It’s been nearly 10 years since Jesse Eisenberg’s infamous interview with Romina Puga, but I still think about it all the time.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a very bizarre and intense three-minute clip, in which the pair trade rapid-fire banter that seems either flirty or mean or both. The interview derails immediately. In her first question, Puga refers to Morgan Freeman, Eisenberg’s costar in Now You See Me, which he was promoting at the time, as “Freeman,” to which Eisenberg asks, “What are you — on a baseball team with him?” And it only gets more chaotic from there. Puga tells Eisenberg he has fat thumbs and calls him a jerk; he quips that she’s on his time and calls her “the Carrot Top of interviewers.” It’s awkward, but they’re both laughing.
When the video first came out, Puga posted on Tumblr that Eisenberg had “humiliated” her; he expressed confusion, saying that was “the exact opposite of [his] experience.” But this fleeting scandal never gained traction. YouTube commenters continue to debate whether the video is funny or rude, real or staged. Few people reference Puga’s Tumblr reaction, though some muse about the strangeness of human communication, and how confusing it is that two people can have the same interaction and draw such different conclusions from it.
The thing is, awkward celebrity interviews are compulsively watchable. Especially the flirty ones. Seeing these charming, normally unflappable people get caught off guard feels like a delicious insight. It’s a peek into the humanity underneath celebrities’ tightly controlled PR personas and years of training to perform for the public eye.
The thing is, awkward celebrity interviews are compulsively watchable. Especially the flirty ones.
Take Andrew Garfield’s recent Golden Globes run-in with Amelia Dimoldenberg, the journalist and comedian behind the popular YouTube series Chicken Shop Date. The two of them previously made Twitter waves for a similarly flirty exchange at a GQ party in November, during which Dimoldenberg complimented Garfield’s armpits. But this time around, Garfield was extra flustered, and Dimoldenberg extra stoic. A popular TikTok edit highlights Garfield’s attempt to save face after accidentally (or not) telling Dimoldenberg, “I only ever want to see you.” His indecipherable giggle-mumbles are subtitled: “stuttering with rizz.”
Dimoldenberg has built a substantial internet following from interactions just like these. In Chicken Shop Date, she takes celebrities — mostly British rappers, though she’s recently started talking to more American rappers and actors — to eat nuggets and fries at casual eateries around London. There, she lobs awkward or random questions at them. A reliable standby is, “Do you have a type?” The results are endearing: When Daniel Kaluuya described his type as “funny and smart,” Dimoldenberg said hers was “Actors. Good ones. From Camden.” Kaluuya, an Oscar-winning actor from Camden, smirked. “It’s not you,” Dimoldenberg deadpanned.
Her work on Chicken Shop Date taps into multiple proven comedy niches at once. As the New York Times noted in its profile of her last year, gimmicks are the perfect way to smooth over any awkwardness on talk shows. James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” and Jimmy Fallon’s “Egg Roulette” invite celebrities to let their guard down by partaking in ridiculous activities that almost nobody can look cool doing. Dimoldenberg is certainly operating in this vein; the dressed-down aesthetic of the series lets celebrities just chat, rather than worry about looking pretty. But it’s also very hard to look larger-than-life when laughing through a mouthful of fries, especially when your host then turns away to say, “Sorry, that’s actually disgusting.”
It’s like sending your funniest best friend to flirt with someone who’s way out of your league, knowing she might be the only one who has a chance.
The more specific comedy legacy that Dimoldenberg shoulders is one of deliberate awkwardness. Chicken Shop Date operates in the social register of Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns, Eric Andre’s The Eric Andre Show, and Ziwe Fumudoh’s Ziwe — all comedy talk shows that gained cult followings because of their hosts' willingness to make their guests uncomfortable. For guests, successfully navigating the hosts’ antics became evidence of latent cool. Barack Obama’s deadpan delivery on Between Two Ferns, in comparison with Hillary Clinton’s stodgy self-seriousness, was a microcosm of their relative relationships with the entire Democratic Party.
Fumudoh’s work is even more provocative. In spring 2020, she gained notoriety for her Instagram Live interview series, Baited with Ziwe, on which she hosted multiple white celebrities looking to redeem themselves after internet scandals and smiled toothily as they attempted to save face. Fumudoh asked food writer Alison Roman, who got in trouble for disparaging the business enterprises of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, who were both — coincidentally and unfortunately — Asian women, to “name five Asian people.” Roman stumbled. Fumudoh’s fans ate it up.
But Dimoldenberg’s persona isn’t stoned, frenetic, or faux-sympathetic, like those of Galifianakis, Andre, and Fumudoh respectively. She’s awkwardly flirtatious, which takes no less steely resolve. If the pleasure of watching other awkward talk shows is akin to schadenfreude — thank god I’m not that guest getting absolutely skewered! — the joy of Chicken Shop Date is more like cheerleading. It’s like sending your funniest best friend to flirt with someone who’s way out of your league, knowing she might be the only one who has a chance. Sometimes it elicits jealousy. One Twitter user wrote of Dimoldenberg’s rapport with Garfield, “It’s hard to see other people living your dream.” But mostly it’s incredible to witness her unwavering commitment to the bit. In praise of Dimoldenberg’s exchange with Kaluuya, a different fan said, “This girl is stronger than the entire US Navy.”
Dimoldenberg has carved out a space to revel in the delightful uncertainties of flirting. It can be goofy, it can be sarcastic, it can even be — as with the Eisenberg–Puga setup — a little mean. But the deliberateness with which she’s set the tone of her series allows it to flourish. Getting everyone on the same page — it’s going to be awkward, it’s going to keep you on your toes, I’m probably going to flirt with you, but you can flirt right back — allows guests to truly play in the social landscape she’s created. She’s taken the thrill of scrutinizing celebrities’ flustered charm and given it a cozy home. ●