This Peter Howell piece about inside jokes is pretty good, but just because I blanked on “Hey 19” — I don’t know the titles of any Steely Dan songs — doesn’t mean I missed it. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen may have written that letter-to-Owen with a jocular tone, but You, Me and Dupree did rip their song off, and they were definitely half-pissed. A person talking in a flip or cavalier way about something doesn’t mean they’re 100% joking.
What’s “inside” anyway? One of my first big-star interviews was with Jack Nicholson back in ’82, and during our chat I mentioned that aspects of his Shining performance were, to me, an inside joke. Nicholson disputed this. He didn’t say this in so many words but his response was basically who was I, a mere journalist, to assume I had an inside view of things? He wasn’t agitated — he was relaxed and grinning — but I remember him saying, “I’m inside,” meaning somebody else wasn’t.
Our interview took place on a brutally cold day at the Hotel Carlyle, around 10:30 or 10:45 am. When I first arived at the high-up suite I was greeted by publicist Bobby Zarem in the foyer. Nicholson was sitting down the hall and around the corner, but in earshot. “How are ya, Jeff?” Zarem asked. Manhattan had been going through a long frigid spell and I wasn’t wearing a warm-enough jacket that day to cope with 15 degree weather, so the first thing that came to mind was, “Cold as usual.” And a split second later I heard Nicholson doing an imitation of me, saying “cold as usual.”
Like a lot of X-factor guys, Nicholson has a way of jumping the track in terms of conversational threads. We got to talking about cold-weather jackets and he mentioned he expected to head downtown later that day to buy himself a nice warm one. “What are you looking for?”, I asked, meaning what kind of jacket (goose down, motorcyle jacket, retro). And Nicholson answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t known for quite some time.”
I remember he began sipping a Miller High Life in the middle of the interview, and my deciding to drink one also as a gesture of solidarity.
My deepest apologies to anyone who may be thinking I’ve waited too long (48 hours) to riff on Howell’s piece.