Love lost—and found
Found Magazine founder’s new documentary explores romance, from Sacramento’s Bodytribe Fitness to Newt Gingrich
Davy Rothbart sounds a bit weary.
He’s pushed back this phone interview from his home in Los Angeles to do some last-minute work for the venerated NPR program This American Life, with whom he’s been working since 2001. Rothbart’s got a lot of irons in the fire: In addition to the radio work, he’s a filmmaker, a published fiction writer and frequent freelance contributor to GQ. And he publishes a magazine of quirky and touching found materials called, fittingly, Found. Now, his tumultuous love life is the subject of a just-released documentary titled My Heart Is an Idiot.
The movie documents Rothbart’s romantic travails as he tours the country with his Found Magazine stage show. Along the way, he solicits advice on romance from a roster of all-star cameos. Rothbart and director David Meiklejohn will be screening the film at Movies on a Big Screen this Sunday, including a Q-and-A afterward.
Here’s what Rothbart had to say about the movie, Newt Gingrich’s love life and the spiritual channeling of ancient Buddhist monks.
There’s a scene in the movie filmed at Bodytribe Fitness in Sacramento. How did that come about?
That scene is great; we love Chip [Conrad]. … He’s helped us out a lot over the years, hosting us, and we’ve been coming to Sacramento regularly for years and we’ve always had great events there. … I really liked the way he opened up about some of the stuff he was going through; at the time he was pretty smitten, and it was nice to hear him just talk so openly. I just liked the vision of this gigantic bodybuilder who can lift a barbell in one hand talking really in a vulnerable and open way about what it feels like to be really in love.
Most people in the film were very open. Were you surprised by that?
It’s a subject that everyone relates to. Everyone has been through a wide range of experiences, from excitable to triumphant to really miserable, and sometimes both in the same relationship. I also think for a lot of people, honestly, some of the more famous people we talked to, they’re just kind of used to talking about the same shit every time, every interview. So it’s almost refreshing for them to be asked about something that’s totally outside of their expertise.
Newt Gingrich’s advice was surprisingly good.
Yeah, totally! That was shocking to me. Here’s a guy whose politics I completely disagreed with, and yet he couldn’t have been more open, thoughtful and reflective, and pretty on-point. He’s a smart guy, and he’s had some well-documented trials and tribulations in his own love life. Just his willingness to engage with a question like that I thought was kind of cool.
How did you hook up with director David Meiklejohn, and what was the genesis of the movie?
Me and Peter, my brother, do these Found tours every year and … I was sharing [a found object], this algebra test. … It’s basically this kid had taken this test, and he really didn’t know the answers to any of the algebra questions, so instead of leaving it blank he left these really creative and outrageous responses. So I was reading it every night on tour and then, in Portland, Maine, I met the guy who had found that algebra test. And it was David Meiklejohn.
It turned out he had found a lot of my favorite finds that we’d published in the magazine over the years. … We kind of hit it off, and I had a chance to see some of his short films. And I thought those were really amazing, so when he said he had the idea to come on the road with us and do a Found Magazine documentary, I thought that was a great idea. …
We got home from the trip, and David said he started watching the footage and he realized that what he actually documented was the ups and downs of my love life. He said that’s kind of what was most intriguing to him.
Some of the footage, especially the old tapes of you crying, is pretty raw.
It is raw. David has been doing a nice thing I think before each screening, he’s kind of been telling the audience, “Look, this movie has some really raw moments in it, real stuff, really happening on camera, and at times it may make you uncomfortable, and if you feel uncomfortable … I encourage you just to laugh.” It’s kind of awesome because it really gives the audience permission to see the humor in it. I think people don’t know how to respond, so he’s kind of giving them permission to see the humor in it and not get overly serious.
There’s a really interesting scene in the movie with your mom and she’s matter-of-factly channeling a Buddhist monk. How long has she been doing that, and what do you think about it?
Sure, my mom channels this ancient Buddhist spirit named Aaron. She’s been doing it since I was about 12 years old. … She became deaf when she was 29, before I was born. She was really struggling for a while and she began meditating and, in her meditation, this spirit kind of just presented himself to her and said, “You’re struggling, you asked for help and here I am,” so he’s kind of become her teacher, and it was almost normal just because Aaron was always around. … You get used to it, I think whether or not I believe. She’s become a really respected meditation teacher. …
I’m sort of a skeptic in general about certain New Age stuff like that, and yet I’ve seen all of the intense positive effect Aaron’s had not just on her, but on dozens of her students. … They’re just kind of cool, normal people, and clearly her and Aaron’s teaching have touched these people. … I’m kind of inclined to say, “Hey, if it’s meaningful and it’s bringing positive things into people’s lives, who cares if it’s real or just part of her or if it’s actually a separate ghost or not.” What’s he’s teaching is profound and positive to people so cool.
The movie was filmed five or six years ago, so do you still feel like your heart’s an idiot?
Oh, I think I’ve come a really long way (laughs). … Working on the movie itself gave me a big window into how I’ve handled things in the past, so I’d say the future looks a lot more bright.