Mike Daisey is known for his Spalding Gray-style tour de force monologues that recall personal experiences in a social and historical context, tackling such wide-ranging topics as the financial meltdown, the corporatization of the American theatre, and his time working in customer service at Amazon.com. For three new live productions, Daisey trades his solitary table and glass of water for a talented cast of actors to craft a radio program in the mold of Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds— except, this is billed as the go-to program for “Masons of the 3rd Order and higher.”
We met up with Daisey and his alter ego to talk about the shifty masons, former presidents, powerful business men, and even an Ayn Rand musical about libertarianism and female submission. Learn about the secret order and drink the Kool-Aid after the jump.
What are the origins of the show?
Well, The Great and Secret Show has a long and storied history. It’s an 114-year-old radio show as of this year. It was first transmitted shortly after Marconi refined the wireless radio set that was invented by Nikola Tesla in 1896.
Who are some of the privileged few who got to listen?
Historically, it’s masons of the third order or higher who are permitted to listen. These performances are part of a new initiative from the masons that revolves around a higher level of openness and attempt at engagement with the world. It’s sort of a belief that between Facebook and Twitter, perhaps it’s time to indulge a little in connecting with the world.
How would someone go about joining the third order of masons?
Oh, I’m sorry. That’s one of those things where if you know the answer then you wouldn’t have to ask it. And if you have to ask it, you probably shouldn’t be.
How did you get in touch with them?
I’ve been hosting the show for many, many years. I can only assume that my reputation preceded me. They were looking for someone, I think, that has a background in storytelling but also a willingness to delve into the sort of matters both arcane and esoteric, but also try to keep things light and enjoyable.
How long have you been hosting the show?
A long time. I know I was working on the show when we had Lee Iacocca on in the ’80s, and I had a long association and deep friendship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the early part of the twentieth century. So for most of its history, I’ve been hosting. You know how it is with a job of this magnitude. One does have guest hosts on occasion, and then there are decades where not much is happening and one is busy with their personal pursuits. Principally, I’ve been doing a great deal of it for a lot of its history.
So, you must be pretty old then…
Well, you know. In our culture its not exactly cricket to ask someone their age. I feel very young, and I feel like that youth and vitality lives in the work. It’s true that the masons (and the access they have to levels of science and technology that are orders of levels more advanced than the ones used in the conventional world) are older than you would expect, but that’s going to happen when you’re dealing with the secret masters of the world. Still, I hope to connect with the young. Get in with the kids and have a show that’s really edgy.
Who are some of the guests we can expect on the show?
We’re still nailing down people, but it’ll be a lot of the adventurers and scientists of the day. Both mad and otherwise. I believe we’re going to have someone who’s staring in a film adaptation — this is fascinating — a musical film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. They’re going to be singing some really fantastic songs about libertarianism and female submission. The actress is just charming. A little freaky but charming. I think that’s going to be tremendous. It’s really a wide range of things that I feel capture where we are as a country and a people.
Why choose to bring this show to the public at this particular moment?
I’m not sure the world is ready for The Great and Secret Show quite frankly, but I’m just an employee of the secret masters of the world and just one small part of a world-wide conspiracy. The people above me, the masters, they really feel like it’s time for some sort of engagement. There’s been a concern that perhaps they’ve been so good at hiding the conspiracy that runs the world that people begin to forget that they are the secret masters. You need to hide it, but at the same time, you want people to know that you’re running the world. You don’t want to become the punchline to a joke.
I think this is part of a show the flag, get out the colors, represent so the kids can look and see what we’re doing. People are hoping for a sense of new openness. The show’s been fantastic for years. It’s a very small audience, traditionally, but an important audience because they run the universe. My hope is that by bring it to more people in New York City that maybe people will appreciate how difficult it is to run a world-wide conspiracy like this.
Do you think that radio is experiencing a new surge in popularity?
I hope not. I kind of chose it because it’s a dying form. There was this thought that we should do the show via fax and just send fax after fax. There was also some thought of performing the show by aerodrome. There was some thought that that might be the way to transmit the show via Morse code, but we settled on radio because we’ve been doing it on the radio for so long. Frankly, I’m concerned that it’s a little too popular. We’re working with National Public Radio, which sounds like a Stalinist conspiracy.
Are there aspects of the medium you like?
When you’re transmitting information about a world-wide conspiracy and unfolding things about the universe that people might not know, there’s some pleasure to transmitting that through the ether and speaking when the body itself cannot be seen and only the voice can be heard. I find that a pleasant way to communicate.