Actor Justin Long genuinely wants to know his guests' favorite emoji. After starring in comedies like Idiocracy, Dodgeball and He's Just Not That Into You, Long adds "podcast host" to his resume. The actor currently co-hosts the podcast Life Is Short with his brother, Christian. In it, Long asks his guests questions ranging from "What's your favorite Muppet?" to "What's your conception of the afterlife?" More recently, Long has starred in in the film The Wave and the Netflix series Giri/Haji.
In a conversation with NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, Long explained the origins of his podcast, what it was like to interview his 103-year-old grandmother, and what emojis reveal about a person.
Then, inspired by his podcast, Life Is Short, Justin Long plays a game of "Shorter or Longer?"
On deciphering his dad's texts:
"He started ending sentences with 'LOL' — but oftentimes they were sentences that were either urgent or about some illness. 'Your mother had a checkup today and her blood pressure is dangerously high. LOL.' And I realized at a certain point that he meant 'lots of love...' It makes more sense that it means 'lots of love' [and not] 'laughing out loud.' When you write that, how often are you really laughing out loud?"
On interviewing his grandmother on his podcast:
"[It's] very strange just to get her out of the house and into a studio. That's a whole thing for her... We've had such a nice response. We've been printing out the emails we've been getting about her and sending it to her and she's been loving reading them. She's just the best."
On getting recognized at the Apple store:
Long played the Mac in Apple's "Get a Mac" ad campaign, opposite humorist John Hodgman.
"It was always funny going into the Apple store... I was met with a mix of novelty and annoyance. It was an interesting combination of 'Oh, it's that guy!' but 'Ugh, it's that guy.'"
JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. You might know him from "Idiocracy," "Dodgeball" and "He's Just Not That Into You." His new movie, "The Wave," is out now, and he hosts the Wondery podcast "Life Is Short With Justin Long." Please welcome Justin Long.
EISENBERG: Hey. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
JUSTIN LONG: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
EISENBERG: So yes, you have a new podcast called...
LONG: Yeah, it's called "Life Is Short..."
EISENBERG: "...Life Is Short With Justin Long."
LONG: Yeah. Yeah. I like a good or bad pun depending on how you look at it.
EISENBERG: That's good. Were you - you were on our show years ago. Did we inspire you to do a podcast?
LONG: You know, I've always loved doing this format. And I always find that televised interviews are really nerve-wracking and...
EISENBERG: And short.
LONG: You know, they're really into soundbites, and you've got to get your story out. And it always felt really unnatural and forced and - yeah, so you did, in a way...
LONG: ...Inspire me. I really always enjoyed this format.
EISENBERG: And you do it with your brother.
LONG: With my brother, yeah. So we'll do an introduction. We'll introduce the guest, and I'll do the interview with the guest. And then at the end of the show, my brother and I kind of - my brother mostly unpacks the conversation that we had and can be very critical of me (laughter). Yeah, but I also really trust him. He's very funny and insightful. And that's - it never really hurts for too long.
EISENBERG: Yeah. It's...
LONG: Yeah. It's - I get past it.
EISENBERG: So you have an older brother, but this is your younger brother.
LONG: This is my younger brother, yes, who I - well, we write together. We've been writing together for about 10 years. So creatively, we're very in sync. And I find he's just the funniest person I know. And yeah, yeah, it really works.
EISENBERG: So yeah - so you devise this thing that - you're, like, let's bring on, you know, obviously some people that you have relationships with in the...
EISENBERG: ...Past - artists, thinkers, musicians, actors.
EISENBERG: And the point of the whole thing is to find out what their secrets are of how to get the most out of life.
LONG: Yeah, that's kind of where I am now. I turned 40 not too long ago, and I guess my version of a mid-life crisis was to start...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) A podcast.
LONG: Yeah. Like, yeah. It's very 2019 - 2020, oh. Yeah. Well, it was 2019 when we did it...
LONG: So it was a very 2019 mid-life crisis. I started looking at time in a very different way...
LONG: ...And started considering it to be more precious than I had, I guess.
EISENBERG: And you also ask what your favorite emoji is.
LONG: Yeah. And some people are really into that question. Oh, you know, they'll kind of light up and - but it can be really embarrassing. Like, I just interviewed Luis Guzman. You know, Luis's got such a great face, but sometimes it's hard to tell if he's grimacing at you or if he's smiling at you. And when I asked him - because I have to. It's, like, the - you know, the requisite - we have a series of requisite questions, and that's one of them. And so I said, what's your favorite emoji? And he just glared at me and goes, what are you talking about - my favorite emoji?
LONG: And it was, like, oh jeez. Tim Robbins was not crazy about that question. What's my favorite emoji? You know, it was, like...
LONG: But I still have to ask it. And...
EISENBERG: Why do you have to ask it?
LONG: I don't know. I feel like it's a nice - that's a good question. That's a good question.
EISENBERG: But I just - you know, it is kind of...
EISENBERG: ...Interesting, but it's sort of a cultural touchpoint - just the idea of even, like, looking at the emojis enough to have a favorite.
LONG: Right. And then that becomes an answer that, you know, is somewhat revealing. We're hoping the show is on long enough so it's no longer - it no longer reveals a generational gap.
LONG: And so - I mean, everyone's got an answer for it. Or it becomes, like, an old-fashioned question, you know?
EISENBERG: Although I feel like everyone just has to text because everyone just has to text.
LONG: Well, that, too. And even my dad - my dad's 81, and he just started. You know, that's something that people are now having to do.
EISENBERG: What's his favorite emoji?
LONG: Well, he's been doing a lot of - he started ending sentences with LOL. But oftentimes, they were sentences that were either urgent or they were about some illness, you know?
LONG: You know, your mother had a checkup today, and her blood pressure is, like, dangerously high, LOL.
LONG: You know, and I realized at a certain point that he meant lots of love.
LONG: Yeah. Yeah, which is really sweet. But it was, like, your mother is traveling today, and, you know, their terror alert has been elevated. And so hopefully nothing happens to her plane, LOL.
LONG: I'm like, what? That - Jesus, dad.
EISENBERG: So my second oldest brother does this as well. And my sister was like, you have to tell him. And I was like, we shall never tell him.
EISENBERG: We shall never tell him.
LONG: It's kind of sweet. It's...
EISENBERG: Yeah, it's fine. It's fine.
LONG: Yeah. It makes more sense that it means lots of love than laughing out loud. When you write that, you're - how often are you really laughing out loud?
LONG: No (laughter).
EISENBERG: Never. I'm just kidding.
LONG: (Laughter) I've got to capture this moment. Yeah.
EISENBERG: So two of your dream guests, you've said, are Michael J. Fox and your 102-year-old grandmother.
LONG: Three now. She just had a birthday on - thank you very much. Yeah.
LONG: Yeah, 103. It's crazy. Yeah.
EISENBERG: But you did it.
LONG: We did it, yeah. We had our grandmother on. We were able to book our grandmother.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) You were able to get her.
EISENBERG: ...When you're interviewing your grandmother - I mean, you talk to her all the time but probably never in that kind of formal format.
LONG: No, it was really interesting. And she - I could tell she was holding back a little bit, or she did - because it's also very strange. Just to get her out of that house into a studio, you know - that's, like, a whole thing for her, and...
LONG: ...She's - for a 103-year-old, she's - I mean, you can hear on "Life Is Short." It's - her - it's the only grandma. If you scroll through the guests, it's the only one that you - know one will recognize. But we've had such a nice response. And she's loved. We've been sending her - we've been printing out the emails that we've been getting about her and sending it to her, and she's been loving...
EISENBERG: She loves this.
LONG: ...Reading them, yeah. She's just the best - yeah, very sweet and very funny. And - it's funny, I - like, it didn't occur to me how funny she was and sharp she was.
EISENBERG: Did you learn something from her, though, that you didn't know before?
LONG: A lot. You know, a lot, which is embarrassing to say because I - we are quite close, and I see her a lot. And I learned a lot about my family. I learned that she had a brother who died at an early age, and she had never talked about that - yeah, like, really...
LONG: ...Heavy stuff, yeah.
EISENBERG: And now when you - have you spoken to her since you've done the recording?
LONG: No, that's it.
EISENBERG: OK (laughter).
LONG: Once we got her in the can, I figured - you know, I sent her an email on her birthday. I liked one of her Instagram posts.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's good.
LONG: No, yeah, we've talked since then. And, in fact, I saw her since then, and she - and she's been getting feedback from relatives that she hadn't heard from in a while who were like, oh, my God. I didn't know this about my great uncle. And yeah, it's really...
EISENBERG: You did an amazing thing.
LONG: Well, I think it's a nice - we've always - we had always wanted to do it regardless of the podcast because she's - she is so old. And she has such great recall for somebody that age - for any age. So I'm really glad we have it. And I - a lot of people who have been writing in were like, oh, you know, that encouraged me to do that with my own...
EISENBERG: Ted talk to my...
LONG: ...Relatives, yeah.
EISENBERG: ...Elders, yeah.
LONG: Elders, yeah. I mean, it - there's just such a wealth of information, and it was really cool.
EISENBERG: Very cool. You have done so many films, so many television shows. You act, you create, you direct, you have a podcast. Of course, you were in this series of iconic commercials back in the day where you played the Mac. John Hodgman played the PC.
EISENBERG: You guys are pals.
LONG: Yeah, yeah.
EISENBERG: It was a while ago, but do people still come up to you?
LONG: When we're together, which we were recently. But only then - I mean, now. It used to be, you know, when they were running, and people were - it was always funny to go into the Apple store because I was - because I would shop there because (laughter) I like their things. And I'm not contractually obligated to say this anymore.
LONG: But they - so I loved the - I was always met with, like, a mix of novelty and annoyance. It was an interesting combination of, oh, it's that guy, but, oh, it's that guy again. (Laughter) It was really interesting.
EISENBERG: They were like, too on brand, guy.
LONG: Yeah. Also, I'm sick of your face. It was that 'cause it was running all day. But John and I saw each other a couple weeks ago. And yeah, when people see us now, it's like, oh, yeah. It's like - I think...
EISENBERG: Right. They're like, wow, you guys became friends? Because you seemed like enemies.
LONG: I know. I thought you hated each other. And yeah, and he's the smarter one. And he knows more about technology than the Mac guy in real life.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) The reveal.
EISENBERG: So your podcast is called "Life Is Short With Justin Long." So we have a game for you called Shorter or Longer.
EISENBERG: Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
LONG: I'm ready.
EISENBERG: OK, so I'm going to give you two things. You just tell me which is shorter and which one is longer...
EISENBERG: ...OK? Very easy. And if you do well enough, listener Carli Dean from Westminster, Colo. will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. OK, here we go. Martin Short and Justin Long - who is shorter?
LONG: Martin Short.
EISENBERG: That is correct.
LONG: Yeah. Thank you.
EISENBERG: Martin Short is 5 foot 7. Justin Long, how tall are you?
LONG: You know, I...
LONG: ...Think - 5'10" I think. But...
EISENBERG: All right.
LONG: ...I know I give myself a half an inch, so I don't know if it's 5' 9 1/2" or 5' 10 1/2". I should know this.
EISENBERG: Whatever you need it to be.
LONG: Let's say 5'10". Why not?
EISENBERG: OK, the runtime of "Avengers: Infinity War" and the runtime of "Avengers: End Game..."
LONG: Oh, God.
EISENBERG: ...Which is shorter?
LONG: I would say "Infinity War" is shorter.
EISENBERG: "Infinity War" is shorter, yeah.
EISENBERG: Yes, by 42 minutes. "Infinity War" is 2 hours and 40 minutes. "End Game" is 3 hours and 2 minutes.
LONG: Oh, my God.
EISENBERG: You would think infinity would be longer...
LONG: You're right.
EISENBERG: ...Than end, but no.
LONG: Yeah, "End Game," yeah, you would think.
EISENBERG: Yeah, for sure. OK...
LONG: I love that movie, yeah.
EISENBERG: ...How about the word count of the King James Bible and the word count of the U.S. tax code - which is shorter?
LONG: Oh, I bet the tax code is shorter.
EISENBERG: Sorry, that is incorrect.
LONG: Incorrect, yeah. As I was saying it, I knew I was wrong.
EISENBERG: Yeah, the Bible is 783,137 words. The tax code is more than 1 million words...
LONG: Oh, God. Oh, God.
EISENBERG: ...So clearly written to confuse you. And I've read it all. And...
LONG: (Laughter) Yeah.
EISENBERG: ...It does not say that you can write off makeup as repairs. That's all I know.
EISENBERG: It's ridiculous to write a document that long.
LONG: That is insane.
LONG: I wonder if most accounts have even read it.
EISENBERG: I - you know what?
EISENBERG: That's a good thing to ask your accountant.
LONG: I'm meeting with one on Monday.
EISENBERG: It's tax time.
LONG: I'm going to ask him.
EISENBERG: Yeah, ask. Say, what page did you drop off?
LONG: First I'm going to say, have you read the King James Bible?
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. All right, how about this? The span of time between the extinction of the stegosaurus and the evolution of the T. rex or the span of time between the extinction of the T. rex and the evolution of humans - which is shorter?
LONG: I bet it would be the span of time between the T. rex and the evolution of humans.
EISENBERG: That is correct. Yeah.
EISENBERG: So I actually didn't know this, that the stegosaurus and the T. rex weren't contemporaries.
LONG: You didn't?
EISENBERG: I did not know that.
LONG: No, I didn't either. I didn't either.
EISENBERG: I've always seen them in pictures hanging out.
LONG: I know, yeah. Wow.
EISENBERG: But it's actually - between T. rex and humans is about 66 million years, and between stegosaurus and T. rex is about 83 million.
LONG: Oh, my God. Wow.
EISENBERG: I know.
EISENBERG: We learned. And that's it. You did it.
LONG: Oh, wow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
EISENBERG: Congratulations, Justin Long. You and Carli Dean both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
EISENBERG: Justin's weekly podcast is called "Life Is Short," and you can see him in the new Netflix series, "Giri/Haji." One more time for Justin Long.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.