Haters make me famous. This has to be the mantra of televisions news pundits everywhere, right? Well, Nancy Giles wants you to know that it's more complicated than that, and she'll tell you so in her witty, insightful, yet unfocused one-woman show The Further Adventures of the Accidental Pundette, now playing at Dixon Place.
For those fortunate enough not to know, pundits are the professional shouting heads who appear as "expert panelists" on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Giles has been a contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning for ten years, and has more recently tasted blood as a cable news pundit (appearing on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry among others)…and she's thirsty for more.
"It's better to be on TV than not on TV," Giles offers. But it wasn't always so.
Standing on a bare stage with only four chairs, a rolling table, and a few props, Giles traces her journey, from attending a Black Panther-run day camp as a little girl, to acting on television (China Beach), to writing political parody songs for the radio, to returning to the small-screen as an on-air essayist for CBS. She gleefully recalls her first report, on the conspiracy of high heels, and how it convinced a shoe manufacturer to send her a comfy and stylish pair. This led Giles further down the news media rabbit hole for the same reason anyone gets involved: the free stuff.
Of course, the swagful blessings of being an on-air personality also have drawbacks. Giles reads the audience some of the colorful hate mail she's received, particularly since a 2010 appearance on CNN's Larry King Live in which Giles told St. Louis Tea Party spokesperson Dana Loesch, "shut your mouth." In contrast to the onscreen bombast, Giles actually goes through pains to politely respond to her nastiest critics via email and Twitter. And sometimes she gets thoughtful responses back! She makes a convincing argument that, contrary to popular belief, our technological connection can actually make us a more civil society rather than a meaner one.
In accordance, Giles guides her audience with gentle good humor and a conversational style that just makes you like her, and want to hear more. This laugh-out-loud kiki covers a lot of ground in less than an hour, jumping from the coarseness of our national discourse to the proliferation of social media to the election of America's first black president. Her observations about race in America, as demonstrated by readings of racist passages in Nancy Drew books and an analysis of Michael Jackson's shifting complexion on his album covers, are particularly astute.
Yet she has a tendency to open a subject and then move onto another just as soon as she's begun to really hit at something. I wanted to know more about her other news panel controversies. (I know they're out there. I Googled.) What did she learn? Do on-air sparks lead to more or fewer panel invites? Unbridled real housewives-esque conflict does little to further the national discourse, but it certainly makes for great television. Is it all about the ratings? How do advertisers drive editorial content in a 24-hour news cycle?
Giles never plunges into these depths and it's a shame, considering how intelligent and funny she is. I know she would have something shrewd to say. As it stands, this show is like cookie dough, quite delicious, but still unbaked.