Anthony Bourdain plays shows. No, not guest shreds with Josh Homme or Handsome Dick Manitoba. Not this either. “It’s me walking out on stage,” he says in an extra gravely New York brogue. He’d been in Tampa the night before at such a show and was just returning to Manhattan after an early morning fight. Whiskey may have guest-starred. “There’s no opening act. No giant blender. No T-shirt cannon. No props. I’ll have a screen, a clicker and me,” he says of the limited engagements.
On June 9, Bourdain makes his New York City debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for 90-plus minutes of shoot-from-the-hip rawness. Tickets are amazingly still available. “I’m not Michael Pollan. I’m not out there addressing sustainable agriculture in this country in a serious way. A silent room for five minutes, I may as well hang myself.” We found out more about this un-silent night from Bourdain himself, in this exclusive interview.
Did you get your whiskey last night?
Yes, and woke up with a bit of a hangover.
Where were you last night?
Tampa with [Eric] Ripert. He and I do a tag team series of talks together. And, I gotta say, we killed.
The show at BAM is the first time you’re playing your hometown. A little scary?
A little scary. I mean, exciting, but scary. It’s always a little frightening when you go on stage the first time in New York.
How do you loosen up for speaking engagements? You’re doing 90 minutes from a cold open—walking out there like you’re Louis CK. You must imbibe a little? Generally, it’s a drink and a beer, but not more than that. It’s a delicate balance between caffeine and alcohol. You obviously don’t want to be slurring, but at the same time you don’t want to be trembling with fear.
What’s on the Anthony Bourdain tour rider?
Beer, preferably local. Red Bull. And a playlist of songs for the theater, while the seats fill up. I once did a gig a while back and they were playing Wings and it was just embarrassing. The music is largely for when I’m waiting offstage—to make me happy and get people pumped.
What’s on the playlist?
Some early Richard Hell and the Voidoids. “Sonic Reducer” by The Dead Boys. Stooges. A little Queens of the Stone Age, some Stones.
Which Stones record? This is a big call…
What’s the audience in for on June 9 in Brooklyn?
I’m not sure yet, I’m still putting it together. I’m working on some things I’ve never done before. Generally, there will be some very, very short clips. I’m not showing clips to the audience, I’m using just a few seconds of reference material as a jumping off point for talking points: The principles of travel and making television. A few second cuts here or there to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
So you’re not padding with any of those bullshit clip reels?
No, god. I really understand the attention span concern. I’m not even running a 60-second clip. That’s an eternity on stage and not what it’s about.
Do you rehearse?
No. It’s an ongoing process. Every once in awhile you get spanked out there. Something doesn’t work and you go back to the drawing board. If you flame out, you do it in public.
OK, some more topics…
Basically, I’m going to talk about a good number of things. Substantive issues. A couple of things I’ve been spoiling to address in a public way. And what I’ve learned in almost 12 years of traveling. How to travel, what I’ve learned about eating. And then just talk about anything that pisses me off that week. It will be a food– and travel-centric discussion for sure.
Anthony Bourdain The Speaker has evolved over time…
I was talking to a lot of stand-up comedians, and the similarities between what we’re doing are pretty extraordinary. You start out in small rooms and hone the material over time. Eventually, you get a big room, by which time hopefully you’ve learned a number of important things about keeping a crowd. You better be funny, and regularly.
What do you do after the shows? Pretty much everybody wants to buy you beers, correct?
Generally, I’m doing my television shows 240 days a year and about 40-plus of these speaking gigs, so there are often many compressed back to back. I’m not going out and getting drunk with local chefs if I’m appearing in Madison or Milwaukee, because I gotta wake up and do it the next day in Detroit or Grand Forks. I learned very early on a book tour that if I’m doing tequila shots with every local chef or line cook, I wouldn’t be alive. Much less performing in front of audiences.
On the topic of autographing body parts: For or against?
Arms, possibly shoulders. Breasts, no. Thighs, stuff like that, no. I’m a married man, raising a girl who will grow up to be a young woman. I don’t want her seeing pictures of daddy signing tits.
Anthony Bourdain is appearing at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn on June 9. Tickets are available here.