Cal Fussman (@calfussman) is a writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine known for his interviews with everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev to Muhammad Ali to Jeff Bezos to Barbara Walters to Tom Hanks to Serena Williams. Make sure to check out his weekly podcast: Big Questions with Cal Fussman.
What We Discuss with Cal Fussman:
- How November 22, 1963 got a young Cal to start asking big questions.
- How Cal learned to build rapport fast during a decade of travel.
- What creates and maintains the kind of curiosity that drives an epic interview.
- Cal’s approach to interviewing and how it differs from that of a journalist.
- Why listening is actually an art form and how we can hone our skills to get the best out of others and ourselves.
- And much more…
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Asking questions and telling stories is a heck of a career if you can get it. But excelling in such a dream job requires a unique set of skills led by an equal mixture of boundless intellectual curiosity, compassion, empathy, and wonder.
Famed Esquire columnist Cal Fussman (Big Questions with Cal Fussman) possesses these skills in abundance from spending decades honing his craft as an interviewer of the world’s biggest and brightest names, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Dr. Dre, Quincy Jones, Woody Allen, Barbara Walters, Pele, Yao Ming, Serena Williams, John Wooden, and Muhammad Ali. Here, he gets comfortable and shares the tricks of his trade with us in this extra long-form conversation. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!
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More About This Show
Attempting to interview Cal Fussman (of Big Questions with Cal Fussman) is probably not much different from dancing with a seasoned Broadway choreographer — you can try to lead all you like, but a shift in footwork guidance is inevitable. It’s not because Cal is pushy. It’s not because Cal is impatient. It’s not because Cal is a domineering control freak. It’s because Cal is genuinely curious about you — whoever you happen to be.
This curiosity about other people has been with Cal for his entire life, but he remembers one very significant date that really laid the groundwork for his future as a professional asker of questions and teller of stories: November 22, 1963.
“Sitting in my second grade class, the teacher walks out of the room,” recalls Cal. “She comes back in wearing the same clothes, but looking completely different — just really pale. She starts talking in a voice so calm, it was eerie. And she tells us that President Kennedy has just been shot. We’re all let home. Everybody goes straight to their television and we find out the president’s been assassinated and a new president’s been sworn in.
“The new president, his name is Lyndon B. Johnson. And I just keep thinking about this guy because I figured, being in second grade, it was the middle initial that helped you become president! Nobody else is called by their middle initial except the president! So if you had a name like Lyndon B. Johnson, you were kind of destined to be president! And that made me think, hold it. This guy’s probably wanted to be president for a long time. Is he happy that he’s president? Or is he sad that he’s president because the only reason he’s president is because of the assassination? Oh! Or maybe he’s scared that they’re going to come after him too now that he’s the president?
“So this thought actually came to me at the kitchen table after my parents had called me over to try to let me know that things were going to be okay. Because I’d just turned seven years old the week before. This really was my first confrontation with death, and they wanted to make sure I’d sleep okay. So they reassured me, telling me, ‘Look, tomorrow morning, you’re going to wake up, have breakfast just like normal, things are going to return just the way they were. Don’t worry about it. Our government’s got this system in place that elevates the vice president and everything’s going to be fine.
“So after they go away, I’m sitting at the table and I’m just having these thoughts about this guy Lyndon B. Johnson. And I can’t figure out what he’s feeling. Is he scared? Is he happy? Is he sad? So I picked up a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote to him! ‘Dear President Johnson, How does it feel?’ It was very sincere, right from the heart. I folded it up, put it in an envelope…went to the mailbox, dropped it in…I basically forgot about the letter…five, six months later, end of May, my mom comes racing up the steps of our apartment in Yonkers, New York holding this envelope in her hands. It’s from the White House, addressed to me! I got a letter from the president!
“What it taught me…was a basic question could get you to the most powerful person on Earth. From that moment on I knew that’s what I was destined to do.”
THANKS, CAL FUSSMAN!
If you enjoyed this session with Cal Fussman, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at [email protected].
Resources from This Episode:
- Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Cal Fussman’s website
- Books by Cal Fussman
- Cal Fussman at Facebook
- Cal Fussman at Medium
- Cal Fussman at Instagram
- Cal Fussman at Twitter
- Cal Fussman at Esquire
- November 22, 1963: Death of the President
- Lyndon B. Johnson
- Juanita D. Roberts
- My Remarkable Journey by Larry King
- Kobe Bryant: Storytelling and the Awareness of Fear, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Tim Ferriss: The Creation of a Bestseller, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- The Rum Diary: A Novel by Hunter S. Thompson
- The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
- Gary Smith at Sports Illustrated
- The 10 Best Things to Do in Castel Viscardo, Trip Advisor
- 2004 Tsunami: Petra Nemcova, the Supermodel Who Survived the Boxing Day Tragedy by Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph
- Kat Graham at Instagram
- Risk: Global Domination
- Melanie Whelan: Growth and Scaling, Big Questions with Cal Fussman
- Muhammad Ali’s Astounding Bursts of Physical Brilliance by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- Study Proves What We All Know: Kids Ask a Whole Lot of Questions by Sunny Chanel, Babble
- Empire On Blood
- What I’ve Learned: Mikhail Gorbachev by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- 3,000 Millennials on a Cruise Ship: An Insider’s Look Into Summit at Sea 2015 by Loic Le Meur
- What I’ve Learned: Jack Welch by Cal Fussman, Esquire
- Welcome to the Magic of David Copperfield
- Gangnam Style by Psy
- SB Projects
- The NeXT Years: Steve Jobs Before His Triumphant Return to Apple by Tom Hormby, Low End Mac