Tom Waits is loved by his fans for several reasons. His avant-garde avant-garde music, his dark but poetic lyrics, his sense of fashion and his brooding but nonchalant attitude. Whenever he is interviewed, Tom Waits appears both as a man capable of laughing at himself and as an intriguing and mysterious man.
There are so many hilarious and fascinating interview moments with Tom Waits, here are some of his most iconic moments on late night shows with Fallon and Letterman, talk shows and more.
8/8 When he brought a rat trap to David Letterman
One of the Waits’ most frequent interviewers was David Letterman. Waits always had something to say in every Letterman interview, though he rarely revealed much about his personal life. Although we learned in an interview that he was “born in the backseat of a taxi”. In a famous interview with Letterman, Waits revealed that he started collecting. In classic Waits fashion, he couldn’t really put a label on what he collected, but he called it “odds and ends”. The oddity he decided to share with Letterman was a non-lethal concrete rat trap, made before the days of deadly spring traps that most people are familiar with.
7/8 Exit west onto Arsenio Hall
No matter who interviews him, Waits never changes his behavior. It’s almost like he’s still in character. When he appeared on The Arsenio room show, we see a stark contrast between the show host and the musician. Hall was always smiling, energetic and quick to work into a joke. Waits also made his jokes, but in his own subtle way. It’s interesting to see a host who is always all smiles interviewing a man whose mood is always so sweet, yet always funny and entertaining. Waits was on the show to promote his album Bone Machine and he performed his hit “Going Out West”, which fight club fans might recognize from the 1999 film’s soundtrack.
6/8 His famous Fernwood interview tonight
Fern tonight was the parody talk show. The show poked fun at the talking heads of 1970s talk shows and launched the careers of Fred Willard and Martin Mull. The show’s interviews were all gags, and Waits got to show off his acting chops by getting involved. The interview contains some of Tom’s most famous interview quotes, such as “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy” and “I’ve always maintained that reality is for people who can’t handle Drugs”. The interview opened with Waits freaking out the host’s pompous characters with a performance of “The Piano Has Been Drinking”, highlighting Waits’ raspy voice.
5/8 His interview on Australian television
The Don Lane Show was a popular interview show in Australia, similar to Dick Cavett’s in America. Waits traveled to Australia for an interview with Lane and was asked about his singing style, his rise to fame and whether he “worries about success or not”. To which Waits replied: “No. I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about success. I mostly worry about things like… are there any nightclubs in heaven ?”
4/8 His interview with Jimmy Fallon
People have very mixed feelings about how Fallon behaves in interviews. But again, we see a calm and collected, and highly quotable, Tom Waits shooting the breeze with no sign of annoyance at Fallon’s jokes or constant laughter. Waits was pretty poetic when talking with Fallon, and he once again dropped some of his best quotes with hot takes like, “The people most qualified to run the country usually cut their hair and drive cabs.”
3/8 His press conference
Waits is not a social media regular. There is a YouTube channel that promotes his music and career highlights, but he has no accounts that he runs himself. But, he had a big moment online when he held a “press conference” to promote his 2008 tour. After answering questions from “journalists” and spitting a gibberish acronym on the constellation map that he used to plan his tour, Waits concludes the video. At the end, the camera pulls back to reveal that he is waiting until he is alone in a room full of empty chairs before pulling a needle out of a record player. The whole “press conference” was just an act for an online video.
2/8 Last time he was on Letterman
Before David Letterman retired The late show in 2015, Waits dedicated a performance to his friend. What was particularly funny about the interview was that he was at the same time as George Clooney, who had handcuffed himself to the host a bit. Once again Waits came with his bag of quotes and kicked off Letterman’s next retreat. “Good thing you’re not in the tire business…you can’t opt out of the tire business. Looks like you’re signing up for more time.” He also introduced his new political cause, “Free The Glutens!”
1/8 The time he made it clear he would never do commercials again
“I would prefer a hot lead enema. I hate that.” were Waits’ exact words to NPR reporter Joel Rose. Waits narrated a dog food commercial in the 1980s and he hated the experience so much he swore never to do commercials again, and he made it a point never to allow his songs to be used there. When he turned down an offer from Frito-Lay, the company went behind Waits’ back to hire a singer who looked like him, and they wrote a jingle that sounded dangerously like his hit “Step Right Up.” Waits sued the company arguing that he “is not a jingle writer”, and such intentional commercial copying of his style damaged his anti-commercial image. The court sided with Waits and awarded him more than $2 million in damages.