Dirt: Head to head
A modest proposal. 🛋️
Lisa Kwon on furniture and public intimacy.
Strap in for quintessential 2009 history: that year, the accordion-wielding parody musician Weird Al Yankovic gave a cherished interview on William Shatner’s talk show Raw Nerve. For the first time, he publicly opened up about the tragic loss of his parents to carbon monoxide poisoning while he was on tour. Fighting back tears, Al revealed that being on the road helped him heal and that if his music helped his fans through tough times, he hoped it would help him, too. A heartwarming (in a very 2009 way) conversation, Al’s interview with Shatner still resurfaces as a “Today I Learned” on Reddit. However, we don’t talk enough about the intimate space that was given to the early-aughts music icon as he grieved: an S-shaped sofa with hugging backrests that positioned both men so that they were meeting each other’s gaze at the center of the furniture piece.
Tete-a-tetes, colloquially known as “gossip” or “courting chairs” due to the way they were used in 19th century parlors, typically have a winding configuration with armrests that wrap and envelop the two participants who are committing to the discreet conversation. Occasionally, a small table splits the furniture into two distinct seats – big enough for two elbows to prop themselves on the surface and support two faces that are leaning into each other. The tete-a-tete is like “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” in chair form.
Raw Nerve was underrated for its use of the tete-a-tete, which was conducive to celebrities revealing a vulnerable facet or history of themselves. Here, Drew Carey was gracefully finding peace with the old journals where he would pick himself apart, or Jenna Jameson was opening up about her painful separation from Jay Grdina. Face to face with Shatner’s gentle yet provocative stare and wandering questions, the guests’ tender moments on Raw Nerve ultimately felt sincere or even surprising. In the show’s quiet yet dense atmosphere, the tete-a-tete sofa reminded famous people that no script can save them from themselves.
So why are we not using gossip chairs for today’s Internet-minded talk shows and tell-all interviews? Between 2009 and now, celebrities feign close friendships as they like and comment on each other’s family vacation photos on social media. They’re making announcements on their own terms; press junkets are a snooze. They go on talk shows to reveal a quirky, embarrassing fact about themselves or – at worst – seek Hollywood’s forgiveness. Do celebrities these days know what it is like to have a single human moment? For the Victorian era’s sake, bring back the tete-a-tetes!
As an interior decorating dilettante (AKA I play Design Home before I go to bed), I have tete-a-tete recommendations for the following talk shows to engender intimate-bordering-awkward moments. “Talk show” is used loosely here to include programs that publicists thrust their clients onto to appear raw, relatable, or fun.
For Ziwe, the perfect tete-a-tete would be a soft pink piece with polymer and vinyl finishing to complement the show’s hyper-femme set design. I’d love nothing more than for the agonizing silence from guests to be heightened by the tension of the fully leaned-in comedian waiting for their responses.
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction needs an Adirondack setup to reflect David Letterman’s “doing-this-for-fun” retiree vibes. As he roves from one celebrity’s stomping grounds to another, bring in the laidback furniture piece for interview segments in which the host and guest can shoot the shit, laugh, and feel some appreciation for the woodwork that physically brings them closer together.
For CBS Morning’s Gayle King (and Gayle King only): a tufted tete-a-tete made of crushed velvet or luxurious linen. I imagine a rotation of vibrant hues ranging from an unhinged lime green to a deep reverberating purple to match the celebrity guest.
Interviews on ABC Nightline need the right balance of contemporary and austere, like this handcrafted tete-a-tete by functional art maker Victor DiNovi. The entire piece feels as if it’s prodding, twisting, and looking for hooks. No celebrity looks comfortable when they agree to a Nightline interview, but many do it for absolution or relevancy; they might as well have the furniture to match.
We ought to make Variety Studio: Actors on Actors less comfortable. There’s a lot of ennoblement happening between A-listers as they talk about how cool they are. The chairs are too plush. Break the air of self-importance and put them in a teetering teté a teté.
For her show Chicken Shop Date, Amelia Dimoldenberg, Internet Queen of Dry Humor, deserves the most romantic tete-a-tete of them all for the way she disarms meticulously prepared celebrities with her non-sequiturs and charmingly blunt questions. Bestow upon her a fantastically faux fur furniture item that puts no common armchair between the guest and her. Make ‘em squirm, your highness.
— Lisa Kwon