Look at This Fucking Journalist: Esquire’s Scott Raab

Back in 1992, Scott Raab started getting the big bucks for interviewing famous people. Fast-forward almost two decades, and Raab is still cranking out celebrity profiles for the best daddy magazine on the planet, Esquire. In fact, an indie press even published Real Hollywood Stories, a compilation of the 58-year-old’s stories.

Raab banged his sister recently talked to Heeb about his starfuckery.

So Scott, you’ve been a celeb wrangler now for about 82 years. Of all your experiences talking to celebs, who was the absolute biggest pain in the ass and why?

Phil Spector. Maybe it sounds weird now that he’s a convicted killer and star of the saddest mug shot ever, but Phil and I dated –metaphorically, as potential subject and writer–for years. We would e-mail back and forth, I would visit the castle when I was in Los Angeles on a story and I saw him in New York City at the annual party he’d throw after the Rock Hall induction ceremony, but the guy would never agree to let me profile him.

Lana Clarkson dies, and I go out there duty-bound to bring back a profile no matter what. I spend as much time as he’ll give me to hang and report. Then the phone calls from his assistant start: What am I writing? Who’s editing it? We don’t want you to do the story. Kill it or suffer the consequences.

So what happened?

The story ran. Nothing happened, and I never heard again from Phil. But as aggravating as the experience was, I feel only love and pity for him.

Who was the Jewiest person you’ve interviewed?

Jeffrey Tambor during Arrested Development’s run. I don’t even know if he’s in my book, but this man was a lovely, lovely MOT, sweet and studious, gentle and kind. If he’s not in the fershluggineh book, he ought to be. Right next to Albert Brooks, who’s not in the book. Albert was fully Jewish, but not like Tambor. Painfully anxious, particularly about the movie he was working on–The Muse–and beautifully paranoid.

Brooks spoke–it’s in the lead section of my profile–about Saddam Hussein training kamikaze pilots to attack the United States. This was in 1999, mind you. Albert Brooks knew. And of course Larry David, than whom in many ways no one is Jewier. You know what? Anyone reading this who buys the book should get in touch with me via my website, and I’ll call and read them the Albert Brooks profile. But I’m going to need to see a receipt.

What about your interviewing methods? I feel like a jerk-off asking that, but it seems like you’ve found a nice balance between the puff piece and the hatchet job. I mean, your stories, they never feel like you’re out to get anyone, but you don’t seem to hold back either. Have there been times when your editors made you hold back?

My editors don’t want me to hold back, so that hasn’t been an issue. As for the ‘methods’ aspect, we’re talking about two separate parts of the job. I show up with a tape recorder and a heart full of love. With very few exceptions, I write about people whose work I know and admire, and, before I leave home, I’ve immersed myself in their lives and oeuvre.

I’ll occasionally arrive at our first meeting with a small gift. I’m looking to form a bond that will last a lifetime–a lifetime of warm, mutual regard and deep affection. But I’ll settle for whatever I can get, because the other part of the job is to transcribe the tapes, cull my notes and write something real about my experience of the celebrity subject. I’m paid to do that–not to pimp the new movie, but also not to rip someone apart simply because we didn’t get along.

I know you’ve been sober for some time now, at least since Truman was first elected. But did you ever get the chance to get stoned or drunk or, hell, even gorge on a gluttonous amount of noshes, with Daniel Baldwin? If not the portly C-lister, then who?

I got so loaded so often–booze, ‘shrooms, opium–with the late Jason Miller that I wound up not writing the fucking profile. Partly because I had compromised myself so completely that when he begged me not to write about any of that stuff, not writing it at all seemed like a lesser evil–and an act of mercy toward us both–but also because I simply couldn’t remember a lot of it.

What do you remember?

The high point was smoking weed with Tupac Shakur. I was writing about Mickey Rourke, back when his career was in the shitter. He and Tupac were doing a movie in Brooklyn, and the two of them were at a dance club in the city with me in tow. Tupac’s got a baggieful and he has papers, and he’s standing in a roped-off VIP section smoking, rolling and smoking joint after joint after joint. I’m the only one interested in sharing.

If I said anything to him besides ‘Thanks,’ I don’t recall it. He wasn’t a chatty guy, and the music was deafening. But this much I know: I was not impressed with the quality of his smoke, and I was very sorry that I had left my bud at the hotel, because I know the man would’ve loved it.

I’m a little bit zig-zagged on your career. Where did you get your start, and how did you get into the fold of mag writing that actually pays?

I got an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1986. I stayed five more years in Iowa, published literary short stories in good magazines, worked on a novel, but I also started to write for magazines: Seventeen, Sport, Self. I moved to Philadelphia in 1991 and met more magazine editors. One of them, David Granger, was a features editor at GQ. A lot of ambitious young editors spoke then about restoring literary nonfiction to the world of magazines; Granger didn’t just talk about it.

I worked with him at GQ, and when he got the top job at Esquire in 1997, I came along.

A few key points for the kids in the audience:

  • I was past 40 by the time I made an actual living at writing.
  • When I met David Granger, I was peddling columns to an alt-weekly in Philly for $40 bucks a pop.
  • It took me more than 10 years to get a bachelor’s degree. I was a shoe salesman, a bartender, a warehouse grunt, a night watchman, but mainly what we used to call a bum.
  • I don’t have much in the way of career advice to share.
  • I can tell you this: I never, ever took a journalism course.
Aside from celebs, you also seem to cover quite a few nosh-related stories for Esquire. Is there a category of food that you feel is a crime for not being so passionately covered by the mag yet?
We spent a few weeks several years ago trying to find a way to get dog meat shipped to the magazine and, simultaneously, trying to locate a chef who could and would prepare it for me to eat and write about. We struck out on both ends and gave up on the idea, but I was willing. Insects, no. I’ve eaten snails. Tripe, in various forms. I can’t tell you that I enjoyed these things.

Are there foods you feel foreign to, i.e. wouldn’t know how to approach it let alone eat/enjoy it?

I’m not really a haute cuisine guy. I’m a fat Jew from Cleveland, a great deli town, and I grew up in an immigrant household that kept kosher. I’ll eat almost anything, but the ‘feh’ factor remains. I think my culinary adventuring is pretty much over. At a certain age, you pay too high a price on the other end. Although I’d love to do an omnibus piece on chopped liver.

Was there ever a celeb that you have always failed to get? A Great White Whale?

Bob Dylan. Philip Roth. Van Morrison. These are ungettable. Dylan will do Rolling Stone. Roth let David Remnick interview him. Van Morrison does no press as far as I know. In a different league, Vince Gallo. I tried very hard to get Vince Gallo to let me profile him. Vince fucking Gallo. And Sonny Barger, Hells Angel’s icon. But at least I got Sonny on the phone.

Do you ever tire of the starfucking?

As hokey as it sounds, I’m always psyched to do these profiles. I think it’s a privilege–and I believe that, as played out as the genre is assumed to be, there’s still a lot of fun to be had on the reader’s part if I’m doing my job right.

Catch Scott Raab at the next Heeb Storytelling July 22 in NYC.

What do you think?

About The Author

Brian Abrams

6 Responses

  1. brainyfox

    In my opinion, lovely! (Again.) Now can Scott Raab critique your celebrity profile of him?

    Reply
  2. boychik

    Look at this fucking pussy who didn’t show up to Heeb Storytelling because he had a bad back!

    Reply
  3. scottraab

    I’m not saying I’m not a fucking pussy. I’m not saying I don’t deserve your scorn. I’m just saying you should never know what it’s like not being able to wipe your own tuchus. That’s all I’m saying. That, and this: If I’m lucky enough to get asked back, I

    Reply
  4. disappointed

    cannot buy this guy’s book after watching him “apologize” over and over for mel gibson and saying jews are always victims. sorry

    Reply

Leave a Reply