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Alan Light (via Flickr)
Alan Light (via Flickr)

5 Things We Learned from Rick Moranis on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Alan Light (via Flickr)
Alan Light (via Flickr)

In this weekend's Bullseye with Jesse Thorn interview, we hear from Rick Moranis. He has a new album out, and we get to hear about his early days in show business—plus why he stepped away from a career as a movie star. Let's go!

Listen To the Interview

You can hear the full interview using the SoundCloud player above. You can also jump to the parts we've highlighted using the time codes shown at the beginning of each snippet.

1. His First Job Was Selling Programs at Hockey Games...Unsuccessfully

(02:35)

Rick Moranis:
I guess the very first job I had was selling programs at the hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was 12 or 13....

Jesse Thorn:
That sounds like the greatest job a 13-year-old could ever have!

Rick Moranis:
Yeah. It was pretty cool. The problem was is that I was so low in the hierarchy that I had to sell in the top seats which were called the “grays” and the book was 75 cents. I was really little. I could only carry 25 of them, and I had to climb a thousand stairs to get up to the grays. You look at the ticket price and the number of people that had tried to sell these people programs on their way up to the grays, and I wasn’t selling a lot of programs. The odds were that if you did sell one somebody would give you a dollar, and I would do anything that I could to try and coax that 25 cent tip out of the 75 cents, to be able to get somebody to say “Keep the change,” which is really hard in Canada, to get somebody to say, “Keep the change.”

So I started doing shtick. I started doing, “Souvenir hot dogs! Get your souvenir hot dogs, ice cold program, hot Coca Cola, who wants a hot Coca Cola?” Stuff like that. It wasn’t working. I didn’t make any money but we did get to stay for the games if there were empty seats....

2. His Early Radio Career Involved Some Dead Air

(8:57)

Jesse Thorn:
The first time I went on microphone I was reading a public service announcement on my college radio station and I messed it up and then I said a word you’re not allowed to say on the radio, but I was one the radio live. And it’s indelibly imprinted upon my brain. Do you remember the first time you went on mic live?

Rick Moranis:
I do and I don’t because I think I deliberately blocked it out because it was so bad, but I didn’t have that traumatic type of experience that you did. I had a terrible, you know they called them faults when you screw up on live radio and we had to keep a fault book. And there was this huge, huge crisis, serious news thing that happened and the newsman came in and gave me two sound carts. That’s in the days of tape. And I didn’t have a toggle flipped and the news came on. There were two reports. The news came on and said “Now we go live to Ottawa for this report.” Dead air. “And now we go live to Montreal for this report.” Dead air. And then they said, “The weather in a moment.” Dead air because I didn’t have the toggle. Then he gave the weather 30 seconds later. I mean, it was bad. I thought I was going to be fired. I wasn’t but I had to write a novel into the fault book explaining what had happened.

3. The "Bob and Doug" Skits Were Improvised After the Crew Went Home, to Satisfy Canadian Content Requirements

(19:28)

Jesse Thorn:
Were Bob and Doug really a response to CanCon—to Canadian content requirements?

Rick Moranis:
Yeah. Very much so. That’s exactly how they were created, why they were created. I had been doing a lot of satire before that on Canadian content regulations which my knee jerk reaction to this government mandate was to satirize it. I thought the government had no business legislating the arts.

Jesse Thorn:
We should explain for Americans who are listening that in Canadian broadcasting a certain amount of the content, depending on the outlet, has to be of Canadian origin and in some cases has to have Canadian-themed content, represent Canada.

Rick Moranis:
Right, right. And what it is, is it’s cultural protectionism and there’s protectionism in a lot of different industries. The industry lobbies the government and the government puts on import quotas and taxes and whatever, but for the government to do it to the arts, it didn’t make sense to me. In retrospect I have no idea whether I was right or wrong or who got the last laugh. I have no idea. But at the time I was doing a lot of satire of it and the third season of [SCTV], which was the season that I joined, was not on independent television. It was on the CBC. It was syndicated in the States to independent television which had six minutes of commercials so it was therefore a 24-minute half hour, and the one in Canada was a 26-minute half hour.

The producers came into the room and they said, “With the extra two minutes the CBC wants you to do something Canadian,” and I was appalled by this because it didn’t matter what we did. We were Canadian. We were in Canada. Everything that we were doing was therefore Canadian. And I said, “That’s crazy. What do you want us to do? Sit in front of a map of Canada, put on tuques and parkas and snow boots and fry back bacon and drink beer and talk like this, eh?” And he said “Sure, sure, do that,” so we did.

Ironically, of all the stuff that was done on that show and there was a lot of really interesting work done on that show that a lot of care was put into, a lot of writing and production and design and performance and editing and on and on and on—a lot of work, and this thing was a throwaway. It was one camera. There wasn’t even a crew. The crew went home and one guy stayed there with one camera on us and we improvised the thing, and that was the thing that came out of the show.

I felt bad about it. It wasn’t fair to the other cast members and to the other work that we were doing. On the other hand it was an incredible amount of success that Dave [Thomas] and I had.

Jesse Thorn:
The movie that the two of you made, Strange Brew, ended up being the year’s highest-grossing film in Canada.

Rick Moranis:
That’s right.

4. On Leaving Show Business and Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad

(26:39)

Jesse Thorn:
I want to ask you a slightly personal question. If anything is too personal, just let me know. Your wife died when your kids were quite young and she was ill before she died. I wonder what it was like to try and recalibrate your life around a new set of facts? I think show business kind of assumes that show business is the most important thing and so it can be hard to change your priorities when you’re in show business.

Rick Moranis:
Well, stuff happens to people every day and they make adjustments in their lives for all kinds of reasons, and there was nothing unusual about what happened or what I did. I think the reason that people were intrigued by the decisions I was making and sometimes seemed to have, almost, admiration for it had less to do with the fact that I was doing what I was doing and more to do with what they thought I was walking away from—as if what I was walking away from had far greater value than anything else that one might.

The decision in my case to become a stay-at-home dad, which people do all the time, I guess wouldn’t have meant as much to people if I had had a very simple kind of “make a living” existence, and decided, “You know what, I need to spend more time at home. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do this part time and then work out of my house to do this and this and this.” Nobody would pay any attention to it, but because I came from celebrity and fame and what was a peak of a career, that was intriguing to people and to me it wasn’t that. It wasn’t anything to do with that. It was just work and it was time to make an adjustment.

Jesse Thorn:
I think also your career was a creative career and so in part you were walking away not just from being famous and rich but also making stuff which you had previously dedicated a huge part of your life to.

Rick Moranis:
I didn’t walk away from that. I applied all my creativity to my home life, to my kids, to my family. I was the same person. I didn’t change. I just shifted my focus.

5. "The only reason I’m doing interviews is because I let this record company talk me into releasing this album."

(33:00)

Jesse Thorn:
Do you think that you might like to return to show business? I’m sure that if you wanted to go out and audition you could either be getting parts in movies, playing someone’s dad on a sitcom pilot if you wanted to and your kids are now grownups.

Rick Moranis:
I’ve never had a plan. I’ve never, ever had any forethought about anything I’ve ever done. I’ve just kind of looked at opportunities, said no to most things. Sometimes whatever was left standing was the thing that I went for. Sometimes something came along that was so appealing I just jumped at it. Usually it was driven by the people that were involved more than anything else.

There are other factors now. I’m comfortable where I live. There are certain locations I’m not interested in being and I’m not interested in doing anything I’ve done in the past, but in terms of being on camera, I have no idea. It’s not something I’ve given any thought to at all. The only reason I’m doing interviews is because I let this record company talk me into releasing this album, so now I’m doing interviews. That’s just part of the process. But the driver for that was writing a bunch of songs and being talked into recording them by friends of mine.

Where to Subscribe to Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

You can subscribe to Bullseye With Jesse Thorn via iTunes or any podcast player you like. It's also on various NPR stations across the country. You can also hear the complete interview above on SoundCloud.

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Food
How to Make Miles Davis’s Famous Chili Recipe
STF/AFP/Getty Images
STF/AFP/Getty Images

Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926, was one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century, and changed the course of jazz music more times in his life than some people change their sheets. He was also pretty handy in the kitchen.

In his autobiography, Miles, Davis wrote that in the early 1960s, “I had gotten into cooking. I just loved food and hated going out to restaurants all the time, so I taught myself how to cook by reading books and practicing, just like you do on an instrument. I could cook most of the great French dishes—because I really liked French cooking—and all the black American dishes. But my favorite was a chili dish I called Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. I served it with spaghetti, grated cheese, and oyster crackers."

Davis didn’t divulge what was in the dish or how to make it, but in 2007, Best Life magazine got the recipe from his first wife, Frances, who Davis said made it better than he did.

MILES'S SOUTH SIDE CHICAGO CHILIK MACK (SERVES 6)

1/4 lb. suet (beef fat)
1 large onion
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
salt and pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin seed
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can beef consommé
1 drop red wine vinegar
3 lb. spaghetti
parmesan cheese
oyster crackers
Heineken beer

1. Melt suet in large heavy pot until liquid fat is about an inch high. Remove solid pieces of suet from pot and discard.
2. In same pot, sauté onion.
3. Combine meats in bowl; season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin.
4. In another bowl, season kidney beans with salt and pepper.
5. Add meat to onions; sauté until brown.
6. Add kidney beans, consommé, and vinegar; simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
7. Add more seasonings to taste, if desired.
8. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and then divide among six plates.
9. Spoon meat mixture over each plate of spaghetti.
10. Top with Parmesan and serve oyster crackers on the side.
11. Open a Heineken.

John Szwed’s biography of Davis, So What, mentions another chili that the trumpeter’s father taught him how to make. The book includes the ingredients, but no instructions, save for serving it over pasta. Like a jazz musician, you’ll have to improvise. 

bacon grease
3 large cloves of garlic
1 green, 1 red pepper
2 pounds ground lean chuck
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
2 teaspoons of chili powder
dashes of salt and pepper
pinto or kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
1 can of beef broth

serve over linguine

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entertainment
4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

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