Tom Bergeron to Bristol Palin Conspiracy Theorists: 'F*ck You.'
After a dozen years of consistent emceeing, Tom Bergeron remains one of TV's best and funniest hosts. On Hollywood Squares he traded spicy innuendos with Whoopi Goldberg, and as the host of Dancing with the Stars and America's Funniest Videos he lends a stately air to glitzy proceedings. We caught up with the Emmy-winning Massachusetts native to discuss his favorite funny people, hosting nightmares, and his impatience with Bristol Palin conspiracy theorists.
You have a really smart, droll hosting style that's caught on with America for years. Not to denigrate America's intelligence, but are you surprised by that?
You know, I don't really think about it in terms of having a style. I just kind of basically amuse myself and it usually strikes me as fairly infantile. I'm glad you think it's smart! Particularly with live TV, I have a really good time reacting in the moment to things that are going on around me. I try to think of the viewers' perspective too. If something looks silly to me, I'm guessing it probably looks silly to the viewer and there's no harm in pointing that out. Having said that, on the dancing show, I'm very protective of the couples and the effort they put forth. Everything else is fair game -- the spray tans, the glitter, the extremes of kitsch that we employ. But it seems to work anyway. I think there's an underlying respect for the show that's obvious, and from that foundation I can then poke fun at some of the more extreme elements.
Which couples on Dancing with the Stars have you felt compelled to defend this season or in past seasons?
Nobody in particular, but in general it'll be at any point where I think the judges are going after them and being either unfair or inconsistent in what they're saying to one couple versus another. Sometimes I get it completely wrong. Last week was a case in point where Carrie Ann [Inaba] justly criticized Maksim [Chmerkovskiy], and Brandy and Maks got indignant. They went back and forth, and then Len said, "Your dance was full of this, full of that, full of this," and he was being complimentary. And I said, "But what did you think Carrie Ann was full of?" It was a straight line to swing at, but he used it as an opportunity to defend what Carrie Ann had said, and he kind of put us all in our place. "You two may have had words," meaning Maks and Carrie Ann, "but in fact she had a valid point." That's one of the things the judges know that I'll go at them for if I feel like they're being unfair. They, in turn, have reasons for what they're saying. They're happy to defend themselves.
Is it easy to stay in that hosting zone of dry, diplomatic commentary?
Yeah, I think so. It's interesting to have a friend's perspective on it. Last night Jeff Probst from Survivor was at the show with his mom and his girlfriend. We all went to dinner afterward, and Jeff was saying, "You know, I was watching you" -- we worked together years ago in New York at FX cable -- "It was interesting watching you. You keep the same pace throughout." I knew what he meant. My internal rhythm when I'm doing the show live is to just be sort of watchful. To be listening to everything and not pre-judge where I'm going to go or how I'm going to react, to react honestly in the moment. It's sort of a constant energy, a radar that's turning from one direction to the other. So my reactions tend to be very genuine. I try to make them funny in some cases or when I'm congratulating a couple, I'll try to say something other than just "Good job." Sometimes I'll fall back on that canard though. But there is kind of a mindset I get into when I'm out there, which I kind of like. It's a plugged-in zone I get into -- and I don't know if I answered your question, but there we go!
Would agree that your hosting style is Sajak-ian?
Sajakian. What would that mean?
Well, Pat Sajak keeps a very constant flow, but there's an underlying current of very subversive humor occurring at all times.
Yeah, I think that's fair. No disrespect to Pat, but my video mentor was always [Johnny] Carson. Carson always had complete control on his show and could be supportive and withering. I think Sajak definitely has that quality, and on a show he's done for years. Having done Hollywood Squares, I know that's like five shows a day for I don't know how many days in a row. So it's kind of good to get into a zone where you can wink-wink, nudge-nudge to the viewer occasionally.
Do you miss the old-school, five-a-day grind of game shows at all?
No, I don't. Hollywood Squares was my first, and thus far only, game show. It was a fun format and an interesting time. I had these nine stars to play off, so a lot of my desire to improv came off of that. But I really like and prefer actual live television. This is a great little sandbox for me to play in.
You clearly appreciate funny, off-the-cuff people. Who's the funniest comic foil you've gotten to work with on TV?
That's a really good question. One of my favorites early on when I was doing a show on FX and then on Fox for a season was -- she was the first name who came to mind when you asked that question -- Bonnie Hunt, who is, like you said, smart-funny. I love working with smart-funny people. Just going back and forth and having that kind of rapport. John Ritter was like that, and he was a friend. It was a pleasure to be in that kind of company. There are a number of people that I've had the real benefit of playing with and making laugh. I remember sitting one time at Hollywood Squares -- we'd do three shows, break for lunch, and then do two -- and during one of those lunch breaks there were four of us sitting on the couches. It was me, Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway. I was in heaven. I was in heaven not only picking their brains, but making them laugh. It was such a treat. Whenever I could make Carol or Tim or Harvey laugh, that was like a gold star on my report card.
You won the Daytime Emmy for game show hosting, but you tied with Bob Barker. Was that bizarre?
Well, what felt more bizarre than winning in a tie was winning at all. That was the year that Millionaire was so big on ABC. Because they didn't have a category in the Primetime Emmys in those days for hosting, they put Regis into the Daytime Emmys even though it was a primetime show. The show was so big, he rescued the network. The expectation was that he was going to win. When they announced that category and said, "We have a tie!" and the first winner they said was Bob Barker, we all assumed the next name they'd say would be Regis. When they said my name -- maybe it's on YouTube -- the look of shock on my face was genuine. I just had no expectation. I went up and looked at Regis sitting in the front row with Michael Eisner, who ran Disney at the time, and I said, "Don't feel bad, Regis, Eisner's buying you the Statue of Liberty." Because he really saved the network. I was stunned. I even said when I accepted the award, "I thought I just came for the dinner." I mean, it was a tie, but it was such a shock. I remember waking up in my hotel room at two in the morning to make sure the Emmy was still there, that I hadn't imagined it.
I've heard you say you have no interest in hosting again. You've done a guest stint on Castle, I know, but what other venues would you like to try?
Well, I don't know. I think that was an interview I gave with Broadcasting and Cable, and I think the interviewer was asking if there was anything else I wanted to host. With my current plate with this show and America's Funniest Videos, which we call "the annuity" at my house, I don't have any desire to host anything else now. That may change in the future if these things go away. But besides hosting, apart from live TV, there's no format I'm dying to do. Now I'm at the point in my career in my mid-fifties where I've done this for awhile, and I'm just doing other things like lending my voice to a Disney animated series. Just meeting different creative people in the business. My agent said there was an expression of interest from the How I Met Your Mother people, but they wanted me, if I was available, to play a game show host. And I said, "Well, no." I did the host thing on Castle because it was Castle and it made for a great flow on my network and all that. But the idea of going on an episodic show and playing a host has no real appeal at all. I'd rather play the maniacal killer or something like that.
Do you have any hosting nightmares? Things that could still go wrong on live TV as you run the show?
You know, I guess I had a dream that was the hosting equivalent of being in class, having a test, and not having studied for it. I haven't worked in radio in over 15 years, but the other night a month or so ago, I had this dream I was at my hometown radio station, and the song was ending, and I had no idea what was going on other than I was there. It was the equivalent of being caught naked in class. I was at an open microphone without any idea of what to do.
Let's talk about this season of Dancing with the Stars. Can you gauge audience reaction during the taping? Is there noticeable commotion when Bristol Palin gets the lowest scores but isn't eliminated? Or when--
Here's the thing. Let's address the Bristol thing. That's the thing I get the biggest kick out of on the show. I'm going to put on my political hat. I'm a liberal Democrat, and I state that proudly. But I have no patience with my friends who believe there is a conspiracy keeping Bristol on the show. They'll say, and they're friends of a similar political persuasion though I have friends across the spectrum, "Oh, well! She's still on the show! She's obviously not the best dancer! She gets the lowest scores!" My response to that is similar to my response to the midterm elections. I'll say, "OK, right. So who did you vote for instead of Bristol?" "Uh, well, I don't vote!" "Well, then, f*ck you." I mean, basically! You can clean that up. I have no patience for that! If you don't participate to create a different outcome -- and this can be true in national politics or a TV reality show -- then don't piss and moan if you don't like the way it's playing out. You know, I'm sorry! I think Bristol is clearly not the best dancer here, but she's a charming young woman who's shown an incredible growth from week one to this week. If she happens to get more votes for whatever reason, more power to her. If you don't like it, vote for someone else. But that's been the part of the show that's amused me, how quickly people are to seize on conspiracy theories when people aren't involved in the process.
Jennifer Grey is so great to watch. She might be my favorite contestant ever. What's it like watching her in person?
She's an absolute sweetheart. In some ways, I think she doesn't realize how good she is. She's had a couple of crises of confidence which I think she's weathered nicely. She had our first perfect score last night, and her dad showing up last week -- Joel Grey -- gave her an important and well-timed pep talk. She really is a sweetheart who's doing a wonderful job. She's one of those people in the cast who you think could be hoisting that -- as we say -- coveted mirror-ball trophy.