Episode 588 – Randy Fertel

Virtual Memories Show 588:
Randy Fertel

“The paradox of spontaneity is that it’s rhetorical while claiming to be free of rhetoric.”

With WINGING IT: Improv’s Power & Peril in the Age of Trump (Spring Publications), author, professor & philanthropist Randy Fertel explores the role of improvisation & spontaneity in the arts, sciences & culture. We talk about what drew him to the conflict between reason and intuition, the importance of “Yes, And” in more than just a comedic context, the neuroscience of Hot and Cold Cognition, and the moment in graduate school that started him down this path 50 years ago. We get into what improvisation really is, how it underlies creativity and innovation, how Trump embodies its dark side, and how his upbringing in New Orleans may have contributed to his improv-epiphany. We also discuss how canonical authors & works began as outsiders, why the essence of improv is disruption, the importance of ego death and unmediated experience (and why he futilely took heroic amounts of hallucinogens to prepare for a conference panel), the relationship of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his archetypes, his love for Jon Batiste’s 2023 Jazz Fest set, his next project exploring the emergence of global pop culture, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read WINGING IT!

“New Orleans didn’t invent improv, but it did bring improv into popular culture.”

“Getting lost in a novel is the surest way to reset myself.”

“This is the only book I’ve written where I never entered a library. I improvised!”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Randy Fertel is a writer and philanthropist dedicated to the arts, education, New Orleans, and the environment. He holds a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University and is the author of A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation, and The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir. Randy has taught English at Harvard University, Tulane University, LeMoyne College, and the New School for Social Research. He specializes in the literature of the Vietnam War and the literature of exile. In addition to his writing, he is president of the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, named for his mother Ruth Fertel, founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. He lives in New Orleans and New York.

Follow Randy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Randy’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. B/W photo of Randy by . . . someone else. Color one by me. It’s on my instagram.

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