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By Wil Forbis
When I lived in Seattle, as I did up until last year, I used to routinely see Mike Daisey and his sketch comedy group, "Up In Your Grill", perform live, late night comedy that far exceeded Saturday Night Live in comic boldness and laughs per minute. But it wasn't until I left town that his career really took off. (Proving, once again, the "Wil Forbis is a black hole for the career potential of anyone near him" theory.) UIYG members started performing on the Seattle television show "The John Report With Bob" and Mike created his one man play, "21 Dog Years: Doing TIme @ Amazon.com", a lampoon of Internet culture based upon his career at Amazon.com. To date, the play and its associated web site, www.mikedaisey.com have had tremendous success, receiving press accolades from a variety of sources such as NPR and Newsweek. "21 Dogs Years'" supporting mini film, "Rear Entry", has been downloaded gazillions of times off his web site and Mike has recently finished negotiations to write a book version of the play for Simon and Shuster, due in 2002. As such, I realized if there would ever be a chance to interview Mike, now would be the time...
Wil: Hey, I ordered a copy of "Lesbian Sex Secrets For Men" from Amazon two years ago. What the fuck happened to it?

Mike Daisey: I intercepted it and have been reading it every evening. Pretty damn fine writing in that book.

Wil: Do you think, as you say in "21 Dog Years", that "nothing you do after Amazon will interest Jeff Bezos." I imagine he's had some partial interest in your play. You haven't had to dodge any falling pianos have you?

Mike Daisey: No pianos, although I've been told by people who work closely with him that senior management talk about the show all the time. To me they are conspicuously silent.

Wil: Despite what some may view as a neo-luddite attitude on your part Mike, I would argue you're definitely taking advantage of technology. For example, because of that fact that you offer a downloadable version of your entire show on the web, I was able to sit back with a rather crusty turkey sandwich in one hand, 211 Steel Reserve malt liquor in the other and watch your show, hundreds of miles from where it was originally performed. (And let me tell you, it was a totally different experience from the many times I ate a Turkey Sandwich and drank a Steel reserve while watching you live.)

However, do you thinking watching a postage stamp sized performance on a computer will ever compete with the real thing?

Mike Daisey: I have to strenuously object to even the perception of me having a neo-luddite attitude about anything. The show is free on the web because I think that be making the story free to everyone it raises the stakes in our cultural discussion about what is going on with the tech sector. Nowhere do I even imply that going backward is an answer--it's not even possible.

I think that live theater always has the potential to be more moving than film because of its transitory intimacy, but the answer for webcasts is more technology--when the image isn't postage sized we'll have better chances to compete as a mature medium.

Wil: As an experienced Internet pioneer with a keen business sense, what's your take? Are we going to have an Amazon in ten years? Or will they be a subsidiary of Wal-Mart?

Mike Daisey: I'm not a pundit, and I'm working hard to stay away from the prediction business. I don't think anyone knows, except that Wal-Mart has made it clear that they'd rather buy off pieces of Amazon after it folds, so a merger seems unlikely.

Wil: Working at Amazon was almost a rite of passage towards Seattle living. I temped at Amazon for about 3 months packaging books as did about 80 percent of the people I knew. What was Amazon's love affair with temp workers? Was it just a way to avoid paying health benefits?

Mike Daisey: Bingo. No health benefits, easy to hire and fire, handy for seasonal work and they make real employees feel superior. It works out very well for Amazon.

Wil: Since I was fired from the place I can't help but take joy in Amazon's misfortune. But doesn't it seem hypocritical for Seattle to delight as Bezos and Co suffer. Amazon almost single-handedly started the Internet boom that employed huge amounts on the youthful, Stranger-reading, coffee-quaffing, IT community. Isn't it seem rather bratty for them to prepare to dance on Amazon's grave? Does anyone really want the Seattle of ten years ago, which was primarily a blue collar town dependent on the whims of Boeing?

Mike Daisey: Well, Boeing is also leaving, so maybe the delight that you think others feel is a veiled rage at gigantic corporations that act as though they owe nothing to the places they inhabit. I still miss Amazon, and I think that most of my colleagues feel the same way--a kind of bitter and bittersweet regret, the way you feel about an ex-girlfriend you're never going to entirely get over.

Wil: What are the responses from former Amazon workmates who see the show?

Mike Daisey: Very positive. They're happy that someone is telling this story, and they often stop me after the show to talk and tell their own stories. I'm also hearing from people from hundreds of other companies all over the world--this is a universal story, and with it streaming through the website 24/7 it connects with a lot of people.

Wil: You actually make an interesting point in the play, where you allude that many of the over-educated college grads who worked for peanuts at Amazon we're in the process of romanticizing themselves as slave-driven, indentured servants out of a Dickens's novel. But, all in all, wasn't Amazon a pretty swell job?

Mike Daisey: Hmmm. Well, if I divide the hours I worked by the compensation I got, I made about $6 an hour or so. So was it better than Burger King? Eh, sometimes, and it could be more interesting--but Burger King doesn't require its followers to adopt their viewpoints and become a hardcore member of the Burger King Generation, so you're probably making more sacrifices at Amazon. I never argue that it's a sweatshop, because if it was, it was a sweatshop we created and stayed at of our own will--I'm more interested in the forces that convince everyone to work this hard for an unobtainable dream.

Wil: Did you really quit Amazon because you had a crisis of conscious and became tired of the empty Internet lifestyle? Or did you got firedů?

Mike Daisey: I always feared I would be fired, though in retrospect I've realized that I was just paranoid because my manager wouldn't speak to me. My departure was just as described in the show--warty, confused and never quite understanding why I had to go until I got far enough from the company to see.

Wil: For a while you were doing some appearance on local comedy show, The John Report with Bob, a mildly amusing show with a great theme song. It got cancelled after a season. What happened?

Mike Daisey: The local station needed to syndicate it in other markets and failed to make that happen. Comedy Central took an interest in picking it up but ended up balking. It would have helped if the show had been more than mildly amusing--that was probably their first mistake.

Wil: You know, I've been thinking of starting up an Internet company that would allow people to order frozen ice cream cones which would be delivered in disposable, refrigerated boxes. Would you have any interest in being Vice President of Equities and Chocolate?

Mike Daisey: Yes, though I will need to be paid in cash with small unmarked bills.

Wil: Is "21 Dog Years" your "Vagina Monologues"?

Mike Daisey: If so, the title would have been "Dot Com Dicks I Have Known".

Wil: The show ends its Seattle run on March 31st. What's next? Letterman? Broadway? South Park?

Mike Daisey: Actually, we're extended through April, and then the show will be going to the San Jose Repertory Theatre and to be performed at a space in New York City. I'm also working on the book version, which will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2002.

 
Observe these related materials

Mike Daisey's Home Page - www.mikedaisey.com

The Up In Your Grill Home Page - www.uiyg.net

Downloadable clips of 21 Dog Years - http://206.253.218.29/21dogyears/index.htm

The web film, Rear Entry - http://www.mikedaisey.com/films.html


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