Behold the Smartass, the unflappable thorn-in-your-side, smug beyond compare, a guy who’s stuck it to you if not twice, then at least threepossibly fourtimes. He’s incisive, preternaturally self-aware, and uses five-syllable words like preternatural. He’s a friend to the underdog and an enemy of the Top Dog. To channel Jeffrey Lebowski (the other Lebowski, not the millionaire), he’s not wrong, he’s just an asshole.*
How else but the above to describe Chez Pazienza, the longtime CNN producer canned in February for dutifully minding a blog entitled Deus ex Malcontent? This is a site, consider, that dismisses summerusually ranked amongst the best of timesas an occasion for “Michael Bay [to] once again spread his figurative ass-cheeks and unleash a putrid load of cinematic diarrhea on the theater-going public.”
"At some point, more serious news will splinter off, and that audience will go with it. But the age of broadcasting without the sensationalism might be over."
As palatable as this image is, there’s plenty more to swallow down. Pazienza could be accused of many thingshis “translation” of the Knut The Polar Bear song includes the lyrics “Knut! Knut! / Strong, proud Aryan bear! / Knut! Knut! / Heil, mein liber herr!”but he could never be faulted for dumbing us down. In a cyberspace inhabited by commentary such as this, his glued-shut prose and bawdy metaphors provide a deeply appreciated, and hilarious, literary diversion.
Since leaving CNN, Pazienza, 38, has become something of an unintentional standard-bearer for New Media. He blogs prolifically, writes for the Huffington Post and Pajiba, and has just released his memoir, Dead Star Twilight, through his site. Gelf caught up with Pazienza, who riffed on the decline of TV news reportage, why he refuses to overshare, and what he’d like to say to Oprah. (You can hear Pazienza, in addition to Jezebel.com Editor Anna Holmes and Hipster Handbook author Robert Lanham, speak at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker Series event on Thursday, June 26, in the Lower East Side.) This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gelf Magazine: First offwhy so angry?
Chez Pazienza: I just found out that Battlestar Galactica won't return until 2009. Next question.
GM: Why did you start your blog? When did it start taking off? (I came across it a year and half ago through Fark, which linked to your “Year of the Douchebag” awards).
GM: Do you regret anything you've written?
CP: I got a lot of comments and emails after I got canned from CNN that basically said, "Well buddy, I'll bet you're sorry now, asshole!" Actually, I wasn't, and I'm not. I've written a couple of columns that I've had to take a step back and question whether I was too hard on one person or another. A perfect example was the recent piece about my return to my old workplace at the Time Warner Center. But the only time I've ever really worried about something I said is when I've written about my own life. I'm not Emily Gould(and I'd like to thank her by the way for fucking it up for the rest of us). I'm not an "oversharer" in the sense that I write about what's going on in my life at any given moment. I honestly don't see why anyone would give a shit about that one way or the other. But I have talked quite a bit about my not-so-sparkling past and attempted to draw some universal themes from that. Writing about that sort of thing has been rough on my wife on occasion though, despite her being the most preternaturally supportive person on the planet.
GM: From what I've read, you're not suing CNN for firing youwhich, in this country, means your dissatisfaction is somewhat tempered, for whatever reason. Is it because you feel liberated?
"I really fucking hate people who treat the legal system like it's their own personal ATM whenever they get a raw deal or suffer some kind of accident."CP: I may miss the steady and secure paycheck, but CNN firing me was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career. Who the hell knew who I was before that? To answer the question though, I actually did think about trying to file a lawsuit butand no one's gonna believe thisthen I remembered that I really fucking hate people who treat the legal system like it’s their own personal ATM whenever they get a raw deal or suffer some kind of accident. I'm not Mr. Principled or anything, but the stuff I put out there on the blog and at HuffPo and so on requires me to stand by the convictions I've set for myselfno matter how stupid and self-destructive they may be. This is why I haven't given in and just opted to try to get a job at Fox News Channel, even though Shepard Smith's an old poker buddy of mine. Although if I don't start making some decent money soon, who the hell knows. My ideals aren't gonna feed my new baby, you know?
GM: Did your Huffington Post gig arise as a result of your firing?
CP: Actually, I think it was the other way around. The Huffington people found me and enlisted me to contribute to the site, and it wasn't long after that I got called into my boss's office and told that someone had discovered my name attached to some "controversial" blog posts on the internet. I was out of a job 24 hours later. CNN never mentioned my stuff on HuffPo, only my own site, but for whatever reason, a lot of people seem to think that my Huffington Post piece defending David Shuster for the whole "pimping out" Chelsea Clinton comment was what got their attention.
GM: How does the sensationalism of TV news today compare to when you started out? Is it impossible to imagine a reversal of this trend? There's currently a headline on FOXnews.com that reads "Women Gets Life After Cutting Fetus From Friend". It seems like everybody complains about this, to no avail.
CP: Maybe I'm now trying to redeem myself for the sins of my past, but it's funny that I bitch so incessantly about the direction TV news has gone in, considering that I started out at WSVN in Miami in the early 90s. WSVN basically invented the Fox News stylethat whole over-produced, high-graphics, whiz-bang thingand at the time, I was one of the very willing architects behind it. I was a kid who was essentially hired because he didn't have any preconceived J-school notions about what TV news was supposed to look like. Despite all the crap that WSVN caught, both locally and nationally, I really didn't feel like the station's style was hurting anyone. But when you take that kind of attitudethe dazzle them with brilliance and baffle them with bullshit ethosand suddenly incorporate important subjects like U.S. politics into it, the result is positively toxic. At some point, more serious news will splinter off and sprout up somewhere else, and that audience will go with it. But the age of broadcasting without the sensationalism or the scare-tacticsas opposed to narrowcastingI think that might be over.
GM: Why did you release your memoir right now? How long had you been working on it for, and how’s it doing?
CP: I started putting Dead Star Twilight together about three years ago, took a break for several months, then sat my ass back down and decided to finish it. While I can't say that I'm proud of the personal behavior I've documented in it, I am proud to have finally put it all down and gotten it out there. I decided to go with an online release after getting fired from CNN. I figured I was suddenly getting a ton of free publicity that might actually translate into sales for the book, since I was netting upwards of 45,000 hits a day right after word of my firing got around. I also kind of wanted to put my money where my mouth was. Right after I got canned, I wrote a long piece that HuffPo published basically decrying the way old media looked at new media. I was loudly proclaiming how strongly I believed in the power of new media, and by releasing Dead Star Twilight via my site, I had a way of proving I was sincere in my convictions.
All the reviews I've seen have been positive and Arianna Huffington was kind enough to read it and give me a blurb. She called it "the book A Million Little Pieces dreamed of being"which now that I think about it could mean nothing more than that it's a true story. It's sold very well so far, but I won't rest until Oprah picks it for her book club and I can tell her on national television to shove it up her self-obsessed ass. ReallyI'll do that. Buy a thousand copies for your friends, make it a huge success and watch me.
"When you take that kind of attitudethe dazzle them with brilliance and baffle them with bullshit ethosand suddenly incorporate important subjects like U.S. politics into it, the result is positively toxic."GM: One of the things Deus ex Malcontent does best is skewering celebrity, or at least the culture surrounding it. (See: Bride and Prejudice). As your blog continues to grow in popularity and acclaim, are you afraid of becoming like those you so gleefully cut down?
CP: Oh, trust me, I've got a hell of a long way to go before I have to start worrying about that. I'm not in danger of turning into Oprah anytime soonor even that idiot Perez Hilton for that matter. I hate to borrow a tired joke, but being a really successful blogger is like being the toughest guy in the Kathy Griffin fan clubwhich Perez Hilton may be, incidentally. By firing me, CNN definitely increased my notoriety in certain circles, and I kind of owe them for thatthanks guys. But I haven't even risen to the level of "Blowhard TV Pundit" yet, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.
GM: What does the media landscape look like in five years?
CP: A post-apocalyptic desert, where roving clans of bloodthirsty savages battle for control of the world's one remaining resourceface-timeand where a lone stranger, fresh from out of the wasteland, is the only hope for the survival of mankind.
And that stranger is Larry King.