Dispatches

The Twenty Weirdest TV Interviews of All Time

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When we first posted this list in February, it was in response to the instantly iconic Letterman interview with a bearded, bespectacled, near-catatonic Joaquin Phoenix. At the time, we were pretty sure we’d seen the ne plus ultra of celebrity madness, but this week’s Mackenzie Phillips shocker on Oprah probably retakes the cake. But then, there’s a lot of cake to go around, as this compendium of bizarro TV moments should reassure you. — Peter Smith
20. Gary Busey and Jennifer Garner on the Oscar Red Carpet, 2008

Gary Busey is no stranger to weird public antics (remember: he will tear out your endocrine system!), but this red-carpet appearance at the 2008 Oscars is the jewel in his madman’s crown. When Busey interrupts Ryan Seacrest’s interview with Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner — and plants a wet one on the petrified Garner’s vulnerable neck — the ladies do what pretty girls in bars have been done for decades: smile sweetly at the crazy man and back away for some "girl talk." Busey’s later apology was almost as incomprehensible as his original transgression. — Lindsay Armstrong


19. Sam Phillips on Late Night with David Letterman, 1986


In 1986, Sam Phillips — the founder of Sun Records and producer for such rock legends as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison — forged his own legend when he showed up on Letterman high as a kite. Phillips had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; it’s logical that he wanted to celebrate, but everything that transpired next completely defied logic. Here, Phillips set the template for the Joaquin Phoenix interview — looking and behaving like a Montana militiaman is the surest way to Dave’s heart. — Cyriaque Lamar


18. Mike Tyson on WWOR-TV/UPN 9 News (Secaucus, NJ), 1999

Nobody expected Mike Tyson to be Proust in this live interview, but then again nobody — least of all New York sportscaster Russ Salzberg — expected sixty-four seconds of expletives, threats, and a terrifyingly awesome demand to "turn off your station." In this clip from January 1999, Salzberg attempts to speak with Tyson about his comeback match with Francois Botha. After his famously ill-fated fight with Evander Holyfield, Kid Dynamite apparently had a chip on his shoulder (or some earlobe between his molars). — C.L.


17. Richard Simmons on Late Show with David Letterman, 2006

"I’m getting dizzy." This confession should be unusual at the beginning of an interview, but it is, after all, Richard Simmons. The man’s history with David Letterman is a storied one, so it’s hard to pick just one Late Night appearance for this list. The episode where Letterman doused Simmons with a fire extinguisher might seem like the frontrunner, but Richard’s insistence that his vegetable steamer has a brain puts this one over the top. While Dick and Dave quibble over the price of the thing, it goes off like a bomb, and sends Simmons screaming across the room, patting his hair to make sure it’s still on his head. Immortal. — Marian Lorraine


16. Norm MacDonald on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, 1997

Norm MacDonald was on top of the world — or at least the Weekend Update anchor desk — when he visited Conan in 1997. Though Conan prefaces the interview by saying Norm’s been quite ill, we’re not sure his incoherent ramblings can be blamed solely on bacteria. MacDonald reveals his scintillating creative mind, his slurred, incoherent rambling showing exactly why SNL in the ’90s just got, um, better and better. He repeatedly references "ass fluids" and insults the disabled (combining both when discussing Larry Flynt!), then attempts to spread his love/germs on fellow guest Courtney Thorne-Smith. Conan sums up the interview by calling Norm "the biggest ass I’ve ever met." — L.A.


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15. Sly Stone on The Dick Cavett Show, 1970

Much is made, even elsewhere on this list, of Letterman or Conan’s ability to entertainingly defuse and interact with a guest gone haywire. While their reputations are certainly deserved, let’s give a little credit to Dick Cavett, who had to deal with Sly Stone. Notable: as if inspired by this appearance, President Nixon would pass the Controlled Substances Act just three months later, criminalizing cocaine and (at least theoretically) causing flamboyant celebrity appearances such as this to disappear like so much white, powdery dust in the wind. — J.B.


14. Jean-Claude Van Damme on Brazil’s Domingo Legal, 2007

In 1998, the R&B group Next came out with the hit single "Too Close," a little ditty about a man who gets a hard-on while dancing. Jean-Claude Van Damme later had the misfortune of living out this song on television. (At least it in happened in Brazil.) Okay, so it’s not exactly an interview, but it’s certainly unique. — L.A.


13. Iggy Pop on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder, 1980

By 1980, Iggy Pop was a shadow of his former self. No longer the wiry, energetic Stooges frontman — nor even the drug-addled Bowie acolyte — Pop had become a jittery, gap-toothed junkie, seeking a home in the smoking ruins of punk rock. This interview with the always-unassuming Tom Snyder is a painful seven-minute fumble for coherence. It isn’t uncommon to see a celebrity go supernova, but it’s plain unsettling to witness one long after the implosion. — John Constantine


12. Tracy Morgan on Late Show with David Letterman, 2008

Let’s set aside speculation about whether the 30 Rock star was high or only pretending on this January 2008 Late Show cameo, and give the man some credit: he knows how to give a memorable interview. Whether making cryptic remarks about Dr. Phil’s legal name or yelling non-sequiturs ("I’m crazier than a box of rocks!"), Morgan brings a ne’er-do-well raffishness you just don’t see enough on late-night TV. Maybe he’s battling some inner demons, but — if his comments about his "DUI gremlins" are any indication — talk shows seem to be his way of exorcising them. — C.L.


11. Courtney Love and Madonna post-MTV Video Music Awards, 1995

Madonna was in her early-Evita phase when Courtney Love crashed this post-VMA interview between her Madgesty and Kurt Loder. When Love throws a compact at Madonna’s head, Loder invites her to join the interview, despite Madonna’s objections, and what follows is a barrage of Courtney’s crazy stream-of-consciousness. A decade before Joaquin Phoenix, Love says she’ll change careers because "this whole rock-star thing is not working out," quotes Warren Beatty from Madonna’s doc Truth or Dare, and finally forces Madonna and her publicist to flee. Madonna summed it up best when she said, "Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now." You know you’re in trouble if you’re hearing that from Madonna. — J.C.


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10. Farrah Fawcett on The Late Show with David Letterman, 1997

Farrah Fawcett toddles to her chair, and fumbles a joke. It begins. Dave asks if she’s all right. Her head snaps around, her eyes stare wildly. Farrah barks, "Don’t I seem all right?!" The conversation disintegrates into frothy talk about Ms. Fawcett’s sexiness and how much people like her. Then, while attempting to relate a central park adventure, Farrah loses command of the English language completely. She slaps herself in the face in an attempt to kickstart her weary synapses. A moment of cathartic revelation: Farrah yells, "You’re making fun of me!" The audience applauds. Yes. Yes we are! — M.L.


9. Paula Abdul on Seattle Q13 Fox News affiliate, 2007

Paula Abdul is often accused of being on some form of medication — be it alcohol, painkillers, or Simon Cowell’s heady musk. But this morning-show incident stands out from even her checkered resume. She’s so unfocused that the network had to take a do-over, on live TV, and restart the interview. At least Paula was enjoying herself. Though Bravo has removed her one-season show Hey Paula from its website, we remember her blaming this disastrous interview on exhaustion. But when she says, "Seattle has the best delusional people," we’re pretty sure it takes one to know ’em. — J.C.


8. Jim Everett on ESPN2’s Talk2, 1994

It’s one thing for a sports talk-show host to trash-talk an athlete when he’s on the field. It’s another entirely to trash-talk that same, very large athlete when he’s sitting across from you in-studio. Host Jim Rome did just that to former L.A. Rams quarterback Jim Everett, repeatedly calling him "Chris" (after female tennis player Chris Evert), and referencing Everett shying away from sacks in an ’89 championship game. With their chests puffed up like warring silverbacks, the men verbally spar until Everett says, "I bet you don’t call me Chris again." And then Rome does. It’s rare for actual off-field NFL violence to end up on-camera; it’s usually left in the club, or the ER after someone shoots himself in the leg. It’s even rarer that it’s this hilarious. — M.L.


7. Whitney Houston on Primetime, 2002

In 2002, Barbara Walters interviewed the troubled Bodyguard chanteuse for ABC’s Primetime. Instead of seeing the brassy diva with the golden pipes, audiences got a terse, spacey Houston who sounded like she had been sucking on an exhaust pipe. The singer’s demeanor and laryngitis were odd but hardly the stuff that goes down in the annals of bizarre unscripted TV. No, it was Whitney’s catchy anti-drug jingle that made the history books. Remember kids, don’t smoke rock — dream big and spring for some China White. — C.L.


6. Ol’ Dirty Bastard on MTV News, 1999

The world lost something special when Russell Tyrone Jones died in 2004. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt — even the man’s aliases were entertaining as hell. ODB was a strange man, and nothing illustrated that better than putting him in a room (or on a street, on at an award show) with even-keeled citizens. This collection of outtakes from a sit-down with MTV’s John Norris is almost exhausting to watch. Was ODB just fucking with him or was the man really that damn weird? The good money’s on "that weird." — J.C.

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5. Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman, 1982

David Letterman seems to be a lightning rod for high-concept celebrity weirdness, and nothing exemplifies this phenomenon quite like this staged spat between Taxi star Andy Kaufman and Memphis wrestler Jerry Lawler. To summarize: Kaufman first goaded Lawler into the ring by grappling with large women. After several heated matches, Lawler pile-drove Latka into a neck brace. This long con came to a head in July 1982, when the two unleashed their faux fury with an unwitting Letterman stuck in the middle. Kaufman proved that great comedy doesn’t need punch lines: all you need is a giant Tennessean with a penchant for the absurd. And some well-placed F-bombs. — C.L.


4. James Brown on Sonya Live! In L.A., 1987

James Brown is introduced here as the hardest-working man in show business. But he seems to be working hard mainly at melting his synapses with monumental amounts of cocaine. When questioned about allegedly assaulting his wife, he says, "Let’s talk about some music! I’m concerned, because there’s nothing wrong. The charges were dropped out of love. I’m single and I want to mingle! I smell good. I make love good." Then he moves on to the second coming of Christ. Sensing danger, the anchor tries to get out of the conversation, but James yells with the might of the last drunk to get kicked out of the bar: "But I just got here! And I love you!" The crazy thing? We think he meant it. — M.L.


3. Adam West and Jerry Lawler on Memphis Wrestling, 1977

When Adam West appeared on a Memphis TV station to promote a local car show in 1977, he arrived slurring his speech and wearing what can only be described as "homeless Bat-chic." Jerry "The Evil King of Memphis" Lawler then stopped by, prompting West to inexplicably lecture him on superhero sartorialism and traffic safety. Moments like this are why YouTube exists: the whole tableau is so wonderfully mystifying that it only gets better when watched out of context, particularly when West solemnly tells Lawler, "I’ve heard about your box." It’s like you’re watching his Family Guy audition tape. — C.L.


2. Tom Cruise on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2005

Remember when Tom Cruise was just the really famous actor who managed to dupe us all into watching at least half of Cocktail? The guy who had enough star power to turn down Top Gun until he got to rework the script and take a flight with the Blue Angels on the company dime? Now, previous accomplishments notwithstanding, he’s a couch-jumping maniac. It’s strange to think that this — a manic middle-aged man running around a talk show set shouting unsettling platitudes about love — has replaced, say, the underwear dance-scene from Risky Business as the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the former most-famous-actor-in-the-world. — J.B.


1. Crispin Glover on Late Night with David Letterman, 1987

George McFly is more than just the poster child for bizarre talk-show guests. He is their reigning deity, the god at whose altar weird performance artists worship. Crispin Glover’s Late Night appearance in July of 1987 is arguably the defining moment of this aspect of his career, a purported character experiment so convincing and odd that it actually chased David Letterman off his own stage. And as we’ve seen, it takes a lot to faze Dave. Of course, almost getting kicked in the face will send anyone running for the hills. — J.C.


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The Top 43 Sexiest U.S. Presidents
Ten Former Child Stars You’d Sleep With Today

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