Wordfest is back, and with it, one of my favorite nights of raucous, intellectual battle: Literary Death Match. If you don’t have your tickets yet, get them now: LDM is back in Calgary for the third time tomorrow night. To celebrate the upcoming war of words with ensuing hostile hilarity, I am reposting my interview with host Adrian Todd Zuniga on his “Deadly Style” from his last visit to Cowtown.
“What is going to be healthy and delicious, and also make me happy?”The host of Literary Death Match is starving. Maybe not quite to death, but definitely in that just-got-off-a-plane and made-it-through-customs kind of way. Yet Adrian Todd Zuniga is not the type to order off a menu without some intense Q&A.
I get it. We’ve met at Joey’s Eau Claire, just around the corner from the Westin, the Wordfest hotel of choice, so I can do some grilling of my own. Once Adrian finishes his blackened basa, I want to know — what will he be wearing tonight as 4 authors face off onstage?A cornflower blue suit. Of course.
Literary Death Match is a traveling word circus. With Adrian as its ringmaster, no staid, snooze-inducing readings are allowed on his world stage. The show, which visits dozens of cities a year, is Def Poetry Jam meets American Idol (minus the meanness) meets Double Dare.
The Los Angeles-residing, Missouri-born author and screenwriter created LDM eight years ago. This is his second visit to Calgary. Being a man of style, he abhors being seen in the same outfit twice.
“I rotate through suits. It’s very important for me not to wear the same thing in the same city. It would be lame.”Last year Adrian wore a red velvet smoking jacket, which bookended nicely with 2013 competitor Todd Babiak, no slouch in the wardrobe department himself. See my style feature on Todd here.
Besides making sure he didn’t lame out with a suit repeat, Adrian didn’t feel comfortable wearing a bow tie back-to-back with his last appearance in Calgary. Also important to note: “I don’t wear bow ties on dates. I think it’s too much of a statement. I think I’m a more subtle gentleman on that front. But I do wear suit jackets to pretty much everything.”Even while our interview cuts into his pre-show quiet time, he has the rumpled flair of someone out of a Robert Doisneau photograph.
Like “The Kiss” sans a girl to kiss. Which is confirmed when Adrian volunteers, apropos of nothing, “I haven’t kissed a girl in Calgary yet.” Later that night, onstage, he mentions he is single.The downside of his fashion daring can have drawbacks. Like when he told his friends his new suit was the ultimate in Don Draper. They said, ‘You mean the Pete Campbell suit?’
Luckily, the Sterling Cooper doppelganger apparel on stage at the GRAND couldn’t derail the momentum of the 2014 Death Match. In fact, the cornflower shine only added to the intrigue of authors Michael Crummey, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alison Pick and Matthew Thomas being rated on literary merit, performance and intangibles.
LDM is normally judged by a panel of three, but the only way to compensate for a last-minute cancellation by Mayor Nenshi was to bring in two backups. From left to right at the black table: comedian Chris Gordon, author Carrie Shyder, Olympic hero Mark Tewksbury and author Johanna Skibsrud. I will totally name favorites: even though Mark claimed he wasn’t a literature type, the author of three books was hilarious and enthusiastic. Ginger Jesus, aka Chris Gordon, was a close second, and as he made very clear, sponsored by Hudson’s Bay.
The evening ended in a race to ring the bell, to identify classics from one-star Amazon ratings. Lone stars, as Adrian aptly put it.
“I believe the way you dress is a compliment to the people you are with,” says Adrian. “So I’m sorry that I’m basically saying, go fuck yourself, by what I am wearing today.”
Don’t worry, Adrian, I’m not taking it personally. And thanks for this candid with the cows, by the way.
Kidding! Great to see you! Literary Death Match marches on to Austin, London and San Francisco next. I have no doubt Adrian’s closet can support the world tour.