Kurt Vonnegut Radio
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40. Jason Zinoman, iconic comedy columnist at The New York Times

40. Jason Zinoman, iconic comedy columnist at The New York Times

I go deep with Jason Zinoman on the Hasan Minhaj controversy + Marc Maron's comedy podcast beef with Joe Rogan + why Nate Bargatze's standup is blowing up rn + is Jim Gaffigan our new Mark Twain?

No transcript...

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Welcome to episode #40 of Kurt Vonnegut radio.

Our guest today is Jason Zinoman (!!)

Jason Zinoman is straight up one of my all time favorite writers and cultural thinkers. He is critic-at-large for The New York Times. But perhaps most importantly, to my mind, he has written the On Comedy column at The New York Times since 2011.

Jason Zinoman’s On Comedy column for the past 12 years has been this super vital, weird, cutting-edge, thrilling, brilliant, provocative, funny, heroic feat of writing that spotlights comedians and their craft. Jason’s column gives the art of comedy the critical attention and appreciation it deserves.

Here’s Zinoman’s latest on Dave Chappelle:

When I invited Jason Zinoman on the show, I said specifically I wanted to talk to him about his recent piece on the controversy surrounding comedian Hasan Minhaj
in The New York Times:


I was also keen to talk to Jason Zinoman about his recent piece on the comedian Jim Gaffigan in The New York Times.

Will you believe me that Jim Gaffigan is a major artist who has a poet’s facility with language?

Look, I’d written Jim Gaffigan off as the Pizza Pockets guy too. But after reading Jason Zinoman's piece on Gaffigan's newest special, I watched it and my mind was blown. My heart ripped open. I haven't howled with laughter like that in a very long time. I watched that special ten more times and my appreciation for Gaffigan's artistry grew with each viewing.

Jim Gaffigan up there on stage feels like a deranged Philip Seymour Hoffman, telling the most exquisite pitch black jokes that take aim at the horrors of the human condition. It's like he is out Becketting Beckett. He makes E.M. Cioran sound like a writer of Hallmark affirmations.

Lots of writers in the know know about Jason Zinoman, but do you?

Lots of writers know that Jason Zinoman turns out these ingenious columns that cover some of the great artists of our time.

I remember when the author and journalist, Joe Hagan, came on the podcast. Joe wouldn't stop singing praises of Zinoman's profile of Janeane Garofalo. Joe Hagan said he was straight up jealous of Jason Zinoman for having written it. The ultimate writer compliment.

Jason Zinoman’s beloved NYT column on Janeane Garofalo

Jason Zinoman comes from a theater and literary arts background. He's the co-host of the literary podcast, The Martin Chronicles. Which is devoted to the work of Martin Amis. The other co-hosts are Parul Sehgal and Dan Kois.

I have spent my life worshiping at the temple of stand-up comedy

It's really what I wanted to do. But somehow I took a weird turn and ended up in the literary lane. My love for Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, and Steven Wright is equal to my love for Anne Carson, Cormac McCarthy, and George Saunders.

And that's a big part of why I named this podcast Kurt Vonnegut Radio. Because Vonnegut was obsessed with comedy. And if you go back and look at Vonnegut’s Commencement Speeches, he's doing a kind of cool, sort of literary version of standup. Or at least he's telling very funny, weird monologues.

Anyway, me and Jason Zinoman talk about the comedian Nate Bargatze and why his standup is blowing up rn (did you catch Nate Bargatze’s opening monologue on SNL this weekend?)

* Think this is the Nate Bargatze set Jason Zinoman references seeing in our convo.

Me and Jason Zinoman talk about Bo Burnham.

We talk about Dave Chappelle.

And we talk about Mark Maron's podcast WTF and Joe Rogan's podcast. And the podcast comedy beef that exists between them. And we talk about Ronny Chieng.

Jason Zinoman is a super smart, big-hearted writer who has, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, “oodles of charm.” He has devoted his life to weird, sometimes even twisted beauty. So buckle up as we enter the heart and mind of one of the great writers of our time: Jason Zinoman.

Kurt Vonnegut Radio is a reader-supported publication. To support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Jason Zinoman quotes, from our convo

On Marc Maron’s interview technique on WTF

He uses his own psyche and the drama of his flaws and humanity as a tool to illuminate other people.

On Subscriber model vs Advertising model for writers

I prefer it to the advertising model. Because the advertising model is fundamentally about these big corporations. You’re depending on them. Where here you’re depending on your actual customers, your readers.

On why Nate Bargatze’s stand-up is so mesmerizing

The thinking man's dumb guy humor. He manages to make fun of himself while holding on to a certain kind of dignity that I think is key to the persona.

On Hasan Minhaj’s inability to grasp why Obama wouldn’t lie about all the books he reads

If you're the president who has been the victim of all these horrible conspiracies and birtherism from the beginning of his presidential run and all this, you're incredibly sensitive to this issue of trust.

On Marc Maron and Joe Rogan comedy podcast beef

The funny thing is that he (Joe Rogan) and Maron have more in common than they’d want to admit.

I have just one question for you: who is your favorite comedian of all time and why?

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Show Notes

Read Jason Zinoman’s On Comedy column in NYT

Read Jason’s NYT piece on Hasan Minhaj

Read Jason’s NYT piece on Jim Gaffigan

Buy Jason’s book Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night

Buy Jason’s book Searching for Dave Chappelle

Buy Jason’s book Shock Value

Follow Jason on Instagram and Twitter

Other Kurt Vonnegut Radio episodes for your enjoyment:

Sam Lipsyte

Dave Eggers

Anne Kadet

Maggie Smith

A.M. Homes

Michael Estrin

Merve Emre

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