Interview: Harry Connick, Jr.
Posted on February 3, 2017 at 3:52 pm
I love “Harry,” the free-wheeling, upbeat, always-entertaining talk show hosted by Harry Connick, Jr. The New Orleans-born actor/singer/musician gives the show a Big Easy vibe, always making his guests and his audience feel as though we’re in his living room. It was a great pleasure to talk to him about what he does to make the show welcoming to his guests and his audience — and his favorite place to eat in his famously food-centric home town.
What is the biggest challenge of doing a show in front of a live audience?
That’s my favorite part to be honest with you. Being a performer and having so much experience playing in front of a live crowd, that’s just what I love to do. I think if there were a challenge it would be normally when I perform I’m sort of the only person making the decisions as to how the show is going to go, when I play, when I sing, when I talk, when other people solo, those are all decisions that I make. When you do a television show like this there are so many other people involved regarding the pace and the structure of the show. I don’t really think of that as a challenge. It’s just more of a collaborative effort and that is relatively new for me but it’s just a really cool process to be involved with a lot of talented people versus doing it all myself.
How do you cope when things go wrong in front of the audience?
I don’t know if I call it things going wrong. Things happen all the time that we didn’t plan but those are the type of things that are the most exciting for me. Those are the moment that we live for. I remember one time we had a guest who didn’t show up and I went into the audience and grabbed some lady and brought her onstage and she didn’t know who the guest was but I made her sit in the chair and I interviewed her as if she were the guest and then the producer came and whispered the answers that only he would have known, like for example, “When are you going on tour again? and she just said “Oh I’ll be on tour from July to whatever.’ Those are the types of things that we really look forward to because my whole show is extremely spontaneous and many times I go out not being aware of a lot of the details about what’s going to happen because I like to kind of experience things with the audience. So, we love that stuff when it happens.
I really enjoyed when you had that super fan of Megan Good come on and he was so excited. Who makes you become a total superfan?
I feel like that just towards everybody that sits in that chair. Anytime somebody sits down, they’re bringing something that I don’t know how to do, certainly not from their perspective so I always end up learning something from everyone whether they are a celebrity or not. It’s a great thrill to see things through their eyes. I mean obviously there are some people that are incredibly accomplished. Laurence Fishburne was on the other day and guests like that are always inspiring. But I had an 18-year-old girl from Detroit who made it her life’s mission to raise awareness and give aid to the homeless and it’s become a big deal in her town, a lot of churches and groups are jumping on board trying to help and I was as impressed with her as I was with Laurence Fishburne. So I take those opportunities very seriously because ultimately there’s a lot to learn from everyone.
Do you have a technique for making guests, especially those who are not used to being in front of an audience feel comfortable?
I don’t really know if they are comfortable or nervous when they come out but it’s my job to make that person feel like the only person in the world for the time that they are out there, The way I do it is if it’s Laurence Fishburne and he was promoting a movie that he did when he played Nelson Mandela I made sure I watched it, I know everything about Laurence Fishburne so that I don’t sit up there with the blue note cards and make him feel like he’s been interviewed. Although there’s nothing wrong with that for some folks, but when he sits down with me it’s a blank slate and I look at him and ask him questions and listen and it turns into a conversation. The same thing with that young lady from Detroit, I knew everything about what she was doing. That’s what the host is supposed to do, to make their guests feel comfortable. Every other part of the show I don’t really know what is about to happen which is what I wanted because I like things to be spontaneous but it’s really important for me to make sure that every guest is made to feel welcome and that’s how I do it.
How do you see the importance of the music on the show? What genres do you feature?
Just to have music in general no matter what it is, is really important. There are no bands on daytime TV. But I have not only a band but I have my band which has some of the best musicians in the world playing every single day. So if you’re lucky enough to see them in the studio audience, you’re hearing them play through the commercials, before the show, after the show. It’s just a big party in there with this amazing group of musicians. And the music that I’ve written for the show spans a huge gamut of styles from jazz to funk to EDM to country to samba to merengue. I put in everything because I want everybody to feel like they have a piece of the music on the show.
It’s just an incredible opportunity to have a nationally syndicated show and have real people playing real instruments. One of my trombone players is an African-American guy from Miami. He said, “’m a trombone player, I’m a black man, and this is an incredible responsibility and opportunity for young musicians watching. They may end up making a career decision because they see somebody that looks like them playing trombone on television.” That’s an immense honor for me to be able to provide that opportunity for these guys. I can only imagine what it must be like for young kids to turn on the TV and see these musicians playing right in the middle of the day. That’s a huge thrill for me to be able to be a part of that.
Do your daughters watch the show? Do they like it?
They love it, and my daughters they come to the show a lot. One of my daughters actually works for me at the show so she’s there every day. Yesterday I called her over during a commercial break and put my arms around her. It’s very loud in there because of the music and I kind of whispered in her ear, “I love having you here.” It is such a dream when you raise your kids and you never know what’s going to happen. I get to have one of them there every day and it’s just a great sort of extra layer to our relationship that is really cool. One of my daughters is away at school. It’s hard for her to watch it every day but she sees things online and she’s always telling me what she likes. And my other daughter who’s in eighth grade, she comes whenever she has a half day or day off so she was there yesterday actually and it was just so fun to have them there. They are loving it and they are so supportive and it’s really a nice feeling.
I hear that “Will And Grace,” one of the greatest shows of all times is coming back. Are you going to be a part of that?
I only found out about it because it was in the news. I would love to do it if they call. I’m not sure if my schedule would work out with their schedule but it’s so exciting for everyone. We’re all pretty fired up about it.
What’s the best advice you ever got about performing?
It wasn’t just about performing at it was from my dad. He was a lawyer, a District Attorney in New Orleans for about 30 years. He said, “Be on time and be nice to people.” As basic as that sounds, if you can just show up when you’re supposed to show and treat everyone with kindness it’s amazing how much easier your life can be. It’s something that he does and it’s something that I try to do as much as I can.
How has the world of social media affected the way that you get the word out sometimes on the show?
I was late to the game. I didn’t start until around 3 or 4 years ago. I guess but it has been an amazing way to let people know who is going to be on, the types of things that we think people would like to see. My team goes through all of those comments. I find that it can be all-consuming if you get caught up in the routine of that but the things that I have seen, the responses have been just overwhelmingly positive and it’s so encouraging, the things people say, like “thank you for doing the show,” which is just a reminder of how humbling this can be. You have a show that comes into people’s living rooms in every market in the United States every day, sometimes twice a day. It is just an incredible feeling and responsibility and it’s humbling really so I think social media has been a big part of getting the word out.
I really like the way that your show is a safe space for kindness, creativity, and good news.
Oh, that means a lot. You know faith and family and community, these are all things that I think we can represent without preaching to the people. Nobody wants to hear me come out and shove my values down their throat but I think all of us or at least most of us in this country are really good people, despite our differences, which is I think one of the great points of our country because we do come from different backgrounds and beliefs. Most of us are good people in this country. There are so many great people and it makes me so proud to be an American. I think by example I can try to do what I think is important. You know there’s a lot of people who get on TV and they talk politics, they talk social issues and they are far better equipped to do that than I am which is why all I really want to do is celebrate aspirational ideals in people and inspirational things. It’s hard to find that on TV especially daytime TV. We wanted a show that felt like a party in the middle of the day, music and uplifting stories and celebrating women and celebrating things that we all should be proud of. I think those transcend sort of any political differences or differences in religion. These are the things that we want to try to show rather than preach about.
You come from New Orleans, in my opinion the greatest restaurant city in the world. Where’s your favorite place to get a good meal there?
My favourite place is pretty new, it’s only been there for a few years it’s called Cava and it’s in Lakeview which is the neighbourhood I grew up in and man — it is just amazing. They don’t even have a freezer, that’s how fresh their seafood is. It is so good, it’s real New Orleans food in a real local environment. I just love it there.