FishbowlDC Interview With WaPo’s Jen Chaney

Say hello to WaPo’s Celebritology blogger Jen Chaney. She went to work for the publication 11 years ago and says she’s still thrilled by her job. Of all our FishbowlDC interviewees in the span I’ve been working here, she’s first to admit she regularly reads her horoscope. Despite living in Washington and being raised up the road in Rockville, politics is not her thing. But celebrity watching is. “I’m really fascinated with fandom and what makes people obsessed with celebs and shows,” she said. Put it this way: “I’m actually more interested in the people who like Twilight than Twilight itself.” One aspect of celebrity reporting she occasionally finds troubling is red carpet reporting. She attended the Oscars this year, and to her dismay there was a lot of pushing and shoving. Chaney thought to herself, ‘Wait, we’re all getting mad at each other because we can’t find out what they’re wearing?’ Enjoy.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Probably Coke Zero, mainly because I drink so much of it, it seems like I should have turned into it by now.

How often do you Google yourself? Maybe twice a month, mostly when I can’t find an article that I need to dig up.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? The worst thing an editor ever said to me, or at least one of them: after being told by two editors that I would not be getting a promotion I really wanted at the time, one of those editors came up to me after the meeting and told me that, as a woman, I should never be afraid to ask for a raise. I think she meant well but at the same time I thought: wait, wasn’t I just doing that?

Who is your favorite working journalist and why? Wow, it’s hard to come up with one person. I love reading Anthony Lane’s movie reviews because he’s smart, laugh-out-loud funny and sophisticated without looking down his nose at mainstream fare. I also admire Roger Ebert’s encyclopedic knowledge of cinema as well as the way he has embraced Twitter. And at the risk of tooting a Post horn, I enjoy reading virtually anything Hank Stuever writes.

Do you have a favorite word? I have many, so I’ll borrow my 4-year-old son’s favorite word at the moment: booty. Which is a pretty rock-solid choice, really.

What word or phrase do you overuse? “What the hell?” I say it many times a day. But never without justification. (Example: “What the hell is the reason for remaking ‘Dirty Dancing’?”)

Who would you rather have dinner with –  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews or FNC’s Chris Wallace? I am sure both would make fine dinner companions. But since I’m not the typical politically-focused D.C. journalist, I am not sure I could come up with enough policy-oriented chatter to get us through the appetizer-and-cocktails stage. Can I choose another Chris — maybe Rock or Colfer?

You are ordered to go on a road trip to an undisclosed location. You can go with White House Spokesman Jay Carney or Bo, the President’s Portuguese Water Dog. No ones feelings will be hurt. Who do you take? Probably Bo, for the same reasons noted in the previous answer. Traveling with a dog guarantees prolonged comfortable silences that don’t involve making small talk about politics.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Vibrate.

You won’t want to miss her secret…

It’s 3 a.m. and you get up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Do you check your BlackBerry? Only if it’s buzzing.

What word do you routinely misspell? I always double-check embarrass. Because I don’t want to embarass — or, shoot, embarrass with two rs! — myself.

What swear word do you use most often? Probably the f-word, sadly. I’m also an enormous fan of ass clown.

If you weren’t a journalist what would you be? A novelist making even less money than I do as a journalist.

You’ve just been told the big news: You get to have your own Sunday morning talk show. Who will be on your roundtable? (Pick four journalists or pundits types.) Actually, I would love to have a Sunday show that discusses current pop culture events with the same zeal and intelligence that traditional Sunday shows reserve for politics. Four possible panelists for said show (assuming location is not an obstacle since this is all hypothetical): Christy Lemire, AP film critic and co-host of “Ebert Presents: At the Movies”; Nell Minow, the Movie Mom for Beliefnet and a smart and unashamed lover of movies and pop culture; my former co-blogger Liz Kelly (now at Zap2It), to ensure someone can join me in making “Lost” references; and frequent Washington Post and New York Magazine contributor Dan Kois, who is not afraid to give four-star reviews to disaster flicks.

When you pig out what do you eat? Pizza. And then more pizza. I like Two Amys and Mamma Lucia.

When did you last cry and why? Probably a few weeks ago, when I was watching the final episode of “Friday Night Lights” for the fourth time. Eric and Tami Taylor get me every time.

What TV show is your guilty pleasure? One of the great things about my job: I can justify watching virtually any movie or TV show by saying it’s for work. But my guilty pleasure, at least during the last couple of seasons, has been “Dancing With the Stars.” I tried to resist for so long, then I got sucked in.

What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken? I’ve gone to some more exciting-sounding locations (London, Jamaica, Napa Valley) but my best vacation may have been a trip to Bethany Beach last September. I go there at least one or twice a year, but that particular trip marked the first time in seven or eight years that I spent a negligible amount of time doing work. It was fantastic. Unplugging is harder than ever for journalists, but so necessary.

What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. My Driveshaft T-shirt. (If you don’t know what Driveshaft is, you didn’t watch “Lost.”) It’s made of cotton, was purchased from a Web site called Stylin’ Online and cost $18, if memory serves. I’ve inadvertently worn it while in the presence of people who worked on the show “Lost,” which made me feel like a gigantic assclown. (See previous question about favorite swear words.)

Pick one: Will Ferrell’s Bush impersonation or Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin? I think both are equally strong but I’m going with Ferrell’s Bush impersonation, only because I still use the word strategery on a regular basis.

Do you read your horoscope? I do.

Tell us a secret not many people know about you. I went streaking once. Only once.

Who is your mentor? Georgia MacDonald, my editor from when I worked as a news reporter at The Gazettes. She was nurturing, no-nonsense and attached at the hip to her police scanner, an old-school journalist at heart and just a fine human being. She also used to call me “kid” a lot, which made me feel like I was filing copy on a typewriter at the Daily Planet — in a good way.

What and where was your first job in journalism? I was an editorial assistant at the Montgomery Journal, based in Rockville, Md., a paper that no longer exists. The job gave me the opportunity to write feature stories in between answering phone calls from readers ranting about the ICC proposal, entering movie showtimes and typing up the Police Beat column. During my first two weeks on the job, I remember thinking: wow, people here seem bitter. Six months later, I too had a perpetual scowl on my face and could, at the slightest provocation, launch into a rant on the multiple flaws of Atex, which is what passed for a content management system in the early 1990s.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? First of all, kudos on the correct spelling of embarrassing. I would have had to triple check that.

During an early assignment in my career, I covered the HFStival when the alt-rock fest was held at RFK. While doing interviews backstage, I accidentally referred to Marky Ramone as Joey. He was relatively cool about it. But two seconds later, Joey walked in the room and the flagrant stupidity of my error was doubly apparent — no one else on planet Earth ever resembled Joey Ramone, God rest his gabba-gabba-hey soul .

Have you ever been fired? No. Of course, I’m convinced I just jinxed myself by stating this publicly.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? There have been many, from interviews with the non-famous (I once ventured to a prison on the Eastern Shore to interview a guy convicted of second-degree murder) to famous people of the George Clooney variety. But one of the most purely enjoyable was probably the online video piece I did with Bradley Cooper, which involved an interview as well as a few rounds of a movie trivia game. I completely choked during round one (I still contend I was blinded by his handsomeness) but we enjoyed it enough to keep playing after the videographer was done shooting. It’s rare for an actor to say, hey, this is fun, can we keep this interview going? It’s certainly the only time that’s ever happened to me. (And yes, this was before “The Hangover” came out.)

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? When I was a stringer for People magazine, I interviewed Russell Watson, who at the time was an up-and-coming classical singer from the UK who became an overnight sensation. It seemed fame quickly went to his head: he was quite cocky, didn’t give very interesting answers and wore a pair of sunglasses the entire time even though we were indoors. Wearing sunglasses inside — you only earn the right to do that after being the frontman for U2 for a few decades.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? Due to my fuzzy memory, I’ll just go with a recent one: I got the first comment (which was really a non-comment) from Jason Sudeikis re: the pregnancy of his ex-girlfriend, January Jones of “Mad Men,” at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He didn’t really say much, but since it was his first response of any kind, a lot of Web sites picked it up. Welcome to the celebrity blogosphere, where writing about a famous person not saying anything qualifies as a scoop.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? I didn’t necessarily hit the tears stage, but I laughed pretty hard a week ago while reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”

When and why did you last lose your temper? Earlier this week, when my son was running away from me while I was simultaneously trying to walk the dog. It’s the little things that send a working mom over the edge.

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? On my best days: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” On my worst days: “Dazed and Confused.”

Who would you want to play you in a movie? Kate Winslet, despite the lack of a physical resemblance. I think she’s a fantastic actress. Also, I’ve always wanted to be British.

Name jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Camp counselor, data entry, intern at the PR department at DC 101, congressional fellow on Capitol Hill. That’s it. Wow, I really don’t have a fallback option, do I?

Do you have a me-wall? If so, who’s on it? I don’t. But if I did, it would only feature photos of me from the 1990s. I was cuter then.

Who should just call it a day? At the risk of sounding ageist, Andy Rooney. The man is 92. He’s said some funny things over the years, but after decades of coming up with stuff to complain about on “60 Minutes,” isn’t it time to retire? That way he’ll have time to start a blog and complain about stuff on the Internet, like everyone else in America does.

What’s the craziest reader/viewer email you’ve received? When I was a columnist for the Gazette I wrote a pop culture column. I got a letter from an older woman who, for some reason, was [upset] that I said that I was sad that Princess Diana died. She said my face looked vapid. It was handwritten. You hand wrote this, you paid for the postage. You also assumed I was stupid because of the way I looked.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. If you could be a journalist during another time period, which era would you choose?