It’s a queer old thing, being interviewed. Dictaphones and notepads can put a man on edge

I saw my chance to ask him a few questions of my own

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The Independent Online

I had to do an interview last week for a magazine (Time Out) because some journalist wanted to write an article about me. Sat there answering probing questions, it struck me that I also have to fill up space in my own paper. So I’ve decided I’ll write up the interview, too, and bang it in here.

Being interviewed is a funny old thing. It’s kind of like a dance I suppose, except it’s a dance where one of the dancers is constantly asking the other dancer very specific questions about their life. Both dancers are, however, usually fine with this, because they know before they meet up that that is how it is going to be. In our case, me and my dance partner (interviewer) met up in a ballroom (café) just off Tottenham Court Road (Tottenham Court Road), and our roles were very clear from the outset. He carried a notepad, a dictaphone and quizzical eyes. I carried my ears and my mouth and sat myself down on a stool. We ordered tea, he turned on his dictaphone and notepad and we were away.

My interviewer, on this occasion, was a man called Ben Williams. A charming, youthful newshound, he’s been making strides at Time Out for a while. Such nice strides in fact, that he is now editor of their comedy section, and gets tickets to watch stuff in London and beyond. And this seems to have filled the guy with an inner confidence. He threw his questions at me like shot puts, but always with a puppyish half-smile that took the edge off them and put me at ease. Even when his journalistic talons were hooked deep into my flanks, I found it hard to dislike the guy. At times I was focusing on combating his enquiries, but at other points I genuinely wanted to lean forward and ruffle his blond locks.

Food came and Ben Williams paused the interview while we munched our cake. At this point I saw my chance to ask him a few questions of my own. How did he get into journalism? Did he have any anecdotes about interviews that had gone badly wrong? Did he find the industry he worked in competitive, or fine? What would be his ideal dinner party? Does he do drugs? How much were his jeans? But Ben Williams wouldn’t be drawn on any of it. He just laid into his cake, pressed record on his dictaphone and notepad again and laced back into me. This was his show.

It’s a queer old thing, being interviewed. Conversations are more one-sided than usual. In real life you take it in turns to ask questions and it’s not recorded. When dictaphones and notepads are involved, it can put a man on edge. You start to analyse the stuff as it pours out of your mouth. In interviews, when I feel confident that what I am saying is wise or entertaining, I tend to angle it more towards the dictaphone, to make sure it goes in. Stuff I’m less sure about – the majority, usually – I’ll throw away over my shoulder. In a lot of interviews, I just rest my chin on my collarbone and mumble down my arm until it’s over.

Not with Ben Williams, though. His questions demand answers. But in a very friendly way. At times it felt less like an interview, and more like you are just chatting with a boy. We yakked about this and that for six or seven hours and very enjoyable it was, too. No traps. No tricks. Just genuine, heartfelt enquiries. He just wanted to know what Steve Coogan was like. He wanted to know about my live work. He wanted to know what was next. He wanted to know why I was being guarded. By the time it was over we had consumed 1.5kg of cake and the dictaphone was swollen with answers.

“Thank you, sir,” was how he ended the interview, flicking his notepad closed and sliding his dictaphone back into its sheath. He’d got what he needed. And so had I.

Read Ben Williams’ interview with Tim Key at Time Out.