Rumpus: When Entertainment Weekly and the LA Times stopped running you, did they give you any sort of reason. Did you know it was coming?
Stein: It’s like getting dumped. They never tell you the truth.
Rumpus: So, you get fired, you get a high-profile job somewhere else. When it comes to creating opportunities for yourself, are you just really persuasive?
Stein: God, no. It was pure panic mode. When Time got rid of my column, I thought it was all over. It was really sad. And then, I just started pushing it to lots of places. And I thought someone would run my column, I thought it was popular, and no one wanted it. I met with a lot of people. And I eventually convinced Entertainment Weekly. But that probably took me close to a year and they got rid of it after six months. And then I looked around for a long time until Michael Kinsley became the editor of the LA Times opinion section. I knew him a little bit and I eventually convinced him. He was resistant. I convinced him by sending him a ton of ideas. I almost got [a column] at Sports Illustrated. I talked to a bunch of different newspapers, talked to the Wall Street Journal. I had meetings at a bunch of places, but it wasn’t going anywhere. And then, luckily enough, Time has taken me back. If it wasn’t for Time, I wouldn’t have a column right now, I’m pretty sure.
Rumpus: Still, you’ve been called brilliant at your ability to parlay one opportunity into the next …
Stein: I’m not brilliant at it. That’s what happens when you say “yes” to stuff. Like, I write this book and then people see me on some show talking about it and they’re like, “Oh, I remember that guy, we should go talk to that guy again about writing a sitcom.” Which has nothing to do with anything. It’s just they kind of remember you. And you appear on I Love the 80s, right? And then some magazine editor is like, “Oh, we should get him to write for us.” It doesn’t make sense. It’s just how things kind of work. At first, I tried to define myself really strictly. People would ask if I wanted to host things and I was like, “No, I’m a writer, I don’t host things.” Just thinking I wouldn’t be good at it — which is true — but also just wanting to hold on to some part of my identity. And then I realized that that’s kind of stupid and certainly antiquated. Now you kind of have to be able to do a lot of different things. Plus, as journalism dies, I kind of feel like I want some skills besides writing. I’d like to be able to write movies or host TV shows or whatever. Things that I might actually not inherently like quite as much, but are interesting and fun things to do. A good backup plan.
The Rumpus Interview with Joel Stein by Jory John
This is one of the most insightful interviews about a writers’ career progression and work process and privately-figuring-it-all-out I’ve ever read.