Produced by the Department of Media Relations & Publications
 

Noh's Way: Be an Honest Critic

May 12, 2010

David Noh was born and raised in Hawaii and attended Punahou Academy, the same school as President Obama—although at a different time. Noh fulfilled his dream of coming to New York, trying his hand at acting and ultimately finding his calling in writing.

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Transcript

00:00

[MUSIC]

VINCE BRACY:

This is Vince Bracy, a student at Lehman College. David Noh was born and raised in Hawaii and attended Punahou Academy, the same school as President Obama—although at a different time. Noh fulfilled his dream of coming to New York, trying his hand at acting and ultimately finding his calling in writing.

Today, he is a critic and covers the arts and entertainment scene for several publications, as well as his own blog. In this segment, he is interviewed by award-winning actress Marilyn Sokol. She's a professor in Lehman's Department of Journalism, Communication and Theatre.

00:39

MARILYN SOKOL:

Hi, everybody. I'm Marilyn Sokol, the host of The Working Professional, and our student body is here today to meet and greet our guest, Mr. David Noh, noted journalist, showbiz journalist. (APPLAUSE)

DAVID NOH:

Thank you.

MARILYN SOKOL:

So, David, you have a blog (CHUCKLE), www.nohway.wordpress.com, yes?

DAVID NOH:

Excellent, yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

And what do you do on that blog?

DAVID NOH:

The way the journalism profession is going, print is drying up, as you probably all know. And broadcasts can be limited. And of course, the blog permits you to write about what you wanna write and say what you wanna say-- with no interference. And in that way, it's wonderful, I think.

01:32

MARILYN SOKOL:

I wanna talk about your being from Hawaii, your being Korean, how you felt growing up in Hawaii because we have people here from different countries.

DAVID NOH:

Sure. I was born and raised in Hawaii. I went to the same school as Barack Obama, actually. It was--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Pretty exciting--

DAVID NOH:

--private school called Punahou that was started by missionaries. And like him, if you read his autobiography, I felt like a fish out of water. The Hawaiian kids and the white kids were very cool. But if you were Asian or not a jock or that usual thing, or artsy or whatever, you know, you're out in the cold with the cliques.

02:09

You can imagine what it was like for Barack Obama, being the only black kid there, where, like, already that was, scarce in Hawaii to begin with. And I was one of those weird kids that dreamed about coming to New York. Everyone else is outside surfing and playing. And I'm reading, like, Variety (CHUCKLE), "Wow, what did Hair make this week?" You know? (CHUCKLE) In the box office, you know?

MARILYN SOKOL:

So at that time, you wanted to be an actor.

DAVID NOH:

I really wanted to be a writer, actually--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, really?

DAVID NOH:

--more-- yeah, I always wanted to do what I ended up doing, but I had to go a long way around.

02:37

MARILYN SOKOL:

So you had to act--

DAVID NOH:

And I dreamed of coming to New York. And when-- I was a teenager, my parents said, "Okay, we're gonna go to New York and you get to go. And since you know about the theater, you get to pick five shows for every night we're there."

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

"And you get to see." And it was a time where Broadway was, like, at its last kinda great peak. So I got to see Hair, like the original production of Hair. I got to see-- Follies, famous-- Stephen Sondheim show, No, No, Nanette-- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, golly.

DAVID NOH:

And I went by myself 'cause they weren't interested to see a show called The Beggar's Opera. But in this--

03:13

MARILYN SOKOL:

--who you saw.

DAVID NOH:

--in this cast, was Marilyn Sokol. (LAUGH) Can you believe it? This hot, young, Marilyn Sokol. (WHISTLES) (LAUGH) And it was this-- it was the sexiest production I had ever seen.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Well, the costumes, you know, cause cleavage, you know.

DAVID NOH:

It was completely raunchy. And all you guys did was grab each other's crotches for three hours.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Really?

DAVID NOH:

You don't remember that at all?

03:37

MARILYN SOKOL:

I didn't do that, no.

DAVID NOH:

You did it. (LAUGH) I remember, like, my eyes were bugging out, you know?

MARILYN SOKOL:

By the way, I have to tell you something that occurred while we were doing the Beggar's Opera. You know on days when you only had an evening performance, the costume people would come in and either clean the costumes or refresh them. So, one of the stage managers came in one day. And on the stage was a costume person, you know, in my dress, going (MAKES SINGING NOISES). He was fired. (LAUGH)

DAVID NOH:

Oh, he-- he (CHUCKLE) was fired.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah, he-- yes. (LAUGH)

DAVID NOH:

So, nothing's changed, basically in (CHUCKLE) all these years.

04:23

MARILYN SOKOL:

No, for some reason, I thought everyone understood, you know, that it was a he. Okay, so then you went--

DAVID NOH:

Back to Hawaii and I just schemed and dreamed any way I could get back to New York. And of course that was school, right? So, 18, I graduate. And I was off that rock. I spent a year or two in California and said, "No, this ain't happening, you know? I should've just come to New York directly." And I came here. I enrolled at The New School 'cause I had, like, no, preparation at all. I just knew I wanted to be here desperately.

And my first week I was applying for the registration. This guy taking the information said, "Are you an actor?" And I said, "Well, I could be." And he said, "Well, I have a show that I'm desperate to find an Asian actor." Now, this was 20 or more years ago. And there were not that many Asian people. If you're an Asian actor, you got cast whether you had experience or anything because they were so desperate, and I got--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

--cast in my first Off-Broadway show like that.

05:16

MARILYN SOKOL:

And what-- do you recall the title?

DAVID NOH:

It was called A Mass Murder in the Balcony of the Old Ritz Rialto.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh. (LAUGH) Editing was not the strong suit.

DAVID NOH:

It was a musical set in this broken-down old sleazy movie house that they used to have on 42nd Street before they cleaned it up--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah, they were porno, actually. (CHUCKLE)

DAVID NOH:

Kinda porno, right? Homeless people would be there and prostitutes would take their tricks there. And these guys had this idea to do this show about the people who hung out in that theater. (CHUCKLE) And they had a role for a young Asian drama student.

05:51

MARILYN SOKOL:

And want-- yes.

DAVID NOH:

Which is (CHUCKLE) what I was. So it was really weird. But I realized early on that I would get a lot of shows. I would audition really well. And also there weren't that many actors around. But I would hate being in the shows. I would really dread it. I would have stage fright. Like, even today, once you get on, you're fine. So, it took me a long time to realize that my first love was watching acting, observing it, analyzing, you know, taking the joy from other people who really loved what they were doing.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Very important to find that which propels you. You know? That which makes you wanna get up in the morning and do what you do, right?

DAVID NOH:

Yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

So then you studied, though, at Stella Adler.

DAVID NOH:

Yeah. Yeah, I studied her scene class. And she would walk in about 15 to half an hour late to the (CHUCKLE) class, like a queen, right?

06:43

MARILYN SOKOL:

Dressed very flamboyantly.

DAVID NOH:

Always dressed to the hilt.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yes.

DAVID NOH:

Would sit in this big straw-- you know those straw chairs that look like a throne, you know, you get at, like Pier 1, you know? (CHUCKLE) That was her chair.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah, wicker, wicker.

DAVID NOH:

And she had one class where she said, "I want everyone to come up with a song that they wanna sing for the first time." We'd done all this Shakespeare and stuff. And these kids came up and were singing, like, the worst crap I ever heard. It was like The Impossible Dream, really corny. So I went up and I said, "I wanna sing this Gershwin song called 'S Wonderful." Know the song? (SINGING WITH MARILYN) 'S wonderful, 's marvelous, exactly.

07:15

MARILYN SOKOL:

(STILL SINGING) You should care for me.

DAVID NOH:

And it's a sweet little song. And I went up there. And I think she was so happy to hear a decent song that she said, "I want you to sing it again with me." And she must've been about 75, 80. And she said, "I'm gonna sit with you. Sing it to me." And she turned into a 16-year-old girl before my eyes, like, being courted for the first time, you know, by her boyfriend. And I said, "Wow, that's really, really special."

MARILYN SOKOL:

But it still didn't infect you.

DAVID NOH:

It didn't infect me.

MARILYN SOKOL:

No, no. No. (CHUCKLE)

DAVID NOH:

Because in the office was this ad. And it said, "Wanted: Actor, singer, dancer-types to work in a new disco opening up." And I thought, "Wow." This is the years where disco was really big, like, late '70s. And the disco was called Studio 54. (CHUCKLE) And I don't know if you heard of that place.

08:06

MARILYN SOKOL:

Drug-infested.

DAVID NOH:

You went there, right?

MARILYN SOKOL:

Once.

DAVID NOH:

Once. (LAUGH)

MARILYN SOKOL:

Twice. Twice.

DAVID NOH:

And that was a whole sidetrack. But it was through Stella Adler that I got this job. I just walked in. And all they were looking for were cute kids. They didn't care if you had never poured a drink or bussed table in your whole life. And so I got the experience of being at Studio 54 on the opening night and seeing that whole world be invented.

08:34

MARILYN SOKOL:

And you liked it? You found it exciting?

DAVID NOH:

For one night.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, one night?

DAVID NOH:

And then one more night after that.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, I see. Oh, you're so clean-cut.

DAVID NOH:

No, no, you know, yeah, well, I had this really uptight Asian upbringing in Hawaii with this--

08:48

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, I'm so happy.

DAVID NOH:

No, I would be dead, now. Margaux Hemingway.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yes.

DAVID NOH:

She was a top model of the day. She was, like, had her own perfume and everything. She's the most gorgeous girl. And she showed up at the beginning of the night. And nobody-- it was like high school. Nobody wanted to dance. Everyone was standing on the sidelines, waiting for the first person. And she had evidently taken hustle lessons with her husband who was this hamburger king, Errol Wetson his name was. (CHUCKLE) They had taken hustle lessons.

And the D.J. put on Marvin Gaye's Got to Give it Up. I'll never forget that. And they hit the dance floor. And they were so hot together. And everyone said, "Okay, it's cool. Now, we can all dance." And had they not done it, it would probably have been the biggest flop of all time. No one would have been there. But I remember seeing at the end of the night, she was so fabulous in the beginning. But they carried her out, literally passed out of her mind.

09:33

MARILYN SOKOL:

From drugs and drinking.

DAVID NOH:

And she eventually O.D.'d.

MARILYN SOKOL:

She died.

DAVID NOH:

Maybe ten years later.

MARILYN SOKOL:

That's Ernest Hemingway's grandchild.

DAVID NOH:

And that said something to me, so then it-- it sent me back to what I had come for. And I said, you know what?

09:46

MARILYN SOKOL:

To write.

DAVID NOH:

I need to write, and it was hard getting started with that, 'cause of course, no one wants to hire you until you have your first clip, until you have your first published piece. It was so funny. It's so weird. I-- I never wanted to rely on my parents. To this day, my dad says, "I still don't know what you're doing." (LAUGH) You know, I mean. And it's been 25 years--

MARILYN SOKOL:

He's a critic, by the way.

DAVID NOH:

Yeah. And-- but he is a big gambler. (CHUCKLE) And he goes to Las Vegas (CHUCKLE) every month, like a lot of Koreans do. And he happened to be throwing craps next to a guy who runs the Jerry Lewis--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Telethon?

DAVID NOH:

The telethon, yeah.

10:19

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

Who knew a guy who had a magazine.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

So he said, "Oh, my kid wants to be a film critic." So it was really through my dad-- and it's all connections. You can be the greatest actor. You can be the greatest writer. But until you schmooze, as they call it, and network--

MARILYN SOKOL:

It's network, yeah.

DAVID NOH:

--and make that connection, however you do it, through your parents, through your friends, through yourself, whatever, on the street, and so one clip led slowly, slowly. And now I write for a bunch of magazines and have my blog and that's it.

10:47

MARILYN SOKOL:

Let's talk about the trials and tribulations associated with casting because you experienced it. And also we were talking about someone we both know and think the world of, Jon Peterson.

DAVID NOH:

Right. He's a triple threat, sing, dance, act like a dream. He's been cast--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Brilliant.

DAVID NOH:

--every big show.

MARILYN SOKOL:

English, English.

DAVID NOH:

In England and in New York for the last 30 years. And I interviewed him just yesterday. And I said, "Why aren't you a bigger star?" And he says, "I cannot get cast. I cannot get work in this city." And I said, "That's a crime, because you have it all." And he said, "Because it's a mafia." There's about how many casting directors? Would you say two, three?

11:26

MARILYN SOKOL:

Well, for musicals? Two, two, maybe. And for the rest, three, yeah.

DAVID NOH:

He's given up.

MARILYN SOKOL:

They form their likes and dislikes based upon Lord knows what.

DAVID NOH:

Yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

--these casting directors-- some of them have their own classes. And so a lot of fledgling actors take the class in hopes of making some connection. So they take your money-- in essence, it's bribery, right? Go, yeah-- horrible.

DAVID NOH:

There's also the element of homophobia, too, that also goes on. 'Cause if you're a young gay actor and you wanna get cast in a show as not necessarily a gay character, as the lead or whatever, a lot of the casting directors are gay men, too, right? Especially in film, also, in Hollywood. And they're much, much more aware and conscious of the so-called dangers of casting a gay guy, no matter how good an actor.

12:20

They can cast a straight guy as a gay role. That's cool. But there's a double standard where you can't do that, with a gay actor. And it's crazy because they're such slaves to the system and also very self-hating because for a gay guy to deny another gay guy a job based on the fact that he's gay, what's that about? You know, you're just a company dog.

MARILYN SOKOL:

In the old days, in the '60s and the '70s, producers would have their own casting people. And so you'd go into a Broadway house or an Off-Broadway house and you would be auditioning for the director, the producer, and the casting director. And therefore, you could bypass, if you got into the audition, you could bypass the prejudices of the casting director. But I used to get-- I don't know if we've talked about this. I used to get "too urban, too New York." But, see, they can't do that with people of color, because it's obvious, right? You can't do it--

DAVID NOH:

But they have code words, you know?

MARILYN SOKOL:

They do?

13:27

DAVID NOH:

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Well, do you know what they are?

DAVID NOH:

Well, for Asian actors, if you go in, you know, and you read for, say, waitress. And you go, "I'll take your order." And they go, "Could you be more passionate? Could you be more real?" And they'll give you all these adjectives. And finally it comes down to, (WITH ACCENT) "I take your order, please?" (CHUCKLE) You know, "You're hired."

MARILYN SOKOL:

Oh, no. Oh my God.

DAVID NOH:

But they can't say that they want a cartoon, you know?

MARILYN SOKOL:

See, they can't.

13:53

DAVID NOH:

And, you know, you've had Juilliard training or great training here, or whatever. And this is the last thing that you wanna go in and do. But, we just wanna make you guys aware of the realities.

MARILYN SOKOL:

You have to find projects with characters that your ethnicity has to fit. Because that's the way it goes. Whereas here at Lehman, we have all kinds of casting, multi-racial, multi-cultural casting, as it should be.

When I was in college at NYU uptown, which is now Bronx Community College, I was the lead in H.M.S. Pinafore, and I was the lead in Finian's Rainbow. But when I got out into the mainstream and I was auditioning, I was not considered viable for those parts because I was ethnic.

14:47

DAVID NOH:

I don't mean to paint a really negative picture for you all because, there are, shows that, are colorblind, as they say. You know what--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

--that word means, right? They cast nontraditional, ethnic people in parts that were originally played by white people. But that's just one reality that I think you're all gonna have to face on some level in terms of what goes on.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Let's move on to God of Carnage--

DAVID NOH:

God of Carnage.

15:09

MARILYN SOKOL:

--with James Gandolfini--

DAVID NOH:

Do you know that play? Have you guys heard about it? Yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

--Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hope Davis.

DAVID NOH:

You can't get a ticket to this. Don't kill yourself if you don't get a ticket because (CHUCKLE) the play's not that great. It's like a sitcom. And I mean, it has this one actress, Hope Davis. And to get a laugh, she barfs onstage, literally barfs.

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

But not only that--

15:30

MARILYN SOKOL:

And this gets--

DAVID NOH:

--she-- she barfs again. (CHUCKLE) And then-- and then they have her--

MARILYN SOKOL:

That's right.

DAVID NOH:

--where she's feeling sick and she's holding a plastic bowl. And it's like, "I'm gonna throw up. I'm gonna throw up, now." You watch this as a human being going, "If I was in a room, someone's gonna throw up, they go to the bathroom. They don't sit in the middle of the living room in the middle of a party going, 'I'm gonna bar--'" So right there, it's fake to me. This would never happen.

And I feel bad for the actress, 'cause she's gotta make a fool of herself, and try and engage the audience. And they're with her because they've read that, "Oh, the New York Times said this is brilliant." So you have all these people who have paid $125. And they're not gonna say, "I got ripped off." They're gonna say, "Wow, (CLAP) this is the best thing I ever saw." And this is what happens. The actors are really good. Gandolfini's incredible in it.

16:10

MARILYN SOKOL:

So, yeah, he is great. He's real.

DAVID NOH:

The rest of them are acting, acting, acting. And he plays like a basic blue-collar kind of a thug guy who came into a lot of money, kinda similar to what he plays on The Sopranos, although he's not mafia. But he has one moment where they're fighting, fighting, fighting. They hate each other's guts. And then this woman who he's totally, like, been hating, comes over. And she's all drunk. He's gotten her drunk.

And she comes over and she gives him a kiss and walks off, which takes him by surprise. And he's sitting there, like, hopeless. And he's checking her out, right, with his eyes. And there's so much intensity in that one eye. And you go, "That's acting."

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah. Let's talk about Waiting for Godot. I've seen two or three productions of it. It shouldn't be called Waiting for Godot. It should be called Waiting for the Show to End. (LAUGH)

DAVID NOH:

Yeah.

16:56

MARILYN SOKOL:

So, it's with-- what's his name? Nathan Lane--

DAVID NOH:

Nathan Lane, John Goodman-- but the thing that really made me crazy was--

MARILYN SOKOL:

John Glover and Bill Irwin.

DAVID NOH:

--you know the character of Lucky? He's a horse, right? John Glover, who is this old British actor who I never liked to begin with. I always find him, like, kind of a turn off. He's so repulsive because he thinks he has to play a broken-down nag. And for the first act, he drools mucus from his nose and mouth onto the stage. And I'm thinking, "How does he do that? It's gotta be real."

MARILYN SOKOL:

K-Y Jelly.

DAVID NOH:

Is that-- oh, that's--

17:29

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah.

DAVID NOH:

--there you go. That's the actors.

MARILYN SOKOL:

That's it. (LAUGH)

DAVID NOH:

It is-- it is disgusting.

MARILYN SOKOL:

The actors' shtick.

DAVID NOH:

It is so disgusting. And I'm sitting here. And I'd just been reading about swine flu all day long, right? (LAUGH) And I think this whole audience is gonna go home and die from this stupid actor on stage. I mean, and that's his choice, right?

17:48

MARILYN SOKOL:

And Nathan Lane's spitting. You know, it's like--

DAVID NOH:

Nathan Lane's-- well, you know, you--

MARILYN SOKOL:

--actors, how do you-- I can't stand it when actors spit on me.

DAVID NOH:

Really? But it happens. John Goodman is 500 pounds and he's dripping sweat. So there's so much body fluid going on (LAUGH) in this thing. It's like swine flu alert. Red alert. Did you read the reviews? Did anyone mention this fact, that this actor does something so disgusting, you know? I mean--

MARILYN SOKOL:

Well, they think it's real. It's gutsy. The great thing is that David, in his published pieces, gets to express his feelings in this way. I mean, this is just scratching the surface. I always love talking to David about whatever film or show we've seen, whether it was together or separately.

18:34

I just wanted David to speak more pointedly to the journalism students. How do you feel about expressing your views, your responses, in a public forum? That doesn't bother you? You have the guts to do that? In other words, rise or fall, these are my opinions.

DAVID NOH:

Yeah, yeah.

MARILYN SOKOL:

How is that?

DAVID NOH:

You gotta do it. You know, you have to do it, and I sometimes feel like I'm the exception. I don't mean to blow my own horn. But, I can't say I like something if I didn't. All my other critic people, friends and enemies, are saying they love this, if it stinks, it stinks.

19:14

I really believe that there's not that much good work. I believe that talent is talent because it's rare. It's like, you have 100 actors. They're not gonna be 100 brilliant actors. There's gonna be maybe, you hope, ten.

But, I run into trouble because I even have editors that go, "Whoa, you know, you didn't like that movie? They took out a full-page ad in the paper, you know, which is kinda paying for your job." So, right? You know, if there's no magazine, if there's no advertising revenue, the magazine goes under. You know?

But I said, "You know what? This is it. This is how I feel." So they go-- sometimes, "Well, can we give it to another writer who liked the movie?" So I'm going, "Whatever, but I don't respect you. 'cause it's like, you want a honest opinion. And you're kinda saying that my opinion is invalid just 'cause I don't agree with everybody." And this happens a lot. This happens a lot.

20:03

MARILYN SOKOL:

Yeah, so I'm glad we talked about that.

DAVID NOH:

I just want you guys to just see stuff on your own, it's hard, because there's a lot of stuff out there. And who has $125 or even $50 or $25 or even $10 to spend on a show. But try and do a little research on the internet. It's good. You can find out if there's an actor you like in it or if it's a writer who you've studied. And you wanna see the play done rather than just read it. Go that way, rather than just say, "Wow, they raved about it."

MARILYN SOKOL:

Let us thank David for being here. (APPLAUSE) Okay, thank you so much.

20:36

VINCE BRACY:

Visit David Noh's blog at www.nohway.wordpress.com. That's www.n-o-h-w-a-y.wordpress.com.

Visit us at www.lehman.edu. This is a production of the Lehman College Media Relations Office.

[MUSIC]

21:04

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