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Q&A with Toby Young.
The people in your media neighborhood.

BY CAROLINE CALLAHAN| People can love or hate Toby Young, but it’s difficult to deny that he’s achieved his primary goal of getting attention from mediaphiles, gossipmongers and the general public. His book, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, (which came out in the U.K. over a year ago) was published in the U.S. in July and was reviewed in almost every publication imaginable. But we’ve been wondering what he’s up to ever since we heard his story is being adapted into a play which will be hitting London’s West End this coming April.

So, what are you up to these days?
I'm the theatre critic of The Spectator and the restaurant critic of The Evening Standard Magazine.

What is the extent of your involvement in the forthcoming play based on your book?
At the moment, the plan is for me and another writer, Tim Fountain, to write and perform it. Tim wrote Resident Alien and The Puppetry of the Penis, but I've never done anything like this before. We're going to open it in the West End next April and then bring it to New York in June. I daresay that by the time it arrives in New York I'll have been replaced by someone better looking.

Have you ever acted before?
[Not since] I was 12.

Since FilmFour (the company that optioned How To Lose Friends and Alienate People) folded, have you gotten anyone else to adapt your book to the big screen?
I did a movie deal with FilmFour last May, whereby they optioned my book and hired me to adapt it, and about two months later the company went belly-up. But the parent company, Channel 4, still wants to do it and I'm planning to start work on the screenplay over the holidays.

More recently, I was hired by Studio Canal to work on a film version of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and I'm about to conclude a deal with a Hollywood studio to write something else. I'm quite excited about the prospect of becoming a screenwriter. That way, I can move back to America, and when my efforts to make it in Hollywood come to nothing I can write a sequel to How to Lose Friends... about screwing up on the West Coast.

What was it like being photographed in your birthday suit?
When the picture was printed in the New York Observer I was back in London and a friend rang up to tell me what it looked like. "Two words," he said. "George Costanza."

Any forthcoming books that we should be aware of?
I'm working on a proposal for a novel which is going to be a dystopian satire set in the future like George Orwell's 1984. It's about the moment when the disenfranchised masses turn on the celebrity class. The storming-of-the-Bastille moment is going to be when the looky-loos outside the Kodak Theater during the Academy Awards storm past the police barricades and start lynching A-list movie stars on live TV. When I say it's going to be set in the future, I mean in 10-15 years time. I don't think this moment is too far off.

What advice would you offer to a young, aspiring journalist trying to get started in New York?
Join the right AA group.

And elsewhere?
Start drinking. That way, when you get to New York you'll have a good excuse for joining AA and won't seem like a shameless hustler.

Are there any Conde Nasties whom you actually admire?
Believe it or not, I have a great deal of respect for the fact-checking departments at the various magazines. That's where all the frustrated playwrights and aspiring novelists are.

Magazines you love to read?
The New Yorker.

Have you always prided yourself as a master of self-deprecation?
I wouldn't describe myself as a master of anything.

Favorite books?
Pride & Prejudice, David Copperfield, Scoop, Lucky Jim, and Bonfire of the Vanities.

Favorite watering holes in New York?
Marylou's, Elaine's, Don Hill's.

What has been the worst repercussion of publishing How To Lose Friends and Alienate People?
Acquired Situational Narcissism. [Asked to expand on this disorder, Mr. Young said "I'd prefer not to. People can look it up if they're curious. It's in the DMD."]

Who are some journalists you actually admire, and why?
Tom Wolfe, Christopher Hitchens and James Wolcott. I like the fact that they're beholden to no one.

Does your wife Caroline ever get annoyed with your antics?
She's been pretty good about everything up to now but she did draw the line when I was asked if I wanted to be on Celebrity Big Brother.

On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you to be home [in London]?
6.5

What do you miss most about New York?
Take-out sushi.

Current Abode:
A two-story Victorian house in West London.


Caroline Callahan is a freelance writer living in New York.

 

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