He”s been called “the WASP Woody Allen,” “the sit down comedian” and a host of other names, but Spalding Gray isn”t one to label himself. The 59-year-old show biz veteran, author of 18 monologues and star of such movies as “The Killing Fields,” prefers to let his fans characterize his offbeat humor. Tomorrow night, Gray will turn the spotlight away from himself and onto the audience with his touring show, “Interviewing the Audience.” Four lucky individuals will join him on stage in what is sure to be a night of hilarious anecdotes and touching moments.

Paul Wong
The WASPy Woody speaks with a young audience member.<br><br>Courtesy of Major Events Office

Gray”s career success has allowed him to work in several mediums. He used his experience from working on “The Killing Fields” to develop a four-hour monologue, which was later adapted into the 1987 Jonathan Demme film, “Swimming to Cambodia.” He”s toured across the United States, Europe and Australia with his monologues, the latest of which is called “It”s a Slippery Slope.” Gray recently finished “How High,” a film about two rappers who go to Harvard. Ironically, he portrays an African American studies professor who feels guilty about being white. “It”s kind of like a mad professor, and I work that way in my monologues,” said Gray. “I do spinoffs. They are like comic lectures in a way.”

The intuitiveness and wit that Gray brings to his work transfers over to “Interviewing the Audience.” Before each show, Gray goes into the lobby and spends about 30 minutes chatting with audience members. He writes 15 names on separate cards and then draws four from the pile. But Gray doesn”t pick just anybody he seeks out people who look like they have something interesting to say, whether they are nine or 79-years-old. “I just look for a person who”s responsive but not overly desirous to expose themselves,” he said. “Someone that can have a good conversation, a public conversation.”

It is the public nature of “Interviewing the Audience” that causes the audience to empathize with the person on stage. Gray”s curiosity of the human experience probes him into a variety of lives, making him quite the therapist. He often begins his interviews with questions such as “What did you do today?” or “Who drove you to the theater?” Sometimes such questions will lead into deeper stories, complete with the funny anecdotes that Gray looks forward to hearing.

“A response always generates another question,” he said. “It”s endless if the person is open in a relatively honest way, and a creative way in the sense that they spell out the details.”

Though most of Gray”s interviews generate funny snapshots of life, some carry a more serious tone. A few years ago, he interviewed a woman whose daughter was murdered. Though the town had heard of it on the news, few had met the mother. At the end of the show, the audience cheered in a standing ovation for the woman. “It was a healing piece for her it was just an incredible experience,” Gray said. “And I just tried to act as a facilitator and a guide through her story.”

More than anything, Gray looks for a humbleness and a sense of irony in his interviewees. While some might liken “Interviewing the Audience” to a talk show, Gray believes the absence of television cameras makes for a more open format. “Unlike talk shows, it”s not planned it”s serendipitous,” he said. “Coincidences are remarkable because it”s always in real time. It”s amazing.”

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