The discussion over Kanye West's pregnant pause, when Jimmy Kimmel asked him about his support for Donald Trump, is missing some important nuances.
Worse, any camera-shy Asian business leader who watches West getting cut off will wonder whether they can still take time to think before answering questions, or if they should even take part in live TV interviews.
This is the part of the interview in question (scroll forward to the 10:30 minute mark):
Kanye West: "One by one by one, we can defuse this nuclear bomb of hate that we're in as a society, by thinking of everyone as our family, and how would we treat our kids, how we treat…"
Jimmy Kimmel: "I think that's a beautiful thought, but just in literal terms there are families being torn apart at the border of this country, there are literally families being torn apart as a result of what this President is doing, and I think that, you know, we cannot forget that, whether we like his personality or… or not. His actions are really what matter. I mean you've so famously and so powerfully said, George Bush doesn't care about black people. That makes me wonder, what makes you think that Donald Trump does, or any people at all."
That's when West looked up at the lights, searching for the answer.
Four seconds pass before Kimmel says:
JK: "Why don't we take a break, we'll come back with Kanye West."
Applause, Kanye West smiles.
What is being missed
- Context – Watch the first ten minutes of the interview, before this question comes up. West comes across as a much more considered artist than I previously gave him credit for (which was pretty much none at all).
He paused long to consider virtually every question, not just the one about Trump. Some of his answers didn't make much sense (eg, saying Galileo claimed the sun revolved around the earth). But it's clear he thought hard about every answer leading up to that point.
So when West tweeted…
On Jimmy Kimmel we had a great time having a dialogue. I’m reading that I was stumped by a question. Let me clarify the click bait. I wasn’t stumped. I wasn’t given a chance to answer the question.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) August 11, 2018
...I am inclined to believe him.
But if Kimmel really wanted to insist on an answer and show West up, he would have let him smoulder in silence for much longer. Kimmel did him a favour by cutting to the break.
Previous feud – Listening to Kimmel's question it also appears to me that he wanted to ask the tough question, but he softened his approach.
He could have said curtly, "There are literally families being torn apart as a result of what this President is doing. What makes you think Donald Trump cares about anyone?"
But he didn't. Instead, he asked his question almost apologetically, explaining his thought processes and edging his way carefully towards the punchline.
Perhaps this is the result of the bust-up he had had with West back in 2013. Maybe Kimmel didn't want a repeat.
Which brings me to the next point:
- Commercial breaks – the reason Kimmel cut to the break is probably because he had to. By this stage, the segment was already 11 minutes long, and I can well imagine the producer yelling in Kimmel's earpiece to go to the break. When West initially didn't give an answer to the Trump question, Kimmel took the chance to do so. I recall numerous times during my interviews on CNBC that there were questions that were begging to be asked, but time didn't allow it, and so on the producer's instructions I had to cut to the break. It's unfortunate that so much is being read into this pause on Kimmel's show in particular, when it was likely dictated by the sheer practicalities of live TV.
What Asian business leaders can learn from this
For Asian business leaders who already avoid live television interviews, this begs the question that frequently comes up in our media training workshops: Can I pause before answering?
The answer is clearly yes, tempered by two points you must be aware of:
- You can't take too long. Be aware of the amount of time you have in an interview. Pausing for 1-2 seconds before answering is fine. But anything longer you will either appear like a deer in the headlights as you try to avoid the question, or you will simply run out of time, like West did.
- You have to be prepared for what you will likely be asked. Do your homework, but forget requesting a list of questions because they are likely to be different from the ones the interviewer will actually ask. West should have known that the Trump question was going to come up. Yet he looked completely unprepared for it.
The aim of this post is to explain my views on interviews, not excuse West's political views. I look forward to your views in the comments below this post.