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Author John Green ("The Fault in Our Stars," "Paper Towns," "Looking for Alaska") makes his annual appearance on "The Interview Show," hosted by Mark Bazer, at The Hideout in Chicago. Green talks hating pennies, loving the world and everything in between. Please, please excuse the continual screwing up of the title of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." (Filmed March 1, 2013, next to somebody bumping the camera.)

For more on the show, visit www.theinterviewshowchicago.com or follow @markbazer.

 (00:00) to (02:00)



(Intro)


Mark: We were gonna show a video for John--


John: It was gonna be great.  


Mark: And it was gonna be great, and we're not gonna show it because it just--we don't have video access right now, but here's--I'm gonna act it out.  I'm John for a second.  Uh, thank you for having me, Mr. President.  I wanna ask you a question.  What--ca--I'll just--I think I can deliver it better than John did it.  Mr. President, thank you for having me.  Can we get rid of the penny?  And then, this is Obama, um, uh, yes, well, thanks for yeah, I agree, John.  That's basically what happened.  


John: He became the first president of the United States, the first sitting President of the United States to acknowledge that pennies should be abolished in the history of our country.  That's a big--for those of us who have long--


Mark: Well, Andrew Jackson wasn't gonna do it.


John: No!  


Mark: It would pay for a house back then.


John: Yeah, no, no, it was relevant then.  But for the last six or seven presidencies, we should have gotten rid of the penny, and he became the first president to say that he agreed.  It's time.


Mark: He could wiggle his way out of that if any lobbying--


John: Yeah, and he will.  Yeah, though the zinc lobby is at--they spend a 130 million dollars a year trying to keep pennies in production.


Mark: Are you--I thought that zinc was for colds.


John: No, no, colds and pennies.  That's how they make it.


Mark: Okay, so here's my question and we can move on eventually from the penny topic.


John: I hope that we spend the entire evening talking about this.


Mark: Let me go then.  I understand that the penny is virtually useless.  I--


John: Nope.  Things that are virtually useless are almost useless.  Then there are things that are totally useless, and then there are things that are much worse than useless, and pennies are much worse than useless, because things that are useless are neutral.  Maybe you make them, maybe you don't.  Pennies cost more than a penny to produce, which is insane, but more importantly, they are a tremendous drag on the productivity of the American economy, because of all the time that you spend fumbling for fucking pennies.



 (02:00) to (04:00)



Not only that, the nice people who are trying to make your fucking change who have to count out pennies which are literally worth less than nothing.


Mark: Don't yell at me.  I'm on your side.


John: No, I--no, and I explained this to the President, and he--to his credit, he listened, he listened very carefully.


Mark: Yeah, yeah, he hemmed and hawed.


John: He hemmed and hawed a bit, he talked about the emotional attachment that he had to pennies--


Mark: And the he agreed.  Yeah.  


John: And then he acknowledged that we needed to get rid of them.


Mark: Right.  So here's my follow-up question.  What about the nickel?


John: Fuck nickels, man.  


Mark: Yeah.


John: Yeah, no, we should not have nickels.


Mark: But seriously, where do we stop?


John: Arguably, we shouldn't even have dimes.


Mark: What about--what about--


John: We should probably have quarters, but barely.


Mark: Yeah.  


John: I know we should have quarters, we should have maybe a fifty cent, probably not--I mean--


Mark: I know your book did well, but some people need these things!


John: It's not about that, it's all--it's about maximizing economic productivity.  We probably need quarters, we probably need one dollar coins, and you know, that's it.  (?-3:03)


Mark: So let's add some context.  Why, 'cause I don't really know this either, why were you talking to the President, because most of us don't.  


John: Right.  Yeah.  I met him when he was a State Senator, he was--


Mark: I did, too.


John: Yeah. 


Mark: In fact, he was--he--I'll tell--you can tell your story, but let me tell mine first.  My friend kind of knew him, he's a reporter, and he--


John: Who--wait, who's your friend?


Mark: (?-3:26)


John: No, different friend.


Mark: And uh--


John: Usually, we have the same friends.


Mark: We do have a lot of the same friends.


John: Usually Justin (?-3:30), yeah.


Mark: Oh, (?-3:31)  So we're in a garage, and this is such a bad story, we're in a garage, and we see Obama, who--we're with Sydney, and Sydney said this guy's gonna be President, and so we said to Obama, we said, "Hey, we're going to play basketball--no, flag football, do you want to come play with us?"


John: This story gets worse and worse every second.


Mark: And he thought about it for a second, and can you imagine if I had played flag football with Obama?



 (04:00) to (06:00)



John: But you didn't?


Mark: I didn't, no, that's what makes the story bad.


John: Yeah, yeah.  


Mark: And in fact, next time I tell it, I'll just say, "and then we played."


John: That's--


Mark: So what's your story?


John: It's even worse.


Mark: Let's go.


John: Yeah, I was in the WBEZ studios recording for Justin (?-4:13) and we were listening to this guy on 848 who was talking about thinking about running for senator, who was a state senator from the South side, and Justin was listening to him and Justin said, like, freakin' state senator, that guy should be president.


Mark: Wow.


John: It's a good story.  That part is a good story.  But I didn't say anything, 'cause I was trying to record the piece that I was trying to record for Justin, you know, which was about Mayor Daley and had a bunch of jokes in it and--


Mark: Yeah, you used to write jokes for the--


John: Yeah, it's like your stuff but not as good.


Mark: The great thing about--well, no, the great thing about writing for WBEZ was that you'd write it and then about nine months later, they'd send you a check for $25 and then you'd donate it back to WBEZ.


John: You just--I used to frame mine, you know, I was so proud to have written for NPR, but it was just $25 so I just, just as soon frame it.


Mark: And then it costs $26 to park.


John: Right?  At least, at least, that's why I was trying to get through the pieces.  I knew if we went over the 90 minute limit, it was $32.  


Mark: You're reading too fast, John!  I'm parking at Navy Pier and I got Haagen-Dasz.  


John: Right.  


Mark: So how are you?  


John: Good, man, good.


Mark: When you were on last year, I had read, and I was very thankful for this, I had read a pre-publication copy of the book, and I remember I had to sign a number of documents and everything like that, but I could not, and I knew it was going to be successful, obviously, but it's been, I imagine, a whirlwind year, and you just sold out Carnegie Hall, which I don't normally see book readings at.  


John: No.


Mark: So, talk about that event, and I know it was with your brother, Hank, and what happened?


John: Yeah, fortunately, my brother's talented, he is a musician, and so, like, he does something that is interesting for people to watch doing and so, he really carried the show and then I just sort of came out and I was sort of almost just an MC, but it was ostensibly my--our show together, to celebrate The Fault in Our Stars being out for a year and the 6th year of our video blog together.  



 (06:00) to (08:00)



It was a really special night, I mean, I've never felt--my favorite band was there, The Mountain Goats, they came--one of my favorite musicians is Kimya Dawson and she came, one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman came, so it was just a lot of friends and family, my aunts and uncles, my parents, it was really, really special.  


Mark: So when you talk to the President or you do an event like that, you've got this huge community that you didn't create but that has grown up around you, they're calling themselves 'nerdfighters', and from what I see, and I'm obviously not a part of it, I'm 39 years old, but it's one of the greatest communities that you could ask for, just really intelligent, really thoughtful, really caring people.  When you are speaking on a stage or you're talking to the President, do you feel in some way that you not carry a burden, but do you represent this group in some way?  


John: I mean, I feel a responsibility to them not just when I'm talking to the President, but also when I'm not talking to the President.


Mark: The Vice President.


John: You know, like, I feel that responsibility to them in the same way that you would, you know, they're mostly young, I mean, I'm sure there are lot of grown up Nerdfighters, there are lots of people even over 39, but I do, you know, I wanna try to live by my values, but that's not something just limited to people who write novels or make videos, I think most people want to live in accordance with their values.  


Mark: Sure.  So, I reread the book for the first time since I had read it the first time this past week.


John: How did it hold up?


Mark: Well, what's amazing about rereading a book is, and I'm--you should reread books more often, I guess is what I learned from that.


John: Yeah, particularly mine.


Mark: Yeah.


John: Yeah.  I just--it just--the richness just washes over me.


Mark: I didn't realize how--


John: It's almost a Shakespearean kind of phenomenon.


Mark: It was very similar to Two Gentlemen from Verona.  



 (08:00) to (10:00)



John: It is kind of a shit play, by the way.  


Mark: But do you know it?


John: Yeah, of course.  


Mark: Really?


John: What did you major in in college?  


Mark: I majored in plays that Shakespeare cared about.


John: I was an English major.


Mark: But you wouldn't read that.


John: I read--I think I read all of them.  I even read (?-8:18), you know, I went the whole way through.


Mark: I don't even know what you just said.  


John: That's a good one actually, it's far better than--


Mark: What's amazing about Shakespeare is if you do really study, you get, and this is such a dumb thing to say, but you get such an amazing--


John: Yeah.  


Mark: You get so much back.


John: Yeah.  


Mark: And if you just try to read it and then flip to the back and be like, "Okay, that meant sex, then..."


John: Right


Mark: You don't get as much.


John: No, that's the trick of all reading though, is that this is true not just for readers for writers, the more you give to it, the more it gives you back, and I am always trying to write a book.  I mean, I'm conscious of the fact that my readers tend to reread, that they're very enthusiastic, that they read with a lot of care and quality and thoughtfulness, and I want to write the kinds of books that can stand up to that, because if I don't, they're gonna get to like, the 6th reading, and they're gonna be like, wait a second, this is Two Gentlemen from Verona.  


Mark: Well, here's what I was gonna say.  I--in rereading it, and part of when you read a book for the first time, obviously, unless there's spoilers of which there will be some right now.


John: Nope!


Mark: Yeah, there will--this has been out for a year, dude.  No?  Alright.


John: Thank you.  Thank you, all these people who are going to buy my book.


Mark: Alright, there are--let me--let me just say that in the book, there are some good things that happen and some bad things that happen.


John: Mostly bad.  


Mark: No, no, no, I'd say it's 54/46 in favor of one of the other.  So--


John: It's a novel about a young--it's a novel about two people who are living with cancer who are in their teens, so you know, it's not that funny.  But it has--hopefully it has funny parts.


Mark: But they are very funny.


John: Yeah, they are very funny.


Mark: They're very funny people, and that's what it makes it funny.  It's obviously got a lot of heart and it's a--when you read it for the first time, you don't know what's gonna happen.  



 (10:00) to (12:00)



John: Right.


Mark: And so, that's not to say you wouldn't be happy or sad when you read it the second time, but there's not the element of surprise, so when you read it the second time, you get into other things, and one thing that I think is true of all your books, and it might be true of YA books in general that aren't named Twilight, is that people in those books seem to have--they're living in a--they live more in an isolated moment, if you will.  Now, there is an end to this book that is based on what the characters are going through, but it is not limited to books--to your books, your other books don't have people suffering from cancer.


John: Right.


Mark: And I'm wondering if--I don't see that as much in adult books, they seem to--like, a marriage, a marriage should ideally go on and on and on, but in the teenage world, I would imagine, I remember this for myself, things have a great urgency because they're not gonna last that long.


John: Yeah, I mean, that's one of the things about it that's interesting, about being a teenager, is because you're doing a lot of things for the first time, there's an intensity to it, a reality to it that you will never have again, like, you know, I'm sure you love your wife, she's super cool, I know her well--


Mark: But it just keeps going.  


John: Yeah.  Right.  It's not the first time you fell in love, the first time you fell in love, you were like, this has never happened to any human being ever.


Mark: Yeah.


John: And then when you fell in love with your wife, you were like, "This is like that other time", you know?  It's great, it's far better in every way, it's not like an insult to your relationship at all, like everything is better in every possible way, but there's an intensity to that initial experience with anything, whether it's engaging with the big questions of you know, with--of humanity, suffering, and pain, or whether it's falling in love, whether it's, you know, experiencing joy separate from your parents for the first time, that's all so intense.  


Mark: But you also know that it's not going to last.


John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, that's one of the kind of pleasures of being 16, I think, is that something can be really important and not last.  



 (12:00) to (14:00)



The funny thing about being an adult is that we think, like, oh, we're in this thing that's gonna last and last.  No!  You're gonna die.  Like, you're gonna die--


Mark: Yeah.


John:--probably before Gena, 'cause she's very healthy looking, and like, you know, she's--you're gonna--you're gonna die and she's gonna go on.


Mark: Every time you're on, you bring up that I'm going to die.  


John: You are!


Mark: Yeah.  


John: I have to say, before I started using (?-12:23), I thought about this much more.  But now, sort of, I have a feeling of eternality that I didn't have before.


Mark: Yeah, I feel the same about (?-12:29)


John: You are still going to probably die.


Mark: Yeah.  


John: And that is a really fascinating problem to me.


Mark: Can I have a moment?


John: Because--because--like, all the ways that you think of, like, this is going to go on and on forever, all the ways that we imagine forever, talk about eternality or whatever, like, essentially, we're talking about 'til you die.  


Mark: So there was an article that you actually Tweeted about that I then read in The Economist which said that when you get a little older, you get a little happier.  


John: I did, yeah.


Mark: So that works--I used to think that I'd get really old and I'd think, "I am ready to die.  This is good.  I am--I've done enough" but if I'm gonna get happier, that would stand to reason that I'd say, "Hold on a second, things are going pretty well, they were kind of shitty in my 30s and 40s, and I want to hold on to this for a little while."


John: There's a great interview Terri Gross did, you didn't do it, Terri Gross did it, with Maurice Sendak at the very end of his life, and Maurice Sendak--


Mark: He was great on this show.


John: Was he good on this show?


Mark: Yeah.


John: He was staring out at a tree that he'd looked down at for decades, and he said, "I have fallen in love with the world." that like, at the end of his life, he found that he had fallen in love with this tree, he had fallen in love with the world, and he was very grateful to be able to observe this tree.  He was very grateful to be able to be in love with the world, that he also knew that it wasn't going to last.  And in that same interview, he said, "I'm ready to go."



 (14:00) to (16:00)



And the idea of being able to simultaneously hold the ideas of being in love with the world and being ready to go is very foreign to me, right?  


Mark: Yeah, we can't get there.


John: But presumably, it happens, at least if you're as smart as Maurice Sendak. 


Mark: And you don't live in an urban area where there are many trees.


John: Right, right.  You'll have to be like, you'll be looking out at Oak Park, and you'll be like, "I have fallen in love with the world, I have fallen in love with the fucking apartment across the street."


Mark: That Subway.  Yeah.  That deal at Subway is amazing.  


John: I have fallen in love with the $5 Footlongs throughout the month of February.


Mark: If I could only walk over and eat that Footlong, would somebody bring it to me?


John: Yeah.  It's a beautiful thing, man.


Mark: There's another line in the book which kind of gets at a little bit of what we're talking about, but not really at all, and that's that Hazel asks her dad something and he says something that I feel like I've been going through a lot, which is--I used to think when I was an adult that I would understand things more or understand the world, I'm getting the language a little incorrect, but actually, it's the exact opposite.  Are you finding that as you get older, that there's--do you think when you were a teenager, there are less areas of grey or more than when you're an adult?


John: Yeah, I mean, I--I remember thinking that I was going to have some kind of wisdom associated with adulthood, and then I keep thinking, like, that it's gonna happen when I become an adult, but then I--recently, I was getting dressed for a party and I looked at myself in the mirror, and my wife was standing right next to me, and I said, "I feel like I look like a middle aged man" and she paused just like a second too long, you know?  Before she jumped in and she was like, "No, no, no, you look great." and I was like, "oh my God.  I am."  That's why I look like it.  I look--'cause I am.  I mean, the middle of human life, if I'm lucky.


Mark: To me the problem is I'm in the middle of human life, I should be able to say whether something is right or wrong.



 (16:00) to (18:00)



John: Yeah, but you can't, no.


Mark: And I can't, and in fact, my kid will ask me things, and I'm supposed to say, "Yeah, this is how you do it."  And I say that, and then I go off and I say, "I don't know."


John: I don't know, who knows?  Yeah, and, well, but there's a sense of being, like, a fraud that's associated specifically with parenthood, I think.


Mark: Yeah.


John: That you feel like a fraud on a daily basis, like the--ever since the day my son was born, every single day, I'm like, at some point, he is going to recognize that I have no idea what I am doing, like, I am not an expert in the field of parenting.  I have not read very much peer reviewed research, like, I have a s--you know, I am ordering, I'm saying I'm gonna count to three, but we all know that if I get to three, there's nothing really on the other side of three.


Mark: And--and--well, he knows, he knows that there are more numbers.


John: Yeah, no, no, but I'll be like, "I'm gonna count to three" and I'll be like, "one, two..." and then he'll put down the fork and I'm like, why did you do that?  Thank God, because I was near three and I have nothing, I have no further recourse.  


Mark: Yeah, yeah, he's messing with you.  They're messing with you.  As you become a middle aged man, and--


John: Now you, Mark.


Mark: Yeah.


John: It's bad enough with Sarah.


Mark: You look great.


John: Thank you.  You do, too.  You've lost some weight.  


Mark: I have lost a little bit.  I'm trying to gain it back.  


John: You see, the essential element in yo-yo dining is the gaining.  


Mark: Yeah.


John: That's my theo--


Mark: For me, it's all about the little things.  It's eliminating the three bagels in the morning.  


John: Excuse me while I have this 270 calorie beer.


Mark: Yeah.  Are they though?  I thought--well, anyways.  As you get older, when you write books for YA and you've had so much experience now interacting with teenagers, whether they're writing you or whether they're at an event or--do you, I imagine that your first books grew out of experiences not necessarily that you had, but feelings that you had, emotions that you had, and you tapped into that.  Now, do you do that, or are you more tapping into what you see around you?



 (18:00) to (20:00)



John:  Yeah, that's--yeah, I mean, I started out feeling like a peer of my audience and now I definitely feel like the, like, uncle.  That said, I also think that's probably why most of the readers of The Fault in Our Stars are adults, is because I became interested in parents, became interested in adults for the first time while writing this book, because I became a parent and I became an adult, and I became interested in the questions of adults, and I think that's a lot of what they respond to in the book.  You know, I do get a lot from my readers, so I--particularly my teenage readers.  They give me the way that they construct jokes, the way that they talk, the way--you know, all of that, I hear thousands of times a day in YouTube comments or Tumblr reblogs or whatever, and that's really important to me, because I don't have direct access anymore to what it's like to be 17.  


Mark: Now, a few of your books, maybe in some ways, all of them, have kind of--they've taken the idea, and I'm gonna get the term wrong, but it's the manic pixie dream girl.


John: Yeah, you actually nailed it


Mark: Yeah, okay, and that's kind of the girl that seems crazy and she's always--


John: Right, she like, floats down into your life.  If you've ever seen the movie Garden State, that's the best example.  She floats down into your life and she changes the life, usually, almost always of men, young men, and then she floats away, generally by dying, but sometimes other ways.


Mark: And your books, I think, have done a nice job at kind of refuting that and saying that, yeah, the guy might think that, but that doesn't mean that the girl is not an actual, real person.


John: Right.


Mark: And I guess it's not really, but in some ways, Gus may--is kind of--I don't think he's a version of that, but he's something--a male--


John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, particularly at the beginning of the book.  


Mark: So do you ever get letters from teenagers that say, "I'm a manic pixie dream girl, thank you.  Thank you for--"


John: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I get letters all the time from girls who are like, "I am Alaska" and I'm like, "No, you're not."  That's a horrible thing to say.



 (20:00) to (22:00)



Or, "I'm going to name my daughter Alaska," and I'm like, "No.  Please--that's--no.  No.  Name her after one of my normal, sane characters."


Mark: Yeah.  Or Looking.


John: Yeah.  Looking For.  That's--the letter I get the most often is--from teenagers--is, "Why aren't there boys like Gus in real life?" and my response to that, this is the main character or one of the main characters in The Fault in Our Stars.  My response to that is that, you know, Gus is seen through Hazel's eyes throughout the novel, and the hero's journey that we've always been told to imagine is the journey from weakness to strength, right, likeHarry Potter starts out, like, he's a little, tiny, little 6th grader, but then he's a senior in high school and he can take on Voldemort.


Mark: Don't ruin it.  Don't ruin it.


John: Oh, sorry!  I apologize.  We said no spoilers, and then I brought one of the biggest spoilers of all time.  


Mark: Okay, what happens at the end of Two Gentlemen from Verona?  


John: Turns out they're both ladies, just like typical Shakespeare.  So, we're always taught that that's a hero's journey, but the actual hero's journey and the journey that almost all human beings go on is the journey from strength to weakness, the journey of sort of, you know, having to acknowledge one's weakness and vulnerability and frailty to those whom we love, and that's the journey that really interest me, so what interests me is you start out seeming like a manic pixie dream girl, you start out, like, seeming very performative and confident, you know exactly what you want out of the world, but you go on this journey that reveals the truth about you, which is that you are as exposed and vulnerable and frail and scared as any other human being, and that's the Gus you have to love, and once you love that Gus, you will find that there's actually tons of them.


Mark: Sure.


John: Yeah, there's tons of us like, incredibly insecure, neurotic guys.  Like, you know, like, in the aud--not us, obviously, but in the audience, I bet there are some.



 (22:00) to (24:00)



Mark: People who love pennies.


John: Yeah.


Mark: So my last question, and then we've got to run, unfortunately, which is, and that I've always wanted to ask this, and I always forget, and that you've got this group, Nerdfighters, and you've referred to yourself as a nerd, and I don't see that word in you, in the group.  I guess maybe I was one of them or something, but nerd, I grew up in the age of Revenge of the Nerds, where that's what it was, and the idea that people who are into interesting things and, I mean, at my high school, maybe I was lucky, but those people were the most popular kids in many ways, so is the word 'nerd' incorrect?


John: I think that it's--I think that's it's one of those words that's new enough that it's still changing, the definition is malleable and that makes it really easy to reclaim or to claim, you know, what I like about the idea of nerdiness is the idea of unironic enthusiasm, I really like the idea that it's okay to love stuff, not just in a, "Oh, that--their second album was good, but then they kinda started to suck" way but like, in genuinely enthusiastic, "Jump up and down in your seat, I am so excited to see this episode of Doctor Who or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or--" I don't actually like (?-23:17).  But I like that you can be enthusiastic about it, it makes me very happy, like, and I generally like seeing people excited about things, like, this is the only opportunity that we are likely to have to experience human consciousness, and are we seriously going to spend that entire time being like, "Ehh", like, it's incredibly exciting to have the ability to like, marvel at the universe and to make stuff for each other and to enjoy the other--the stuff that other people have made for us, and that's such a privilege and it's so exciting to me that like, that's what nerdiness is to me, and that is worth celebrating, that's worth getting enthusiastic about.



 (24:00) to (24:16)



Mark: I think it makes sense to end on an applause line.  


John: So ask me one more question.  


Mark: Alright.  When's your next book coming out?


John: Ohhhhh.


Mark: John Green, everyone.


John: Thank you!