The L Mag Questionnaire for Writer Types: Matthue Roth

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05/03/2011 11:32 AM |


Tomorrow night, Pianos hosts the Freerange Nonfiction Series, which welcomes, among others, Michael Showalter, Alison Espach, and “performance poet [and] Orthodox Jew at large” Matthue Roth, of Ditmas Park.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
I’m a Hasidic Jew, and for some reason, while I was shidduch-dating—that is, dating for marriage—my memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go came out. My memoir is sort of about me becoming religious and struggling with becoming religious and living in San Francisco and dating a queer stripper. In retrospect, it was probably not the brightest confluence of events. I told everyone I know that it was all made up. That’s probably the most accurate thing anyone’s ever said about that book, and it was me.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
The movie 1/20, which just had its first screening. I wrote the screenplay, which is egotistical to say, I know, but I feel like I barely had anything to do with the final product. I wrote it as a fast-talking Kevin Smith sort of movie and Gerardo del Castillo, the director, made it as this bright visual paradise that cut out almost all the words. It’s about two girls running away to Washington D.C. for Obama’s inauguration. Gerardo is from Barcelona, and he has this whole revolutionary optimism. It’s electric. He really thinks he can change the world.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you s
A few months ago, I read Yes I Can, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s autobiography. It was probably ghostwritten—everything was ghostwritten back then, I think, and it’s like 600 pages long, which I can’t imagine Sammy Davis, Jr. ever having the time to write. But it’s brilliant. Everything he says, about finding G-d, relationships, growing up, how people screw with you when you look different—it’s all true. Scary true.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I moved to San Francisco with a stack of ’zines and home-burnt CDs and the plan that I was going to go to open mics and poetry slams every night and try to sell them. I figured I’d either pay my rent that way or run out of money and start temping again. I didn’t get rich, but I lasted four years without a day job.

Being a starving artist doesn’t make you brilliant, but it forces you to constantly write stuff—and the more stuff you write, the better a chance there is that something brilliant creeps through.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
I love writing books because it’s safer, but being onstage still feels like the ideal form. It’s just you shouting out your words and you can’t hide. That’s my awkward way of saying that I’m performing at the Freerange Nonfiction Reading Series tomorrow with a bunch of talented people, including Michael Showalter, who I’ve revered for practically forever. I am terrified.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
I always sort of wish I could rewrite the past. That’s why I write memoirs. It’s a whole process of saying something and then regretting it and getting embarrassed and then thinking, wow, I’m glad I got that out so I never have to think about it again. And then you do readings, and then it’s a whole new world of embarrassment.

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