During the several years when I interviewed local personalities and spokespersons, seldom did anyone of the interviewees act annoyed in the early stages of the interviews by my stupid questions. In most cases, they realized that answering the basic questions formed a baseline for my audience. During the remainder of the interviews, I’d ask more informed questions and the people being interviewed stepped up the sophistication of their answers.
In the case of famous celebrities, they were accustomed to interviewers’ questions based on ignorance of the subject or the celebrity. I’m sure some of their interviewers had not taken sufficient care to do background research prior to the interviews. In most instances, the questions had probably been posed to them dozens of times. Although a few of the musicians and celebrities I encountered seemed aloof or impatient, the majority of them were accommodating and seemed delighted to answer my stupid questions. In the early years of my career, a few of them rescued me from what could have been disastrous interviews. For those favors, I’m eternally grateful.
It’s important that interviewers do our homework so as not to sound completely ignorant. Our stupid questions need to be formulated carefully so as to not make the interviewee sound like an idiot. We don’t want to bring her or him down several notches. The stupid questions should be germane to the interviewee’s experiences and background. The questions should be based in commonality and maturity. Most of the questions should build upon the answers received. There is a balancing act by being curious without talking down to the person being interviewed. People don’t like know-it-alls.
I was the oldest child in my family, so I was allowed to be myself and ask dumb questions. My parents didn’t have any benchmarks, so the process of raising me was an educational experience for them. My stupid questions were usually answered patiently without much condescension. The circumstances were a bit different in the case of my youngest sibling. Mom and dad were less patient and seemed more annoyed when he asked similar stupid questions. Mark soon learned to ask me because I often had to perform the role of parenting by proxy. Older siblings usually feel more grown-up when the younger sisters and brothers come to them with questions–this is sort of an ego-boost.
Whenever a circumstance happens if I’m chatting about an unfamiliar topic with someone, I’ve learned to go ahead an ask a stupid question or two. It’s better to express my honest ignorance than pretend to know the topic. By getting the stupid question out of the way at the get-go, I avoid getting myself into awkward, intellectual situations. Feigning knowledge is not a good way to interact with people. At any rate most people can detect pretension. Asking the stupid question allows the other person to shine.