Ophira Eisenberg talks to sex columnist Dan Savage at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, then contestants play a round of This, That, or the Other featuring prescription drugs, Harry Potter spells, and Ikea products.
JONATHAN COULTON: You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Jonathan Coulton. And here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Jonathan. This week's episode is an ode to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. And I feel like some of our most memorable moments have actually been on the road.
EISENBERG: I mean, when we're on the road, it is like we're a rock band on tour, right?
COULTON: It is just like being a rock band on tour. That's right.
COULTON: If we were a rock band...
COULTON: ...What would our band name be?
EISENBERG: Oh, good question. How about Prince?
COULTON: That's a good...
EISENBERG: Or Queen?
COULTON: Both great names.
COULTON: (Laughter) These are all some legal trouble, I think, with these.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.
COULTON: But they're all great names. But you're right. There is a wholly different energy level when we're traveling around the country and performing in different venues.
EISENBERG: I remember when we interviewed sex columnist Dan Savage. We were at San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre. And you could almost feel the love. It was like it was radiating from the audience.
COULTON: Yeah. We talked with him about what it's like being a sex columnist. And then we played a game with him about our audience's sexual preferences and idiosyncrasies.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
EISENBERG: So I'm a straight, married, monogamous woman living in a major city.
DAN SAVAGE: I don't give advice for free.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Don't worry.
SAVAGE: I am a professional advice columnist (laughter).
EISENBERG: I'm totally kidding. I'm totally kidding. I love when I listen to your show - that when people call up, and they're like, I'm a heterosexual, straight, monogamous blah, blah, blah, they almost apologize for being somewhat vanilla.
SAVAGE: Yeah, the tables have turned.
EISENBERG: The tables have turned.
SAVAGE: It's the vanilla, missionary position, marital, heterosexual norms who feel just like freaks. And they are...
SAVAGE: ...Because when you ask people what normal sex is, they say missionary position, opposite sex, within the bounds of matrimony, open to contraception. And that actually statistically is freakishly rare.
SAVAGE: That is not normative sex. Normal is what happens near this theater on any given Saturday night.
EISENBERG: You've been doing this for over 20 years. I remember reading - I remember reading - it was, you know, in little Canadian newspapers, the Georgia Straight or the Vox, where I was living in Canada. And, you know, it was exciting. It was very edgy. But over 20 years, God, the questions - are they the same? Are they different?
SAVAGE: They're really - I've been writing Savage Love for almost 25 years. I'm giving sex advice to the children of people who were childless when they were reading my column, which is scary.
EISENBERG: Have you had to become more political? Like, did you - you didn't start off being political.
SAVAGE: Actually, the column was always political.
EISENBERG: It was always political.
SAVAGE: And I would always get pushback on that because I would start writing about politics. I'd write about choice. I'd write about access to contraception. I'd write about HIV/AIDS. I'd write about queer youth years ago. And, you know, I'd take on politicians. And I would always get these angry letters from conservatives who like my column when I'm not pummeling them.
SAVAGE: And they would say, stick to sex. I don't come to your column for politics. And my response was always, when American politicians leave sex alone, I will leave American politicians alone.
SAVAGE: But they don't. And they can't.
EISENBERG: So what background do you have to have? What kind of schooling do you have to become a sex relationship...
SAVAGE: The only qualification you need to give someone your advice is that idiot was fool enough to ask you for it.
SAVAGE: When you look at, like, Ann Landers - I have no qualifications. I'm just a kicky Midwestern gal with a lot of opinions. You look up advice in the dictionary. It says opinion about what could or should be done. And the only qualification needed to share your opinion is somebody asked you for it.
SAVAGE: That's my qualification.
SAVAGE: And if people - you know, after all these years, if people thought my advice was crappy, they wouldn't ask me for my advice. They'd go, oh, we're going to ask Prudie.
EISENBERG: So in the very beginning, when you were in Madison, Wis...
EISENBERG: ...And you were working at a video store?
SAVAGE: I was.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Which is amazing already.
EISENBERG: It paints such a picture. And a friend was putting - you pitched the column to a friend.
SAVAGE: Accidentally. Tim Keck was one of the co-founders of The Onion. He is one of the two guys who invented writing complete [expletive] in the AP style. That was Tim.
SAVAGE: And he and his friend Chris sold The Onion. And Tim moved to - was moving to Seattle to start The Stranger. And I met him, and he was telling me about it. And I said, oh, you should have an advice column because everybody reads those. You see that Q&A format. You've got to read it. And he said, excellent advice. Write the advice column.
SAVAGE: And I wasn't angling for the gig, which is obvious if you read the first year's worth of columns. I didn't know what I was doing.
EISENBERG: I don't know if you still find yourself needing love, sex, relationship advice.
SAVAGE: I do.
EISENBERG: You do. Who do you go to?
SAVAGE: My mother, who is dead. And she does not visit me...
SAVAGE: ...Or try to kiss me. I wish she did.
EISENBERG: But your mom was a good advice...
SAVAGE: She was a good advice giver.
EISENBERG: That's where you get it from, perhaps.
SAVAGE: My mother was the sort of Dr. Phil for her neighborhood. She was the woman that all these ladies in the neighborhood came to in the '60s and '70s for these coffee klatches. And she would give them advice. And I was the little gay boy who stayed at home and baked cakes with my mother. So I would be there, and I would hear it all. And then my mother would say, and, of course, now you get paid to do what I as a woman did for free. And isn't that the way the world works?
SAVAGE: And then I would say, Ann Landers made a lot more money than I did doing this. So stuff it, Mom.
SAVAGE: And then we would laugh. And she'd tell me to be monogamous. And I'd say, haha, no.
SAVAGE: But I would sometimes - I would talk to her. And she would give me advice. And she was a great advice giver. She's very insightful and empathetic and very supportive of the choices you would make, even if she disagreed with them...
SAVAGE: ...Which was an important skill that I do not share with my mother.
EISENBERG: That is not true. You always - when you give advice, you're super open. You're always saying, like, and if you're into that, that's fine. If you're into that, that's fine. You've just got to make sure...
SAVAGE: So long as you're not harming anyone. You know, sometimes, people say to me, you're the anything-goes guy. You're the libertine. And I'm not. If you read my column I'm often telling people, that's the price of admission you have to pay or you're not going to be able to do that. And that's not OK. Like, I have to come down from - you know, I have to give these rulings. Like, you did wrong.
EISENBERG: Right. So you're like, just, you have to accept your decisions.
SAVAGE: Yes. You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you in a sex context.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Exactly.
SAVAGE: The golden rule applies when your pants are off as well.
EISENBERG: OK. Dan, we have concocted the perfect game for you. Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
SAVAGE: Yes, I am.
EISENBERG: All right, your game is called, What Are We, Savages? So we asked our audience questions. Our audience is filled with nerdy but sexually active millennials. We asked them about their sexual experiences, their habits, their thoughts. And you just have to guess how they responded.
EISENBERG: OK. So put yourself in the mind of someone who likes puns and sex.
SAVAGE: Those millennials and their puns.
EISENBERG: Yeah. They love them.
SAVAGE: It's crazy.
EISENBERG: House musician Jonathan Coulton is going to help us with this quiz. And if you get enough questions right, Nina Stirner (ph) in Philadelphia, Ps., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER prize.
SAVAGE: OK, good. I'll do - I'm bad at puns.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) No, there's no puns in this. We're going to start with some easy ones. We asked our audience, would you rather be in a relationship with someone who is ugly but nice or hot but mean?
SAVAGE: Well, if they live around this theater, hot but mean.
SAVAGE: But that's the sort of question I think people would dishonestly answer because they want to make themselves appear smarter, saner, more thoughtful. And they would pick the former. They would pick nice but not hot because they don't want to admit that they would take hot and mean in a hot second.
EISENBERG: Sixty-nine percent were fooling themselves with just how you said.
EISENBERG: Forget about hot and mean. Hot and dumb - that is the best.
SAVAGE: That's awesome, yeah.
COULTON: Are you segueing to me?
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. That's you.
COULTON: We gave our audience this hypothetical. My spouse and I have not had sex for four years. I still love her, but I've just lost interest. She's been saying she'd like to explore an open marriage. What advice did our audience give? A - as long as she's careful and respectful, it's OK. It'll make her happy. B - Sorry, no. Open marriages never work in the long run. Or C - just have sex with her already. Would it kill you?
SAVAGE: I think they probably went for C.
COULTON: They did - 64 percent. That's right.
COULTON: What did they really think, Dan?
SAVAGE: I think they probably really thought C, but they're wrong.
EISENBERG: What's the right answer?
SAVAGE: So I think they - people should think about B and be open to B. But, of course, an NPR audience is going to go for C every time.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) All right, here's another light one. What percentage of our audience said that they've slept with someone who's first or last name they did not know?
EISENBERG: Twenty-five percent, 50 percent or 75 percent?
SAVAGE: The actual number is 75 percent, but the answer was 25 percent.
EISENBERG: I - they - we have 50.
SAVAGE: An average of the actual answer and - true story. The night I met Terry - one-night stand, picked him up, went home. He was in the shower. I had to go get his ID out of his wallet to remember his name.
SAVAGE: What would you like for breakfast, Terry?
EISENBERG: Final question. We asked our audience in a relationship is it better to love your partner more or to be loved by your partner more?
EISENBERG: Which one?
SAVAGE: Oh, I thought I could just choose both.
EISENBERG: Well, that is kind of accurate - right? - because it always changes a little bit. There's a dynamic.
SAVAGE: Yeah. It swashes around and back and forth.
EISENBERG: But our audience decided which one they would just prefer.
SAVAGE: Well, if you're the loved more, that's more of the power position. And people don't want to feel vulnerable. So I believe people would choose to be the loved more partner.
EISENBERG: The puzzle players did choose that.
SAVAGE: Thank God.
EISENBERG: They said they wanted to be loved more - 53 percent.
SAVAGE: Well, that's almost a tie. That's pretty good.
EISENBERG: Yeah, right. It's almost 50-50. So you know what? I feel like you did well enough for Nina to get that prize.
SAVAGE: OK, shoo (ph).
EISENBERG: You inadvertently answered a lot of my questions, by the way.
EISENBERG: Thank you so much. Dan Savage, everybody.
SAVAGE: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
COULTON: If you're just tuning in, this week's show is dedicated to sex drugs and rock 'n' roll.
EISENBERG: And for our next game, it's an ASK ME ANOTHER classic. It's This, That Or The Other. The categories - Harry Potter spells, IKEA furniture and prescription drugs.
COULTON: All right, so I get prescription drugs. But thematically what do Harry Potter and IKEA have to do with sex and rock 'n' roll.
EISENBERG: Come on, IKEA is the sexiest thing of all time. For example, it is said that 1 in 10 Europeans was conceived on an IKEA bed, all in the showrooms.
COULTON: And in terms of Harry Potter, I guess, really, there's nothing more rock 'n' roll than having a lightning shaped scar on your forehead.
EISENBERG: Yeah. It's like a cool tattoo. Also, chasing the villain that destroyed your family for seven books.
COULTON: Yeah. That's very metal. And, you know, come to think of it, Voldemort probably could have benefited from some prescription drugs.
EISENBERG: Some kind of drug.
EISENBERG: I mean, he a lot of problems.
EISENBERG: Allergies - was that allergies with his face?
COULTON: Allergies? A lot of social anxiety.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Was he allergic to love?
COULTON: Yeah. probably. So I guess this next This, That Or The Other is pretty much on theme.
EISENBERG: Puzzle guru John Chaneski leads this game.
COULTON: Take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
EISENBERG: Jesse Pearlstein. Welcome, Jesse.
EISENBERG: Jesse, you're an artist, teacher and musician?
JESSE PEARLSTEIN: Mm-hmm (ph).
EISENBERG: Braggy - little braggy.
EISENBERG: My producers told me that you were recently in China.
PEARLSTEIN: Yeah, I was living there.
EISENBERG: You were living there? For how long?
PEARLSTEIN: Eight months.
EISENBERG: Eight months? And you DJed out there?
PEARLSTEIN: Yeah. I DJed a little bit. Taught. Voice recorded. Got kicked out for a while. And then I had to come back in through Hong Kong.
EISENBERG: Oh, braggy once again.
PEARLSTEIN: No, wait. I - no - yeah, OK, maybe.
EISENBERG: The audience wants to know what you got kicked out for?
PEARLSTEIN: Oh, I just lost my job and lost my visa and had to flee.
EISENBERG: Oh, you know, the uzh (ph).
PEARLSTEIN: Yeah. It just happened...
EISENBERG: Exactly, boring. Well, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
PEARLSTEIN: Thank you.
EISENBERG: And I'm going to say your name the best I can't.
ALESSANDRO ECHEVARRIA: It's fine.
ECHEVARRIA: Yes, close enough.
EISENBERG: ...Echevarria? No? Say it for me.
ECHEVARRIA: Alessandro Echevarria.
EISENBERG: OK, yeah.
EISENBERG: Echevarria. Alessandro Echevarria. I fall in love with that every time I butcher it. I'm sorry.
ECHEVARRIA: It's quite fine.
EISENBERG: But you're from Italy.
EISENBERG: That's why you have that name.
ECHEVARRIA: Half - half of the name.
EISENBERG: Half of the name. Half of the name.
EISENBERG: And you're a movie nut? You're into - you watch movies all the time?
ECHEVARRIA: Yeah. I have a lot of free time 'cause I'm a freelancer.
EISENBERG: You have a lot of free...
EISENBERG: I think that's called not working.
EISENBERG: Well, you guys are going to have a lot of fun with - this is one of our classic games that we love playing. It's called This, That or the Other. OK, sounds very easy, right?
EISENBERG: Yeah, it's not (laughter). All right...
ECHEVARRIA: You tricked me.
EISENBERG: ...John, why don't you tell us what the categories are?
JOHN CHANESKI, BYLINE: Today's categories are prescription drugs, "Harry Potter" spells and IKEA products. Lots of words that sound like English in a blender, OK? For example, Ophira, Zetia. Is that a prescription drug, "Harry Potter" spell or IKEA product?
EISENBERG: I would say Zetia is a "Harry Potter" spell.
CHANESKI: No, it is a popular cholesterol medicine, Zetia.
CHANESKI: Right. OK, players, we're going to go back and forth between the two of you so there's no ringing in. Whoever gets more correct moves on to our Ask Me One More final round. Ready?
CHANESKI: OK, Alessandro first. Cymbalta.
ECHEVARRIA: That is a prescription drug.
CHANESKI: That is a drug, very good.
CHANESKI: Jesse, BILLY.
CHANESKI: No, it's not a drug.
EISENBERG: What kind of drug is...
PEARLSTEIN: It should be. It really should be.
EISENBERG: It should be.
CHANESKI: Alessandro, you can take it. You can tell us - no points for it.
ECHEVARRIA: It is an IKEA bookcase.
CHANESKI: It is an IKEA bookcase. Yes, it is.
CHANESKI: How many of you have a BILLY in your house?
EISENBERG: It is the only constant in my life, that BILLY bookcase. People come and go, but BILLY's there to stay.
CHANESKI: BILLY stays. Alessandro...
ECHEVARRIA: It is a "Harry Potter" spell.
CHANESKI: Yes, that's a "Harry Potter" spell.
EISENBERG: He said that super-fast.
CHANESKI: Jesse, Risperdal.
CHANESKI: That's a drug, yes.
CHANESKI: It's an anti-psychotic, very good.
EISENBERG: Risperdal is an anti - it stops you from whispering to dolls.
CHANESKI: Whispering to dolls, yes.
PEARLSTEIN: I need that.
CHANESKI: Alessandro, Lumos.
ECHEVARRIA: That is an Ikea product?
CHANESKI: No, that creates a beam of light from a wand's tip. That's a "Harry Potter" spell, yeah.
CHANESKI: Jesse, Nox.
CHANESKI: No, that counteracts the Lumos spell by creating...
CHANESKI: ...Darkness. It turns off lights. Sorry.
EISENBERG: I guess they couldn't just use off?
CHANESKI: I - yeah, I use the clapper at home. That pretty much works for me. Alessandro, EKTORP.
ECHEVARRIA: That sounds like a drug.
CHANESKI: No, it's a line of sofas and love seats from IKEA.
EISENBERG: But you make a good point. I mean...
ECHEVARRIA: It sounds like a fun drug.
EISENBERG: ...How comfy does an EKTORP sound?
ECHEVARRIA: Not very.
EISENBERG: That sounds like it's crisscrossing lasers or something.
ECHEVARRIA: It sounds alive.
CHANESKI: Jesse, Effexor.
CHANESKI: That's a drug.
EISENBERG: Tried it.
CHANESKI: Alessandro, Confringo. Confringo.
ECHEVARRIA: I'm going to go for "Harry Potter" spell.
CHANESKI: Yes, it's a "Harry Potter" spell. It causes objects to explode into flame so...
EISENBERG: Tried it.
CHANESKI: ...Don't want that to be a drug. OK, Jesse, IVAR.
CHANESKI: It is a modular shelving system. Yes, very good.
CHANESKI: Alessandro, SIGNUM.
CHANESKI: A line of desk organizers. Very good, yes.
EISENBERG: I know. It's very gratifying to get it right, isn't it?
EISENBERG: You're like, yeah, I got it, IKEA.
CHANESKI: Protego, Protego.
PEARLSTEIN: Oh, that's "Harry Potter."
CHANESKI: Yeah, yeah.
PEARLSTEIN: I know that one.
EISENBERG: Can I ask you why are you so sure about that one?
PEARLSTEIN: Because, like, Hermione always shouts it - all the time, all the time.
EISENBERG: What does it do?
PEARLSTEIN: It's like a protective barrier thing, I think.
EISENBERG: I love Jesse.
CHANESKI: It causes hexes and curses to rebound back at the attacker, yeah.
PEARLSTEIN: That's what I meant. That's what I meant.
EISENBERG: Yeah, you're right.
CHANESKI: Alessandro, NORDEN, NORDEN.
ECHEVARRIA: I was at IKEA's recently and I remember seeing it.
CHANESKI: Yes, very good, NORDEN, a kind of dining room tables, chairs.
CHANESKI: Jesse, Langlock.
PEARLSTEIN: "Harry Potter."
CHANESKI: It causes the victim's tongue to cleave to the roof of their mouth.
CHANESKI: We have to go to a tiebreaker.
CHANESKI: Get your hands near your bells, gentlemen.
EISENBERG: Very exciting.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ECHEVARRIA: I just rang it. I have no idea. "Harry Potter?"
EISENBERG: It's a good tactic.
ECHEVARRIA: I'm going to go with "Harry Potter."
CHANESKI: It's not "Harry Potter."
PEARLSTEIN: It has to be. It totally is.
CHANESKI: You didn't have a strategy for this. No, it's a woven storage basket from IKEA.
EISENBERG: Wow, we still have a tiebreaker. Do you guys fist fight or...
ECHEVARRIA: Yeah, I think...
CHANESKI: Let's find another one.
PEARLSTEIN: Let's see it.
EISENBERG: We're going to write a question right now.
CHANESKI: Get your hands ready. Enbrel.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
CHANESKI: Drug is correct.
(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN SONG, "WE WILL ROCK YOU")
EISENBERG: Coming up, Jonathan Coulton and our audience join forces to recreate one of the all-time greatest stadium songs. I'm talking about the Queen classic "We Will Rock You." Then we'll have our most provocative final round ever. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.