THREE QUESTIONS FOR DENZEL WASHINGTON
The best podcast currently available for download is Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period. Hosts W.Kamau Bell & Kevin Avery take listeners on a thought-provoking, laughter-inspiring Denzel-adventure every single week, using their conceit as a gateway into larger discussions about diversity in Hollywood, institutionalized racism, and what defines greatness in art.
Their show continues to evolve beyond the original intent of reviewing Denzel's filmography, as the guests become more varied and more famous, as Denzel fans (or Denzealots) are drawn to the show like moths to a flame, and as Kevin and Kamau's creative efforts expand.
One of the primary reasons the show is so successful and so enjoyable to listen to, apart from the likability and the knowledge of its hosts, is that a certain degree of dramatic tension resides at the show's core. Every episode, purposefully or not, builds to a series of milestones and some of these milestones couldn't have been anticipated when the podcast launched in the fall of 2014 (meeting guests like Ava Duvernay, Spike Lee, Terry Gross, and even releasing custom Denzealot-themed tee-shirts). But there is one particular event Kevin, Kamau, and the Denzealots have always been working toward, and as the show gains momentum this particular event starts to feel not only plausible, but inevitable.
That event is an interview with the man himself, Denzel Washington.
As a Denzealot, I feel the anticipatory anxiety of this potential Denzel interview. Because the podcast-listening process is so intimate and because Kevin & Kamau are so engaged with their listeners, the emotions of the hosts become the emotions of the listener. It feels like we're all getting ready for the Denzel powerpoint presentation before Lord-Denzel and our collective fate hangs in the balance:
If Denzel's on the show how can the show continue afterward? Do I want Denzel on if that means the show can't continue? Am I just being greedy if I hope this show lasts another couple years despite a ready-made, logical conclusion? What will Denzel be like if he's on the show? Will he joke around with Kevin & Kamau and fulfill all of our “Denzel Is The Greatest” fantasies the way Spike Lee was so lovably Spike Lee or will he be aloof? What new questions can Kevin & Kamau really ask him without veering into extreme deep-cut Denzealotry that flies over his head?
I enjoy this semi-anxious train of thought - so I'm not sure it deserves to be called anxious. It is a pure pleasure to get wrapped up in the Denzel-Universe Kevin, Kamau, Liz & Igor (social media managers), Tina Wallace (meme-maker or "MaMemer"), and all the guests and fans have created, and the "worries" that go along with the show are more revealing of one's investment in the process than any form of real uneasiness.
We're all rooting for Kevin & Kamau.
They're like Rocky training in the barn, bench-pressing Adrian, Paulie, and Duke up on a wagon while an elusive, inhuman opponent trains in a highly mechanized gym with state of the art muscle-enhancing tech (or, more accurately, relaxes court-side in his Adidas track suit, entirely unaware that he has a date with destiny in the form of two avid fans).
Like Rocky, we know Kevin & Kamau are going to win in the end...no matter what happens. Also like Rocky, there really isn't an ending to the story of Denzel's greatness, even if the show ends after he's a guest. Maybe a pair of industrious future podcasters will Ryan-Coogler-themselves into Kevin & Kamau's Denzel-Universe and take up the mantle of Denzealotry one day. No matter what, there are few things more enjoyable than considering the life of this show, and that distant yet rapidly approaching point where Denzel graces his loyal believers.
On the latest episode with Terry Gross, Kevin & Kamau begin what will hopefully be an extensive audio training montage that culminates in a discussion with Denzel himself. As they considered, "What's the first question you'd ask him", I considered the same. So I'm going to offer three potential "first Denzel-questions" for the Denzealot's consideration (and, hopefully, amusement). And while it’s three main questions, there’s about ten more questions wrapped up in these three. They’re simple questions, but, much like Denzel himself, they’re a path toward a deeper level of reflection and introspection.
It's time to get wet...
- HOW ARE YOU? -
This is usually a throwaway question that no one wants to ask and that no one wants to answer, because an honest answer to that question typically isn't conducive to the small-talk it's meant to inspire: “I’m quite depressed actually”, “I’m really stressed about my mortgage”, “I’m questioning my purpose in life”.
But, when asked sincerely and in the proper context, this can be a great question that serves as a gateway into deeper topics.
"How are you?" is the first step to really learning about someone if you want to really learn about them. A genuine "how are you" shows care, concern, interest, and it also encourages introspection.
Well…how I am, actually?
If I bumped into Denzel, at some point I might say, "Oh, hey man, how you doin?" after wiping away the tears and suppressing the jitters. Given that Denzel seems like an incredibly down to earth guy, that kind of easy, conversational starting point might be a beneficial approach. One of the reasons Denzel is the greatest is that he is an utterly believable human being. His movie-starness never negates his humanity; in fact it's his believable, grounded representations of humanity that make him a star. That Denzel-realness may be the best place to start, and there's nothing more down to earth than a "How you doin?" or "How are you?".
If Kevin & Kamau get to interview Denzel around the release of The Magnificient Seven, a "How are you?" or "How you doin?" can be framed in the context of the intensity and physically demanding nature of that particular film, which then leads to a discussion about the intensity of all the action films he's made during his "Old Man Action" Era. So "how are you?" becomes "We hear about your intense training regimens for these movies; how are you maintaining this kind of peak physical shape and emotional intensity? Do you feel that wear and tear on a movie like Mag 7 or does movie-magic help you out?"
This can also lead to some trademark Kevin & Kamau self-deprecating humor where they joke about being in worse shape than Denzel (I have no idea if that's actually true, it just seems like a joke they'd make).
I could easily hear Kamau, ”I mean Sam Jackson has it written into his contract that he won't even sprint, but you're climbing on trains, killing the Russian mob, and riding horses - how & why are you doing that when you don't necessarily have to at this point of your career?"
- WHAT'S IT LIKE KNOWING THIS SHOW EXISTS? -
Kevin Avery told a story on episode 46 “An Evening With Denzel” about how he bumped into Denzel Washington in real-life after Denzel gave a talk on acting. When Kevin asked Denzel "Do you know W.Kamau Bell?" Denzel eventually responded, "Oh that's that brother who's always talking about me!" That moment could serve as the perfect entry-point for this inevitable Denzel interview. So many questions are contained in that one moment:
”Do you remember me from that night?”
"What were you thinking when I approached you?"
And all of it could lead to some really funny responses from Denzel.
But the base question for a deeper discussion coming from that first meeting could be something like, "What does it feel like to know this show exists?"
While Denzel knows he's Denzel, it still may be strange, amusing, confusing, or simply interesting that two people created an entire show dedicated to his life's work.
Is it silly to him?
Does he find it validating?
What does it mean to him that he's left such a definitive stamp on popular culture, particularly in a business that is historically (and still) incredibly racist?
Does he feel the show contributes to his mission as an actor and a man?
Has he listened to the show?
It would be great to know what he thinks about all of these things.
An initial question related to the existence of the show itself opens that larger discussion up, and also allows for that tension-easing humor.
- ARE YOU THE GREATEST ACTOR OF ALL TIME...PERIOD? -
This is the first question anyone who’s ever found the show will ask themselves when they subscribe.
That is the question woven into the show’s title. It is a clever prompt that inspires dialogue.
"Is Denzel Washington the greatest actor of all time?"
"Hell yeah, why are you even asking?!"
Kevin & Kamau present their case, and the listener is most likely predisposed to agree, but it's always a fun question to consider. It's always fascinating to hear guests like Spike Lee or Michael Rapaport contextualize Denzel's greatness according to their own value system.
Thematically speaking, I can’t think of a better first question to ask Denzel Washington on the Denzel Washington podcast about how great Denzel Washington is.
Practically speaking, it might be a terrible idea to ask that question.
But again, this question is in keeping with the show’s sense of humor, and that humor could help ease tension and create a comfortable atmosphere. Because the podcast has been so focused on what others think about Denzel, it only seems natural that a conversation with Denzel start with what Denzel thinks about Denzel.
Will he refute the title?
Will he actively endorse it?
Will he begrudgingly endorse it?
Will he just laugh and say, "Next question?"
Because no matter what it would be badass.
It's also more fun to find out about the man than it is to find out about the actor. We see the actor’s work and that work speaks for itself. The man is notoriously private and not always open in his interviews. Learning more about Denzel's life, worldview, faith, passions, and perceptions beyond the specifics of craft will not only help make it the definitive Denzel interview but will, in a roundabout way, offer deeper insight into why his performances look, feel, and sound so great.
And his answer to the question "Are you the greatest actor of all time?" gives him the chance to show his own sense of humor, his humility or lack thereof, his concern for his own legacy, and perhaps some of his self-doubts. In immediately broaching the topic of Denzel's mythological status, it might make it easier to humanize him.
"Are you the greatest actor of all time?" also naturally segues into "Who do you think is the greatest actor of all time?" which would then reveal Denzel's influences and also help prove the point of the show's title.
As I tell all my friends, family, readers, listeners, and followers, Thursday is the best day because that’s when Kevin and Kamau drop new episodes of Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period.
I offered this list mostly because it was fun to write, and I figured some fellow Denzealots might get a kick out of it. I don’t presume to know better than Kevin or Kamau, nor would I suggest they ever do anything in particular with their show, least of all what they should ask Denzel when they finally meet him. I know it will be a great episode, and that there are many great episodes yet to come before that fateful Denzel-Day. I’m along for the ride, grateful that the ride even exists, happy that the hosts are getting the recognition they deserve.
As much as this podcast tell’s the story of our greatest living actor, it also tells the story of Kevin & Kamau’s friendship and how that friendship helps push their careers forward. To hear them laugh, argue, and geek-out every week (except that time when it didn't record) has been an escape from the daily grind that's not only fun, but incredibly important. They have helped preserve and champion the work of a true creative genius, and they have also demonstrated to independent creative minds that passion and positivity finds a way.
As a Denzealot, I hope Kevin & Kamau get to talk to Denzel Washington not because I want to learn anything new about Denzel, but because I want to hear Kevin & Kamau’s joy & satisfaction after having chased down one of their dreams.
That is an inspiring story.
That is the greatest podcast of all time.
That is what they do.