The Shorty Q&A With Davy Rothbart


Davy Rothbart is the powerhouse novelist, filmmaker, journalist, and basketball aficionado who’s the mastermind behind the wildly lauded FOUND magazine and website. Never one to simply be content in one genre, he’s a frequent contributor to NPR’s This American Life and founder of the blog My Heart Is An Idiot. Prepping for the latest FOUND release, Requiem For A Paper Bag, and kicking the huffing habit, the all-around badass takes a time out to shoot the shit with The Rumpus so we could find out what’s the most recent thing he’s discovered.

The Rumpus: Where are you right now and what are you doing?

Davy Rothbart: I’m holed up in my bedroom in Ann Arbor, logging videotapes of myself at age 20, holed up in the bedroom of another house maybe ten blocks away, bawling over a girl. The footage is somewhat pathetic but also really fucking funny. We’re gonna use some of this old-school home-video in My Heart Is An Idiot, a personal documentary I’m working on with my friend David Meiklejohn.

Rumpus: Before we get to my questions, Stephen really wanted me to ask you how you got two PhD candidates from Bulgaria to show up at a Jewish holiday event for the media elite? It was in Park City, Utah, and said candidates were “stunning women wearing cheetah patterns and four inch heels.” What was that about?
Rothbart: They were just friends of mine who live in Salt Lake. I did get in trouble for inviting shiksas to a Jewish retreat, though I don’t think Stephen minded.

Rumpus: Iverson or Hamilton, who should start for the Pistons?

Rothbart: I’d start Rip. Iverson off the bench, playing with the second unit, is still gonna get plenty of shots, and playing against other teams’ bench he’d be a complete viper.

Rumpus: What makes you tired?

Rothbart: Huffing epoxy glue out of Kroger’s bags.

Rumpus: Have you ever dealt with hecklers while on tour? What did you do about them?

Rothbart: Not too many hecklers, but on our Europe tour last fall, at a bar in England, an old drunk on the sidewalk started peeing on the window just behind the stage where me and my brother were. We brought him another beer.

In general, I always make it my mission to focus on the one person in the audience who seems to be absolutely miserable about being there and try to convert them.

Rumpus: Are you excited about the movie Notorious coming out? Are you going to see it?

Rothbart: I’m going to see it with my Grandma. I have a black Grandma and white Grandma. My white Grandma lives in Fort Lauderdale, paints, and teaches bridge. She’s wonderful. My black Grandma, equally wonderful, is my neighbor across the street, Bobbie, who’s always insisted that I call her Grandma, and honestly, over the years she’s become a real Grandma to me. She has 3 pictures on her wall — Jesus, Obama, and Tupac. So yeah, I heard the movie wasn’t great, but I like Gravy, and Grandma really wants to go, so we’re gonna hit Quality 16 on Friday night and peep this shit.

Rumpus: How do you write when you’re on the road? Do you have a set process, like going to a coffee shop and putting on your headphones, or locking yourself in the bathroom?

Rothbart: On tour, it’s hard to do much writing, but if I’m on a deadline, I find a way. In Glasgow last fall, I slept in a park, woke up, and wrote from, like, 6AM to noon. It was damn cold.

The place I write best is at the Angell Hall computer center on the University of Michigan campus, where I went to school. I still go over there and rock it through the night.

Rumpus: What’s something you find inspiring on a regular basis?

Rothbart: One-armed athletes.

Rumpus: Do a lot of people ask you for relationship advice since you started doing My Heart Is An Idiot?

Rothbart: I’ve always given a lot of advice, whether I’m asked for it or not, but yeah, now I get emails from strangers every day asking for love advice, which is kind of counter-intuitive since I’m making a movie about what an idiot I am with relationships. The questions people have are sometimes soulful, sometimes zany, sometimes incoherent. I want to make a ‘zine with just the questions I get emailed to me.

Rumpus: Related to that, do you believe that relationships, as a whole, actually work? Or are we just fooling ourselves?

Rothbart: I think they can work. You and Simon are doin’ mighty good, right? I think they work smoothly if it’s the right match, and less smoothly if it’s not. It’s never completely easy, though. My parents have seen their ups-and-downs but are still married after 40 years, so that’s something.

Rumpus: You’ve been on The Late Show more than once, so I have to ask, does David Letterman wear make-up?

Rothbart: A smidgen. And he keeps the stage really fucking cold, so he won’t overheat from all the lights and his heavy suit. The whole stage crew wears hats and gloves. If you can see your breath, how cold is it?

Rumpus: Do you ever want to stop doing FOUND? I mean, it has such a sustainable and infinite pool from which to draw from, it’s more or less up to you to cry uncle, right?

Rothbart: I plan to keep putting out about 1 issue a year forever. I love doing it, and an issue a year feels like a sustainable pace. Every day when I open the mail I encounter a find with a brand-new brew of story and emotion. The shit is still fascinating to me, 7 years later, and I feel so lucky that people are continuing to send in their finds.

Rumpus: What about “opportunistic” findings? For example, there will probably a lot of cool stuff to find in the area around Times Square at 1AM on the first day of the year, or the streets around the West Front of the capitol following the inauguration. I guess that technically anything that’s found when you’re looking for it isn’t really found, huh?

Oh, it all counts — any scrap of paper, letter, or picture you come across in any way that gives you a glimpse into someone else’s life. The only rule is that it can’t be made up.

If you’ve found something cool, I want to see it! Send it to me at my parents’ house:

FOUND Magazine, 3455 Charing Cross Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Rumpus: What are you working on these days?

Rothbart: I just filmed a movie called Overhaul about a pizza driver who has to make $3,400 on New Year’s Eve or he’ll lose his apartment and custody of his 5-year-old daughter. I’m gonna edit it together this spring and summer, and I’m pretty excited about that. I’m finishing My Heart is an Idiot, a love documentary, with David Meiklejohn. I’m working on a screenplay about my crazy family and a road trip we took out west when I was a teenager, and I’m also writing a book of first-person humorous essays. Oh, I’m curating an art show in New York called Kick My Heart’s Ass. The opening reception is February 11, 2009 and should be a blast. And then I’m booking a U.S. Found tour for May and June of ’09 to celebrate the new Found book, Requiem for a Paper Bag, which comes out May 5th.

And finally, I’m trying to quit huffing epoxy glue out of grocery bags. There’s actually a patch for it now and everything.

Ainsley Drew is a native New Yorker, freelance writer, and euphemism enthusiast. Her work has been featured in The New York Press, McSweeney’s, The Morning News, and Curve Magazine, among other totally sweet publications. An avid fan of all sports, but especially the NBA, when she's not stalking 6'10" centers she eats way too much Japanese food, plays word games, and hits on anything that moves. Aiming high, she hopes to one day be a notorious literary celebrity with her name in tabloids. She also has eleven fingers, so she can type faster than you. You can find her and ainsleydrew. Be her Internet friend. More from this author →