Dayvid Figler Interview
What's literary life like in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is probably the great default for all sorts of people looking for a new place to live. We have great weather, an incredible tax structure and a host of diversions to appeal to so many. As a result it's no surprise that many writers and creative sorts have relocated here. Art and social critic Dave Hickey, Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez , raconteurs Penn and Teller, Cheers and Frasier creator James Brooks -- and maybe dozens of other writers young and old -- live in Las Vegas and come out of their air-conditioned homes when properly coaxed by fledging events like the Vegas Valley Book Festival and other similar events. Of course, more often we are inundated with writers (fiction and non-fiction) who parachute in to groove on our weirdness. You don't have to go farther than cable television to see they are selling our stuff by the bushel. There's a lot of homegrown talent too, but many fail to gain their deserved attention when compared to the hack stuff being published EVERYWHERE. Luckily, that's changing and people are taking note of our city's creative types.
Did you write mostly poetry when you first started performing?
I've always thought of myself more of a commentator than anything else and I think that shows up in my fiction and non-fiction. Poetry started as a lark. Mostly humorous anti-poems. But then Lollapalooza came to town and the slammers who were on that tour seemed as close to the mark of what I was trying to accomplish as anything so I got hooked into that world for a while. Luckily, I only bonded with the bitter, cynics who like myself were only drawn to the dark and funny stuff over the platitude and "earnest" bits. So, yeah, I started out writing "poems" but not seriously. And I certainly don't "slam" on any level anymore, but in some circles I'm called a poet and have gained some notoriety here as such -- which I think is a disservice to the great Las Vegas poets.
It's like the old joke... f*** one sheep, and they call you a sheep f***'er for the rest of your life.
When you were a beginning lawyer, didn't you have a big case involving strip clubs, and did this inform your writing of Grope?
Yes. Every ten years or so, some elected officials go on a moral crusade in Las Vegas and try to "clean up" the town. Typically the masses don't buy it and understand that naughty is the name of our golden goose. As a young lawyer, I was working for a great First Amendment firm (of course most of our business in that arena concerned the "adult industry") and I was on the team of attorneys fighting a county ordinance that would have basically shut down lap dancing in Las Vegas (I know, I'm so proud of my law degree). So yes, I spent copious amounts of time in strip clubs, but it was usually during the day, sequestered away in a tiny back office going through paperwork. We did have a big celebration when we won the case in the main club, but that's just one of many stripper related stories yet to be published.
What sort of stuff do you do for NPR?
I was approached the local public radio affiliate a few years back and they asked if I wanted to do short radio essays on topics of general interest. I decided that when possible, I'd try to make thoughtful, smart but ultimately comedic bits. They did well locally and I'm not sure how, but someone at "All Things Considered" heard them on the Internet at www.knpr.org and asked me to do a demo for a piece with more of a universal appeal. After a bunch of hit and miss, I was finally assigned a producer who has been great. He basically helped me fashion quite a few pieces that were bought and aired.
They tend to have some or other Las Vegas angle at the start but then they go in broader directions. I try to be funny, but sometimes the humor gets cut for different reasons. I'm no David Sedaris...that's for sure.
You were on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire earlier this year. What was that like?
The host Meredeth Viera is one sexy, sexy lady. She didn't stop flirting!
(Actually, I was encouraging it, and may have just misinterpreted her kindness). Honestly, she was great (though she was obsessed with what I wore under my robe when I was a Municipal Court Judge). The actual sitting around and waiting in the back room under florescent lights was a bit rough. Fourteen hours or something (I think that's how they get people to screw up). I was pretty spent by the time I went on camera. Still, I tried to stay upbeat while focusing on scoring some cash. It was a good news, bad news, bad news, good news situation. The good news was that I didn't come across like a complete idiot. The bad news is that they cut out about 40 minutes of our witty exchange including some off-beat comments about Jews and Jesus. (I got a New Testament question). The other bad news is that I got stumped on a question about Middle Eastern beauty techniques at 25,000 dollars and that I guessed anyway and said "eyelashes" when the answer was "eyebrows," so I blew all that money in, well, um, a blink of an eye. The other good news is that I got 1000 dollar consolation prize which paid for a lovely trip to New York where I feasted on knishes and performed at the Bowery Poetry Club.
Do you ever fear that people won't take you seriously as a judge or lawyer because of your writing?
There are so many other reasons why people don't take me seriously as a judge that I could not care less about the writing shaping opinion about me. I like to think that I have a decent legal mind and I've obviously had a lot of success to become a judge in the first place, but I'm also a bit of a goof. I try to tap into it to make it work for me -- and so far so good, especially as far as my former clients are concerned. I think juries tend to listen to what I say because I try to juice up the boring old facts with some good delivery. Give them some fun, Matlocky moments. As a judge, I tend to try to lighten the mood as well. I was in charge of low, low level criminal offenses -- and sometimes you just have to laugh at a guy in a chicken suit being busted for one joint (true case)!
What's your favorite thing about Las Vegas?
The normal underbelly of the seething creature that everyone thinks they know. I love the dreamers from here, who come here and who are eaten alive here. I like how so much has been written about Las Vegas and portrayed in so many different media over the past 50 years, but that it's just the tip of the sand castle. There's so much more to tell and I think the hometown crew is poised pretty well to tell it and finally are getting out there to do it.