: Right, you know how much better it could have been.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. Because I just set it off on such a wrong note, and it ended way earlier than it should have ended. I walked away saying, you will never, ever do that again. That is a mistake you never should have made and I hope you learned your lesson.
So what happened in the aftermath is a good part of that question. Because okay, I’m getting ready to hand the piece in and I’m just making it work. It’s one of those, if you’re a pole-vaulter and you’re just getting over the bar.
Tim Ferriss: Just barely clearing it.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, and it’s like shaking. Like you’ve nicked it and it’s shaking. But I feel, as I’m about to hand it in, that it’s still there and I’m coming down and I’m going to have a soft landing here. So phew. And I get a phone call, and it’s bad news, Cal, bad news. It’s from the editor. What’s going on? Well, William Buckley had written a piece for Esquire like 30 or 40 years ago.
There were some problems with it and a legal agreement was made between William Buckley and Esquire that piece would never again run; it would never be republished. And Esquire had just put out a huge book of great stories.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, including his piece.
Cal Fussman: Because what happened was there had been maybe eight editors in between the time that happened.
Tim Ferriss: Too many regime changes.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, and nobody knew about this. Only Buckley and his lawyers knew and they basically said, “Hey, get that book off the racks. You can’t do this.” So they said there’s just no way we can run the interview. I got a reprieve.
Tim Ferriss: You got a reprieve and a pardon at the last minute.
Cal Fussman: That’s right. I got a last minute pardon. The lesson was the truly important thing because I will never, ever go into an interview nervous because it serves no purpose. It only hurts you.
Tim Ferriss: Were there points in the future when you felt the involuntary nerves kicking in and if so, what would you say to yourself?
Cal Fussman: No, because the experience scarred me. Remember the scotch? Now, I’ll take ice cream into interviews.
Tim Ferriss: So you skipped the peregrine falcon prep after that.
Cal Fussman: Look, do the prep.
Tim Ferriss: Not the prep, but the fasting approach.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, I mean, it’s just ridiculous. Because if you’re going intense, you’re going to transmit that tenseness into the interview, into the person, into the subject. Look, there are a lot of interviewers who do things different ways. I just did a piece with Jorge Ramos, the Univision anchor who Donald Trump pitched out of the interview in Iowa awhile back.
He has a completely different approach. He goes into the interview as if it’s a war. Because a lot of the people that he’s interviewing could have been dictators, or presidents who took power in unscrupulous ways. He knows he may only have a few minutes and he may be getting thrown out. So he’s going to come at them with the toughest questions right from the start.
Tim Ferriss: Biggest left hook, right at the bell of the first round.
Cal Fussman: That’s right. And he’s had a great career out of it. But look, his background was completely different from mine because he grew up in Mexico where basically the media was censored, so he was a reaction to that.
Everything he does is a reaction to censorship. It’s a reaction to people having power and taking advantage of those who don’t have it. He sees journalism as more than just asking a question. He sees it as defending people. I really don’t go into an interview to defend anybody. In fact, it’s kind of interesting because some people say, what happens when you get people who lie to you? I say, the way I write, it’s impossible for somebody to lie to me because I write in other people’s words.
So if they lie to me, their lie is going to be printed on the page exactly the way they told it. So basically, the truth is, they’re a liar. Because anybody who knows the truth is going to know that they lied. So very, very different styles.
Tim Ferriss: Very different styles. We were talking yesterday about some prep that I was doing for an interview where I wanted to watch a movie. We ended up watching a good part of it together. But I was nervous that I wouldn’t have the chance to see it beforehand, due to some technological issues. You mentioned that, for instance, Larry King doesn’t want to know anything about – and feel free to add to this – say, a given movie that’s coming out that a guest is a part of because he wants to, I suppose, see it with fresh eyes and ask the questions that a beginner might ask, or someone who’s unfamiliar with it. How does your style differ from, say, Larry’s? Of course, you spend a lot of time with Larry.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. Larry’s basic idea is, I am thinking like the person who’s listening.
They haven’t seen the movie. They haven’t gotten a chance to get a preview so why should I, Larry King, be in the position to tell them what happens? Better for him to put – oh, there’s Molly.
Tim Ferriss: Molly’s awake now, guys. She was sedated yesterday but she’s full of beans today. I will close that door if she continues her home defense against squirrels and butterflies. Sorry, Cal.
Cal Fussman: So Larry’s basic feeling is hey, I am going to talk to this person who made the movie, or was in the movie, or who wrote the book as if I just sat next to them on an airplane seat. Oh, you wrote that book? What’s it about? And then let the conversation go from there. That’s a great strategy because it’s very natural and it allows the person to be just as natural.
I’ve gone both ways. In fact, I don’t really follow pop culture that much and certainly when I moved out to Los Angeles in ‘08, rarely followed it before then. Once you’re in LA, it’s hard to not be part of the pop culture because it’s all around you. Esquire, as soon as I moved out there, they came up with a pretty funny idea, knowing that I didn’t know much about current movies. They hatched a plan to send me out to do a cover story but the only thing they told me was, “We just want you to go out and do a story about a guy; his name is Gerry.”
I said, “What else?” That’s it, just “His name is Gerry.” And they gave me his address.
Tim Ferriss: Such a setup.
Cal Fussman: Not only that but they told me, “Look, it’s just a short interview. Don’t sweat it. His name’s Gerry. Just go out and talk to him for a few minutes and come back and write something up.” It didn’t seem like a big trick to me. In the meantime, Gerard Butler, the actor, is waiting in his house and he’s appeared in a few movies at this point, one of which was 300. Another one was Phantom of the Opera. I hadn’t seen either of those movies and I had no idea who he was. He is sitting at home getting his first cover story for Esquire. He’s consented to a three-hour interview.
Tim Ferriss: A few minutes.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, I’m going in a few minutes for Gerry and he’s thinking: okay, cover story, Esquire. So I knock on the door and I’m like, “Hey, is Gerry here?” And then I said, “To be honest, I have no idea who you are but the magazine has sent me to interview you for a few minutes.” H e’s looking at me and his eyes are squinting, like this guy’s putting me on. This guy’s putting me on. And I said, “No, no, no. Really I have no idea who you are.” He’s caught between the squinting of the eyes and then there’s a smile on his face because he’s an actor who can go with it. So he wants to go with it but he’s wary.
Tim Ferriss: Understandably.
Cal Fussman: This is a setup, this is a setup. And he keeps looking for that little string to pull that’s going to take the garment and just unravel it and prove that I’m an imposter. But there’s nothing he can do because I have no idea who this guy is. I said to him, “The good thing about this is for ten years I’ve traveled around the world and I would just get on trains and sit next to people, and we’d just go and get a chance to meet each other. So why don’t we just approach it like that?” So he’s “Okay, okay.” I said, “Where are you from?” Just that question, like I don’t believe you, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe this.
Then he starts telling me he’s from Paisley in Scotland. I think, at first, I couldn’t tell if it was Australia, is it England, is it Scotland?
Tim Ferriss: The accent.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. Then I said, “Scotland?” And he says “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then he starts giving me his background and it’s only about 20 minutes into the interview where it comes out. And then I started to act. I said, “Oh, you’re an actor?” And he says, “This is just the biggest bunch of malarkey. I know you’re a film buff, this whole thing is being recorded to put me on.” I said, “No, Gerry, I have no idea who you are.” And now the rest of this interview, he’s like trying to prove to me that he is a world class actor.
Tim Ferriss: Poor guy.
Cal Fussman: The amazing thing about it was we’re talking and talking, and still it hasn’t occurred to me that this is a cover story. I still think this is –
Tim Ferriss: A little interview; a few minutes with Gerry.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. So at a certain point we take a little break, and he says, “You need to use the bathroom? Use the one off my bedroom. Here, I’ll show you.” We start walking into his bedroom and there is an Esquire on a nightstand, and it’s got Megan Fox, the actress, on the cover. He makes this offhand comment, like: “Geez, why would they want to put me on the cover of Esquire when you can have Megan Fox?” And then it hits me: oh, my God, I’ve got to write a cover story about this. Oh, no. So we sat back down and I said “Alright, Gerry.”
Tim Ferriss: Let’s shift gears here.
Cal Fussman: “What movies were you in?” He said something like, “Really?” He brings up, he says well – this was the topper. He says, “I was in 300.” And I haven’t seen it. I said, “300, you know, I remember seeing – think I saw a poster of that movie. It was these kind of gladiator guys, and I remember a beard.” And Gerry says, “That was me! That was me!” We’re talking about 300 and he says, “In this issue with Megan Fox on the cover, it also had a story, “The 75 Movies that Every Man Must See.” So he says, “I’ll show you.” And he picks up this issue and he says, “I guarantee you 300 is one of the 75 movies that every man must see. I’ll show you.”
He opens it up to the story. He goes on page one and he’s looking. “These movies are pretty good.” He gets to page two. “Yeah, that is really good.” And he’s not seeing 300. He turns the page and he says, “Fuckers!” He turns the next page. “Fuck! Fuck!” Then he gets to the last page; it’s not there. He’s like, “Fuck! How could they not put 300 in here?” And I’m saying okay, okay, what else are we in? He said, “Phantom of the Opera.” Come on, Gerry. You can’t sing like that. I saw that Broadway show. I got roped into it. I don’t like musicals but my wife does and so we went. Like you can’t sing like that. “I was the phantom!”
And so the whole interview is going on where he’s trying to prove to me that he’s an actor and belongs on the cover of Esquire. And we have a great time. True to the actual beginning of the interview where I said to him, “Look, I sit down on trains with people and they take me home.” At the end of the interview he’s saying, “Hey, you want to use my big screen? Come back anytime.” Like we’re tight. It’s been a great time. I’m getting ready to leave, and he disappears. And right before I leave, the house fills with music from Phantom of the Opera. He comes down and he starts singing, note for note, to the music. And I said, “Okay, Gerry. I know who you are.”
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Cal Fussman: So there was a case where I had not a clue – not a clue – who I was interviewing and it works, just being natural.
Tim Ferriss: That would work for you; also not for all interviewers, right? Given your background, in the same way that perhaps if you went into a war conflict interview format where you had three minutes to hit someone with a left hook, you might not be as adaptable as the Univision interviewer, right? That format, the stranger on the train scenario, is something you’ve very well adapted to take advantage of.
Cal Fussman: You know, it’s interesting. Jorge Ramos was telling me a story. The only time that he actually got thrown out of an interview or pushed away before Donald Trump was with Fidel Castro. And it was a very tricky situation he was in, and Castro knew it. Castro knew who he was.
So they’re at a conference, and Jorge manages to get next to Castro, and he’s got his mic and he starts asking him questions. What Castro did was put his arm around Jorge.
Tim Ferriss: For photos and whatnot?
Cal Fussman: Because the camera is in on this. And so the look now is that you’re pals. Which, if you’re Jorge, you do not want to be seen as pals with –
Tim Ferriss: That’s clever, though, on the part of Fidel.
Cal Fussman: Right. So Jorge has got to come back at him and manage to wriggle away.
Tim Ferriss: To wriggle away like a toddler.
Cal Fussman: Wriggle away and then hit him with a tough question, at which point one of Castro’s bodyguards elbowed him away like, out, this is over. I never have to think like that because my feeling is if somebody’s going to feel comfortable with me, then I’ll get to the deep, eternal truths.
I don’t want to push them back or off guard, or make them nervous or make them think about what they have to say. So it’s completely different styles.
Tim Ferriss: Hence, the scotch rule.
Cal Fussman: Yeah, hence the scotch rule.
Tim Ferriss: There are, for people who are wondering, and there are many questions that popped up about questions since that’s what many people associate you with, good questions. And I feel like I should mention that there are very contrasting styles, even very different from both Larry’s approach, your approach, and Jorge Ramos’ approach, such as James Lipton, Inside the Actor’s Studio. I’ve spent time with some of his researchers who I’ve paid to look at past transcripts of my podcasts to try to help me improve. But the format is completely different. Because in the case of, say, James Lipton, I believe he knows the answer to every question he’s going to ask.
There’s a tremendous amount of in-depth research and prep that goes into it. For me personally, it really kind of depends on the guest and the circumstances. Some are really, really deeply researched, particularly if I’m nervous. Then others, I’m coming in relatively blind because I feel like it’s a complex enough subject that I want to have myself in the shoes of the majority of the people listening, if that makes sense, like physics or mathematics or something like that. Who are some interviewers that you greatly admire, alive or dead, besides Larry?
Cal Fussman: There are very few good interviewers that I don’t admire. This conversation is kind of explaining it all. They were all completely different so that when I look at them, I see what they’re doing, I see how they’re doing it.
I admire Barbara Walters and I know that she has scripted her interviews, a little different from Lipton because she doesn’t know what’s coming. But she’s got question No. 1, question No. 2, question No. 3. She has story boarded her interviews from start to finish, and meticulously.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a progression. There’s an arc.
Cal Fussman: I can see how she makes it work for her. Charlie Rose, the research that he does is absolutely fantastic. The interesting thing about Charlie Rose is when he’s interviewing somebody, you think like he’s on almost an equal level of intelligence or material as the person that he’s interviewing. That works great for him.
Matt Lauer is a master at getting people to feel comfortable. I know where this comes from because I interviewed him. When he was a kid, he worked in a men’s shop. He said, “When you’re a salesman, you have to observe the person coming in through the door, see what they’re looking at, what’s the right time to approach, when is it time to back off.” All of that translates into his interviews and you can see why he makes people feel so comfortable. It came from that clothing store.
Tim Ferriss: Same story, different background with Barbara Walters, right? You were mentioning this to me yesterday. If you’d elaborate on that for a second, also, just as another example of how the background forms the interviewer?
Cal Fussman: With Barbara Walters, her dad owned a famous nightclub in New York called the Latin Quarter. So all the famous celebrities were in this place night after night. She was sitting and talking with them as if they were friends. That allowed her, later on in life, to have that same vibe in her conversations with people while she interviewed them, because she was just accustomed to sitting next to them and casually talking to them. If you don’t have that experience, you might be put off; you might be a little nervous. And that might be something you have to overcome by repeatedly doing it.
But probably in her case, the first time she sat in on a celebrity interview, it was not much different from being at her dad’s nightclub.
Tim Ferriss: For someone who doesn’t have – I don’t want people to get the impression that you have to have this extensive childhood experience with something or another to become a good interviewer, because I don’t think that’s the case, necessarily. Maybe I’m missing something in my own background. There are a number of questions to this effect. We’ve chatted about this a little bit. But for instance, here’s a question from David Dronet, what are the top three specific questions he asks most often during interviews that he finds are the most revealing?
Now, I suspect I know what part of your answer will be to this. But the two that I would offer for people who are opening an interview and are really nervous, one was what you asked – where you from? Very simple. The other one that seems to buy a lot of time for me in my experience if I just don’t know where to go or where to start, I’ll say: tell me the story of how you became X, an actor or whatever.
You’ve immediately bought yourself probably five minutes of time to figure out what your next move is, and you’ll get something in the answer that will help you figure out your next move. But how would you answer this question, because I’m sure you get some variation of this question all the time.
Cal Fussman: The big thing that I’m noticing from the people who ask this question, because once I started to speak, this question kept coming up again and again. It’s like, what’s the Holy Grail of questions, here, so I could use them? I always say it’s not like there’s a Holy Grail of questions. Look, I come prepared. I’ve got like 200 questions in my mind when I show up for an interview because I’ve thought about them. I’ve written them down and then I’ve ripped them up. The thing is, it’s not that first question that I’m really dependent on.
That first question is just opening the door. Then the answer is going to spark my second question. And that’s going to take me down a flight of steps, like deeper into the person’s soul. And then when they answer the second question, that’s going to bring up a third question. By the sixth answer, maybe that’s where I wanted to go with my first question. So it’s a process. It’s not a use this and you will be successful, too.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not an incantation?
Cal Fussman: Yeah. It’s also filled with curiosity. Because what you’re doing is you’re just listening to see where the answers take you.
It’s the answers that are going to take you where you want to go. The questions are there just to open the doors for the answers. So relying on one question to get you to the bottom of something is something I wouldn’t do. But you know what? That’s a good question for Jorge Ramos because he’s had to think really carefully. If he knows I’ve only got five minutes with this president of a Latin American country, and he’s got to ask something that’s going to get a response that everybody talks about, he might ask a question like, how much did your house cost? Then if the person says well, I don’t know. You don’t know how much your house costs?
Tim Ferriss: Any answer is an answer, in that case. I won’t answer that tells you quite a lot. The mask tells you more than what’s underneath the mask.
Cal Fussman: That’s what he’s working in. He’s really thinking hard about what he’s going to ask, knowing that he doesn’t have much time and also knowing that he’s there for the people.
Tim Ferriss: Right. This is a point that I think about quite a lot but in the converse way. Meaning, I’ll have guests on who are known or have been known at some point for some type of scandal. If you’re in the public eye long enough, eventually something’s going to come up. You’re going to make a misstep, you’re going to say something stupid. And there are some fans – not a lot – who are like, why didn’t you ask him about this? Why didn’t you ask her about that? In my case, I do have a lot of time. I have two to three hours to uncover, in my particular format, tactics and tools and so on.
So if I ask how much did your house cost? That’s the equivalent of not accepting the scotch times a hundred. They’ll go, oh, it’s one of these, and the doors get shut. That’s effectively the end of the interview, even if it lasts another two hours. They will not give me anything they wouldn’t give a stranger who’s potentially hostile. So it’s a completely different style of interviewing.
Cal Fussman: But you know what? The way I would approach that is not with a direct question, but just by allowing the conversation to circle around that area and invite him or her to explain the scandal through that and then you can be into it.
Best example I can give you about that is when Larry King was just getting started in Miami on radio. He was sitting at a table with a friend of his at the time, Jackie Gleason, Honeymooners?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure.
Cal Fussman: So they had become friends. Jackie had asked this question around the table, what’s impossible? I guess there was a doctor at the table who said, “We’ll never have artificial blood.” And it gets to Larry, and Larry says, “What’s impossible? I have a three-hour radio show. Getting Frank Sinatra to appear on my radio show, that’s impossible.” And Jackie Gleason pointed to him and said, “You got it.” As it turned out, Frank had been doing a concert or a series of concerts and lost his voice and needed to be replaced one night.
He called Jackie, and he said, “Hey, Jackie, can you go on and do a comedy bit for me so that nobody’s upset?” Frank says, “I owe you one.” So after that conversation with Larry and the others, Jackie calls up Frank and says, “Hey, Frank. This is the one. There’s this kid, Larry King. He’s just starting out in radio, Miami Beach. He’s got a three-hour show. I need you to go on for three hours.” Frank says, “You want it? You got it.” Now, nobody can believe it. This is like a little radio station.
Tim Ferriss: At the time, I’m imagining that Sinatra is the biggest of the big.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. Not only that, but Frank, as his PR guy points out, the public relations guy is basically employed to say no to all these requests like this.
Tim Ferriss: I’m very familiar.
Cal Fussman: The people at the radio station can’t believe it because Larry says, “I got Frank Sinatra coming in Friday night,” or whatever night it was and the radio wants to do all this publicity. They say, “Are you sure he’s gonna show?” This is a little station. Larry King is not big time; this is what made Larry King big time. The radio station is calling over to where Frank is staying, asking just to get a confirmation. No response, no response, no response. The show was on at 9:00. Finally, at two minutes to 9:00, Frank comes through the door with his publicist.
And the publicist pulls Larry aside and says, “I don’t know how you got this because my job is to not let this happen. But he said he wants to do it. Okay, I’m just telling you one thing.
Do not ask about the kidnapping of his son, just don’t.” And Larry is young and so grateful – whatever you say, whatever you say. The interview starts, and Larry is dumbfounded. So he says to Frank – talk about starting an interview – he says to Frank –
Tim Ferriss: Where are you from? No, I’m just kidding.
Cal Fussman: No, even better. He says, “Why are you here?” Frank explained, and Larry didn’t even know the back-story. So Frank is having to explain to him, “Gleason substituted for me and I owed him one. Then he said: Frank, this is the one. And so I’m here.” The interview starts going, and an hour passes or whatever. And midway into the interview, Frank is feeling very comfortable. Larry says to him, “Do you feel, Frank, you’ve ever gotten a bum rap?”
Frank says, “Absolutely. In the case of my son getting kidnapped.” And then he just goes into the whole story. So Larry didn’t ask the question directly; he just made Frank feel at home. So that is more where I line up, as opposed to the style of going in there and saying we’ve got Sinatra.
Tim Ferriss: Corner the wild beast.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. The camera’s in front of him. If we ask him about it and he doesn’t want to answer, we’re still going to get his reaction. I don’t go that way.
Tim Ferriss: It’s also, from my perspective, a very mercenary way of doing things and a very transactional away. Contrasted with if you take the approach that Larry did, he’s developing friendships, not just good tape, over time.
Cal Fussman: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: At least, I would say, a third of the guests that I’ve had on the podcast came as recommendations from other guests and introductions. That wouldn’t happen if I had a transactional “gotcha” type of approach. And just to reiterate what you said, the exact, same experience is something I’ve had on at least two dozen of my interviews. In the sense that I always ask guests beforehand, because the show is not about making people look bad; it’s about tactics and routines and habits and all the stuff that people can use.
I’ll ask, “Is there anything you really don’t want to talk about or prefer not to talk about?” And not often, but every once in a while somebody will say I really don’t want to talk about X. If I make them feel comfortable, and if I do one thing which Neil Strauss, who is a very good writer and very accomplished interviewer for Rolling Stone and New York Times, he said to me, “If you want them to be vulnerable, be vulnerable yourself. Give up some details of your life that are very vulnerable.” So I made that a habit. I’d say in about half of the cases, they end up talking about exactly the thing they said they didn’t want to talk about. They bring it up themselves.
Cal Fussman: It only makes sense because when people feel comfortable, then they’re going to speak normally. They’re going to forget they’re being interviewed. Later on in life, Frank actually wrote Larry a note that said, “You make the cameras disappear.” I think that’s what you, as an interviewer, want to do. You want to make people forget they’re being interviewed and just speak with you naturally. Now, that’s just my style. Other people, they want it to be known it’s an interview.
If you show up with a pad in front of you and cameras, then it’s an interview. The pad is going to tell the person that is across from you, there are questions written down. This is an interview. Be advised. So that’s just something I would never, never do but that’s just me; that’s just my style.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned that you think about the questions, write down the questions, then tear them up. I’m curious about this. Do you review a list of questions and then the day before, or before you walk into someone’s house, just tear it up into little shreds and throw it in a wastebasket? What does your process look like for adding the ammo to your brain?
Cal Fussman: It’s a matter of you do your research. Then there’s a period of curiosity where you’ve taken in all this information, and now what are you curious about?
So you just start writing down questions. For me, it comes very easily. I’ll just start writing, writing, writing and then pages will be filled up. The way I look at it, it’s almost like I’m putting songs in a jukebox and the questions are my songs. I’m just going to have these songs in there. They’re in my head. I know the words to the songs. I can sing the songs. Then I rip them up. It’s more of like a ceremonial act. The questions are no longer on paper; they’re in my head. So when I go into the interview, interesting things start happening. No. 1, because all these questions are in my head, I’m never at a loss for a question.
I’ve talked to some writers who say what happens when you run out of questions? Well, I don’t because my jukebox is filled. But more than that, what will happen is I’ll ask a question, and I’ll get a response and then I’m working off the responses. But oftentimes, the response will lead to a question I’ve already thought of. So it’s like they’re hitting the jukebox and they’re playing the music. They’re getting the question that they want because that’s where they were going.
Tim Ferriss: Right, they used the proper cue, in a sense.
Cal Fussman: Right. So my mind was prepared to ask them the question that they wanted to hear to make them more comfortable.
My style – and other people can try it and see if it works for them –but there’s something relaxing about it to me. I’ve interviewed people who have shows on TV where they have to interview people, and I come in without any questions or pad. And you can see this shocked look on their faces. You don’t write down your questions? Because they might feel like, what will I do on camera if I can’t think of a question? It might look bad. Having that pad there is a safety net. But once you do it this way a few times, you’re free.
Tim Ferriss: Neil does the same thing, Neil Strauss. I don’t think he tears them up but he folds it up and puts it in his pocket and doesn’t look at it at all.
And I think if I were to underscore something that you both have in common, it’s that you’re very good at getting people to open up about things that they would be disinclined to open up about normally in an interview. I think that’s a big part of it. It’s like if you have a camera with a flashing red light, people put on their body armor. The more you can make it a conversation as opposed to an interview, like you said, if you can remove the symptoms of an interview so to speak, the pad of paper, the flashing lights, the more naturally people will engage with you and the more they will share.
Cal Fussman: Now you’re getting into Oprah territory. Imagine this. You’ve got the flashing lights, you’ve got an audience that’s reacting, and then you’ve got a subject on the couch. And she is getting them to speak about things that are very intimate in front of a crowd and the flashing lights. That’s a high, high level of jiu-jitsu.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, she’s amazing. If you were to ask me what is impossible, my answer currently would be getting Oprah on my three-hour podcast, so we’ll see. We’ll see if that manifests something.
Cal Fussman: I wish I could say you got it.
Tim Ferriss: You got it. Oprah owes me a solid.
Cal Fussman: Oprah owes me one. Don’t worry about this.
Tim Ferriss: This may have a good amount of overlap with things we’ve already talked about, but this is from Devon Hedgepess – best strategies to get to the heart while interviewing?
Cal Fussman: Find out what they love. I mean, it’s that simple. Especially if you’re able to do the research before, just hone in on something they’re passionate about and they love talking about and just ask them about it. They’re going to be happy to talk about it.
It’s very simple. It’s the exact opposite of going in feeling like a journalist who is determined to get a question answered. I’ve got to get this. You talked about “gotcha” but there’s like a level underneath that that’s not so much gotcha, it’s a legitimate okay, we need to know this. If you go in trying to grab something from anyone, they’re going to protect it. So just make people relax by finding out what they like and then have them talk about it.
Tim Ferriss: This is really good advice. It took me a long time to figure out that, for myself at least, and I’m still very much a novice, but sometimes the best place to start is really far off of any topic they’ve covered in interviews related to their profession.
I remember interviewing Edward Norton, and I’d spent a good amount of time with Edward. But the way he interacts in interviews could be very different than the way he interacts over coffee having normal conversation. So I wanted to make him feel as relaxed as possible, so we just talked about surfing for the first five to ten minutes of the interview.
Cal Fussman: I remember that.
Tim Ferriss: We were sitting out on the Malibu Pier overlooking the water. We could see the surf line up. And I was like, okay, let’s talk about surfing.
Cal Fussman: That’s just a clear example of doing something that’s very natural and getting somebody to feel at one with you and the place. To me, making the person, the subject, feel safe and comfortable, that’s where it all starts.
Obviously there’s research before and there’s the preparation of questions. But if you can’t make a person feel safe, forget it. Although look, that’s just me. Jorge Ramos is going in there. He is not making them feel safe and he makes it work for him.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, he’s doing the Jon Snow charging into battle approach.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. From where he comes from, that’s what’s necessary.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, you need that. He can’t go in warm and fuzzy; that won’t work, I wouldn’t think.
Cal Fussman: His audience is his audience because they know he’s going in to fight for them. A big part of this is realizing who you are. Where do you come from, how do you want to get your own message across? Just the way you were speaking, you’re helping to uplift people.
Tim Ferriss: I’m trying, yeah.
Cal Fussman: So your style is based on that. I don’t know that I ever looked at an interview as a way of uplifting somebody but it’s a very interesting way for me to look at it. Because interestingly, I don’t do it in interviews but when I give speeches or workshops, that’s what I do; I’m uplifting people.
Tim Ferriss: That’s the intention.
Cal Fussman: Yeah. We’ve been talking about this over the last couple of days and you just lit the light bulb in my head. Because I’ve been saying to myself, what’s going on? I’m kind of moving into a place where I’m like a player coach, now.
That’s not who I was, but I’m finding that I really enjoy this in a way that I didn’t get out of writing a story in a magazine. I just understood why in this conversation. Because it allows me to do what you do in an interview. It allows me to help uplift people. So if people are working in a company and the company is not hiring the right people because they’re not interviewing them in the right way, I can give them information that is going to help them hire better and have a better company, and that makes me feel great. At the end of it, they’re saying thank you and hugging me.
Generally at the end of an interview, I hug people sometimes at the end of interviews, and people say thanks. But it’s a different kind of thanks.
When somebody walks out of an interview and says thanks, it’s hey, that was a really good time. When somebody walks out of a workshop and says thank you, it’s a very different thing. There was this one woman – man, this is just hitting me as we’re talking – who, at the end of this workshop, says, “You know, I spend more time on my job than I do at home. I hire the people that are around me on my job. I didn’t know any of this about interviewing until you told us, and this is going to affect all the people I put around me going forward. Thank you.” That was an experience that I’d never had before. So this is why – I’m just understanding this now. Why I’m compelled to go in this other direction.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m excited to see the new direction. We also have some barbecue to eat in the not-too-distant future. So I think this has been great fun. We have so much more we could talk about: how to approach second time interviews, we were going to talk about George Clooney. Maybe that’ll be in part three. There’s so much that we could cover and so many great stories. But where can people find you online and where can they say hi?
Cal Fussman: You’ve got calfussman.com, and I just got Kevin the manager to make sure that when you send an email in, he’ll get it to me.
Tim Ferriss: Kevin the manager.
Cal Fussman: Kevin the manager. He’ll get it to me and we’ll get back to you.
Tim Ferriss: And then on Twitter, is it @calfussman?
Cal Fussman: Yeah. I’ve got to do a better job on Twitter.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s see if I can get Jocko Willink to sit you down and give you a tutorial. He’s got plenty to do, but he’s doing a great job on Twitter.
Cal Fussman: I’d love to meet Jocko. That was a great talk.
Tim Ferriss: He’s incredible. He’s an incredible human being. Tough young man, that Jocko. Well, Cal, this is always so much fun. Thank you for taking the time and I think I need to feed you more yerba mate, man. That was a hell of a tear. That was good.
Cal Fussman: You know what people don’t realize is we don’t know if the last installment was affected by the last tea. This caramel tea that I didn’t realize puts you away.
Tim Ferriss: We’ve been having tea and last night I was like, “Cal, you want some tea?” He was like, sure. There was a big collection of tea and so after we did the evening, the p.m. session interview yesterday, Cal’s like, “I really like this tea.”
He pointed to the caramel bedtime tea which literally, in the past when I’ve taken it, has made me feel like Leonardo DiCaprio at the payphone in Wolf of Wall Street.
Cal Fussman: I remember that, yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I was like, Holy God, I can’t believe you’re even standing right now. I was very impressed you powered through that. So we’ll focus on the South American stimulants, meaning yerba mate in the future, perhaps. But guys listening, we will have links to everything we can track down in the show notes. Of course, Cal’s site and social and so on. Please say hi to him. Anything else to add before we sign off?
Cal Fussman: The whole weekend has been an absolute delight. I come out of here almost a changed man. It sounds odd.
We’ve had about 36 hours of conversation and that part of you, that uplifting part of you, has taken me to places I’m just starting, light bulbs are just starting to go off in my mind. So I can’t wait to come back for the third, because I don’t know where you’re going to take me.
Tim Ferriss: It’s just a joy to hang out with you, man. If I can, in my own meandering way, offer a few things from the path that I’ve already traveled, then that makes my whole weekend. I always learn so much from you so I feel like very selfishly I’m learning a lot more than I’m giving out.
Cal Fussman: I don’t know about that.
Tim Ferriss: But I am fixing your shoulder with the sauna. We have this barrel sauna which came from Specks, developed by Laird Hamilton and then I think either duplicated or refined by Rick Ruben when we actually recorded the interview in there and burned our hands on the mics.
But so many adventures to have and we’re just getting started. So everybody listening, you can find the show notes at fourhourworkweek.com/podcast as always, for this episode and every other. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Posted on: June 6, 2018.
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Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.