Tomorrow night’s Live Talks Los Angeles event featuring Burt Bacharach in conversation with Mitch Albom is notable for a couple of additional reasons. It will mark the three-year anniversary of the popular local series and is the first of several Live Talks events planned for Glendale’s Alex Theatre.
It all began May 14, 2010 with author Jane Smiley interviewing Dave Barry. Since then, series founder-producer Ted Habte-Gabr has staged more than 100 events, bringing together everyone from Steve Martin and Tina Fey to Fred Willard and Darrell Hammond to Sharon Waxman and Sir Michael Caine. In addition to the evening series, which focuses for the most part on arts and culture, Habte-Gabr curates a downtown daytime business-themed bracket, Live Talks Business.
“We have three events booked at the Alex,” Habte-Gabr tells FishbowlLA via telephone. “The first one is Burt Bacharach; the second one is Phil Jackson in conversation with John Salley on June 12; and the third one is Neil Gaiman in conversation with Geoff Boucher, June 27. Then the Alex shuts down for some major renovations and they open back up in November, at which point we’ll probably have one or two more events there before the end of the year.”
So far, Live Talks Los Angeles has donated just under $75,000 of its proceeds to ten literary-focused charities. A good number of conversations – like the inaugural one, above – are available on the Web, allowing Habte-Gabr to spread the fun to a total of 156 countries and more than a million embeds. Along the way, he has discovered the power of referred traffic.
“The biggest event we’ve done was Tina Fey interviewed by Steve Martin at the Nokia Theatre for 6,000 people,” he explains. “The video was posted a month later and within a few hours, there were already 30,000 views. I found that all the traffic was coming from a pop culture blog in Brazil.”
“The other interview that I thought was very interesting from a Web traffic standpoint was Eric Weiner, who wrote The Geography of Bliss,” Habte-Gabr adds. “He was interviewed by [author, radio journalist] Lisa Napoli about Man Seeks God, for which he had visited nine different countries and immersed himself in nine different religions. He’s hardly a big, recognizable name among the people we’ve had. Yet that video took on a life of its own, I think because various world religion and Buddhism sites all found it.”
Habte-Gabr is looking forward to the Salley-Jackson talk because it ties back to one of his series’ most pleasant surprises. He says he was not personally familiar with Salley’s TV host work when he paired the ex-Laker last year with Real Sports correspondent Frank DeFord. The result was memorable.
“John did what you hope anyone that you ask to do these does, which is he had a very casual conversation on stage,” Habte-Gabr explains. “It wasn’t an interview. It had excellent flow. Right after the event, three or four people immediately told me, you have to bring John Salley back. And it just so happens that the Jackson event will be exactly a year to the day after John spoke with Frank.”
The spark for both hosts and guests can happen any time, anywhere. For example, after encountering and being introduced by a friend to artist Ed Moses at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, Habte-Gabr had him recently on the Live Talks stage. The organizer also collects editorial cartoons and has gotten to know David Horsey; as soon as the LA Times hired Dorsey, he figured it was a good time to add his acquaintance to the line-up.