A  Companion  site  for  the  C-SPAN  series  airing  Sunday  nights  at  8pm & 11pm ET 

PAST PROGRAMS  ·  FEEDBACK  ·  Store 



Search:
Advanced Search
April 24, 2011
Mike Daisey
Performer & Monologist
Q&A Podcasts
Program Details
Watch Program
More Information
Buy DVD/VHS

Info: Our guest is Mike Daisey, a performer who does full-length extemporaneous monologues on a variety of issues. His latest is called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which examines Apple as well as Americans love for technology. The show just completed a run at Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, DC. Previous programs have delved into such issues as: Life in New York, the history of Homeland Security, international financial problems, and the American lack of support of the theater. In this interview, Mike Daisey talks about how he came to do his monologues and his ideas behind them. Clips of previous performances are shown including the one in 2007 where a group walked out of his performance in protest of the language he used. He is the author of one book, “21 Dog Years,” published in 2002.


Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.
Q&A with Mike Daisey

BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Mike Daisey, can you explain what you do for a living?

MIKE DAISEY, PERFORMER AND MONOLOGIST: Yes, I think I can.

I’m a storyteller. I tell stories for a living – on stage, in front of people. And I tell them extemporaneously.

So, I tell them the same way this conversation that we are having is, where you have probably prepared a little. And I know who I am, so I will be able to answer. But we are making it up as we go along.

That’s what I do. I tell stories – in rooms, with people, live.

LAMB: How long have you been doing it?

DAISEY: In one sense, all my life. But in terms of it being a career, about 15 years.

LAMB: I saw you at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington a couple of weeks ago. And as I watched you, I said, I want to know more, because you’re talking about Apple, Steve Jobs and China.

What is this show that you just wrapped up in Washington?

DAISEY: It’s called ”The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” And it’s about – well, it’s two stories, really, principally intertwined. One is the story of Apple and Steve Jobs, and his rise and fall and rise, and about industrial design and what Apple means in our culture to us today, what these devices mean in our lives.

And then, the other strand of the story is about where these devices come from. And I went to southern China and investigated how they are made, and the conditions under which they’re made.

LAMB: Where did you get the idea to do this?

DAISEY: You know, I talk about this in the show, and it’s really true. All my monologues come out of my obsessions. They spring out of the obsessions that I have in collision with one another.

And one day, I was surfing the Web aimlessly, and I read this article on a Macintosh news site, because I’m a very big geek. And in the article, they talked about how a person had gotten an iPhone. And on the iPhone, it wasn’t blank when it came from the factory. It had pictures on it from inside the factory that hadn’t been erased.

And I looked at those pictures, and I became very obsessed with them, because I started to think about the fact that I didn’t know – even though I think about these machines all the time – I didn’t actually know how they were made, which seemed very strange, because I know how to take them apart and put them back together.

I think about electronics all the time. But I didn’t actually know how they were made. And that’s what started it.

LAMB: Let’s show a little clip, so people can get a sense of what – first of all, it’s a one-man show.

DAISEY: Yes.

LAMB: Is it always one man?

DAISEY: It is, yes.

LAMB: So, you have been sitting on stages for 15 years by yourself, talking.

DAISEY: Well, I never feel – I never feel lonely, because, you know, it’s actually told in the space with the audience. Like, it’s very much live composed.

And so, it actually feels very communal.

But, yes, I’m the only one on the stage, that’s true.

LAMB: Before we show this, is there any difference between performing in Washington and any other city?

DAISEY: No. Not in the fundamentals. We can all, like, talk endlessly about the specifics, and people like to. And it’s true that they’re a very political audience. And it’s true that some things resonate differently in different cities.

But I’ve performed in India, Australia, the U.K. and all over America, and audiences are human beings. And fundamentally, you know, if you can connect with humans, it’s the same everywhere.

LAMB: Now, this is a clip from your current program about ”The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

DAISEY: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: Steve Jobs has always been the enemy of nostalgia. He’s always understood that the future requires sacrifice. Steve Jobs is never afraid to knife (ph) the baby.

I’ll give you an example. A couple of years ago, Apple’s best-selling product – best-selling – was the iPod mini. It was awesome. It was an iPod, but it was mini.

(LAUGHTER)

Everybody loved the iPod mini..

(LAUGHTER)

And one day, Steve Jobs is doing one of his keynotes, and he says, ”Today, the iPod mini is no more.”

”No! Don’t take it away, Steve! What are you doing?”

”I give you the iPod nano.”

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Nano is smaller than mini.

(LAUGHTER)

It’s everything I wanted! I’m going to lose it even faster now.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: What do you get in that, in that clip there? And what do you think of Steve Jobs?

DAISEY: Well, in that clip, you know, I’m talking very specifically about the fact that he does something that almost no other CEOs would actually do. He has an incredible ability to actually cancel something, to get rid of things, to throw out the past and move forward with the future. People have a hard time doing that in all our lives.

And I think part of his ruthlessness is because he’s able to detach that way. He’s very good at realizing that a certain thing is yesterday. And even before the market’s ready for it, he’s willing to move on to the next thing.

And that sort of captures a lot of what I think of Steve Jobs. I really admire him a lot, you know. He’s been responsible for three fundamental shifts in the metaphor that we use to see the world in technology. And no one else has been responsible for even one. So, it’s a remarkable – I mean, it’s a remarkable thing.

At the same time, I think that he is a very difficult person to work for and to be associated with. I think that he’s really challenging, you know.

And I think he sits in a tremendous position of power where he is at Apple right now. He’s built this corporate armature around himself.

And it’s my fervent wish, you know, that he would open his eyes and recognize the conditions that are in the factories in China, and acknowledge them, and work toward change.

And of all the people in technology, I actually think he’s the one that’s most likely to actually try and do something like that, because he’s always been a maverick.

LAMB: I want to get into that. But you had Steve Wozniak in one of your crowds one night. And who is he? And what did he have to say about this when he saw you do this?

DAISEY: Steve Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple. So, he and Steve Jobs founded Apple together years and years ago. And he still has a tremendous amount of Apple stock, and he’s still officially an employee.

And Steve Wozniak saw the show, and he told the ”New York Times” that he was changed, that he would never be the same again. And he wept after seeing the show.

And we met for dinner, and he and I are determined to try to keep raising awareness about the conditions under which these devices are made. People don’t really understand that workers literally work themselves to death making the devices, that the conditions are not some giant robot factory, but instead, thousands and thousands of humans, of people – and in many cases, children – make all of our electronics.

And so, trying to make that real for people so that we actually start to care about it, is a tall order.

LAMB: When did you get the idea of going to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China?

DAISEY: You know, when I started studying this, when I started trying to find out exactly how devices are made, you come to Foxconn very quickly, because for a company that has almost no public awareness in America, they make over 50 percent of our electronics.

So, like last year, Foxconn made 52 percent of the world’s electronics. So many companies that you think of, like Dell and Nokia, and all these different companies, they all actually subcontract all their work out to Foxconn. So, there’s really one company that’s making everything.

And they have production lines where one line will be making your Nokia products. And right next to it will be the Samsung products. You know, even though they’re marketed differently to everyone, they’re all being made right next to each other by thousands and thousands of people.

And as soon as I discovered that and really started to read about the reports that are available on the Web even, of the conditions in the factories, Foxconn is an especially brutal company.

And I… it became clear that I was not actually going to be able to figure out what was really going on until I saw it for myself. And so, I decided to.

LAMB: When did you go there?

DAISEY: I went there in May and June of last year, 2010.

LAMB: How did you go there?

DAISEY: I flew into Hong Kong. And then I had a Chinese visa. And I crossed the border and went to Shenzhen, which is actually only about a 40-minute drive north of Hong Kong, which is amazing, because Shenzhen is the city where almost all of our devices are made, in the world.

Shenzhen is a city of 14 million people. And it’s only 40 minutes north of Hong Kong. Almost no one in America has ever heard the name of the city, even though almost everything in their house that’s electronic came from that place.

There’s a remarkable disconnect in our consciousness about that, about where our things actually come from.

It was for me. I had no idea until I really dug into it.

LAMB: How did you get to Shenzhen from Hong Kong?

DAISEY: I got there two different ways. I took a bus up once, and then I actually – you know, I had to shuttle back and forth to do other projects in Hong Kong and meet with activist groups.

And you can take the subway. You can take the subway from Shenzhen to the end of the Shenzhen subway system, go above ground. Like, in the station there’s actually a transfer point for your passport. Then you get on the Hong Kong subway system.

So, it’s an amazing thing to go somewhere, where all our things are made, where any American journalist could fly to Hong Kong with any Chinese visa and take the subway to the door of the factories, and then begin asking people about the conditions. And yet, that story has not actually been told in our press.

LAMB: Did you go with anybody?

DAISEY: No. I mean, I went with my wife and director, who basically acted as sort of backup. I mean, it really wasn’t clear to me what was going to happen when I did this.

And so, you know, not to be dramatic about it, but, I mean, she would stay behind at the hotel. And the supposition was, like, I will check in with you at this time. But if I don’t check in, start calling people. Start making noise.

I went – I found a translator through friends of friends. And so, I went with the translator, since I don’t speak Mandarin.

LAMB: When you got your visa from China, under what circumstances did they give it to you? What did they think you were going to do?

DAISEY: I didn’t actually have to say what I was going to do, but I did have to say what my profession was, which I said was teacher – which is true. I do teach, as well so.

LAMB: And did you contact Foxconn? And did they let you in the factory?

DAISEY: I did not contact Foxconn.

LAMB: Why not?

DAISEY: It was very clear that that was not going to lead anywhere. And the only place I saw that leading was leading to them having a picture of me that would then cause more problems when I got to the factory.

When I first got to Hong Kong, I worked with a fixer who had worked with the BBC, to try to get connections to other factories throughout the Special Economic Zone to try to do something officially, above board. And that was hopeless, and it led nowhere.

And it was very, very clear as the days went on that this was not going to work at all. That if I followed the rules of engagement, the rules of engagement for journalism in China are very clear. No one there is incentived to let anyone talk to you about anything, because you’re just going to tell a terrible story about the things that they know are wrong.

So, they’re not going to let anyone in. And they’re very clear about not letting people in.

And then, if you’re a journalist and you belong to a journalism organization, generally, your organization will require you to get a journalism visa, at which point the Chinese government tracks you very, very closely the whole time you’re there. And you still can’t tell the story.

LAMB: Here is a little clip of you talking about China in your monologue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: I mean, we think we do know where our shit comes from. We think we – our shit comes from China.

(LAUGHTER)

Right, in a generalized way. From China.

There are dragons there.

(LAUGHTER)

China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: Explain the China thing. You do that a lot when you talk about China. What are you getting at?

DAISEY: Well, this is just a stylized gesture to sort of capture something that I think we all know is true, which is that we are terrified of and fetishize China. We do both.

We don’t want to address China. We don’t want to think about the implications of China.

We are terrified that they are larger than us. We are terrified of the economic relationship we are in with China.

Many of us don’t even know the particulars, but we know it’s scary. And we don’t like to think about it.

At the same time, we fetishize China. So many business books adore China. They talk about China as the great new opening, the great new markets, like China is where – you know, it’s like the Wild West.

And I spoke to many, many businessmen who make a living going back and forth between Hong Kong and Mainland China and make their fortunes there, you know, talking about it, like where it feels like the Wild West. And fortunes can be won in this grand expanse.

What isn’t talked about, you know, in the positive view, or in the uneasy view, is the fact that it’s a fascist country run by thugs. No one wants to talk about that part, but it’s true.

LAMB: A big surprise to me was, it’s a Taiwanese company.

DAISEY: Yes.

LAMB: A $60 billion a year Taiwanese company in Mainland China.

DAISEY: Oh, yes. Yes. And that’s – I think that’s part of the conditions that are in place at the factory, is the relationship between the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese, you know, is – it’s not good, to say the least.

And so, I think the fact that the company comes from Taiwan, I think it makes it easier for the people running the company and people in supervisory positions to treat the workers as subhuman. I think it makes it easier for them to work them that way.

LAMB: Do you use Apple products yourself?

DAISEY: I do, I do.

One of the reasons I did the show, one of the central reasons, is that I have been an Apple user my entire life. They’ve defined my entire life with technology. I love Apple products.

LAMB: So, you went to the Foxconn factory that has how many employees?

DAISEY: Four hundred and thirty thousand.

LAMB: How many buildings there?

DAISEY: I don’t even know, but they stretch to the horizon. Like, when you try to drive around the factory, it’s so large, it’s like trying to circumnavigate – or circumambulate – a city. It’s huge.

LAMB: And then what did you do, once you got there?

DAISEY: I did the thing that I had told all these journalists I was going to do. They really were clear that this was the stupidest thing they’d ever heard.

I went to the main gate. And I stood there with my translator. And then I just talked to anybody who wanted to talk to me who came out of the gates, just, the workers.

LAMB: How many talked to you?

DAISEY: Hundreds. I talked to hundreds of workers.

LAMB: How long were you there?

DAISEY: I was there for hours and hours and hours, and I went back multiple times. And each time, I spoke with hundreds of workers.

LAMB: How did you capture what they said? Did you write it down? Or did you record it?

DAISEY: No, I captured it with my hearing and my mind. I’m a monologist. This is my job.

LAMB: And what did you begin to hear from them?

DAISEY: Well, you know, it’s really fascinating, the patterns. We talked a lot about the things that you’d expect – you know, where in China they came from, how long they’d been working at Foxconn, what they do in the factory. Heard a lot about the minutiae of what it’s like to work in the factory.

And then, you know, stories start to come out from people you know. I mean, I was critically struck. And I think this is a very – this was a surprise to me. I didn’t know how things worked on the ground.

I would ask them what seemed like a very innocuous question, which was, if you could change anything at Foxconn, what would you change?

And people would react as though a bee had flown into their faces. They’d be, like, ”Rrrr.” And then they would say something to my translator, and my translator would say, ”He says he never thought of that before.”

And that would happen every time I asked that question. And for me, that was a really illuminating moment, that, you know, you’re dealing with a very different landscape. You’re dealing with a country that has a fascist government, that locks down its people. They are locked down in terms of their freedoms and what they are allowed to think.

And then, you’re imposing an incredible degree of corporatism. Corporations have been invited in and given free rein to control the landscape. They’re given very pliable workers. I mean, people are not – and people wonder, how could they have such poor work conditions. But we are working hand-in-hand with the government of China to ensure that people don’t ask these questions, you know.

When they opened up the Special Economic Zone, when they created it, we could have exported not only our jobs, but our values, you know. I’m not even talking about – I’m not talking about anything extreme.

I’m talking about things like a work week that has limits. I’m talking about people having appropriate breaks, so they don’t actually die on the production line.

And we chose not to do that. Our corporations chose not to.

LAMB: In your play, or in your monologue, you talk about suicides. And I got on the Web and found that – and you can tell us how many there were – but they’re all around 20 years old.

DAISEY: Yes. Many of the workers are quite young. They fight hard to get these jobs. You know, they’re some of the best jobs in China. And people will struggle to get out of their villages to come to the south of China to this sort of economic honey pot that we’ve created in the south of the country.

And so, the perversity of that is that they are drawn to these jobs. And then, some of these people are the brightest people. Like, in a different world, those same people, some of them would be doctors and lawyers and civil servants. And instead, they go to the south of the country.

They all get degrees in electrical engineering, and then they make our stuff. And fundamentally, that soaks up the kind of people who – you know, China’s smart. China knows. Trouble comes from student protests. Trouble comes when people have too much time on their hands.

And so, it’s very much clear to me that the corporations work hand-in-hand with the Chinese government. Like, it sits there like an enormous heat sink on a computer, soaking up all the people who might otherwise cause trouble.

It gives them a place to be. They get a good wage that they send back to all the people in their village. And they are simply worked hard enough that they don’t have time to think about these things.

LAMB: How many suicides in 2010?

DAISEY: I believe there were 13 or 14 in 2010. It’s a little blurry. The numbers shift, depending on which article you read, you know.

And it depends on – what’s really interesting to me, is that the number of suicides in 2010 is not actually that different than how many there were in 2009 or 2008. And it actually goes all the way back to when people started reporting on it, way back in 2005.

What’s interesting is then 2010 there happened to be a cluster of them. What’s even more interesting is that the Associated Press happened to run a single story about the fact that people were climbing up to the roofs and throwing themselves off, week after week, in the same way – at their workplace.

And because of that one article, a certain degree of Western press suddenly rose up about these issues. But they didn’t go very deeply. They just looked at the fact that there were suicides, and they were, like, ”Why are there suicides?”

And Foxconn said, ”Well, you know, we’re going to pay them more.”

That pay raise never materialized, by the way. They promised to pay them 30 percent more, which I always think is fascinating, because if any employer can afford to raise the salaries of all their employees by 30 percent overnight, to me this sounds like something where you might have been underpaying people.

LAMB: How much did you learn that they were paying them?

DAISEY: Oh, they’re paying – I believe the median salary when I arrived was something around $107, $114 a month. Something like that, which doesn’t sound like very much to us.

But be honest, you know. The thrust of my investigation and the thrust of piece that I’ve created. It’s not actually very concerned with the amount they’re paid. That’s actually a good wage in that area of China, in terms of what you need commensurate with what your expenses are.

What they need isn’t actually more money. What they need is humane working conditions. They need that recognition that they are human beings. That’s actually more important than their wages being increased, is the simple respect that workers should have who are craftsmen, who make things, so that they can have a life.

LAMB: Does Steve Jobs know this? And has he seen your play, or your monologue?

DAISEY: I think he knows this.

LAMB: I know when you go to the theater, you ask people to – you give …

DAISEY: Yes.

LAMB: … you give the people the e-mail address.

DAISEY: I do, I do. Steve Jobs had this very long-running policy that he responds to e-mails, sometimes. And so, yes. I give his e-mail address, and I tell people to write to him about their experiences here in the theater. And if they have questions, you know, ask them. Ask Apple to be open with them.

And he’s responded to a large number of people who have written to him about this. And a number of those people have forwarded his responses to me.

And so, I know he’s aware of the show. He has not seen it. But I know that his principal response is – well, basically, it’s, Mike – ”I don’t think Mike appreciates the complexities of the situation.”

Which, you know, I think is a fine response. It would actually indicate some degree – that’d be recognizing that there was a situation.

And then, you know, if someone from Apple wanted to talk about the complexities of 12-year-olds putting together electronics, I’d be happy to listen to that conversation.

LAMB: I found the list of the companies that use Foxconn.

DAISEY: Oh, yes.

LAMB: Apple, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft and Vizio – American companies. Then Samsung, Sony, Acer and, as you said, Nokia.

Why didn’t you give up your Apple stuff, if this bothered you that much?

DAISEY: Oh. Well, I mean, if I give it up, then where will I – there are no humane electronics today. I mean, I’ll just have to get more …

LAMB: None?

DAISEY: No, there are none. There are none.

Any electronics not made by Foxconn are still, by-and-large, produced in the Special Economic Zone by other factories in conditions that are either the same, or even worse.

So, you know, if I get rid of my electronics, I’ll simply have to buy more electronics, and then I’ve perpetuated the problem.

And also, I think it cuts to the heart of what this monologue is trying to address, which is that, these devices have become part of our consciousness itself. Like, they change us and the way we relate to the world.

I can’t just opt out of my culture. Like, there is a viable way where one could live with honor. You could just live in a yurt on the side of a mountain, and then I would have no impact on anything. I’d be in my yurt eating a yam paste, perhaps.

But I can’t live that way, because I believe in communicating with people. And so, I need my tools to do it. It’s complex, but that’s what life is. It’s very complex.

And so, I’m trying to live ethically.

LAMB: Where did you grow up in the United States?

DAISEY: I grew up in Maine. I grew up in far northern Maine, Fort Kent, which is actually on the Canadian border. It’s actually the end of U.S. Route 1. It ends in Maine. Like, there’s a sign, and the road ends.

LAMB: What did your parents do?

DAISEY: My mother was a meat cutter. And my father works for the Veterans Administration counseling, in those days, Vietnam veterans. And then, today, he’s very, very busy counseling veterans from all our many wars.

LAMB: Still active?

DAISEY: He is still active. He was planning on retiring, but there is so much work, he actually thinks that he is never – he doesn’t know when he’s going to retire.

LAMB: How long did you live in Fort Kent?

DAISEY: I lived in Fort Kent till I was 13 or 14, and then we moved down to central Maine, which is still incredibly cold, incredibly remote. But compared to Fort Kent, you know, it’s a tropical vacation.

LAMB: When did you first perform?

DAISEY: Oh, that’s a good question.

I think that – well, very first performance was when I was six or seven. I would give astronomy demonstrations. I had built a shoebox with a light on one end. And I would put constellations, and I would shine the light.

But I bring it up, because, I mean, I was actually a production. I would charge people tickets. I would make them sit in the room. And then I would sort of like hold forth, like some sort of miniature Barnum.

But after that, I started doing theater in high school. And really, it was also in conjunction with speech and debate. And I was a very avid speech and debate person. I think that’s informed all my work.

LAMB: What year did you start the speech and debate?

DAISEY: Oh, I was a sophomore in high school.

LAMB: Did you debate?

DAISEY: Yes, I did.

LAMB: You actually debated.

DAISEY: Oh, yes.

LAMB: Did you compete …

DAISEY: I did, yes.

LAMB: … in speech?

DAISEY: Yes. And I did well. I went to nationals twice.

LAMB: What drew you into that?

DAISEY: I think that – I think it’s a love of the extemporaneous. I love the fact that, in a real debate, there are vectors and factors that cannot be known, that assert themselves on the fly. I like thinking on my feet.

I have always said, you know, when I was a young man, when I was, like, 19 or 20, I would drink a lot of bourbon. And sometimes when I was drinking bourbon, I would rail against the tyranny of the written word. I would literally, you know, ”the written word!”

And I really do believe that we conflate sometimes the process of writing with thinking. And you don’t actually need to write to think. Thinking actually happens in our minds. And if you actually think about thinking, which is hard, it doesn’t – you’re not actually thinking in sentences, in that linear way. There’s a different thing going on.

And I love the way, in debate, there’s this – it’s oral. I love the way the thought hovers in the mind, and then it’s expressed. And then, things are grappled with in the air. And everyone’s participating, and I love that.

LAMB: Where did you go to college?

DAISEY: I went to Colby College in Maine. I got a scholarship that allowed me to go.

And that gives – it’s one of those micro Ivies. So, like, I was very much like ”the guy from Maine,” because almost everyone there is from outside of Maine, because that’s sort of – it lives in its own bubble, sort of, in the heart of Maine.

LAMB: Was it your grades that got you in there? Or was it your SAT? Or was it your performance?

DAISEY: My grades were good, but not exceptional. My SATs were good. But I think it was – I think it was my essays, actually. I think the essays played a lot in getting me in.

I don’t know. I’m glad that they let me in, I really am.

LAMB: You did a monologue on – and I’m going to run a little bit of it – on gold. You talked about gold?

DAISEY: Oh, this is probably ”The Last Cargo Cult.”

LAMB: Which was not too – I mean, how many monologues have you done in your professional career?

DAISEY: Sixteen.

LAMB: And that was just a couple of years ago.

DAISEY: Yes, yes.

LAMB: And what was it about?

DAISEY: It’s two things. It’s about my trip to an island in the South Pacific where the people worship the objects of America. They have a celebration one day a year where they are at the base of an erupting volcano, and they tell the history of America, as they know it to be, in dance, theater and song.

LAMB: Is this fiction?

DAISEY: No, no. I went to this island. And it’s about the people on …

LAMB: What’s the island?

DAISEY: The island is Tanna. It’s in Vanuatu, what used to be the New Hebrides. And so, it’s about this island and its people and their sort of – their lack of an economic system. Like, this island, on this island, many of the people do not use money or believe in currency. So, it’s that whole story of their place and how their worship works.

And then, it’s paired with a story of the international financial collapse.

LAMB: Here’s a little bit from that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: You could march right down to the treasury. And you could walk in there, and you could give them your dollars and exchange them for gold. You could walk in and say, ”Aaaah. I demand my gold! Aaaah!”

(LAUGHTER)

And then they’d say, ”Oh, my God. It’s another fucking libertarian.”

(LAUGHTER)

”Hold on. Fucking wait.”

(LAUGHTER)

”Put out your hand. There you go.”

(LAUGHTER)

”Get out of here. Get out of here.”

”Aaaah! Ron Paul in 2012!”

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: What year was that done?

DAISEY: Oh, I think that was in 2009.

LAMB: And how long did you perform this?

DAISEY: Oh, about a year, year-and-a-half. They stay in rotating repertory. So, I last did that monologue in January of this year.

LAMB: One of the reasons I ran that is you use language there. You use a lot of language in all of your performances, and especially in the one that I saw.

Why?

DAISEY: Well, if I don’t speak in English, we’re going to have a problem.

I just always loved the conflation of language. I assume you mean adult language.

LAMB: Yes, the four-letter words …

DAISEY: Right, right, right.

Well, I use it because it expresses the full range of the words that are available to me. I don’t actually have naturally limiting vectors that cause me not to use certain parts of my speech, because, fundamentally, I’m not a Puritan.

So, I use all my language.

LAMB: The reason I bring it up is because you had a strange experience in the middle of one of your monologues one time, where people got up and left.

Where was this? And when was it?

DAISEY: This was in Cambridge at American Repertory Theater in …

LAMB: Massachusetts?

DAISEY: Yes. In 2007.

LAMB: What were the circumstances?

DAISEY: Well, apparently, a Christian group came and saw the show, and were not – and didn’t choose to be aware. They were like a school group. But although they’d been informed that there was adult language and adult situations, they didn’t heed that warning.

And so, the teachers decided to sort of panic after I began speaking. And so, they left en masse. But as they left, one of the adult chaperones actually chose to destroy the outline – I use these outlines while I’m doing the show. They’re sort of irreplaceable, because I make them by hand.

And he came and poured water, and destroyed the outline as he was exiting.

LAMB: I’m going to show the clip in just a little bit, because watching you in this clip, at first you think this is part of the show.

DAISEY: Well, I …

LAMB: I mean, you look …

DAISEY: I was very surprised. It’s a very surprising thing when – you know, it was a theater of maybe 350 people – to have 80 or 90 people all rise at once, and then come flood the stage, is a surprising thing.

LAMB: Do you – are you sure that they didn’t plan this in advance?

DAISEY: I’m pretty sure. I mean, I got in touch with them afterwards, and I spoke with the person who destroyed my outline.

LAMB: The person that we see on the stage pouring water on your script.

DAISEY: Yes, yes.

LAMB: Let’s watch it …

DAISEY: Sure, sure.

LAMB: … and then you can explain the rest of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: And that’s New York.

That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they’re pulling it because of the language.

What do you want to do with this?

DAISEY: Well, I don’t know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I’ll get a towel.

DAISEY: Yes.

Hey, do any of you people who are leaving want to stay and talk about this? Or do you want to run out like cowards?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: And that’s a long, nine-minute little piece of video that’s on YouTube, if people want to see the whole thing, because you …

DAISEY: Yes.

LAMB: … you talk more about it.

DAISEY: Oh, yes.

LAMB: What happened to you physically when this happened? What did you – what was your personal reaction?

DAISEY: Oh, it was really painful. It was really – it’s hard to express to people who – I think a lot of people would understand.

You know, it’s a very – to be open on stage, to be open, telling a story – especially stories that aren’t scripted, where you’re actually there telling the story each night – it involves being very emotionally open.

And so, it’s really painful to have people, you know, literally destroy your work. It’s painful. And that was one of the reasons I had to track them down.

And it always galls me. This is the part of the story that always galls me, that I had to track them down, because in the clip, the whole thing that’s online, by the end of it, you know, I restart the show.

And one of the reasons I was able to restart the show was, I thought, well, it’s a school group. This was completely crazy. But of course, one of the parents – not the person who did this stupid thing, but one of the other ones – I’m sure has left a note in the lobby with the box office saying, oh, we’re so sorry. We’ll obviously have to talk about this.

There was no note. There was nothing. I got out there and I couldn’t believe it. I can be very naive sometimes. I really thought, of course you wouldn’t just do this and leave.

But in fact they did. In fact, the group actually wanted a refund. And they did not want to contact me. And I actually had to track them down.

LAMB: How long had they stayed?

DAISEY: Oh, like, 15 minutes.

LAMB: And they were reacting specifically to the four-letter words.

DAISEY: Yes. Yes.

LAMB: And you say …

DAISEY: I mean, if they’d stayed longer, they probably would have been upset about political things, as well, I suspect. I mean, if you’re that upset about language, you’ll be upset about something. But yes, it was the language.

LAMB: What happened when you talked to the fellow that dumped the water on the desk?

DAISEY: Well, it was interesting, you know.

LAMB: And where was he from?

DAISEY: He was from a small town in California called Norco – Norco, California. And that’s where the whole group was from. They were out in the Boston area for a choral competition. And this was what they chose to take their students to that night, that they didn’t research very well.

And when I talked to him, you know, he was – it was a good call. He was apologetic. And he admitted that he had anger management issues that he was working on. And I appreciated that. You know?

And he talked about how his feeling, honestly, was that he has children. He had two daughters at that time. I believe they were, like 12 and 16. And he was terrified. I remember this so vividly. He was saying to me that he was just terrified about the future. He was just terrified about the kind of world they were going to be in.

And I thought it was fascinating, because, you know, their actions – the fact that they took them in this way, the fact that he felt this way – I mean, I felt terrified, too, you know. Like, I felt like I could actually empathize with that feeling. I just don’t know if I would agree with the way in which he’s addressing it, or if the same things would terrify both of us.

LAMB: You said to him – and you wrote this out; I found it on your blog, I believe – that, at one point you said, ”I was raised Catholic.” And you said he changed his demeanor when you – on the phone – when you said that.

DAISEY: Yes, yes.

LAMB: What was the change?

DAISEY: Well, the change was – it really upset me at the time, I remember that. He what happened was, he saw me differently, you know. I said that, and that was a code word for the fact that I was Christian. And so, as soon as I was a member of his religion, sort of extended religion, he began to talk to me in a much more open way.

And I don’t know. It just – it really upset me, because I could feel how I hadn’t actually gotten his respect before. But when I said this thing, then suddenly it was as though, oh, now – now we can actually speak as equals.

I think there was this – and that really got me, the fact that, after all this had happened – and we’re talking, so he can apologize. We still can’t have an honest conversation unless we happen to worship the same God.

LAMB: But you then told him you were a liberal atheist.

DAISEY: I did. I did. I wanted him to understand that.

LAMB: What was his reaction to that?

DAISEY: He didn’t have much reaction at all. I don’t think he was – I think he – he was surprised, probably, you know.

LAMB: Well, if you listen to all this, it comes through that you’re part journalist, part activist. Are you political?

DAISEY: Yes, of course I am.

LAMB: Do you have a – what would you – how would you define your political beliefs?

DAISEY: I don’t know. I mean, I think that my political beliefs are defined by the age I live in. I mean, I think if I look at the arc of my work over the last five to 10 years, I think that – I believe our age right now, is an age we are moving from an age of nations into an age of corporations, of corporatism.

And so, most of my work is aligned about that transition. I mean, I think that in another age, 30 or 40 years ago, it would be fruitful to sort of be, like, well, I believe in socialism. You’re like, no, no, I believe more in capitalism.

But I feel like that debate has ended for my age and my time, that instead the debate is about the corporations and their rise, which right now seems inexorable. And their amount of power is staggering.

And so, a lot of my work is in relationship to that. And a lot of my political work is about, what does it mean that we created these entities and gave them the rights of individuals, of men? And then they loom above us and are multinationals, and can’t be chained to any one country, can’t be held to account.

And then, in many ways, we serve them. You know, literally, we work for them and under them.

For me, that forms sort of the core of my belief system, is that this is actually a war – a war going on right now, being fought over what it will mean to be a human being in a world where corporations are this powerful, and getting more powerful.

LAMB: Other than that episode we saw back in 2007, do you ever find yourself confronted by people in the corporate world, or any world, politically, as you do your monologues?

DAISEY: Yes, I do. Sometimes.

LAMB: And how? Do they get in your face?

DAISEY: Sometimes. It depends.

LAMB: Where does it – when does this happen? Does it happen in the middle of a show?

DAISEY: Not often in the middle of the show, which is good, because, you know, the thing is, you’re trying to create this artistic construct, you know.

And a confrontation can be very dramatic, because everyone doesn’t know what’s going to happen. And we all kind of love it when the theater breaks in the middle. We all go, ”Oh, something’s happening that’s not expected.”

At the same time, you can’t actually achieve catharsis and get where you were going to go, if it’s constantly interrupted by people.

So, what I do to sort of ameliorate that and create a middle ground is, I go to the lobby after every show. And as I feel like, because the issues of the shows are so charged and political, I feel like it’s sort of my obligation to – when I’m on stage, it’s a little bit like Greek theater, the classic form of theater, and you’re wearing the mask, and you are representing things.

And by being on stage, I have this power. Then I owe it to people to take off the mask – even though I am just playing myself, it’s the same person – and go to the lobby, so we can actually talk to one another as human beings.

And generally, when there are confrontations, they happen there. Or, in the manner of a modern age, people send me anonymous e-mails.

LAMB: Have you had any confrontation with politicians in Washington the many times you’ve been here?

DAISEY: A few. By politicians, you know – I believe, you know, there are functionaries of subfunctionaries. So, never an elected official. Not yet, anyway.

But I have had – I did another monologue called, ”If You See Something, Say Something,” which is about the Department of Homeland Security and its history and then, also, the rise of the military-industrial complex. And I had people who are affiliated with and have interests in defense contractors, you know, really upset about the implication that their industry actually exists to create a kind of American empire.

LAMB: Well, so often in Washington, a lot of these theaters are underwritten by some of these big corporations.

DAISEY: Yes, they are. They are.

LAMB: And have you ever had any kick-back on that, or where you weren’t allowed to appear somewhere because the underwriter didn’t want you in there?

DAISEY: You know, it’s interesting. It’s true that they’re underwritten. And, like, generally, I’m really proud of this wealthy American theater, because there’s a lot that’s wrong with the American theater. I’m really proud that most of the places I’ve worked have worked hard to ensure some degree of separation between their programming and then their underwriting. They’ve really tried to do that.

Where I have experienced a pushback is, I actually do a monologue about the American theater called ”How Theater Failed America,” that really – you know, sometimes you say things, and they hit you where you eat. And so, there were a number of theaters across America that found it too close to the bone when talking about the problems endemic to the theater. And so, I won’t be working with them anymore.

LAMB: Let’s go to another monologue. And it will connect your father and present-day and some of what you alluded to earlier. Let’s watch this, and you can tell us where it came from.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: All he wants to talk about is Iraq, because he’s afraid that we’re going to go to war in Iraq, because my dad works as a therapist for the Veterans Administration. And he knows – he knows that when the government’s done with those kids, he’s going to see them. He’s going to see them next, and he’s really, really worried about that.

And it’s funny, because when I was a kid, when I was a kid growing up in Maine, my friends, you know, their fathers sometimes lose their jobs at the mills. And when that happened, every time, the family always went to shit. Every time.

And I got really worried. I really worried, like, what would happen if my father lost his job? I really worried about that. And I noticed, you know, that all the veterans my father – they’re all Vietnam veterans. And they’re all, like, getting older.

And so, I really got worried, you know. Like, what’s going to happen if my father runs out of veterans? And I actually asked him once. I actually asked him. I actually said, ”Dad, what’s going to happen if you run, if you run out of veterans?”

And I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget. He laughed and said, ”Oh, Michael. That’s never going to happen.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: Where is that from?

DAISEY: That’s from a monologue called, ”Invincible Summer,” which is about, in part, the history of the New York subway system. And then, it’s also about my neighborhood in Brooklyn before and after 9/11. And then it’s about the changes in my life and my family’s life, and in my country, in the years that follow 9/11.

LAMB: Where were you on 9/11?

DAISEY: I was in Lower Manhattan.

LAMB: What impact did all that have on you?

DAISEY: It had a huge impact on me. I was one of the people that walked out of the city over the bridge. And it felt like the world was ending.

And it had a very deep impact on me. And one of the things I think that it changed in me is, you know, I’ve always been a bit of a – I’ve always been a bit of an iconoclast in terms of my political beliefs. And in the years that followed 9/11, I found myself, you know, I think – I think I didn’t reckon with the amount of rage I felt about that attack.

I was very angry. I was very, very angry. And very isolated.

My wife was in Seattle when it happened. So, when she joined me in New York, you know, after the skies opened up, there was this gulf between us, because she hadn’t actually been here. You know, she never really – she would never fully understand.

And I should have resolved those feelings. And instead, I think I nurtured them a little bit, you know. Because sometimes it’s hard to actually let go of anger. There’s a comfort to it.

And a lot of that monologue is about the fact that I supported the Iraq War. I found myself you know persuaded by the arguments that many people were persuaded by at the time.

And then, the monologue really reckons with the fallout of that and how, especially as an artist in the arts community, to admit afterwards that you supported the Iraq War, and then to speak in a candid, open way about why you gave your support and how you withdrew your support. Because, you know, today, no one – artist or not – will ever admit that they supported that war in any way. You know, there’s an incredible silence.

But I remember there being a lot of other people that I had conversations with, where each step along the path seemed so reasonable. Every step seemed so reasonable.

And I think it’s important for us to actually remember that, because the past is not made up of people acting in an insane manner. Everything seems reasonable when you’re walking down that road. And so, the monologue is about those things.

LAMB: Tie together the Fort Kent, Maine, upbringing, moving to central Maine, going to Colby. I saw somewhere where Colby had a big impact on you.

DAISEY: Oh, yes. Yes, a huge impact on me, because …

LAMB: How big is Colby College, by the way?

DAISEY: It’s small. It’s maybe 1,700 students.

LAMB: Located where?

DAISEY: Waterville, Maine, in central Maine. But it could have been on another planet, you know, as far as I was concerned. My whole life had been defined by growing up in Maine.

And so, it was only at Colby that I was really put in contact with the power structures of our culture. I, like, did not understand – I didn’t understand what wealth was until I went to Colby. I did not really understand that there are people in the world who have a lot more money. I had not spent a lot of time around them, you know.

The spectrum in my small towns, I knew people that had less money, I knew people that had more money, but not in, like, a quantum way. I did not really understand what it meant to be living in New York City, you know, where I live today.

I think about my life today. I couldn’t have conceived this life when I was growing up in my small town.

And Colby was that bridge. It was this place where I encountered these ideas for the first time, and really to grapple with things like, will – is the point of this new life, if these things are possible, is my job to find a job where I can make enough money to make these things real for me? Or is my calling to find a calling and do something else?

And that was fought for me at Colby, like, that war over what I am called to do.

LAMB: Before we run out of time, I want to make sure I ask you this. Are you really going to do a 24-hour monologue?

DAISEY: I am.

LAMB: Where?

DAISEY: It’ll happen twice right now. It’ll happen once on the West Coast, in Portland, Oregon, in September. And then it’ll happen once on the East Coast, in New York City at the Under the Radar Festival in January.

LAMB: What are you going to talk about?

DAISEY: Everything. It’s a – it’s called ”All the Hours in the Day.” And the show is about a huge number of topics.

It’s an earnest attempt to create a gigantic story that actually compels people’s interest. Kind of like Scheherazade. Like the goal is actually to make it compelling enough that people stay longer than they thought they ever would.

And it’s about many things, but it is in part an attempt to create a working definition of the American national character as having a strong streak of Puritanism running right through the heart of it, which, on its positive side, gives us our work ethic, and on its negative side, gives us repression.

And then, coiled around that is a streak of anarchism. And it’s really an attempt to reconcile those things, to sort of create a kind of chart of what it means to be an American over this immensely huge story.

So, it’s like 12, 13 or 14 – I’m still working on it – braided stories that weave back and forth that tell this gigantic mosaic.

LAMB: And you talk for – any breaks?

DAISEY: There will be little breaks here and there, but they’re actually kind of more for the audience than me, because people are going to need to eat. We’re going to like provide food in different ways. And it’s like it’s all – it’s like one gigantic experience with this really, possibly crazy, but really earnest attempt to say, if you want, you can come in at the beginning, and you can stay all the way through it, and we will take care of you.

LAMB: What will it cost you?

DAISEY: I don’t know yet. We’re dickering about that right now. I’m hoping it will cost less than you’d expect. That’s what I’m hoping.

LAMB: And how big will the theater be?

DAISEY: And we’re working on that, too. Pretty large. We’re looking at, you know, 600, 700 seat spaces.

LAMB: By the way, here’s a clip of you talking about cheese?

DAISEY: Oh, yes.

LAMB: Let’s run this and see what it says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: Then they go backstage and they rip off their clothes, and they run to the cast party. Because at the cast party is the cheese.

(LAUGHTER)

Enormous platters of cheese.

(LAUGHTER)

There’s the yellow cheese and the white cheese, and the yellow and white cheese multi-color.

(LAUGHTER)

And they grab huge fistfuls of the cheese. Oh, because this is what they’re paid in.

(LAUGHTER)

They’re paid in cheese!

(APPLAUSE)

They fill their pockets and line their pockets, because they have to steal enough to last for five weeks.

(LAUGHTER)

So, they grab the cheese. They grab a couple of bottles of wine. Then they take off down the alley, past the crack whores, till they get to the dormitory where they’re staying.

(LAUGHTER)

And then they squat there, in the darkness, eating their cheese.

(LAUGHTER)

This is so worth a life in the arts.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

This is so worth not having children.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: Is this a part of what made some of the people in the theater mad?

DAISEY: Yes. Yes, because it’s true. Because in the American theater, you know, it’s less glamorous in some ways than talking about the labor conditions in China, you know, that has the exoticism of saying, oh, it’s all the way in China.

But you know I work in the theater. And the truth is, actors in the American theater are paid reprehensibly. They’re paid unbelievably low wages.

LAMB: But take it back to the beginning were talking about Steve Jobs and Apple. Have any journalists along the way probed you about what you saw at Foxconn?

DAISEY: Yes, yes. A couple now.

LAMB: Have there been a number of articles written because of your time at Foxconn?

DAISEY: You know, it’s hard to know. I agitated with Wired Magazine to do something. But I’m not sure Wired Magazine and I were aligned, sort of, in the problem. And to be honest, they did a cover story about the Foxconn suicides that was pathetic. It’s a pathetic story.

They sent people over with the P.R. firm from Foxconn. They were guided around. The reporter didn’t talk to a single worker. And then they flew back and wrote a puff piece.

So, so so far, no one has actually gone over and actually sourced original journalism on it.

LAMB: Of all the people you talked to outside the gates, who do you remember the most?

DAISEY: I remember this – there was one girl. I talk about her in the show, actually. There was one girl who was explaining to me how she cleans the screens of iPhones – by hand – thousands and thousands of them.

And so, I showed her my iPhone. And she was, like, ”Oooh.”

And I handed her my iPhone. I actually – I have a picture of her holding my iPhone. And then, I said to her, maybe – you might have cleaned this iPhone – we’ll never know – when it (ph) went (ph) past you.

And incredibly quickly, as soon as I said that, she rubbed it on her pants. And then she said, ”There. I’ve cleaned it the second time.”

And it was that conversation, I was talking to her, and she was so delightful. And I said, ”How old are you?”

And she said, ”I’m 13.”

And I said, ”Oh. Right.”

LAMB: If somebody wants to get a hold of your – all your work, and everything, what’s the Web site?

DAISEY: It’s my name. It’s MikeDaisey.com. There’s an ”E” before the ”Y” in Daisey.

LAMB: Find the blog and the whole thing.

DAISEY: Yes, yes.

LAMB: We’re out of time. Mike Daisey, thank you very much.

DAISEY: Hey, thanks for having me.

END




C-SPAN  ·  American Writers  ·  American Presidents · Booknotes  ·  Book TV
Capitol Hearings  ·  Students & Leaders