My short bio: I write funny stuff and serious stuff for The Washington Post. I have written screenplays with David Simon and (separately) with Dave Barry, and am co-creator, with my son, Dan, of “Barney & Clyde,” a semi-successful newspaper daily comic strip. Some of my serious articles have been widely talked about, for better or worse, such as this:

http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2008-Feature-Writing

And this:

http://www.pulitzer.org/works/2010-Feature-Writing

and this, my favorite:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/18/AR2006011801434.html

I am working on a book based on the premise that there is no such thing as an "ordinary day." To do this, I chose one day at random, by picking numbers out of a hat. Turns out to be Dec. 28, 1986. I'm drilling deep into that one day. I've got plenty of things that made the news on that day, but I'm on serious lookout for interesting true stories from ordinary lives. That's where you all come in, I hope.

But I'm also here for anything you want. Okay, AMA.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/geneweingarten/status/413290089335500800

Comments: 127 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

youalone9 karma

Hi Gene -- huge fan. Do you prefer to insert yourself into stories or not? I notice that, as with all journalists, in some stories you are present (Snowbound, The Great Zucchini) and in others relatively absent (Fatal Distraction)?

GeneWeingarten9 karma

My default mode is: Stay out of the story unless you have no choice. Sometimes, you cannot really tell it truthfully unless you put yourself in it. So much of the Great Zucchini involved telling interplay between me and him, and trying to get around that would have been awkward at best, and dishonest at worst. (It's like the Heisenberg principal: Sometimes the presence of a writer changes the dynamics of what happens. If that's the case, you have no choice but to tell the reader you were there.

jaybeas7 karma

I know you've been a big Obama supporter - have your feelings for him changed since his re-election? Many liberals have somewhat soured on his administration due to things like the various NSA allegations and the use of drones, and others feel like he hasn't done enough on certain liberal issues, such as gay marriage. How would you rate his presidency on a scale of 1-10?

GeneWeingarten5 karma

It's nice having someone intelligent in the White House, again. His numbers have slipped dramatically with me on the disastrous health-care rollout.

Here's an interesting issue: I am a flaming liberal, I value privacy, I don't like Big Brother, and I just can't work myself into a frenzy about the NSA data mining. I see it's POTENTIAL for abuse, but it's just not frosting my shorts, and I'm not sure why. Anyone else in my boat?

deadtous7 karma

What do you think of the obsession with "long-form" these days? Does this mean good things for the future of magazine and feature writing? Or has nothing really changed in terms of popularity, and it's just a new name on an old form?

GeneWeingarten7 karma

Well, it's a new name on an old term, sure. But the great joy and surprise is that it still lives, and is thriving. For a while it looked like the web might kill it, but it turns out that bandwidth is a great thing. "Newspapers" no longer need to worry about "space." Stories can go on and on. The key is restraint: Only let them go on and on if they deserve to.

Nelly__216 karma

I just wanted to say thank you for your piece on Jeffrey MacDonald. I used it in a presentation and forensics essay on the case and it was very useful.

GeneWeingarten7 karma

Does anyone here think Jeffrey MacDonald is innocent of killing his family? Happy to discuss it with you reasonably and respectfully, you pathetic bozo.

boobieaficionado6 karma

Hi Gene,

So now that we're freed from Post-producer tyranny, can we finally talk about pubic hair? Shaved women freak me out.

GeneWeingarten10 karma

Whoa. WE CAN.

Shaved women freak me out, too. Thankfully there are signs that the shameful, paedophilia-feeling trend is on the way out.

I've actually said this before. What I have not been allowed to do is question readers, in a poll, about their personal grooming and preferences. This was deemed too invasive. I still don't know why.

rsporter-1 karma

I assume you like hairy legs and armpits on your women too, then. It's only logical.

GeneWeingarten3 karma

No, I do not. Surely, you see the difference.

GeneWeingarten6 karma

I regard the twenty-year spasm of clear-cutting to be one of those ridiculous developments that everyone will look back on and laugh. Like the pants hanging below the underpants.

moomoomittens5 karma

Can we expect a column mocking Reddit now? There's a lot of material here, it would seem to be one of Reddit's favorite hobbies.

GeneWeingarten16 karma

One thing I have noted about reddit is that it seems to be a home for pointless, knee-jerk cynicism from persons too young to really be that cynical. Now I will get bitterly denounced.

deadtous5 karma

Hi Gene! What makes "The Peekaboo Paradox" your favorite piece?

GeneWeingarten6 karma

It's the only story I've ever written where at every juncture, the facts assembled themselves exactly as I would have assembled them if I were making it up. The best example is that the meaning of the story -- the most immediate meaning -- is that we use humor as a way of coping with our existential fears about life. And at the one moment when I got to confront Eric (spoiler alert) with the central awful fact of his life -- that he'd basically witnessed the murder of a child -- he wound up stopping the conversation by using humor. That didn't HAVE to happen, it just DID happen.

jaybeas5 karma

I follow you on Twitter, and I can't help but notice your regular efforts to have dialogues with Rob Delaney. You don't really do this with any other celebs/comedians (at least not regularly), so it kind of sticks out from the rest of your Twitter feed. I would even venture to say you're a Rob Delaney Twitter groupie. Can you explain your obsession with him?

GeneWeingarten4 karma

I wouldn't call it an obsession, because that sounds icky. I would call it a matter of utilitarianism. There are two things about him that I like. 1) He's really funny. and 2) He has a million followers, one of the view high visibility people who actually says what he thinks and takes risks. (The Justin Biebers of the world never risk squat in the tweets.) So getting RT'd by Delaney puts ME out to a million people. You know?

Emil__M5 karma

Since you know you are going to use their replies in a story, do you have to tell the Butterball employee that anything they say in the call may be used in a newspaper article?

GeneWeingarten5 karma

This is in reference to the prank calls I make to customer service agents. The simple answer is that there has been granted a special dispensation for these columns. I do NOT inform anyone that I am a journalist, because that would totally change the nature of the experience. I'm allowed to do that, basically on the theory that it's the only way to get to the truth, and that customer service reps are already recording YOU. I am also allowed to edit the responses without filling the already-hard-to-follow dialogue with ellipses and brackets and whatnot.

jollywandering5 karma

What's the status of your screenplays?

GeneWeingarten5 karma

One has been purchased outright by Ron Howard. One has been twice optioned. Don't expect either to be coming to a theater near you, anytime soon.

And yes, Ron Howard is as nice a person as he is reputed to be.

jollywandering2 karma

Have you seen any real money from it?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Yes.

notasirishasisound5 karma

In your WaPo chats, people often try to guess what horrible opinion you hold that you refuse to disclose. What's that opinion?

GeneWeingarten6 karma

It's not HORRIBLE, per se. It is a sociopolitical opinion I have, and am not ashamed of having, but it's one that would deeply hurt innocent people if I shared it publicly. So, no. Reddit changes a few things about what I am allowed to say -- it sure as fuck does -- but it doesn't give me license to injure. Or maybe it does, but I won't exercise that license.

TheyCallMeJohnB5 karma

Could you please list some rules of thumb for both sides of the aisle in the writer-copy editor relationship?

GeneWeingarten7 karma

Tragically, copy editors are becoming extinct. I am a huge fan of copyeditors. Note I spelled the word two different ways. A copy editor could have fixed that.

The main rule is for writers: Don't treat copy editors like hired help. Don't expect them to clean up messes you made. Don't rely on them to be your fact checkers. And when someone raises an issue, don't be an asshole. Don't get defensive; they're doing their job. You know what happens to writers who mistreat copy editors? They don't get as good copy editing in the future, because no one wants the hassle of dealing with a prima donna.

I love copy editors. Pat Myers taught me how good and valuable they can be.

BrazosBuddy5 karma

No question, just a comment. I really enjoyed your talk at the Mayborn writers conference in Dallas a couple of years ago. I loved the story of your time spent with the family who didn't vote, and the split-second decision you had to make when you were hanging out with all the guys. That created a lot of online discussions about what to do in cases like that, and I've used that example in my college journalism classes.

GeneWeingarten5 karma

Thanks. Basically, it boiled down to: If you HAVE to smoke pot with a source to get the best possible story, you maybe SHOULD smoke pot to get the best possible story, but be prepared to be punished if it becomes an issue.

Emil__M5 karma

I love the columns that include input from Gina Barreca. How did you first hook up with her, and did you have any idea how long you'd be consulting her for opinions?

GeneWeingarten6 karma

Many years ago, I got a promo in the mail for one of Gina's books. It described her as an expert on feminism and humor, which, to my misogynist mind, sounding like being an expert in pianos and fish. I invited her to a joke-off in my column (joke-off sounds dirty, doesn't it?) figuring I'd wipe the floor with her. Um, I didn't. And I decided I liked getting whipped by her. (ooh.)

jaybeas4 karma

How long does it take to develop each year's Post Hunt? I've been to almost every one (and the one I missed, the team I would've been on came in second, natch), and they're a blast, but I'm guessing it takes a ton of planning to pull off. At what point do you start brainstorming it?

Also, which clue was the biggest logistical nightmare? I seem to recall there being some concern about cannon statues inadvertently aimed in the direction of the White House.

GeneWeingarten7 karma

Dave Barry is coming in to Washington late in January, and that's when he and I and Tom The Butcher start planning. The event is in June.

We've had so many near disasters, I can't really anoint one.

Fartles-and-James4 karma

Gene, you always seem to have a great deal of medical knowledge. I have this thing on my back. Like a lump. Do you think it's a cyst or a boil? Also, what's the difference?

Second, tell me something funny about Bob Woodward that most people don't know.

GeneWeingarten6 karma

If it's a boil the process of lancing it is less painful than the process of injecting lidocaine around it so it won't hurt when lanced. That is a MONSTER.

Woodward has nipple rings. One is just a dignified ring, but the other is a Satan's-head stud.

kylecajones3 karma

Hi Gene! I wasn't alive in 1986 so can't help you there. I grew up near DC but am looking for cool new places or events I haven't been to yet. What's your favorite spot in DC?

GeneWeingarten4 karma

The Maine avenue fish market. You think I am kidding but I am not. Most authentic place around. And great prices on great seafood.

novelty_Poop_Corn3 karma

Your prose on poop inspired me to write the following. These events are based on a true story:

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1hbu5d/what_was_your_worst_public_bathroom_experience/casvpb4?context=3

Warning: graphic depiction of fecal matter in a comedic prose worthy of the Washington Post

Note: I pasted this before with the wrong link, so I re-submitted it so you'll see it. Enjoy!

GeneWeingarten2 karma

I can't take the time to read this. I never would have shoved it out sight unseen at the Wapo, but ... what the hell? I hope it's filthy!

Planetwaves993 karma

Go to archive.org to listen:

Band Grateful Dead Venue Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center Location Oakland, CA
Date 12/28/86 - Sunday posters tickets, passes & laminates

One Cold Rain And Snow ; New Minglewood Blues ; Row Jimmy ; El Paso ; Stagger Lee ; Box Of Rain ; Big Railroad Blues ; The Promised Land

Two Scarlet Begonias ; Fire On The Mountain ; Looks Like Rain ; He's Gone ; Drums ; Space ; The Other One ; Black Peter ; Sugar Magnolia

Encore It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Been there, done that. It's gonna be in the book, for complicated reasons.

ceramicfiver3 karma

Big fan. You helped blossom my ability to write as I discovered -- gasp -- writing can be fun! At a time where I was failing college, you (and Douglas Adams, and a few other humorous writers) inspired the inner English student in me to get one of those degrees.

As a question, how did you hear of reddit and what made you want to do an AMA?

GeneWeingarten3 karma

Well, I got told about reddit by many "youngsters" (read: 50 and under) who recommended I use it to help crowdsource my book. Alas, that doesn't seem to be happening, but.... still fun. And I can say "shit". Shit, my computer crashed back there.

deadtous3 karma

Can you tell us what you've got in the works right now, WaPo feature-wise?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Nuttin, feature-wise. I've given up on features for a couple of years because I am in the process of reporting (and soon, writing) the ultimate feature: A book. That's the one about Sunday December 28, 1986. The one I am hoping for some blindingly brilliant insights (or even dull tips) from all of you. Even those of you young enough to have been in diapers (or in utero) that day. I'm think y'all have parents to ask, and whatnot.

streamstroller3 karma

Oh My! Fan for ages - question regarding your truthfulness about having a 'favorite' kid. My husband and our oldest son are so different that there is a real struggle for connection. I know you and Dan found your connection when he was much older - but hindsight being 20/20, would you have done anything differently when he was a child? (My son is 8).

GeneWeingarten6 karma

Dan swears this didn't permanently scar him, but I know I showed frustration at how slowly he learned to read. His big sister was precocious, and he was not, and I know he knew I was disappointed, though I tried not to show it, be positive, etc. Imagine how I felt when, around age 10, it became clear he had a minor learning disability that definitely slowed his reading.

sanloublues3 karma

[deleted]

GeneWeingarten3 karma

Yikes... apologies to all. Complete computer crash for 13 minutes. ANYONE STILL HERE?

chukc3 karma

Gene, as someone who lives in your neighborhood, what do you dislike most about living that close to Eastern Market?

GeneWeingarten4 karma

Parking on weekends. Eastern Market is a big tourist destination. We sometimes have to stalk pedestrians with purchases, slowly, in our cars, to get their parking spaces when they leave. Makes us feel like predators. Other than that, the perfect nabe.

LTlurker_FTcaller3 karma

Hi Gene - journalist here. On Dec. 28 I was nearly 8 months old my mom was already pregnant again. 6 months pregnant, to be exact. My eventual crib would become the space where the dishwasher was supposed to go, blocked off by the baby gate. Seriously.

If you could go back and say five things to your younger self when you were first starting your career - what would they be?

GeneWeingarten6 karma

One of them would definitely be to avoid the damn heroin. Not good for you. Almost killed me, 30 years later.

shutupbran3 karma

I wish I could help with the 1986 day, but I was not born! Sad. My question is about your process of reporting/writing a story. How long do you report for before you start writing? When do you know that a story is ready to write?

GeneWeingarten6 karma

Good question. I pretty much know I'm ready to write when I know how the story will begin, know how the story will end, and have a pretty good sense of how to get from A to B. That's a little glib, though. The key is that every feature story should be about two things: What it is ostensibly about (a profile of a children's entertainer) and what it is really about, on a larger scale (the meaning of humor.) I also have to feel that I have enough of the first to make a go of using it to explain the second.

Mycareer3 karma

I gotta know...is @fakeweingarten actually you?

fakeweingarten7 karma

No, it is not.

Mycareer2 karma

Hahaha, I ain't even mad.

GeneWeingarten4 karma

The truth is, I don't know who @fakeweingarten is. We once did a column together, but via Twitter. It's kind of exciting. If @fakeweingarten is a woman, it would be REALLY exciting.

OriginalCynical2 karma

Gene, in your most recent chat update, you talked about researching a cover story on astrology, then having to discard it because it didn't produce usable results. How often do you start working on a story then have to discard it as unusable, and how much of that time and effort contributes to the fact that you no longer have time for weekly chats?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

It's rare. My chat went monthly only after I turned part-time, and had to supplement income by doing things like writing books.

windowledge2 karma

years ago, dave barry claimed you were the worlds biggest hypochondriac. now that your body is aging and you actually have crappy stuff happening (like your knees) do you think fascination with things going wrong with your bod is shrinking or growing?

GeneWeingarten4 karma

As I explained in The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life and Death, I am no longer a hypo. I got cured of that by actually getting a fatal disease. I recommend this cure.

sydneywhit2 karma

I must know. Who is the Gangster of Love?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Joe Biden, but he doesn't like to talk about it.

are-you-annie2 karma

Do you know from the start of reporting a story that you will have something to write about? When do you encounter the "step down" that lets you know there is more of a story than meets the eye?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Another good question. Basically, I tell writers they need to always keep in mind a concept of what the story is "really" about -- the big picture. What's hard is that you have to have character. You have to be ready to change that idea and move in another direction if the facts are not meeting your preconceptions.

J-squire2 karma

Do you really hold a secret horrible opinion, or do you just enjoy having people suggest their horrible opinions?

On another note, thanks for finally accepting my Facebook request (though I suppose I could just thank you over there).

GeneWeingarten2 karma

No, I really do. I have an opinion most people would not agree with, but some would. This opinion is known to a few close friends. Some agree with me, some do not, but all are quite clear that they think I should never, ever utter it aloud.

No, it is not racist or misogynist or homophobic or anything like that. It's just ... extreme.

novelty_Poop_Corn1 karma

So you're OK with bestiality?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

No. Bestiality is, by its very nature, rape.

DoubleMbeezy2 karma

Hey Gene,

I remember reading a column by you in the Post magazine responding someone from NY who came down to visit DC, and said that DC was filthy and unfit. Having lived in both cities, as you said in the column, what's the biggest difference between the two cities?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

New York is hugely bigger and overwhelmingly more rude, both of which I consider advantages. Ooh, I recently discovered an old column I wrote, trashing Frank Rich for trashing D.C. I sent it to Rich and we laughed and laughed and fought.

sanloublues2 karma

A lot of your best humor stuff is collaboration work. How do they deal with your sanctimony? (or is the authoritative humorist bit just a character for your columns and chats)

GeneWeingarten2 karma

Hm. You'd have to ask Tom the Butcher about that. I think people who know me recognize the the sanctimony is masking deep insecurity, and that, fundamentally, I am a pathetic anxiety-driven person, a fraud who pretends to certainty rather than confessing the barrenness of his internal landscape. So, it's a tossup.

[deleted]2 karma

I moved from New York to Maryland and hated it. I would read your column in the Washington Post and I got the feeling that you didn't love the area, either.

Am I wrong?

GeneWeingarten2 karma

I lived for years in Bethesda and didn't love that at all. A soulless place. But I now live in Eastern Market. Best nabe I've ever known.

grotty_planet2 karma

Hey Gene. On Dec. 28, 1986 I was 2 years old - not very helpful, I'm afraid. My question: Did you ever feel like you had to choose between being a "serious" journalist and a humor writer? It seems like a rare thing to get to indulge both the way you do. Is it a privilege only Pulitzer winners get, or can the rest of us live a life where we don't have to be Serious Adults all the time (but still get to be some of the time)?

GeneWeingarten3 karma

I've said this before, but: One underwrites the other. If I wrote ONLY stories about children dying in cars, I'd become a brooding melancholic. But in a larger sense, tragedy and comedy are different forms of the same substance (think matter and energy.) Life is terrifying: You can either look at it and laugh, or look at it and cry.

As to Dec. 28, 1986 -- if any of you have any questions about this, or ideas, or things to offer but you don't want to do it in this public forum, I'll take private emails, and keep em private, at gene.weingarten(at)washpost.com