May 14–21, 1998

20 questions

Ben Stein

Interview by Brian Howard


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

American Spectator
A License to Steal—Michael Milken and the Conspiracy to Bilk the Nation
Win Ben Stein’s Money
Win Ben Stein’s Money
Tommy and Me

Who’s more honest, DC politicians or Hollywood executives?

Hollywood executives by far.… but neither one is very honest. I think politicians are in an impossible situation; they have to promise all things to all people in order to get elected… and are held to an impossibly high moral standard no one can hope to live up to.

Is Hollywood as liberal as it’s made out to be?

Politically it’s a lot less liberal than it used to be. It’s interesting, there’s a big dichotomy. The movie business is still a left-wing fiefdom; TV people are changing a lot. There are a lot of Republicans, and people who don’t care about politics at all, in the TV business now. People are very unconcerned about seeming politically hip and cool. The cutting edge of TV—The Simpsons, South Park and so forth—is decidedly, decidedly, not liberal.

How do you feel about TV, like Politically Incorrect, that combines entertainment and politics?

I’ve been a guest on Politically Incorrect a number of times and I think they treated me very cruelly. I think it’s got much too much anger in it. It’s an example of the old, liberal, monolithic Hollywood.

What’s your take on today’s politics?

I don’t have much to do with politics anymore. I’m a great fan of Richard Nixon, but Richard Nixon hasn’t been in office for a long time, hasn’t been living for a long time. As for the Republicans in Congress, they’re fine but they don’t really thrill me the way Nixon used to. And Clinton, I just think there’s something mentally wrong with him. Actually, I think he’s been a pretty darn good President. But I do think he’s very ethically challenged, to put it mildly.

Is Clinton really responsible for the country’s economic upswing?

Not entirely, but in a large part, yes. He’s handled the federal part of the equation very well. I don’t think he’s done a single irresponsible thing in his handling of the budget.

If you were president, what’s the first thing you’d do?

That’s a really good question.… Even though it would involve more spending, I would raise the pay of people in the military quite substantially, because I think they’re dramatically underpaid and undervalued. I’d just generally try to improve their lives because they bear the brunt of keeping America free and safe. I’d have a giant parade of all World War II and Cold War-era war veterans … a giant parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to be recognized by the nation. And then I’d try very, very hard to abolish the income tax and replace it with a giant national sales tax ’cause the income tax is just too complicated. The most unpleasant job I do all year is preparing my tax. I don’t mind… well I do mind how much I pay, but it won’t kill me, but I hate preparing it beyond words. It takes me weeks.

You went to high school with Carl Bernstein…

Carl and Goldie Hawn and Connie Chung.

Any theories on who Deep Throat was?

Oh, I don’t think there was a Deep Throat. That was a fake. I think there were several different sources and some they just made up.

You’ve written about the declining morals of today’s youth. How do you keep your own son on the straight and narrow?

I talk to him about it all the time and I stand over him and make him do his work. I’m pretty serious about it.

Do you see the recent school killings as symptomatic of this moral decline?

Not at all. I just think there’ve always been juvenile delinquents.

Is South Park?

Oh, no. I think it’s really funny.… I’ve never liked fart jokes, but other than that I like South Park.

On your show, you treat male and female contestants differently…

If they’re pretty girl contestants I like them. If they’re mean, ugly male contestants I hate them.

Do you regret anything you’ve ever written?

No. I regret that I don’t have my own sitcom. It’s a crime.

Any sitcom ideas?

Yeah, I’m pitching one about me teaching high school to aliens and I’m also gonna pitch one about backstage at a game show.

You could call it Third Rock From Ben Stein’s Money.

Well, mine will be a little different from that. It’ll be set in Area 51. But I’m gonna try to sell these things. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life cadging nickels and dimes as a game show host.

Do you think there’s a government conspiracy to hide the existence of UFOs?

No! I do think there’s a government conspiracy to keep me from having my own sitcom.

Are you typecast?

Oh yeah, but it’s fine. I don’t care if I’m typecast as long as I’m cast.

Win Ben Stein’s Money airs Monday-Thursday at 7:30 and 11:30 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. on Comedy Central. Tommy and Me is in bookstores now.