tv Tavis Smiley PBS June 5, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT
good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first a conversation with paula sound stone, known for being a fixture on the comedy scene for nearly four decades now, accomplished author, her latest is "the totally unscientific study of the search for human happiness." then we'll talk to the man at the center of the starz drama "american gods" actor ricky whittle, paula poundstone and ricky whittle coming up in just a moment.
and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. we welcome comedienne paula poundstotone to this program, t self-proclaimed doubting thomas determined to find the secret to lasting happiness and tried a series of experiments in that quest. she shares her findings in a new book titled "the totally unscientific study of the search for human happiness." i am delighted to have paula poundstone on this program. >> thanks so much for having me.
>> good to see you again. why self-proclaimed doubting thomas? >> my book is a series of experiments, as you say, doing things this i or other people thought would make me happy. and every chapter is written as an experiment with a hypothesis and the conditions and the variables and hopefully the funniest field notes ever written. but the question for me wasn't whether i would enjoy doing something, the question was what could i do that would give me, you know, a little lasting something, you know what i mean, like when i finished doing it i would have an umbrella, so to speak, for the inevitable rains of one's daily life. the story of raising a house full of kids and animals and being a standup comic for a living which i am and stuck being me 24 hours a day. and i tried many things. and i think i came to discover one thing which is there's a difference between happiness and
enjoying something. you know, if i were to go on a ferris wheel with my son, for example, i'm sure that i would enjoy it because i like ferris wheels. but i can guarantee you by the time i got down, we'd already be in an argument. you know? that would be something that i enjoyed, which is not the same as something that gives you lasting happiness. >> what did you discover or have you discovered what happiness is for you? >> i think sadly it's more biochemical than romantic. i think it has to do, and i wish this wasn't true, but i think it has to do with getting exercise and human interaction. by the way, very important. which i think we skip over a lot nowadays because of everybody staring at their flat thing. which steals words like friends and connected, but in fact, electronic is to happiness and relationship what doritos are to
nutrition. >> yeah, yeah. >> not good for you. >> did you figure out the secret to, how might i put this, sustained happiness rather than periodic happyness? >> i'm not sure there is such a thing. >> okay. >> as really long -- i mean, i think it's sprinkled in, i think it's an ingredient. as i say in the book, if for me happiness can be the backbeat to the score of my life, i'm good. you know? because the other emotions have a place to play, you know. in the very first chapter, get fit experiment, during that experiment my dog died. and one of my best friends died. and i firmly believe that had i been doing anything else other than working out, grueling workouts, not every day by the way, but, you know. three, four times a week. i think i probably would have been sort of towed under by
those sad things. instead, it's not that i wasn't sad, you know what i mean, it didn't overpower me. >> as i read the book, it seems to me that after all the very --py of although that you read the book. that makes me so happy. >> yes, that's our job around here. >> yeah. but do you read fast? >> no, i'm not a fams reader. >> i'm not -- i said to a friend today, i'm 57, i got maybe three more books to read. you know? i've got to choose very carefully. i'm auditioning thorls right now. >> and as i go through the text, it seems to me after all these experiments that you try, correct me if i'm wrong, what you ultimately came to was that there's some pretty basic things in life that bring us happiness. >> yeah, i think that's true. >> you can try but my point is -- you can try a lot of different things. there's some pretty basic things that are pretty reliable. >> and by the way, it's the stuff we were always told. >> exactly. >> it really is. i don't do an experiment with
having good sleep, hygiene as they call it, where you go to bed at a regular hour, get up at a regular hour. i don't do an experiment but what i do, the get wired experiment, it took seven years to write the book for a variety of reasons but i came to computers later than a lot of people did. but it was still several years ago when we had the big kind in my house but i didn't know how to use it. my kids used it, my assistant used it. everybody kept telling me, if you use a computer everything will be so much better somehow. i bought a laptop, that you can bring door to door and beg for help. >> the mainframe -- >> the big kind you've got to lure someone into your house. let's face it, jeffrey dahmer ruined that for everyone. so i bought the laptop thing. what's interesting about the get wired chapter is that because i started out a blank slate in terms of electronics, you
actually see my steady decline into the addiction of compulsion of staring at your flat thing. whether it's a smartphone or a computer. and it is addictive. there's no question in my mind. >> do you regret trying that experiment? >> no. i don't. i mean -- it's not that i mind every aspect of it. but i definitely -- my son, and it's a story i tell in the course of the book. my son suffers from very severe electronics addiction. he seems to be doing well now, actually, i think. it was years and years. i'd put him in front of a computer when he was 3 because i didn't know any better. >> yeah. >> and terrible for the developing brain. >> what's your advice? >> zero, none, get them out of our school. high school, you want a tech class, it's great, it's behind a door. we learned to type. we didn't carry the typewriter around all day.
put it in a classroom and they have a class for it. >> it was a little heavier though. >> right. >> there were some constraints. >> there were some constraints. but kids need -- by the way, it's one of the things in the book. people need to make eye contact. people need to shake hands. people need to give hugs. people need to put the occasional hand on the shoulder. these ver important. i was in new york and i was struck by, as i was walking down these wonderfully crowded streets, streets crowded with people, right that live there, work there, are vacationing there. but no exaggeration, 90% of them were either staring at their flat things or had a headset in. they've gone to the trouble of moving or vifrlting this place. whose visit virtues is it's full of people. and they're doing their very best to avoid those people. and that relationship with strangers is so important to us. we end up feeling isolated. i think we should live every day like the opening scene of "beauty and the beast."
♪ bonjour bonjour that's how we're supposed to be. >> when it came across my desk, one of the first things i thought, other than how much i loved -- >> you shoved your volume of shakespeare away and began reading this. >> exactly, yeah. i love the funny title. but i was struck by your phrase "the search for human happiness." it made me wonder whether or not you think other creatures find happiness -- you know where i'm going with this? >> no. >> do other creatures find happiness more easily than we do? >> we are really lucky that we have -- i mean, i'm the luckiest performer in the world because i get to go on stage and say things that i think might be funny in front of a group of people who come out to laugh for the night. and particularly now where i feel that the entire world is in the midst of a mental health crisis. it is an absolute joyful job to be a part of this thing that's really good for people. which is laughing as a group.
i think raccoons have it. i can't swear to it. but i'm telling you. i've seen raccoons like with one another, and they look to me like they were amusing each other. >> yeah. >> i suspect that, you know, primates. but i don't know. cats, not so much. >> the fact that you say raccoons gives me the chills. i tell you why, funny story. not so funny to me. i literally had all the fences around my house completely redone. there was a family of raccoons making their way under my fences and just having a field day in my backyard. >> what were they doing? >> swimming in my pool. in my jacuzzi. laying on my lounge chairs. they took over the backyard. every night about 3:00 in the morning they would be out there having a field day. i have nothing against the raccoons but i got tired of them taking over my backyard. >> i am absolutely sure of my earlier premise, then, yes! thank you. >> they were very happy in my jacuzzi every night. >> raccoons do seek happiness and apparently they find it. >> in my backyard.
>> i love it. >> we fixed that problem. >> were you serving like little umbrella drinks? that's probably your mistake. we had raccoons in my mulch pile which is the close ms i can come to having a pool and jacuzzi. a couple of summers ago we were having a blazing hot summer. and one night i see my cats like staring out the window at something. i realize there's raccoons in the mulch pile. i go out, i take my son's super soaker gun. and i shoot water at these raccoons. they come out like a clown car. one after the other after the other. the next night they're out there again. and this time i go out with water balloons. i pelt them with water balloons. same thing. now there's even more. first night there were seven, now there's ten. and i realize, it's roasting hot and i'm throwing water at them. i think they went back to their friends and go, you know, tomorrow night she's going to have a slip 'n slide.
every night with the water games, me and the raccoons. >> you gave them exactly what they wanted. who knew, only on pbs, talking about raccoons and paula poundstone. >> i love that. >> here's my question, i was moved all jokes aside, very funny guy, i was moved when i saw your dedication in this book. >> thank you, yeah. robin williams. you know, robin mentored lots of comics. that frenetic excitement and energy. he was the tasmanian devil of standup comedy. and people went out to clubs because they thought they might see robin. and they saw the rest of us and they liked that too. but he was the draw. >> i tried to interview him one time and i just gave up. >> yeah. >> i mean, there is no interview. there was no interviewing robin williams. it's like, dude, take over. >> he had a little before the raccoon in him. yeah. in fact -- you know. in earlier years, you may have found him floating in your pool and your jacuzzi if you didn't
have the right fencing. >> on that note. the book is called "the totally unscientific study of the search for human happiness" by paula poundstone. endorsed by every funny comedian live diagnose these days. >> i cat carl reiner. >> dick van dyke, big cabot, lily tomlin. >> and i got lily tomlin. >> good to have you on. >> thank you so much, great seeing you. up next after ricky whittle, stay with us. pleased to welcome ricky quhilgts to this program. it took 16 auditions but the actor landed a role in the life time of the starz series adaptation of neil gaiman's novel "american gods." here from a recent episode of "american gods." >> i think i'm losing my mind. >> one way to know for sure.
>> i swear i'm losing it. >> you're trying to wiggle your way out of this job. >> i got news for you. talk to me. >> i'm a television program. >> no, you're -- >> crazy. like the rest of your life. >> who is he talking to on the tv? >> so far. the universe does seem to have singled you out for unique abuse. in these moments you've got to ask yourself, would i rather be ignored? >> yes. yes, ignore me. >> always better dead than forgotten and no one is going to forget you. >> even you've got to admit this is a little crazy. >> it's bizarre. and people ask me, what's it about? there's no short answer. one of our fantastic show runners, brian, michael green, neilga. aiman the author of the original novel, he described it as "avengers" with gots. shadow is the poor guy stuck in
the middle of the old gods who are waging a war against the new gods, the gods we worship today. you've got mythical gods like odin, that lot, against the new gods. so it's -- gods are worshipped and are create d, now we worshi technology, media, fame, celebrity, so much that we've created these gods and they're getting stronger and stronger. the old gots want their world back and shadow is the cynic in the middle who's trying to stay with it. he doesn't believe in any of it. there's only so much fantastic call things that happen in front of him before he decides, is he crazy or is the world crazy and it's full of magic? >> when you saw this on paper, you saw it on paper first? >> yes, i did. >> what turned you on about it? >> the source material. the book is award winning. nebula, vertebral stoker, "new
york times" bestseller. neil gaiman is a rock star of the book world. attach brian fuller, "pushing daisies," "hannah ball," incredible resume. michael green, one of my favorite films, "logan." "alien: covenant." "blade runner 2." you want to be a part of that. fortunately i was the first cast before anyone else. >> a few auditions though. >> a few. >> as i mentioned. >> the most arduous process i've been through. >> why so many auditions? >> i'd like to ask why so many auditions. is there something you want to put in about that? it was like "american idol," every week a different song. i'm doing happy scenes, sad scenes, crying scenes, angry scenes, a mr. wednesday scene, a laura scene. they just wanted to -- a character, an actor, who could take this character through the emotional roller coaster he's about to go on.
he hits serious highs, crazy lows. he's a shadow of his former self, he's lost everything in the world. he didn't know his father, his mom died when he was young, he had his wife. he traveled around america until he met laura and she was tragically killed in a car accident. the one thing he believed in, love, was taken from him. so when we meet he's got nothing. he goes on this crazy roller coaster. they wanted to make sure the actor was capable of hitting all those colors. >> since you mentioned "american idol," for sure one doesn't know how far they're going to go but they know what the end game is, they know where they're headed if they can survive. when you have to do 16 auditions to make something happen as an actor, do you ever in that process wonder whether or not this was meant for you? they tell you up front, this is going to be -- so you don't get it twisted, this is going to be a long audition. >> no, no, i mean -- when you first start out you think -- >> i'm hoping week 8, maybe this
isn't meant for me, taking too long. >> three actors they'll go to, if they don't get it, maybe there's 30 actors that will audition. apparently neil gaiman told me there was 1,200 tapes for shadow moon. looking back i'm like, wow, i could have auditioned all year. because that was very impressive. but there comes a time when you're kind of like, either you want me or you don't. you start to doubt yourself a little bit. that's kind of thing as an actor. this is a town and an industry full of noes. you're too tall, too short, too big, too small. >> more noes than yeses. >> exactly. when something feels right, you know, you want something enough, you're prepared to do anything. you run through walls for it. this is one of those roles that i really wanted. but don't get me wrong, t there were doubts towards the end. >> what's great about this, it's not just that it's action packed. it's also that it's smart. it's truly smart. just the whole philosophical
framework of old gods fighting with new gods and what those new gods are that we worship today. there's deep philosophy did there. >> it's incredible. the show was described in "usa today" as the most politically relevant show on tv. this is by complete accident and we're very fortunate that the -- the book came out in 2001. we wrapped in november before the inauguration. and kind of the political heated climate, everything hit the fan. so to speak. so in the storyline already we're seeing very important, sensitive themes. immigration, racism, homophobia, women's rights. gun control. all this is in the book. and it's in the show as well. so fortunately, you know, it's keeping very relevant. very, very important conversations in the headlines. because we're very privileged to have this great platform where we can tell stories and entertain the world. but i feel we also have a
responsibility to tell the right stories, to tell everybody's stories. in the show we have a gay muslim story. that's illegal in some countries. punishable by death. but these are beautiful stories. shot so beautiful. two actors that play selim and jim are fantastic actors and they portray a beautiful love story. these are stories that need to be told and should be told. the fact that people say it's ground-breaking tv? is the bit that kind of sucks. it shouldn't be. this has been going on, this is the world we live in today. america is a beautiful, incredible country, a melting pot. full of immigrants. unless you're a native american, we're all immigrants. the president. the president of america is an immigrant, i'm an immigrant. so it's this beautiful mix of cultures and traditions. and in the show, different gods. just because you believe in your god, it doesn't mean my god's any less real. it's about that struggle with that day-to-day struggle. whatever gets you through life,
be it a biblical god, a mythical god, your favorite tv show, your favorite song, your smartphone, whatever it is, it's okay. just believe in something. >> so you process -- being able to play this character as a personal color? >> i mean -- the exciting thing is it's not a thing for our producers. we're casting as the book was written. neil gaiman is an incredibly -- his foresight was fantastic. when he wrote this show, the iphone wasn't invented. he talks about the evolution of dependance on technology. he wrote a lot about racism. and how the black man is perceived in america. orlando jones gives an incredible, i think an award-winning speech in the beginning of episode 2 about racism and how slavery was going to continue hundreds of years after people came over on the ships. and that we would still be shot
up by the police. and innocent people would be dying for no reason just because of the color of your skin. but for me it's just a blessing that shadow moon's a good character. we meet him as an ex-con but we find out he was in jail for the woman he loved, because he loved his woman and she kind of persuaded him to do this, to rob a casino. but he's a good character. and i feel it's very important that we show that black people can be good. we're not just athletes, pimps, gangsters. you know. it's important to show -- to inspire the younger generation that we can be anything we want. and believe in. >> and can be redeemed. every character can be redeemed. >> exactly, exactly. shadow moon goes about that trying to redeem himself, trying to find his way in the world. and i feel very blessed as an actor. i have plenty of people hit me up on social media and say, you're an inspiration, i want to do what you do.
and it's amazing for me. because i was that kid who looked at denzel washington, jamie fox, will smith. i look at those guys and i go, if they can do it, i want to do it. and shadow moon's just another vehicle for them to look at and go, i want to do what he's doing. >> there are people in your hometown of manchester who are looking up to you these days. i could have started our conversation. i want to close here. your thoughts? this is home for you and the world has seen what's happened the last few days. this is your home. >> i got chills just there. it gets me. it's very sad. manchester is an incredible place. fortunately, because of that community, that family community that that city has, they're only going to be stronger. you don't expect it on your doorstep. you don't expect it to be in a children's concert. you know, ariana grande is a
beautiful, talented performer. she's not political. she's not making statements. she's entertaining children. for something like that to happen in that environment is sad. you know, fortunately manchester's clever. and they're open-minded. because we've got a fantastic culture over there, again like america, very mixed. and we're not looking at it as -- it's not religious. we're not saying it's a muslim thing, we're not saying it's a religion or certain country that's doing this. we're saying it's bad people. that's what we need to focus on. are you a good person or a bad person? it's got nothing to do with your religion and this and this and this. religion doesn't tell you to stand next to an 8-year-old and set off a bomb, that's a bad person with mental issues they need to sort out. that's pretty much my thoughts on manchester. i wish them the best, try to move forward, try to remain positive and never forget. >> making them proud back in
manchester. >> thank you so much. >> great show. thank you for coming. that is our show. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> i'm tavis smiley. next time a conversation about food, justice and activists. entrepreneurs helping communities exercise their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food next time. we'll see you then.
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