Original Air Date: Sunday, February 17, 2008
Transcript [abridged version]
LIPTON: Tonight’s guest holds the remarkable distinction of being identified as the primary reason for America’s dramatic decline in newsprint circulation. His columns are considered, by many, as rudimentary gibberish and, as one critic noted, “It’s nothing a chimpanzee couldn’t produce if you glued his hands to a keyboard.” From rental cars to insurance jargon, his rants are better suited for lining bird cages than entertainment. Yet, to the astonishment of his editor, he continues to write, even though a majority of his readers are on suicide watch. He is a model of tenacity and the punch line of many jokes. The Writers Studio is proud to welcome humor columnist Rick Rantamaki.
[Audience cheers wildly; Rick appears from backstage, shakes Lipton’s hand, and then crosses to his chair situated center stage. He remains standing as he tosses drink vouchers to the audience.]
LIPTON: Many of today’s humor columnists ascended into national prominence through big-market cities after polishing their journalistic skills at some of America’s most prestigious schools. Where did your life begin Rick?
RANTAMAKI: In the rustic northeast corner of Ohio, I’m the product of an over-exuberant Fourth-of-July celebration between two people that really should have avoided one another.
LIPTON: Who was your father?
RANTAMAKI: He was an ill-tempered drunk who was easily seduced by shiny objects.
LIPTON: And your mother?
RANTAMAKI: She wore a lot of chrome.
[LIPTON does a double-take and the audience laughs]
LIPTON: How did you become a writer?
RANTAMAKI: By accident. My family and friends are scattered around the country and writing became a convenient means of communication. I could provide them an account of my adventures and they had the option to ignore them.
LIPTON: Why do you write?
RANTAMAKI: Because it’s easier than trying to set-up a conference call.
RANTAMAKI: No, really, I could just phone everyone, but I find my stories tend to lose their punch after the third or fourth call. So, what may begin as an adventure story, filled with colorful observations, soon whittles down to meaningless drivel and, as a result, I come across as someone that’s amused by the dumbest things – which isn’t far from the truth.
LIPTON: Do you write to preserve memories?
RANTAMAKI: You could say that. You see, long term memory isn’t terribly reliable; and over time it tends to distort certain people or places to help rationalize your actions. This distortion can radically effect how you recall things. For instance, it can demonize an ex-girlfriend, or glorify a destitute hometown, or transform a bleak childhood into a series of wispy random moments and somehow leave you yearning for a simpler time – which never really existed.
LIPTON: What is your earliest memory?
RANTAMAKI: Hmm, speaking of wispy memories…I can recall a time, back when I was five or six, and my family is motoring along in dad’s new pea-green Ford Maverick – that was one classy ride.
[Audience laughs derisively]
RANTAMAKI: Dad’s in his white t-shirt and jeans and his hair is greased back – he liked to drive with his tattooed arm hanging out the window – and he’s deeply inhaling an unfiltered cigarette. I remember my mother in the passenger seat singing along with the radio – it’s that Candy Man song, “Who can take the sunrise?”
[Audience joins in, “Sprinkle it with dew...” there’s laughter and mixed applause]
RANTAMAKI: Anyway...hah, that was good. Anyway, my mother is sitting up front and she has our baby sister cradled in her arms – back then you didn’t have to worry about those deadly passenger-side airbags. My older sister and I are standing on the back seat watching the world roll by.
RANTAMAKI: Yeah…funny, I don’t recall seeing seatbelts in that car; they must have been safely tucked away in the seat cushions. In any event, we were taking a ride to the custard stand just outside of town – this was back when “taking a ride” was a family-fun-time activity and gas was cheaper than vodka.
[Audience laughs uneasily]
RANTAMAKI: That’s it. That’s the memory. There’s no conversation. I don’t even recall what I was wearing – though, after seeing some old photos of myself, I’m certain it was something with a wide collar and awfully colorful.
LIPTON: Where does your humor come from?
RANTAMAKI: I don’t see it as humor – and a lot of people will agree with that – but more like astute observation.
LIPTON: What kind of preparation goes into your writing?
RANTAMAKI: Well, to imply my columns are carefully crafted, I’d like to say I’m constantly jotting down notes for future columns – or recording my thoughts with a digital voice recorder. But what really happens is that I’ll get an idea stuck in my head, usually for days, then to release it, I vomit on paper.
RANTAMAKI: In other words, I just start filling the page with random thoughts pertaining to the idea. Eventually, they begin to settle in place and the column becomes somewhat more cohesive. But some scattered thoughts survive the final cut, which often keeps the reader wondering where I’ll turn next.
LIPTON: Most of your columns close with the line, “Now if you’ll excuse me...” Why?
RANTAMAKI: It’s my way of releasing the reader from my trance.
RANTAMAKI: No, seriously, I was never good at summarizing and I’m equally poor at saying goodbye, so asking to be excused is my way of bowing out gracefully.
LIPTON: As you know, I cannot let you “bow out” without tending to the Bernard Pivot questionnaire.
LIPTON: What is your favorite word?
[LIPTON looks up and is about to repeat the question, but then realizes the response was the answer. The audience laughs.]
LIPTON: What is your least favorite word?
LIPTON: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
LIPTON: What turns you off creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
RANTAMAKI: A hangover...so, I guess there's a fine line there.
LIPTON: That would depend on your rate of consumption.
[RANTAMAKI raises his eyebrows and pistol-points at LIPTON. The audience chuckles.]
LIPTON: What sound or noise do you love?
RANTAMAKI: A babbling brook.
LIPTON: What sound or noise do you hate?
RANTAMAKI: Screeching tires.
LIPTON: What is your favorite curse word?
RANTAMAKI: For sheer versatility, “[bleep]!”.
[Audience cheers wildly]
LIPTON: What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
RANTAMAKI: Professional screen saver.
[LIPTON looks up from his notes and the audience chuckles]
LIPTON: What profession would you not like to do?
RANTAMAKI: Bikini model.
[With raised brow, LIPTON leans forward and scans RANTAMAKI up and down. RANTAMAKI strikes a pose to the cheers and whistles of the audience]
RANTAMAKI: They can't take away my dignity, James.
[LIPTON shakes his head]
LIPTON: If heaven exists...
[LIPTON shakes his head again]
LIPTON: If heaven exists, what you’d like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
RANTAMAKI: There goes the neighborhood.
LIPTON: Rick, it has certainly been a pleasure having you on the show.
RANTAMAKI: Thank you for having me, James.
[Audience cheers and credits roll]