Lessons I learned from Terry Gross

In a very literal way, I’ve learned a ton from Terry Gross. Her interviews, both insightful and friendly, have given me entirely new insight on Amy Schumer’s humor and helped me obtain a fuller understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. But on top of all the cultural commentary, she’s also taught me how to be a smart, inquisitive woman — and I know I’m not alone in this. Here are just a sampling of the things I’ve learned as an avid Fresh Air listener and unabashed Terry Gross devotee.

Everyone has something to say

Now, I know that the Fresh Air staff thoroughly vets each interviewee that comes on their broadcast. But this is a show that gives Seth MacFarlane the same amount of air time as Maya Angelou. In Terry’s world, actors, novelists, directors, and scientists all deserve to be heard. If Terry can make it through an interview with a mortician (which was actually super interesting, by the way), I can suck it up when my fiancé wants to watch the NBA draft or when my mom’s itching to attend a mother-daughter mindfulness seminar. Who knows, it could be more compelling than I’d ever expect.

Always come prepared

Terry famously approaches each interview with an Eagle Scout level of preparedness — she reads every book written, watches every movie on IMDB, digs up quotes her subjects forgot they said. Meanwhile, I completely panic when I have to pack an overnight bag. This is probably why Terry has a Peabody Award and all I’ve got to brag about is an All-Star Profile Status on LinkedIn. But thanks to her, I’m inspired to be more relentless, thorough, and less likely to forget to pack my contacts.

There’s no need to be a know-it-all

Sure, Terry can build a heck of a dossier on each interview subject. But she’s never afraid to be wrong. If she misremembers which year a guest got divorced, she’ll leave in the correction. My most cherished example is this exchange with a former prisoner and memoirist:

Guest: “Snitches get stitches, if you hadn’t heard.”
Terry: “I hadn’t heard that particular rhyme, but I’m familiar with that idea.”

If not knowing prison vernacular is wrong, I don’t want Terry to be right. And more power to her! She reminds us all that no matter how smart you are, you can still stand to be humble.

It’s great to be a fan

Given the number of times Terry has featured Matthew Weiner, Bryan Cranston, and Louis CK on her show, I think it’s pretty safe to say that her favorite TV shows are Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and oh, maybe Louie. And she makes no apologies for it. Terry has great taste, and she leans into it.

It’s okay to delegate

In Parks & Rec’s perfect NPR spoof, the honey-voice host discloses that he’s filling in for a fill in (and even name drops David Bianculli, a frequent Fresh Air contributor). It’s spot on — Terry often passes on interviews to her colleagues. And who can blame her? She already does a superhuman amount of work. I really don’t know how she’d find time to sleep if she didn’t pass off some of the legwork to Dave Davies. Thank you, Terry. Now I don’t feel guilty about delegating trash duty..

Stay curious

If there’s one thing we can all take away from Terry Gross’s long, impressive career, it’s that there’s always room to learn. “I’ve always been really curious about things and slightly confused by the world, and I think someone who feels that way is in a good position to be the one asking questions,” the Fresh Air host has explained. My takeaway: If you can’t make sense of something — from Ikea instructions to Greece’s economic crisis — pull a Terry and just ask.

[Image courtesy NPR]