In the late 70s, Ben Cohen was a rootless pottery teacher, laid off when his school closed down. Jerry Greenfield was a diligent pre-med, realizing he was never going to get into med school. They'd formed a deep friendship years earlier, as the two chubby kids in their middle-school gym class. Their joint reaction to their separate crises was to open a small ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont. That decision would change the face of the industry, and give America a model for a new set of corporate values. At the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington -- just a couple miles from the site where Cohen and Greenfield set up shop in 1978 -- Alec talks to Ben and Jerry in front of a crowd that idolizes their hometown heroes, and the energy is infectious. From their Long Island childhood to the tensions surrounding Ben & Jerry's acquisition by Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2000, the conversation is open, honest, and brimming with the deep bond these two men continue to feel, 40 years after they first put their names together on a sign in Vermont. Thanks to Vermont Public Radio for making it possible.
American Alexandria: Susan Orlean on the Great LA Library Fire
As a staff-writer at the New Yorker, Susan Orlean has embedded with fertility shamans in Bhutan and profiled a dog (a boxer named Biff). Her book The Orchid Thief inspired one of the most successful art-house movies of the past 20 years. Her latest deep dive is the burning of the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. It is, to this day, the most damaging library-fire in U.S. history, but it's almost unknown outside of Southern California because national attention was focused on the Chernobyl meltdown. As with all Orlean's books, the nominal subject is a vehicle to tell human stories: those of the man arrested for the arson, of the cops who investigate, the librarians whose lives were changed, and the preservationists who insisted on rebuilding. It's a topic close to Alec's heart. He and Orlean discuss with warmth and enthusiasm the critical role libraries played in their respective childhoods (Alec is the son of a schoolteacher, after all), and their shared commitment today to the universal ideals of the public library.
Maggie Gyllenhaal Knows What She Wants
Maggie Gyllenhaal's in a good place right now, at least as far as work and family go. Her latest starring role is as a troubled teacher named Lisa Spinelli in The Kindergarten Teacher . It's an unsettling portrayal of, as Gyllenhaal tells Alec, the "f***ing dire" consequences of "starving a vibrant woman's mind." In the film, Lisa's mind-starvation manifests in an unhealthy, exploitative relationship with a kindergartner. It's not an easy thing to watch, and Gyllenhaal tells Alec, "I almost didn't do the movie because I thought, 'no movie is worth disturbing a child, even for a few minutes.'" But her concerns were addressed, she said yes, and the result is a performance Gyllenhaal feels really good about. In fact, she says she feels better and better about each role she takes on these days. It's from this career high that she and Alec talk about The Deuce, her college years, her alternate career in skating, and the happy joining of lives, careers, and vowels in her marriage to Peter Sarsgaard.
The Dual Life of SNL's Steve Higgins
Steve Higgins has two jobs. At 4:30 every day, 4 days a week, Steve announces The Tonight Show , sticks around to play Jimmy Fallon’s straight man, and then runs back upstairs at 30 Rock to keep working on that week’s Saturday Night Live . At SNL, he's in charge of the writers' room and, alongside Lorne Michaels, makes all the big decisions about the shape of the show, and the cast. It’s a heady life for a kid who started a sketch comedy troupe with his brothers in Des Moines after high school. Alec and Steve are real friends, and their conversation shows it, going deep into Higgins' origins as a comic, and into the inner life of Saturday Night Live .
The Passion of Flynn McGarry
After his parents divorced, 10-year-old Flynn McGarry wanted to feel useful, and maybe to reassert some control over his environment, too. So he started cooking for his mom, Meg. A passion was born. Meg began homeschooling him, allowed him to turn his bedroom into a high-end kitchen, and hosted Flynn's pop-up restaurants at their suburban California home. Massive publicity followed, and, this being the internet age, cruel online backlash. Soon, documentary filmmaker Cameron Yates got interested, and embedded with Flynn as he rose and rose over six years, to the threshold of realizing his most lofty culinary dreams -- at age 19. Cameron and Flynn joined Alec for a live event at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the three talk candidly about life under the microscope, about the mixed blessings of precocity, and, most importantly, about the complicated relationship between Flynn and a mother who sees herself as having given up dreams of success as a filmmaker and writer to nurture her family. Cameron's film, Chef Flynn , will be in theaters November 9.