From the set of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
One of America’s most prolific and powerful monologists, Mike Daisey ignited a national controversy when he included elements of fiction in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, his journalistic account of Apple’s labor practices at the Foxconn plant in China. He has since removed the offending elements, and allows the work to be performed royalty-free; to date there have been more than 140 productions worldwide. Daisey has since created monologues inspired by William Shakespeare, Cuba, Chelsea Manning, Disneyland and many other subjects. Enter asked Daisey how he decides which subjects to tackle.
MIKE DAISEY: I’m seeking things that obsess me, first of all. Always. I’m lucky, because I have far more obsessions than will ever be possible to cover in monologues, books, or shows. Some people are less obsessed with everything the way I am. But my obsession is a key starting point—because without the personal passion a subject won’t eventually leaven with humor and rise.
The next vector is asking myself what my culture needs to be talking about. Which is not the same as what it wants to speak about—in fact, they are rarely aligned. My show The Story of the Gun grew out of an obsession with the history of guns in America, and the challenge of telling a story about guns that doesn’t set off the old triggers and get us nowhere. To tell the story so that it sounds new in our ears.
As a theatrical storyteller, it’s my job to dramatize, not document. If I had wanted to be a traditional journalist, I’d have done that with my life—and would have been required to turn in my poetry card and flatten my words until they fit under the edge of a factual door. Instead, I hang my hat with the great fabulists—Mark Twain, David Foster Wallace, Joseph Mitchell—who valued the truth of a story over the bones of its facts.
I didn’t always understand this about myself. I let one of my works, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, be used by journalists—and that was a mistake. Journalism in America isn’t capable of telling the whole of any story, and I learned the hard way that I don’t want to be in their club. There’s an old Jewish proverb my friend recently reminded me of: “What’s truer than the truth? The story.” I try to remember that every day.
It’s my job to dramatize, not document. … to value the truth of a story over the bones of its facts.
I love my job. I’m the only one who can do it for the stories I hear, and I feel called to do it, and when the stories really sing, it’s the best thing I know how to give.