'Daily Show' Writer's 'Genius Of Unspeakable Evil'

Host Liane Hansen talks to Daily Show Executive Producer Josh Lieb about his new book, I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Oliver Watson owns investment banks, baseball teams, banana plantations, television networks, newspaper syndicates, a tobacco company and land in all 50 states. His plan: total world domination. Well, that in elected class president. Oh, didn't I mention that Oliver Watson is only 12 years old and a fictional character? Oliver is the narrator of a new book, "I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President." This is Josh Lieb's first novel. He makes his living as an executive producer of the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and he joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Josh.

Mr. JOSH LIEB (Author, "I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President"): Thank you so much.

HANSEN: You're going to channel this evil genius as we do the interview?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIEB: I'm going to attempt not to do that, but sometimes he does take over.

HANSEN: Well, you have to tell us more about him. I mean, that's something that I can reveal. He has constructed a secret layer under his parent's house. His best friend is a Pitbull mix named Lollypop. Who is this kid?

Mr. LIEB: He's every kid, really. He's every kid want to be. He's - every kid is powerless. Every kid feels weak and put upon. But he's the one who really has what they want, which is this super power of the ultimate brain. And the ultimate financial might to back it up. I also - I do have a dog named Lollypop and I think that's where the comparison ends.

HANSEN: Okay, fair enough. Pigment of your imagination this Oliver, huh?

Mr. LIEB: Absolutely. You know, he admits that he is evil because he doesn't ever want to make things right with the world. He wants to make the world bend to his will.

HANSEN: Do you have your book with you?

Mr. LIEB: I have a copy of it right here.

HANSEN: Excellent.

Mr. LIEB: It is going to be some sort of gotcha moment?

HANSEN: No, it's not. I promise.

Mr. LIEB: Oh, yeah.

HANSEN: I'll just set you up by reminding everybody that Oliver is only 12 and as a minor, he needs a proxy to go out into the world to sign his contracts and run his companies. And in this section, Oliver is talking about how he picked his cover, Lionel Sheldrake.

Mr. LIEB: A little research on the Internet had taught me that Lionel Sheldrake, recovering alcoholic, with an apartment on skid row, used to be Lionel Sheldrake, hot shot insurance executive with a house in Happy Hollow. Then he started drinking and lost it all. He was a native of a good Connecticut suburb and a graduate of Cornell University. His ancestors came over on the Mayflower. All that junk that looks good in the newspaper. I'd chosen well.

I got him a haircut. I bought him a suit. I made him sign a few contracts. And before long, people were saying that Lionel Sheldrake was an important man. Actually, he's a whiny man and I'm getting tired of his excuses. Beefheart, I bark. As Sheldrake prattles on, somewhere in the depths of the control center, one of my minions hears me and obeys my command.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LIEB: The sweetest chord and notes of my favorite song of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band immediately filled the room. I don't hear shattering volume, drumming up Sheldrake completely. My face relaxes into a smile. Nobody understands me like the Captain.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LIEB: And then I frowned because an automated warning voice has risen over the music. In flat, robotic tones it repeats over and over again: daddy is home, daddy is home, daddy is home.

HANSEN: You may have some explaining to do to folks who don't know who Captain Beefheart is.

Mr. LIEB: I - this is an NPR audience. I'm assuming everyone knows.

HANSEN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Right. For - but for the new generation of NPR audiences, I'm the old NPR, what about the new NPR?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIEB: Captain Beefheart, perhaps the greatest Rock & Roll musician of all time. And a sort of evil, I think evil genius in his own right, certainly a genius. And he and his Magic Band produced some of the most amazing music of the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's a kind of thing where it's in the book, I suspect zero percent of my - of the children reading it will have any idea who Captain Beefheart is. But it's a funny name. And so I think they'll enjoy that. And then maybe they'll on the Internet. They'll look him up, they'll listen to some music and they'll be horribly disappointed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But not with the album covers.

Mr. LIEB: No, no, no. The album covers are terrifying. They are fantastic. And in fact, I wrote the book largely listening to "Trout Mask Replica" and "Safe As Milk" over and over again at earsplitting volumes.

HANSEN: Was the book just a way for you to, you know, exercise your Captain Beefheart germs?

Mr. LIEB: That could be it. It was an excuse. I could write it off. I could tell my wife, no. It's important for me to do over and over again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIEB: Yeah. I was calculatedly making myself insane so I could write the book, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Why is Oliver's father his arch enemy?

Mr. LIEB: Oliver's father represents everything that Oliver isn't. Oliver is a fat kid, self indulgent. Oliver's father is thin, judgmental and a goody, goody. He is the head of the local public TV station. Oliver's parents don't realize - see, I don't want to get in trouble here, but Oliver's parents don't realize this that he is this evil genius. They don't know anything about him. And his mother is just as loveable dim bulb. But the difference is his mother loves Oliver for who is, she doesn't know he is a creaton, but she suspects it, but she doesn't care. She loves him, anyway.

HANSEN: Hmm. There's a test of sorts that there always is in a book like this. Oliver decides to run for class president (unintelligible) how to run for class president. And Oliver basically says the only thing you have to do is make posters to put up at school, that's it. And - but he also resorts to spreading rumors about his opponent, you know, that Randy Sparks sleeps naked. Is it just a challenge from his father the reason why Oliver sets his sights on winning this election?

Mr. LIEB: Well, what's interesting is that Oliver actually, you know, does a lot of very important stuff. He owns a lot of very important businesses. He runs networks, he runs countries. But his central challenge in this book is to do something that is absolutely meaningless, which is running for class president in a school election. As he points out, there is really is nothing more impotent than a student council president. They don't do anything. There's no money involved, there is no decisions to be made.

Oliver realizes that this is meaningless. But it has meaning to him because his father has such fun memories of being a student council president when he was a boy. And to his father, being elected to student council president is what makes someone a person with gravitas, as someone who is going to go on in the world and do something with himself. Oliver knows that that's bias but he wants become class president so his father will know that his fat, stupid, selfish son has equaled him.

HANSEN: In the book there are campaign posters, a vote for Oliver Watson is a vote for America, when you began to write the book, did you know that you wanted to include so many of these visual elements?

Mr. LIEB: I did. I did. Yeah. I kind of wanted to feel like a dossier, like, you know, there is transcripts of conversations and photographs taken from hidden cameras. I wanted to - it to feel it was a - this could have really happened. This is an actual file from an actual fat kid's actual secret lair.

HANSEN: Adding the pages of pictures and stuff wasn't just a way to bump up the page count.

Mr. LIEB: It was absolutely not. I want people to think this kid could really exist. He's out there and he's plotting.

HANSEN: Well, you know, when he is embarrassed about something, Oliver has the power to call in his fighter jets…

Mr. LIEB: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: …and I mean, is this all going on in his head? It's tempting to think it is. I mean, it feels like he is a regular overweight kind of sad, 12-year-old, who is basically trying to get along in the world anyway he can.

Mr. LIEB: You know, if you want to teach a college class implying that this is all in his head, then you go right ahead. But, you can get it from the author right here that this is not in his head. He is real.

HANSEN: Well, it's real in your head.

Mr. LIEB: I guess so. I don't know. Yeah, maybe I'm - maybe he is real and I'm not. I don't know.

HANSEN: Well, you're the evil genius that created him.

Mr. LIEB: I hope that I'm not evil. I hope…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIEB: …and thank you for calling me a genius. That's sweet.

HANSEN: No problem. Well, look at what you've done. I mean…

Mr. LIEB: I wrote a book like thousands of other people have done.

HANSEN: Yeah. But you've also worked for a news radio, "The Simpsons" and "The Daily Show."

Mr. LIEB: That's right.

HANSEN: Give me a break.

Mr. LIEB: Oh, you're sweet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You didn't made - I mean, have you checked your soul lately?

Mr. LIEB: My soul is fine. My soul is fine. I've been lucky. I've worked with very nice people throughout. And you can definitely come in contact with some corrosive elements with the people I work with, but everyone I know is good.

HANSEN: You're going to write another one?

Mr. LIEB: I am. I'm absolutely - I'm working on a sequel right now, "I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Take You to the Eight Grade Formal."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIEB: Because genius plus puberty is trouble.

HANSEN: Josh Lieb, executive producer of the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central. His first novel is called "I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President." Josh, thanks a lot.

Mr. LIEB: Oh, thank you so much.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.