The Guardian: Why do you think you inspire enmity?
Bernard-Henri Lévy: Number one, I don’t know. Number two, I don’t care. And number three, the pack always loses against a writer or an artist.
How hard you’re working is a good indicator of whether you’re doing the right or wrong thing with life. There’s that quote about “Work is being somewhere when you’d rather be somewhere else” – but I can’t work too hard just now, because I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
Every comedian is Marmite. You have that reflex action whereby you laugh or you don’t. You either love us or are left lost. The tragedy for comedians is there’s nothing more they want than to be liked. We desperately seek approval. It’s almost like a personality disorder you can do as a job.
It’s wonderful to get an award, but as John Gielgud once said, the next day you’ve got to start getting better. It would be very easy to let our feet get stuck in the sand.
I didn’t have any vices before the internet. There are a lot of cracks in the day, moments where you don’t know what to do next, so you have a little hole where you look at your phone. You want something that will mean you’re not alone in that moment.
My advice is to do what you can this second. Big plans that rely on other people, new equipment, long periods of time… they’re no good. What can you do right now? Delve under the anxieties until you get to a place that’s mysterious enough.
Do dialogue-let’s say-between a hobo and a high-class hooker, then between an ambulance chaser and a guy who sells scorecards at the ballpark-let’s say-about the meaning of money. Between pints, get the arch of the dart down pat. Shoot foul shots day in and rim out. Pick a sentence at random from a randomly selected book, and another from another volume also chosen by chance; then write a paragraph which will be a reasonable bridge between them. And it does get easier to do what you have done, sing what you’ve so often sung; it gets so easy, sometimes, that what was once a challenge passes over into thoughtless routine. So the bar must be raised a few notches, one’s handicap increased, the stakes trebled, tie both hands behind your back. Refuse the blindfold, refuse the final cigarette, refuse the proffered pizza. Do dialogue in dialect: a Welshman and a Scot arguing about an onion. Hardest of all: start over.
WILLIAM H. GASS
~ Originally published by Drawn & Quarterly in 1990(!) in their self-titled anthology. Later reprinted in my collection Black Cat Crossing.
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