Grad returns to the Hill with Agony
- Pete Rouse to receive honorary degree
- Savas Zembillas to receive honorary degree
- Erik Quist to receive honorary degree
Mike Daisey ’96 returned to the Hill on Monday, April 23, taking over Runnals Theater to perform his celebrated and sometimes controversial one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. During its successful run at the Public Theater in New York City, the play received critical acclaim from The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Since leaving the Hill, Daisey has built up an impressive resume of performances and has been nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award, and two Drama League Awards. He has received a number of honors and accolades for his past work.
Daisey became famous, and then infamous, for a portion of a monologue that aired on WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life in January 2012, titled “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” While it quickly became the most listened-to episode in the history of the show, it also sparked a scandal when the program discovered Daisey had stretched or completely fabricated many of his sources. Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, dedicated an entire show in March to issuing a solemn retraction of Daisey’s show and exposing the false parts of his story.
The show of the same name, however, was markedly different from the one that aired on This American Life. In it, Daisey pulled many of the offending parts (although he kept some in) and attempted to transform the controversy into an element of the play.
“I am a noted liar, a charlatan,” Daisey said at a turning point in his monologue. It seemed on Monday night that much of the material that instigated the scandal was cut out. One of the most emotional parts of the previous version of the show—about a Foxconn worker whose hand was mangled making iPads but who had never actually used one—was not present in Monday’s show. This American Life reported that the man had never said that and had not even said he worked at Foxconn.
While waiting in the theater before the performance, apparent to probably no one other than myself—a self-professed Apple fanboy—the speakers were exclusively playing songs that have appeared in Apple advertisements or other Apple-related videos over the years, such as “Exodus Honey” from the Mac OS X Leopard operating system welcome screen.
Daisey’s expressive delivery was bombastic in every imaginable way. It’s hard to describe how effluent Daisey’s monologuing is—I recommend you go find out for yourself. His delivery is half hard-nosed speech, half wildly gesticulating theater production. Imitated phone calls between an imaginary Steve Jobs and the funny, contorted faces of Apple executives, a fairly good re-enactment of a dot-matrix printer (complete with loud, screeching sound effects), and a portrait of Steve Wozniak—the king of the geeks—chugging, or maybe bathing, in Mountain Dew, were all part of Daisey’s arsenal to imbue the audience with the same agony and ecstasy he felt as a follower of the cult of Mac.
Daisey’s show shifted the focus to the power of storytelling to incite change at Apple and Foxconn. According to TechCrunch, a technology blog, “He may have failed as a journalist, but he humanized a problem that we have been avoiding for too long.”
Daisey said of the American public in reference to the human rights violations in the Foxconn factories, “We will do anything not to look at it.” He spoke of how vehement we are about human rights in America, but when we fall short of sticking to that when dealing internationally, we turn the other cheek. “There is an incredible pressure not to tell the story,” he said in his monologue.
Daisey commented after the show that this was the first time the new version of the play has been performed to an audience, although that hasn’t been fact-checked.
Daisey is a native of Maine and completed an independent major in aesthetics as a Colby student. Back then, he was apparently even more full of energy than he is now. Dick Sewell, theater professor, remarked, “The ideas just flowed through that guy’s head in rivers and floods.” Professor Todd Coulter dated Daisey’s wife—before she and Mike met—when they were both young.
In regard to the scandal, I believe both parties are partly to blame. Daisey is at fault for trying to pass gonzo journalism off as real journalism, and This American Life is at fault for not doing their homework. The Colby audience loved Daisey’s performance and gave him a standing ovation for it. I’m sure you’d love it too, as long as you keep in mind why the show was in Runnals, not Diamond.