John O'Hurley is perhaps most recognizable as his character J. Peterman on Seinfeld, but in addition to his long and successful career as an actor, he is also the author of the New York Times bestseller It's Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from Dogs. His follow-up book is Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It. He talked to City Pages from the first stop on his book tour, New York City.
CP: You now have two books about dogs. Why the fascination with canines?
John O'Hurley: I knew a lot about dogs and I thought it would be an interesting viewpoint that everything I needed to learn in life, I really learned from them, to really kind of celebrate their presence in our lives. They are kind of silent companions, but if youre quiet with your observations, they can teach you an awful lot. And that was the first book. And then the second was based on my observations of the relationship that one of my dogs established with my newborn son and in my observation, I thought it might be fun to write a book that was kind of based on what was going through his mind as he sat at the base of the feeding chair.
CP: Can you describe your writing process? When you write, do you put the rest of your life on hold or do you write in bits and pieces when you have free time?
JO: I wish it were as whimsical as that. Unfortunately, its a very stressful thing for me because I always have tight deadlines for these books. And Im the lead in Monty Pythons Spamalot out in Las Vegas. I was in that show when I agreed to do the book. I was rehearsing for two months for that show and the second we opened, I had to dig into the book. So I had from March 1 until July 15 to write this book. So it was four to five hours a day of kind of sitting down and disciplining myself. But even more importantly, as I began to do it, I realized what I was doing was actually writing a letter to my son that would be there for posterity that he would pass on to his son and possibly generations after that. So it became an extraordinarily important and personal work for me even though I was writing through the eyes of my dog.
CP: You have a busy life already, and now your son is almost one. How has having a child changed your life?
JO: As I wrote in my first book, I'm a better person with a dog in my lap. I think I'm a deeper and more thoughtful and caring person with a child in my lap. The combination of the two makes me a fairly decent human being. How has it changed me? In the positive way, it's kind of rounded out my life. I find that I need less from the outside world and more from my family in terms of stimulation and satisfaction. Everything I need revolves around my wife, my child, myself, and my dogs. I have a sense of family that I never had before. The other side is that having a child makes you less tolerant and more vigilant of the world around you. The things that I could accept with disinterest because I was single or a married man, I can no longer tolerate because I have a child and I have a responsibility now to that child to kind of clear the path in the world for him. In one respect, it's a joy, but it's a very serious responsibility.
CP: Is there an example of something that you would have tolerated previously and now you cant?
JO: I look at my own business in terms of entertainment. I think were heading down a terrible path of reality television, with video games. Weve kind of loss our sense of authenticity in terms of the cultural crisis we have by kind of giving away our sense of creativity and imagination. I think there are things that I dont appreciate anymore and I dont tolerate anymore. I dont support video games. I dont support the X Boxes. I support reading and imagination.
CP: You mention reality TV as being one the things you cant tolerate. Do you consider Dancing with the Stars to be a reality TV show?
JO: Not at all. Absolutely not. Its done in a real format. What Im talking about is where you are rewarding ambition. Im talking about things like Big Brother and these shows like--these so called mock social experiments with children. It has no place as entertainment. Theres no conscience. We do them without conscience of what the repercussions are and what were actually training our children to do. Were not breeding writers anymore. Were breeding social voyeurism and its a very, very--its a terrible road to be going down because once you go there, you dont come back.