John Breunig (opinion): Alec Baldwin calls CT's Colin McEnroe 'one of my favorite broadcasters on public radio'

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Alec Baldwin recently hosted Colin McEnroe on his podcast, "Here's the Thing."

Alec Baldwin recently hosted Colin McEnroe on his podcast, "Here's the Thing."

Jordan Strauss/Associated Press
Connecticut broadcaster and columnist Colin McEnroe.

Connecticut broadcaster and columnist Colin McEnroe.

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I’m listening to Alec Baldwin interview Colin McEnroe in search of clues that the latter is a real person.

See, I’ve been suspicious for a while that “Colin McEnroe” is played by more than one person, or is just a human algorithm.

An invitation to writers

John Breunig will be a panelist for a discussion on "How to Publish an Outstanding Op-Ed" from 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Fairfield County Story Lab, 21 Charles St., Westport. Also on the panel is former New York Times Staff Writer Julie Scelfo. It will be moderated by Chandra Bozelko. The event, hosted by the Connecticut Press Club, is free and open to the public. To attend the event virtually, email CTPressclub@gmail.com. For more information, visit www.ctpressclub.org

 

I was already suspicious a few years ago when I would listen to his radio show and read his column and struggle to reconcile differences in his phrasings. The guy on the air sounds like he’s in his early 20s, toying with his audience like Ferris Bueller on his Ivy League college station, philosophy classes still moist enough to toss in Descartes references. The Colin in print is also a wiseacre, but more in the spirit of Baldwin’s animated “Boss Baby.”

These days, I’m even more suspicious about Colin’s existence given that I’ve been editing his column for almost four years and have never spoken to him. We swap emails, but that “Colin” has a different voice as well, favoring communication via haiku. He even confesses to Baldwin that his radio employers leave him alone because “it’s such a pain in the ass to have a conversation with me, that they’d rather not do it.”

Hmmm.

Baldwin has interviewed a roster of bold names that reads like a past and future Kennedy Center Honors guest list: David Sedaris, Tina Brown, Chris Rock, Jodie Foster, Thom Yorke, Barbra Streisand, Patti Smith, David Letterman, Billy Joel …

… and this guy who calls himself “Colin McEnroe,” who confesses he “went into kind of a tailspin about … being the least famous person Alec has ever interviewed.” Here’s how he tweeted the news.

“Even though I was interviewed by @AlecBaldwin on @heresthething, nothing has changed. I'm still the same down to earth, unpretentious Hartford guy. I said the same thing last night over drinks with Jon Stewart and Kate McKinnon. And Sting.”

If anything, it is Baldwin who seems a little starstruck. He gushes that he’s a “huge fan,” calling Colin “one of my favorite broadcasters on public radio,” who is “a compelling and uninhibited presence.”

Then there’s the title of the episode: “Colin McEnroe: The Orson Welles of Public Radio.” It’s a nod to Colin as a renaissance man who has also written books and plays and is a college instructor, moderator and occasional singer. And they both have the soul of tricksters. Welles convinced radio listeners in 1938 that Martians were real. Colin McEnroe has convinced listeners that he’s real.  

One of Welles’ lesser-known side hustles was as a political columnist for The New York Post (where he posed a question that remains unanswered: “What is it that makes a man want to write for the newspapers?”).

The title was surely not intended as a nod to Colin’s column being published by Hearst, which was founded by the man Welles famously channeled as an inspiration for “Citizen Kane.” It’s been called the greatest movie ever made. But had I mentioned it in a column when it was released in 1941, Hearst would have canned me.  

While in college, I had the privilege of hearing Welles’ collaborator John Houseman reminisce about those heady days. Which makes me feel like I’ve come closer to talking to Orson Welles than Colin McEnroe.

Baldwin’s episode title also summoned thoughts of “The Shadow,” the pulp magazine and radio character from the 1930s who was one of the inspirations for the modern superhero. Welles played him on radio, and Baldwin took over the role in a 1994 popcorn flick.

I tried to bait Colin into delivering his most ominous “No evil lurks in the hearts of men” Shadow laugh. After all, Colin remains as elusive as Kent Allard/Lamont Cranston/The Shadow — the human chameleon who had the power to “cloud men’s minds.”

Baldwin has one of the most distinctive Hollywood voices since, well, Welles. Unlike Colin, he sounds like Alec Baldwin in both voice and cadence whether on screen, pod or in real life. Colin emailed an exchange they had as he tried to maintain a phone conversation with Baldwin while galloping after his unleashed dog.

Baldwin: Is your dog named Declan?

McEnroe: Yes.

Baldwin: Great name.

I’m not even sure the dog’s name is real. It’s probably “Elvis.”

The podcast itself is an engaging 38 minute introduction to “The Life and Myth of Colin McEnroe.” When Colin recalls his days as “the house liberal” on commercial radio, Baldwin is aghast that there are actually conservatives in Connecticut.

They also volley references that range from Tennessee Williams and Oscar Levant to Jack Paar and “The Hangover.”

Baldwin is an efficient interviewer (“For example?” is a stock follow-up query) and a gracious host. He cackles when Colin reveals his fantasy that “I’d like to live in Paris for a year, but then I’d like to come home to Connecticut.”

This sways me to concede that perhaps there really is only one Colin McEnroe. His word choice with Baldwin is as precise as it is in his columns. He doesn’t say “come back,” but “come home.” For even when Hollywood calls, he is still a scion of the Nutmeg State.

Colin earns another laugh when he adds a punchline to one of the highlights of his own Wikipedia page. The entry recalls that “Ira Glass, speaking to a national conference of public radio program directors, cited the Colin McEnroe Show as his example of a local program using humor and innovation effectively.”

What Wiki edits out is that Glass called McEnroe “Chris.”

I can’t fathom the challenges of the on-air interview (I have a voice for print), but I trust Colin that making it sound relaxed and spontaneous takes “a fair amount of jungle cunning.” He compares switching from host to subject as “a little bit like a dentist going to the dentist.”

“But I hasten to add that Alec was generous, charming, affirming and didn’t lecture me about gum hygiene.”

Then Colin slipped. He revealed that Baldwin “does an impersonation of me, but he has so far declined to share it.”

So maybe Colin McEnroe isn’t real after all. Maybe he’s actually Alec Baldwin.

John Breunig is editorial page editor of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time. jbreunig@scni.com; twitter.com/johnbreunig.