A lot has been made of the classic clip of John Lydon's 1980 interview with Tom Snyder, which has to be one of the most bitchy interviews to ever hit the television. But one thing that most people don't mention is the all important context. It's not just that Lydon acted like a jerk, or that Snyder provided a rather contentious introduction, or that PiL bandmate Keith Levene seems a little lost by the whole thing. It's that it all happened just after an interview with Can't Stop the Music producer Allan Carr.
Snyder works so hard to take Carr seriously and lob softball questions while his guest is basically just rambling. We're talking about twenty minutes of chatting about the inherent value of thoughtless entertainment, lame Broadway musical comedies, buying multiple fancy houses, and not wearing socks. Then, ouch, they both spend a good deal of time babbling about their worship of Queen Elizabeth and the British royalty, and then laugh at PiL, referring to them at "The Rocky Horror Show". Moments later, Snyder refuses to even try and talk on the same friendly level with Lydon, so it's hard to blame Johnny for acting a bit, erm, rotten.
Carr's career imploded in 1989 when he produced perhaps the most misguided Academy Awards show in history. Lydon caused more trouble that year with his combative appearance on American Bandstand, but in 1997 Lydon and Snyder met up again, and it was much more genial.
On a similar note, one of my favorite celebrity talk show clips of all time is the 1970 visit to the Dick Cavett show by John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk. Again, some context helps. The drunken boys club was promoting their new film Husbands (one of Cassavetes' best that is still not on DVD for some reason), and Cavett was nervously presenting his first prime time specialty show.
A lot was riding on this show, so it was not a good time for Cassavetes et al to play with the host and the audience - and that of of course makes it just too much of a temptation not to do so. They push Cavett, a host who has managed to deal with a man dying on his interview couch without breaking calm, to run off of his own set. He then makes a very snarky comment about producer Stanley Kramer , referencing a still sore moment that left Cassavetes blacklisted in Hollywood for several years in the early 60s.
Ultimately, the joke really is on Cavett, as this supposed train wreck is now remembered as one of his most legendary and entertaining shows. Keep watching and the boys finally settle down and get serious, with Falk being the most surprisingly sincere and profound.
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