Image via Trey Smith/Twitter
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The Follow is an interview series I plan on putting out occasionally, or frequently, or maybe never again, in which I basically just talk to the people I enjoy following online who are willing to talk to me for a while. It will be about what they come to Twitter for, how they cultivate their online personas, the things they feel passionate enough to contribute to the infinite discourse on this app, and why they feel the need to do it. And on a basic level, it will be two people on Zoom shooting the shit.
My personal favorite working interviewer is the writer, journalist, comedian, and internet personality Trey Smith. On his show, Vice’s Questionnaire of Life, he dispels with the formality of the interview, and doesn’t approach his conversations with artists across genres like Daniel Plainview slurping a milkshake of information. He maintains a professional distance, but his work has the flavor of a casual hang with an old friend. His conversations are wide ranging, equal parts philosophical and obsessed with random ephemera, but always thoughtful and hilarious.
What Trey gets to the heart of is treating the interviewee as a human being, not an assignment filling your piece with requisite quotes. He’s not showy in his meticulous research, it’s free flowing and organic in the course of his addictive viral shorts. He helped me understand that rappers don’t necessarily want to talk shop to some fucking nerd already sold on some story in their heads about who the rapper is and what their work means. And that’s why, as he works through questions about the existence of ghosts, and whether you’d rather have a cracked watch face or cell phone screen, he’s able to get some of the most insightful answers from his artists- on yes, process- that he earns in his interviews after establishing rapport with questions that come from the perspective of an educated fan whose given a lot of time and care to considering the artist he’s speaking to. His gift is an uncommon ability to listen and react, and he brings a humanity to his subjects that centers the obvious: we’re all people first, with strange positions on modern medicine and fashion and conspiracy, and acknowledging that is both good strategy, and polite when considering interviewing as a discipline.
I’ve saved mention of marijuana till my third paragraph because I’d imagine Trey gets tired of people pinning his identity to the flower. I’ve established his work goes far beyond that, but it’s worth mentioning here. Trey attributes his patterns of thought and sense of humor to years of casual psychedelic drug use, but in his Tweeting, which works as a sophisticated observational joke delivery systems and a window into the brain of an altered, inquisitive mind worthy of any late night TV writer, he at least picks up the mantle of stoned humor and thought, a ravenous curiosity and intellectual pursuit that tears the lid off the absurdities of life the rest of us just kind of take for granted in lazy apathy. It’s rooted in a comedic tradition Trey was raised on and carries a banner for, that he brings to his work.
What Trey ultimately reveals in contemplation is marijuana is a tool, both figuratively and literally. Whether smoking it out of a crab leg in Alaska, or interviewing a rapper under its influence, he displays the value of stepping outside your set neural pathways, your conventional wisdom and rote assumptions, and asking questions, testing the boundaries of conversation with strangers and what we believe people want to know. It’s probing, it’s funny, and we often learn more about his subjects than some question trying to discern whether raps are written or improvised would tell us.
And so, while I’m not much of a smoker, I decided to experiment with Trey’s method: I got high and wrote most of the questions you’re about to read late one night as I scrolled through his timeline and watched his videos. And then, I’ll admit, I ate a stack of Chewy Chips Ahoy sprinkled with fleur de sel, drank a glass of Burgundy, and watched an episode of Industry.
(Author’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed to make me sound like less of an asshole)
There’s kind of what I like to think of as a stoned divinity to your posting. Do you workshop your posts or is it coming clean off the hand?
Trey Smith: It’s off the hand. I spend all day having to write and think about stuff, and brainstorming it at all. I just need a place for the dumbass things that my brain thinks up that are not useful anywhere else. I might check it for typos, but that’s about it.
It does feel like your social media presence is an offshoot of the work. So it’s like the good ideas that don’t make the questions end up in a Tweet?
Trey Smith: There’s a lot more research involved in those, and maybe that seeps into my brain in other ways. With the questions, there is usually some kind of method to the madness as opposed to just saying the most off the wall shit you’ve ever heard. That’s what Tweeting is for.
Are you a one man writing team? Do you have people that help you generate questions or is it just your show?
Trey Smith: Most of it is just me. I work with a producer and a couple of other people sometimes to create ideas for making new segments or whatever. But when it comes down to just like the nitty gritty and the whole, like, how am I going to say this, what am I going to say? That’s usually me. I’ve found the best way to do this job is to be natural and not be like one of these fucking YouTubers who are extremely excited for some reason all the time. I couldn’t maintain doing that in real life.
Do you think that your sense of humor is informed by weed, or is it just how your brain works? Like, if you weren’t smoking, do you think you’d Tweet the same and do you think the show would flow the same?
Trey Smith: I think it helps things flow, but it’s not informed by it. If anything, that’s more down to the shrooms and the acid I’ve taken in my life. I feel like this would be even goofier if I was just stoned all the time. But I think it’s a good balance between, I get good information out of somebody, and then I also throw something at them where they don’t really know how to respond at first. Weed helped me balance out the flow of it, but not necessarily the content of it.
How would you articulate your aesthetic? To me, it’s an irreverent, galaxy brain, random association based humor. It’s coming at things from unorthodox angles and it’s at once extremely wide lens, as existential as possible, and also micro specific when the jokes and the observations need to be. Does that make sense, or am I stoned right now?
Trey Smith: You might be. But I get what you’re saying because it’s like my two goals for the end of an interview is: I got information that no one else has got before, however specific and important that is. And then I also just want people to leave having had a good time. So I try to keep it, like, not necessarily talking to somebody like a friend, because I don’t like getting familiar with people like that, even just in real life, but we’re all hanging out. So to talk to somebody like that. Don’t be too formal about it. Just talk as if we all sat around having some beers.
Sure. And it definitely plays that way. It’s like being able to bounce from the meaning of life to your favorite marshmallow shape in Lucky Charms.
Trey Smith: I hope you learn about somebody and sometimes they lead into other little things. One time I asked Lil GotIt about alien abduction, worst case scenarios, and he eventually revealed that he doesn’t believe in doctors nor going to them. And I was like, “Wait, let’s talk about that one for a minute.” And it was a thing where he’s not right at all. But I get where he’s coming from, but I don’t.
What was his take?
Trey Smith: Oh, his take was he just doesn’t trust them because how do they know things that he doesn’t? How do they know what bones are? He’s like, “yeah, we know they’re bones. But how do we know they’re bones? Like, who told them those were bones?” He’s like, “my uncle, 60 years old, never went to the doctor, stroked out natural……” What point are you making right now?
…..Okay! Do you have any comedic influences? I feel like Mitch Hedberg is an obvious one. Maybe early Chappelle, but to quote Marc Maron, “Who are your guys?”
Trey Smith: Early Chappelle, Mitch Hedberg for sure. I’ve absolutely been loving Letterkenny recently. Their dialogue, the wide ranges of topics where it’s just dudes sitting around for five minutes talking about, like, “Can you build a seadoo for ants?”
Nathan Fielder is up there. I love the new show. And even the first season of Nathan For You. I was just like, who the fuck is this guy? But especially with this new show, man, I’m afraid he’s looking at me at different times.
You have a real talent for interviewing rappers. As far as I can tell, the trick is that you don’t ask them about work. Or I should say, because I think sneakily, having watched a bunch of the videos back to back, it seems like you’re good at mixing in vegetables at the end of the interviews and getting really interesting insights into the creative process, but what do you think the key to your approach is, if you could put it on a bumper sticker?
Trey Smith: Just don’t be a weirdo, you know? It’s one of those things where it’s like, I think sometimes people go in wanting to know specific things, and then they just hone in on those things and it can feel a little uncomfortable. Depending on the rapper and what kind of lifestyle they live, they usually have some apprehension of being sat down and interrogated. So that’s one of my goals. It’s just like, let’s make this fun first and foremost, because when people are relaxed, and you’re not pressing them on questions about “Who did this? Did you hear anything about this?” You tend to have a better time and get better shit.
And you have to think, unless you’re the first reporter of the day, they’ve been asked this like five times already. You have to mix it up and keep people on their toes. And I think they appreciate that, especially when you do your research and you find out that there was a ghost living in their room when they were six. And you ask them about that, and they’re like, “wait, who told you that?”
It’s kind of like the way Nardwuar keeps people engaged and questioning, “what’s going on here?” Sometimes you got to confuse people when they’re having a good time. And when you’re doing that in the flow of the interview, it’s like, okay, one dumbass question. One dumbass question, and then you ask them something serious. Like “when you die, what would you take with you?”
All right, let me write this down. “…….Don’t….be….a….weirdo.”
Did you ever have any issues where it didn’t work and you had an artist who came in who was a dickhead?
Trey Smith: Oh, yeah, a few times. Because The Questionnaire is a very specific interview format where if you don’t watch these ahead of time, my producer or whoever will send clips to the PR person or the manager: Here are a few examples of this. But sometimes they don’t watch it. So I’ve had people showing up like way too high or way too fucked up or whatever and falling asleep. I had somebody come in trashed five hours late, and then they fell asleep mid interview and it was like, all right, well, this is the funniest part of this, but I’m not going to put this person on blast like that.
Do you have any interviews you weren’t able to run?
Trey Smith: Yeah, few of them. We’ve had people, like their management said “we’ll refuse to sign an appearance release until they can see a cut.” And we don’t send cuts out to people for review because this isn’t PR. I’ve had people just like straight up do that. Not just rappers, even pop stars, some actors, actresses. You also have people who don’t understand what’s going on here. They think I’m doing a bit and not just talking how I talk. There was one prominent artist whose manager stopped the interview midway, was like, “I’m sorry, what’s the deal here? What’s the game?” And I’m like, “what?” He’s like, “yeah, you’re doing some kind of-”
Trey Smith: Yeah. But no, this is just a regular ass conversation.
I could kind of see it if you’re not familiar with the thing. And it’s like, “why aren’t you asking my artist about music? Like, what is going on right now?” Essentially, are you laughing with them or at them?
Trey Smith: Yeah. And it’s like, I get that, kind of, but I also don’t get not just spending six minutes watching the clips we send out before agreeing to this.
So I think you’re going to be the last writer with a job because you actually made the infamous “Pivot To Video.” So how did that happen?
Trey Smith: It was like my first month at Vice. They were doing a 72 hours live stream. And so somebody dropped out. This is Halloween weekend. I want to say 2016, somebody dropped out. And then I went to go check in on stuff because I was on social media at the time. And they were like, “can you come back around midnight? Because someone dropped out. And you’d actually be pretty good at this, we think. Just being on a live stream for a few hours,” I was like, “okay.” And so then I went back to the office. I went to a friend’s Halloween party around the corner. And I had on a dinosaur costume. And I came back to the office in my dinosaur costume. And I just hung out on this live stream all night. And yeah, apparently people liked me on it. And so that’s back also when we still had Vice Sports. And I just started doing explainers on Vice Sports and stuff. Just one or two minute explainers.
And then the guy who did Smokables and Bong Appetite left the company, and they asked me if I knew anybody who liked weed. And I was like, “Yeah” (raises hand). And then I went through the Weed content. And eventually they put me on doing music full time. And I had done some Noisey stuff, but they wanted to revamp Questionnaire and make it hosted, and that was it.
All right, so for the second half of the interview, I’m not a big smoker, but there’s this bodega on [redacted], where they sell THC vapes behind the counter. And as a bit of method journalism, I bought a pen, I got high, and I generated some questions so I could try to do my own version of a questionnaire. You into it?
Trey Smith: I can do it.
If you were in charge of Apple, what are three emojis you’d want to introduce?
Trey Smith: I would reintroduce the actual gun emoji. And I think I would put out an actual butt.
A butt. Not doing the peach? Tired of the peach?
Trey Smith: Yeah. We have to use certain emojis as euphemisms. And I think there’s an easy, PG, maybe PG-13 one you could make of a butt. Then maybe just an actual weed leaf.
You know, I had that one, too. I think food is kind of lacking. There’s like a roast turkey leg, but there’s no fried chicken. What’s up with that?
If we defunded the cops, what would you do with the money to improve society?
Trey Smith: I think it has to also be tied to abolishing prisons. So one of the things I would do is take every non-violent offender out of prison and save people a lot of tax dollars that way, because in some places, it’s upwards of, like, $80-90k a year to keep a prisoner in bed. And US median income is about $50,000. Save some money that way and then also use that money to help rehabilitate people and get them back in society.
We should create programs. We got a whole infrastructure problem in this country. You can get people to work on that and pay them a fair wage. And then on the other side of that, when it comes to taking police away, I would start with places like New York, where there’s an insane number of police in the fucking subways and all over the streets, and they barely do anything with their time except play fucking Pokemon Go on their phones. No disrespect to Pokemon Go, but if I get in trouble, if someone catches me playing Pokemon Go at work, then I think they should, too.
And if you’re making sure people get paid when they need to be and giving them the resources to Goddamn be a part of society, they wouldn’t really need to take things from other people. So if you take away a lot of the reasons for crime, that reduces crime on its own.
I too had UBI, it sounds like we’re more or less saying the same thing. That if you could take that money and put it back in people’s hands, it would do a lot to improve the way of things. What’s your favorite thing to cook? Like dish, not blue box mac and cheese. When you have a friend over and want to impress them.
Trey Smith: I only get to do it a few times a year, but a big pot of gumbo. We have like a generations old family gumbo recipe and shit. Thanksgiving, and then maybe another time or two during the year I get to do that.
Trey Smith: Not in it directly, but you have File powder on the side.
Trey Smith: It’s like fucking black pepper at a Italian place or whatever. Because different people react differently to File, some people are a little more sensitive to it. And it could kind of make your mouth feel funny if you eat too much of it.
You think Tony Soprano dies at the end of The Sopranos?
Trey Smith: Yeah. I don’t have any evidence for why or whatever, but it’s just like, that’s clearly what happened. There’s only one way a man like Tony dies, and it’s not natural causes.
Agreed. I think the Bobby Bacala thing in “Soprano Home Movies” is pretty definitive. Best buffalo wing flavor?
Trey Smith: Chicken wings in general, or Buffalo specific, like variations?
Something you could order at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Trey Smith: I’m a lemon pepper guy. Dry rub. If the barbecue sauce is a good barbecue sauce, I can go with that. Some kind of teriyaki situation maybe. But I just love wings.
This isn’t really a question, but I wrote down that once I invented the greatest snack ever, which was you go to a Hallal cart and get crispy lamb with extra lamb and no rice and hot sauce and white sauce. You have to be strategic about it. It needs to be a Halal cart near a McDonald’s. So then you go to McDonald’s immediately afterwards and lay the lamb over a plate of fries. So I just kind of wanted you to react to that.
Trey Smith: That’s a good idea. I feel like it has to be a fair amount of white sauce to make it all stick like you want it to. I also might go to McDonald’s first and get the fries and get the Halal to do all of that on top, and then just tip them really well. I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your cart guy. They like me, but they also hate whenever I come. But I always make sure to tip well, so they just put up with me.
You’re always calling audibles.
Trey Smith: Yeah. And I started getting one thing over the summer, a surf and turf, where depending on the cart they also serve tilapia. So you get that in the lamb on top of rice, no salad because I want enough to eat more in the morning and that lettuce doesn’t really hold up.
Can I push back on the order of operations when it comes to the fries? Because I feel like the shelf life on the fries is so much shorter. You have such a small window when they’re good and crispy and fresh than you do with the lamb. I feel like the Lamb, you get a good 20 or 30 minutes out of, but the fries, you really only get maybe ten to 15, especially once you apply the sauce and the lamb. I mean, it’s not something you could really eat until you take it to the crib. So you only have like 20 minutes tops.
Trey Smith: I’m kind of thinking of it like loaded fries. You’re walking down the street eating that, and it’s 2:00 in the morning and I’m drunk, so fuck whoever is looking at me. But I would also say maybe you got to switch up where you get the fries for a crispy ass dirty fry. I’m not going to say anything like KFC Wedges, because those are just completely fine. And I don’t think that taste would respond well with the fucking lamb taste.
(Auth. Note: We said this at the exact same time)
Trey Smith: Yeah. Checkers for sure. But they made Burger King fries a little sturdier too. Or if Burger King’s got the chicken fries, and you’re feeling experimental-
That sounds like it might be illegal in several states.
When they eventually end all prohibition and put cocaine back in Coca Cola, are you going to drink it?
Trey Smith: Why not? You see those fancy sodas in the bodega and it’s like CBD, and also has this rare root from the Amazon. But they’re never that good. And it’s like, “okay, I’ve had this once. This is fine.” That’ll be Coca Cola with the cocaine in it again, because you don’t want to start drinking seven of those a day, and they still got the corn syrup and shit too. Next thing you know, like you fucking built like Paplo Escobar.
As bad as soda is for you, uniquely dangerous in this instance because you’d be instantly physically addicted to it. Also, with our desensitivity to caffeine, I wonder how much more it would really energize you than, like a fucking Five Hour Energy? Are you really going to get any more energy from a Coke with a little coke than a super concentrated caffeine drink? What should they do about T’Challa in Black Panther?
Trey Smith: Wait, hold up, I need to circle back on this. How much cocaine would they have to buy wholesale in order to keep the price down? So a Coke all of a sudden costs like $7 because you’re adding cocaine to it?
Well, I think they would just cost $7. And then I also bet you they would just buy a gigantic cocaine farm in South America or something.
Trey Smith: They would have to destabilize a South American country, which the CIA has done before so that’s not a problem.
United Fruit Company. They’ll have weird cocaine dispensaries. And you can get all the cocaine related products there. They’re doing it with, like you said, with the CBD in Canada. They make weed beer and stuff. And soon we’re going to have it. They haven’t legalized it in America yet, but they will. And I’m sure those will be like, “oh, you want this Sour Diesel IPA? This Gelato Pack Porter? It’s $15 for a deuce.”
Trey Smith: You see the weed beverages out in the dispensaries in L.A. and shit? It’s like a small can. But it’s like 20 something dollars for four.
That will be Coca Cola.
Trey Smith: Let’s just go back to Black Panther. So I think deep fake technology is good enough at this point to just bring him back.
(Laughs) You keep digital Boseman in the franchise???
Trey Smith: Yeah, why not for that role? Or somebody else can step in. Maybe Killmonger is going to come back from the dead eventually. Because he does in like two or three storylines in the comic books.
What fictional universe would you rather live in? Dune, Redwall or Dr. Seuss?
Trey Smith: Not Dune, with those big worms. What the fuck? I’m cool on that.
Redwall would be kind of cool, except that’s still pretty intense. And Dr. Seuss is like, there’s a bunch of scary stuff, but nothing too insane usually happens. So some dude comes to your house bothering you about eating green eggs and ham, or Horton hears a who, but the problem gets resolved by the end of the book. Not a huge deal, so I probably pick Seuss.
My kids were watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas the other day, the Jim Carrey one from 2000. I don’t know, man. It seems like a horrifying world to live in when you actually see humanoid beings made up like Seuss illustrations. Maybe you get used to it eventually, but terrifying. On the other hand, I guess chilling with murderous giant animals who can walk and talk would also be kind of a tough adjustment.
Trey Smith: Yeah. If you’re in the Redwall universe and all of a sudden a bunch of horses are like, “now we want to take this little mouse castle, what are you gonna do?” They can’t live in it. They’re too big.
I think they’re giant mice though, with battle axes and flaming arrows and catapults and shit.
Trey Smith: Okay. I can never figure out if they were giant or if they were just, like, regular sized and have this technology for some reason.
I think they all have the qualities of the respective animals, but they’re all kind of relatively sized. I don’t think it’s like the mice are- I haven’t read any of these books in, like, 20 or 30 years- But my understanding of it, in my imagination and in my memory, was everyone is more or less the same size. But you still have, like the badgers have their claws and the mice can chew through walls or whatever.
Trey Smith: Yes. I think I’m just not trying to be a life size anything and deal with a life size most of those other things. Deal with a life sized monster? Absolutely not.
Just being at the feast table, eating literally next to giant sentient animals. I don’t know. I guess Seuss is probably the most harmless one, as long as you could get used to Ron Howard’s fucked up color palette.
Trey Smith: Do they have, like, plumbing in Redwall, or do they still shit like animals?
It’s medieval times, so I would assume that they- well, I don’t know if they shit wherever they want. I think there’s, like, privies, but yeah, you’re still shitting like people would’ve back then. I don’t think they have, like, indoor plumbing technology in the medieval mouse war world. All right. I started off with Redwall, but you convinced me that Seuss is actually the place to go.
Which athlete would you want to chill with the most? Harden, Kyrie or KD?
Trey Smith: KD because he’s just, like, a dude from around the way. He’s from PG County.
I was gonna say, the Maryland thing. I guess that makes sense.
Trey Smith: Harden just wants to go to the strip club, every single hour of the hangout time, and it’s like, man, I just wanted to get a beer. Kyrie seems like a funny dude, but it’s just like he also seems like he’s got a certain intensity about him that it’s like, this isn’t really chilling.
Trey Smith: Yeah. KD is probably just going to want to smoke some weed.
I bet it’d be fun to go with Harden to Turtles. Like, he’s confused because he’s never been to a bar before. He’s like, “I don’t understand, where’s the buffet?” So ranked choice: It’s KD, Harden, Kyrie?
Trey Smith: KD- 1A, Kyrie- 1B, and then Harden 2.
Oh, wow. Harden is last because he has no off switch. All right. I can respect it.
Who’s the second best weed rapper? Not a Wiz Khalifa type where weed is like their whole identity. Like the rapper who has like the funniest high-logic punchlines, where you feel the marijuana influence.
Trey Smith: Lord Infamous is always great when you’re high. He’s definitely up there. BG. I love listening to BG when I’m out, but it’s not like funny weed stuff. It’s just he has a good voice for hanging out and listening to.
Well Redman is obviously first, but I had Wayne. I thought Wayne was a good one.
Trey Smith: What did he say? “I’m going to do it again, like n***** backwards.” Like those ones that make me think for a little while.
No Ceilings era, he was really just in his bag. You really had to go back and carry the two and do the whole thing to try to figure out what the fuck he was trying to say.
Trey Smith: I Am Not a Human Being as well.
You get a job tomorrow at Rap Snacks. Invent the next Rap Snack.
Trey Smith: There’s not a lot of foreign representation. How about a butter chicken flavor, maybe from one of the UK rappers?
I had the advantage of having some time to put some thought into this, and I came up with Rod Wave Salt and Vinegar chips, because it’s his tears.
Trey Smith: How about Drake, Poutine Gravy flavor?