Neal Breton spoke with Chris Lambert about fearing unconsciousness, the struggle of sussing out the internal lives of strangers, loving people despite their evil actions and how he presents his guests’ authentic selves to listeners.
I’m finally pretty comfortable with where I’m at and how my life is, and if I woke up and found out everything was a dream, I think there would be too much I was losing.
Neal asked Chris which number each of these colors reminds him of via synesthesia.
Hmm. There is no teal. Not with numbers, anyway.
I’ll start at the end. Do you foresee a time when you discontinue the Are We Okay? podcast?
Yeah, I’ll probably get too busy at some point and have to wrap it up, but I don’t know when. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping it up so far. I think I’ve planned ahead enough that if I just stay on top of it for a few weeks at a time, I can do it, and that seems to be a good strategy.
Do you think you’ll ever run out of people to interview? Would that be a reason to stop?
It’s more likely that I’ll start working on something else that is more of a priority to me. That’s what I’ve done in the past. That’s how my last podcast ended.
Is it important that people are listening, or is it about how you are trying to embark upon a personal truth journey?
I think it’s a little bit of both, and I think it depends on how confident I’m feeling at the time. There are times when I check the download numbers, and they are getting a little low, and I say to myself, “Why am I even bothering to do this?” Or I’ll post a new episode on Facebook and nobody likes it that week, for some reason — and I don’t know if it’s the guest or if it’s the photo or if it’s the time of year or time of day I posted it, and I start to get down on myself.
But then I come back to, “Oh, that’s right. I’m not supposed to be doing it for that reason. I’m doing this because I want to talk to people and get to know more about myself in the process.” So, I think it’s more important that I do it for me, but I definitely have days where I don’t feel good about myself.
On a previous podcast with Callie Tennock, you mentioned a story about a man who hit himself on the head and lived an entire lifetime when he was unconscious — he met a woman, fell in love, had a kid, and then eventually “woke up” to his real life. This seemed unnerving to you, as you said you hope you never “wake up” like that. Why would you be afraid to wake up? Do you think it would be because you would be in a worse version of a life if you did?
Well, yeah, I think that if there’s even a chance that my life isn’t real, that’s scary to me. I feel like I’m finally pretty comfortable with where I’m at and how my life is, and if I woke up and found out everything was a dream, I think there would be too much I was losing.
Even if you woke up a millionaire?
Yeah, I’d be a little bummed out, I think.
I don’t condone people’s negative actions. I just don’t think their negative actions are a reason to dismiss their entire existence.
Okay, so in that, what change would you fear the most?
I think what scares me more than anything is just being lied to. I don’t necessarily fear who I would be when I woke up — I just fear that when I woke up, I would have been so invested in this life that realizing it wasn’t real would just mess with my head. Kind of like those people you hear about, who have been raised by their grandparents but were told they were their real parents, and they don’t find out the truth until they’re thirty, and then it really messes with their head, to realize everything in their history is a lie.
What do you want people to take away from the podcast, both as a listener and as a guest?
I think a big thing for me is solidarity. That someone could put it on and listen to somebody who lives a completely different life than them, and realize, “Oh, we’re all going through the same shit.” Life is rough for all of us. So many people think they have other people figured out, and I feel like they simplify groups of people in their head to accomplish that — “All of those people are racist,” or “All of those people are spoiled,” and then you actually listen to their life story, and maybe realize they’re a lot more similar to you than you thought they were.
Then, you have to shift the way that you deal with those groups of people, because you think, “I listened to this one guy’s story, and he was nothing like that.” You think you have all gay people figured out, and you can put them in this little box in your head — but then you listen to an actual gay person’s life story and think, “Wow, they’re a lot like me,” or “They’re a lot different than I thought they were,” and so now I don’t get to simplify people like that anymore.
Well what about people who are apologists for racism, under the umbrella of free speech? Do racists get the “let’s hear them out” treatment? Do you think they would have a compelling story?
Do you think they would have a compelling story that would change your mind about Nazism?
No. It wouldn’t justify their actions or way of life, but I’m willing to bet if I sat down and listened to a Nazi’s life story, I would be more likely to be compassionate, rather than just dismissive. I just don’t like it when people are dismissive. For the last few days, social media has been like “Fuck Nazis! Let’s stomp out Nazism!” and yes, I agree that the general idea of what the Nazis believe doesn’t belong in the world — but I bet if you sat down with one of them and had a conversation that wasn’t about that, you could find a lot in common with them, and maybe at least go away saying, “Okay. I don’t agree with what that person is doing, but I don’t think he’s an evil person, either.” I think that mindset is more helpful.
This is where it becomes difficult for me — whether or not this makes the conversation or not, I don’t really give a shit. I don’t know if I could walk away from a conversation about refrigerators with a racist and say “Eh, maybe he isn’t so bad,” because I feel like this person is inherently bad — this person is still for inclusiveness or for extermination. I understand what your message is, where the more we champion togetherness, maybe we can evoke change in someone when they realize we are more alike, because I liked the same refrigerator they did.
Well, first of all, if you’re only talking about refrigerators, you’re specifically ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to having a conversation with a racist. I think it would be more important to sit down and say, “What led you to this? What was your dad like? What was your mom like? Tell me about the first black person you met, or the first Jewish person you met.” I think hearing them explain it would give you more insight about how they got that way, even if you don’t agree with it. Then you can push back a little bit with them: “Okay, but do you really think that all black people are this certain way, that you can sum up an entire group?” It’s back to simplifying groups of people.
I really feel like in face-to-face conversations, people are willing to concede a little more than when they are in groups of protestors, because that’s all groupthink. But if you sit down with one person and talk about their life and why they think the way they do, I feel like they would be willing to soften their stance a little bit. They might be like, “Okay, maybe not all Jewish people are bad — but certainly all of the ones I’ve dealt with!” And then you could say, “Alright, so maybe you’ve dealt with some bad Jewish people in your life — but do you really think that’s a reason to shave your head and wave a flag and do all of the things that you do to basically simplify groups of people and put them in a box, based only on the experiences that you’ve had? You shouldn’t do that, just like I shouldn’t put you in that box with all of your Nazi friends and say ‘Well, everyone who’s ever gone to a rally is a piece of shit who should burn in hell.'”
I love being challenged on that sort of thing, though, because I do worry sometimes that there will be people who will listen to my podcast or read my posts and think that I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got everything figured out. Like, “Oh, you think that you can just have this simple message of just ‘Everyone be nice to each other,’ but what about this or this?”, and they are absolutely right. I don’t condone people’s negative actions — I just don’t think their negative actions are a reason to dismiss their entire existence. I do worry that people think I have a superiority complex or that I think I have the right answers — I don’t have shit.
Loving people regardless of their actions is one of the hardest things to do, because it’s like a drug to be in that place of hatred and anger and to feel justified in it.
I don’t think people think that, if I had to guess. In my opinion, I think that what I try to take away from the podcast is that you are very accepting, and that’s where my line of racism questions came from.
That I can be too accepting?
Yes. I don’t think that people think you’re an oracle of some sort, but I do think they get that you are an intelligent person, so when they see examples of you being accepting to people that they might deem questionable, I think that’s where it comes into play — “This fuckin’ guy wants everybody to like everyone!”
It’s tough because it’s always Donald Trump now. It always keeps coming back to him. How did I get put in this position?! Six months after starting this podcast, and trying to preach this kind of “radical acceptance” thing, this dude’s the leader of the free world, and everyone despises him, and now I’ve put myself in this position of defending him, even when I don’t agree with him.
That’s why I think Nazis are a really good example — all of this white nationalist stuff — because it’s like, “Oh great, now I’ve got to defend them too?”. And I don’t want to defend them, because I don’t believe in what they believe in, but all of this talk about “stomping out” anyone who flies a Confederate flag or gets a swastika tattoo, it’s just too far. And if you only preach accepting people who believe the same thing that you believe, then you’re just as bad as them.
Because it’s just going to go in circles. I don’t know, that’s just a nasty world to live in. It’s the kind of world you don’t want to bring a kid into, where everybody hates everybody.
We’ve never been more divided.
Did I tell you about the segment on my podcast that I decided not to do?
I always open the show by saying “Spread that love like peanut butter,” and I was going to explain what that means to me. So I had this idea back before I had even started the podcast, when I was still working out all the kinks, of opening every episode by reading some news story about someone who had committed a heinous, evil crime, and reading out loud what they had done, all their crimes — and then, out loud, saying their full name: “I love you. What you did was absolutely atrocious — and I love you, in addition. Not because of that or in spite of that, but I love you anyway because you are a human being.” But I absolutely knew that it would get nothing but negative feedback — I know people aren’t ready for that. And so I scrapped that idea, knowing it wouldn’t be well-received, but I absolutely still feel that in my heart. That it would only be a good thing to do; to love people and spread love regardless of their actions, and get people to understand my point in doing that. Do you understand what I mean when I say what this person did is unforgivable and I can still love them — does that make any sense? I think that it wouldn’t to most people, and it wouldn’t go over well.
You’re talking about an altruistic sort of love. A religious kind of love that you need to have for one another.
Yes. At least a oneness. A connectedness.
Which is completely obsolete in America and the Western world.
We have these gurus like the Dalai Lama and Gandhi and Oprah, who have spent their entire life trying to “figure it out.” Like, “What is going on here? What is the universe about? Why are we here?” And they have all come to the same conclusion: “You just have to love everyone.” And they radiate that. And I don’t want to live their lifestyle — I don’t want to live in a cave and wear a robe or anything — but I do think there’s something to the fact that they all come to that same conclusion. That’s what Jesus was about, and regardless of all of the supernatural things put upon him, the message was overwhelming — if someone strikes you, offer them the other cheek.
Regardless of what is being done to you, be kind to other people. People always want to come in with, “Well, what if he’s a blank — a racist, a child molester?” And it’s like, “Do you hear what I’m saying? Love them regardless.” It’s hard to do! It’s the hardest thing to do. And that’s why I think it’s worth pursuing. It’s almost impossible; so maybe pursue that instead of something easily attainable. I think loving people regardless of their actions is one of the hardest. Because it’s like a drug to be in that place of hatred and anger, and to feel justified in it. People even respect that kind of hatred, but it’s just as unforgivable as the acts of hatred that led to that situation.
Will you tell me who your favorite and least favorite guests were?
Are you going to put this on the record?
Okay, let me ask you this way — you experienced a favorite and least favorite guest?
Yes, I have.
My job is to let this person tell their life story, try to make it interesting to listen to, try to keep them from droning on, and just let it be what it is.
That’s kind of a boring way to put that. Oh well. I want to talk about one of the more memorable interviews — Morgan Enos. It was one of the more interesting interviews, where he sort of flipped the interview on you. You go in having a set of questions that you feel like make the interviewee grow or stop and think about themselves and identify themselves as a human, and he kind of didn’t want to approach that with you. How difficult was that to adjust to, and is each interview you’ve done since then effected by that?
So to start with his episode, I had a lot of things that I wanted to know about him, that I thought would be super interesting to talk about. Things about his parents, where he was raised, the music he’s written, and how we sort of grew up in the same music scene together — and I just wanted to talk to him about all of that. He specifically did not want to talk about his personal life at all, and that took a lot of things off the table about religion and his relationship with his parents and his past relationships — so we mainly ended up talking about The Beach Boys. I love The Beach Boys, but I also want to know what makes this guy tick. So yeah, it was strange at first, but I thought about halfway through, “Just let this be his episode.” And what it changed in the podcast is that I realized that regardless of what direction these conversations go in from now on, I should just release them, and let them speak for themselves.
That is what my podcast is — allowing people to be authentically who they are, and even if they full-on reject the premise of my podcast, then that’s the experience, and I captured it on tape, and I’ll put it out, and then I’ll just do next week’s episode.
I think it gave me more confidence. At the beginning, I felt like I needed to wrangle guests into the structure of the show, and after that episode, I realized I can just sort of let them steer, do my best to keep it on track, but allow it to be what it is and not feel guilty about putting it out. That’s this week’s episode, and I’ll have another one next week. I can’t promise that every person I have is going to be interesting or exciting or impactful or funny to an audience. My family is always really disappointed when they listen and I don’t talk much in an episode — they’re like, “Why am I listening to this? I don’t know this guest, and I want to hear you talk!” And I have to keep telling them, that’s not what I do. My job is to let this person tell their life story, try to make it interesting to listen to, try to keep them from droning on, and just let it be what it is.
There’s a lot of guests who are talking, and they’re on a roll with something, and they take a pause and I try to share something with them, and you can tell right away that they are not willing to go there, and they get right back on their own train, and it’s like, “Okay, that’s what this episode is about now.” I’ll just let this person be who they are. I think it’s given me the confidence to let episodes just reflect a person’s personality and not feel so much pressure to make it my show.
I always see the interviews as free-standing art pieces, in a way. You’re kind of figuring out what you can take away from each individual interaction.
Yes. It’s why sometimes I play games with certain guests, and sometimes I don’t do that for weeks at a time. It’s sort of like feeling out the chemistry we have together. Richard Fusillo’s episode is a good example of someone I had never met before. I felt like he and I had great chemistry together, like we could have gone out after the episode and had dinner together. I feel like I really got to know him, but I don’t know if the episode reflected that. I never know what people are going to take away from an episode, and I know it’s going to be different for me. So yeah, they are standalone pieces, and I try to remember that when I’m getting stressed out about the way they’re going. I try to remind myself, “This is what they brought to my dining room table. This is what they need to talk about. Just hear them.”
How much turd polishing, er, how much editing are you doing for these episodes?
Very little. Sometimes a person really stutters their way through an answer or really struggles to get what they are trying to say across, and I’ll fix it in editing, because I know it’s just because they’re nervous about the pressure of being on tape, sitting across me. I’ll trim all those stammers out, and make them sound like they got right to the kernel of what they were trying to say — knowing that’s not how they actually said it, but also knowing that audiences have short attention spans. Give people the benefit of the doubt — it’s hard to be in front of a microphone with headphones on, hearing your own voice in front of a stranger, who’s asking you weird questions about your dad. That’s rough.
I know you to be a pretty funny human being, but you ask a lot of questions about sadness. Why do you gravitate towards sadness? You ask when the last time someone cried was, the saddest song they’ve ever heard — what is it about sadness that makes it more real to you, than what the happiest experience is?
Hmm. Maybe I feel like it leads to better stories from them. I definitely don’t want to dig sadness out. I’ll say part of it is me trying to get them to deal with things. I feel like it’s too easy to go for the low-hanging fruit, like the funniest moment — the happy stuff is just skimming the surface. When I ask someone what their darkest memory is, it usually takes them by surprise, and it really makes people dig into themselves and think, “Wow, let me really think about this and give an honest answer.” And that’s when you get the stuff like Callie Tennock’s answer. Our whole conversation was about silly stuff like dinosaurs and pop music, and I feel like if I hadn’t asked her that question, I would have missed a whole layer of Callie that I didn’t know existed. I don’t know if I’m intentionally trying to bring out sadness, but I think that people really have to dig for that stuff more — that they have to turn inward. I think it’s good to get someone to turn inward.
What current famous person would you like to interview?
That’s difficult. My number-one person in the world would be Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. But he’s 75 years old, and I just know he hates being interviewed. I read every interview that comes out, and he could not want anything more than to not be there. He just hates talking about himself — he answers questions off the top of his head, and he just really despises it. You can see it on his face.
There’s one interview where the guy asks him the last movie he saw in theaters, and he says it’s Norbit — that universally panned Eddie Murphy movie. And then the guy asks him his favorite movie of all-time, and he immediately says “Norbit.” I’ve met Brian in person and shook his hand, and he didn’t look at me. It was just so clear that everything in his life has been built by the people around him to be like, “You are a Beach Boys. This is what you do. You keep touring.” I would love to talk to him, but I know he wouldn’t want to be there.
What does your favorite T-shirt look like?
It’s one I made myself. It’s a maroon shirt, and it has the five stars of Yelp, with only one star lit up, and underneath that it says: “I wish I could give zero stars.” The funniest thing on Yelp is that every single one-star review opens up with “I wish I could give zero stars,” and it’s like, “Really? You don’t even want to give that one star? I mean, that’s the lowest.” So I made it myself, and I know nobody will get the joke. I wear it despite knowing people will not appreciate it.
Do you have a favorite piece of art?
Magritte’s The Son Of Man. His work reminds me a lot of yours. It’s a very vibrant, almost cartoonish style that I’m drawn to. I don’t like dark art, like Rembrandt. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the lighting. I’m drawn to Rothko squares, and really bright colors. Classically, I really like Madonna of the Rocks by Da Vinci. It terrified me as a kid. It’s a really creepy looking painting, and so I always look it up just to look at it — like, “Yep, it’s still creepy.”
Curated by: Neal Breton
Conducted by: In-person conversation
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: January 8, 2018
Total questions: 5 + 25
Word count: 4107
Reading time: Fifteen minutes
Life: Sussed out
accomplishment, altruism, Are We Okay? Podcast, Brian Wilson, California, Callie Tennock, Central Coast, Chris Lambert, confidence, Dalai Lama, dinosaur, download, feedback, Gandhi, green, guitar, Leonardo da Vinci, Los Osos, love, Neal Breton, Oprah Winfrey, orange, painting, personality, pink, podcast, pop music, premise, pressure, protest, purple, refrigerator, rejected, Rene Magritte, solidarity, songwriting, star, strategy, synesthesia, teal, visual
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