Thursday, June 26, 2008

Introducing the newest APF Pundit: Pete Dominick

A conversation with Pete Dominick
Pete Dominick is a talker on Sirius Satellite Radio. His program – 'Pete's Big Mouth' is featured on the IndieTalk channel. The channel's motto: "Political talk for people who hate political talk" is a fitting description for the show.

Pete often talks about wanting his show to counter the bravado of his Talk Radio peers: "They’re really trying to get people to follow ...Ed Schultz is a liberal talker and he wants you to call yourself an "EdHead", with Rush Limbaugh you’re a "dittohead... I think that’s dangerous. It insinuates that what that person is saying is right and is always right".

Political Talk Radio has traditionally been a combative format. The talker issues their talking points, bashes the other side and only concedes failings strategically. When a caller interjects with an opposing viewpoint, they know they’re in for a fight and are at the mercy of the talker’s bully pulpit.

On Pete's show it's quite the opposite. When Pete is flippant or says something his audience find ignorant, he will host a stream of calls or read emails disabusing him of that contention. He isn't afraid to reconsider his stance after some back and forth but concedes at times “he’s been too apologetic" and admits "it isn't good for radio".

There is an inviting and casual air to the show, this follows even if you're a first time listener or disagree with Pete’s views. This is partly a function of Pete’s persona and the "independent" nature of the show. As the program is driven by audience input and Pete’s curiosity it’s hard to predetermine the direction the show will take on any given day or even hour by hour. The show has spent time discussing matters as varied as 'McCain's war record', 'racism in America' to 'audience celebrity encounters' – spurred from an encounter with Geraldo Rivera during Pete's morning drive to work. Pete often becomes animated during the topic of religion (he is an outspoken agnostic) and American party politics (doesn't like the two-party system, favouring instant-runoff voting).

Pete's personality coupled with the freedom of the Sirius format gives the show a schoolyard vibe - a regular caller greets the host with "Hey Pete, How the f*ck are ya? It's a cliché in the world of Talk Radio but there is a sense that he values every listener. He welcomes callers like they're old friends, remembering names from previous conversations by phone and email. Pete wants his audience to own the show "I'm not interested in leading people. I'm interested in having a salon discussion everyday...I just love listening to people's opinions". He feeds off the enthusiasm and intellectual appetite of his audience, Pete often jokes on air about the overzealousness of listeners sending 9 emails a day "why not just wait a little bit then send all 9 links together".

Pete's Big Mouth is built from the interactions of his audience. Pete moves the conversation with his inquisitiveness, using a skillset he describes as being his "personality, wit and off-the-cuff improvisational abilities". It's been these qualities that have attracted Sirius (he also hosts Comedy by Request on the Raw Dog Comedy Channel) and impressed Jon Stewart who invited him to be the warm-up for the 'Daily Show', eventually moving to 'The Colbert Report'.

The way Pete describes the dynamic of his Colbert audience warm-up is reflective of the spirit of his radio show "I'm going on a journey with the audience... we're leading each other and I'm making jokes in the moment. It's hard to follow that with scripted anything".

Pete's Big Mouth isn't your conventional Talk program. It's best described as a show where people discuss the memes they've just heard on the radio rather than the show disseminating it. Instead of people regurgitating talking points, they're deliberating over them. Pete encapsulates the essence of his show and personality simply, when he says "I like conversation".

Partial conversation transcripts below:
Pete on his radio peers
All I'm finding, a lot of times no mater who they are. They're really trying to get people to follow their – Ed Schultz is a liberal talker and he wants you to call yourself an "EdHead", with Rush Limbaugh you're a "dittohead"... I don't want people to identify with Pete's Big Mouth or with Pete Dominick. I don’t need that kind of following because I think that’s dangerous. It insinuates that what that person is saying is right and is always right and that’s not what I want to do. I'm not interested in leading people. I'm interested in having a salon discussion everyday, selfishly because I'm entertained by it. I love talking about the subject matter we talk about, I can't wait to get into those conversations privately with family and friends and I love doing it on the air. I just love listening to people's opinions. I think if anyone’s gonna follow me I hope they're following the idea of individual thought. That's all.
Pete on his comedy
I’m not a political comedian. It's one part of a larger act, I do current events, politics, social issues as one part of my act. I also talk about my personal life, my insecurities, my relationships and I also do an observational chunk usually as well.

I’ve never been able to pin myself down or paint myself as one type of comedian. To some extent that’s been to my disadvantage. I have always been a host and an emcee, I’ve gotten more work as a host and emcee on TV and in radio and certainly mainly in comedy clubs. As well as doing the audience warm-up. My skill set I think is my personality, my wit, my off-the-cuff improvisational abilities.
Pete on warming up for Colbert
I like conversation. I like to go onstage (when I’m doing stand up) if it would be okay with everybody I would just talk to them for 30 minutes and get laughs that way and I do do that with warm-up every night on the Colbert Report. I do that about 20, 30 minutes. Often during my jokes the laughs come from the situation.
Listen to my conversation with Pete Dominick (On the 12m20s mark, the audio the cuts forward to another question. Apologies for the quality)

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