By Nahed Elrayes – u5567449
In 2004, television personality Jonathan Ross met British rock icon Morrissey, for likely one of the most challenging interviews of Ross’s career. I will briefly explain Ross’s intent for this 15-minute segment, the clear challenges he faced, and the creative, self-conscious style through which Ross brought out the best of a visibly difficult interviewee.
Ross hosts BBC’s Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, a talk show. The format implied is light, comical, and targeted to a general audience rather than music enthusiasts. Accordingly, Ross does not assume the role of a fan or a music critic, but a friend engaging the guest in casual conversation. As Morrissey already has decades of fame behind him, Ross sees no reason to introduce his guest or his music as if undiscovered. Instead, he is responsible to Morrissey for promoting his new album as organically as possible, and responsible to the audience for bringing Morrissey’s personality into natural focus.
The guest, however, is the breathing antithesis of a talk show. Making no attempt to adapt to the format, Morrissey is endlessly cynical, difficult to entertain, and quietly spoken yet arrogant (he applauds his own remark at 1 minute). His aloofness suggests a sort of anxiety – neither man mentions that this is Morrissey’s first full interview in 17 years (Brendan, 2004). Atop these personal challenges, the format itself makes for a daunting conversation; it is live and uneditable, betrays all facial ticks and body language, and features a large audience immediately judging the dialogue through applause, laughter or silence. This makes live television the most difficult interview medium (Pollard, 2015). Ross is aware that to receive honest answers about Morrissey’s music and views, he first needs to ensure his guest is as relaxed on stage as possible.
The genius of Ross is that he makes the over-extension necessary to reach Morrissey into a comedic act. Immediately, he asks if he can call Morrissey “Steven”, adding “I thought we were friends…”. He then highlights Morrissey’s aloofness (“so you would be quite daunting company, I assume?”), and after Morrissey agrees, Ross pleads “But once again, we’re very similar!…I can’t wait for people to leave!” Through this dynamic, Ross is able to shamelessly pursue his agenda as an interviewer, rendering him both affable and effective. In turn Morrissey, free of the pressure to alter his personality, is able to reveal more about himself.
As for the promotion, Ross casually introduces Morrissey’s album, remarking that “it’s great…I nearly cried”. Morrissey asks why not, and to laughter Ross replies that “It wasn’t that good”. The unconditional positivity that usually goes with introducing an album is replaced with honesty and appreciation without artifice. This is, I believe, the better way to promote an album.
There are a few turning points to the ease and humour of the interview, with one example at 10 minutes. Ross asks if he can drive Morrissey on the stage in his bumper car, to which Morrissey cracks a smile and says “I’m striving for some degree of popularity, Jonathan”. At this point, the two have established familiarity through teasing. It is no coincidence that Ross then enquires about Morrissey’s writing process. Rather than the averse answers he received in the first few minutes, he hears direct and passionate statements (“it’s never mechanical”, “I constantly feel the need to witness and give an account about life”, etc.).
This was undoubtedly a successful interview, and the most of a difficult situation. The details and context of Morrissey’s music were fleshed out somewhat shallowly, but this was appropriate for the audience involved. While appearing to drive the conversation, Ross was in fact flexible with the flow as Morrissey altered it: from his friendships, to pop music, to animal rights and so on. Ultimately, the encounter was to entertain and promote, two aspects that Ross juggled excellently.
Brendan, O’Neill. 2004. “Morrissey: Why The Fuss?”. BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3720751.stm.
“Morrissey Interview Jonathan Ross 2004”. 2017. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZDI4PIq8_s.
Pollard, Catriona. 2015. “How To Deliver A Good Television Interview”. Public Relations Sydney. https://publicrelationssydney.com.au/how-to-deliver-a-good-television-interview/.