When Jason Segel found himself in front of an audience of book-lovers at New York’s BookCon on Sunday, he took the opportunity to discuss his two most bookish projects, which are aimed at very different groups of readers: his YA series Nightmares!, the second book of which will be published in September, and his role as David Foster Wallace in the upcoming biopic The End of the Tour, out in July.
Author Lev Grossman interviewed Segel onstage and asked him how he prepared to play Wallace. Segel said he watched a few Charlie Rose interviews, “but I really feel like the soul of David Foster Wallace is in his writing,” he said. “The short-form shows you just how funny he is. There is a book called Consider the Lobster that if you haven’t read, you should, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which are both brilliant. But Infinite Jest really is what did it for me … I felt like I was reading a man who was sending out sort of a distress beacon saying, ‘Does anyone else feel dissatisfied?’ like, ‘Does anyone else feel alone?’” He added: “Reading Infinite Jest really changed how I view books.” While reading a fight scene in the novel, “I was panting,” said Segel. “I didn’t know a book could do that. Truly, I didn’t know a book could have that effect on me viscerally.”
Segel was further inspired by Wallace’s famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. “You hear somebody reminding himself and saying, ‘These are the things. These are the things to stay focused on. This is what’s important,’” Segel said. “And it’s not easy, because, as he talks about in that speech, our default setting is not to feel that way. There’s a reason that we call people who are doing well ‘well-adjusted.’ It’s because it’s an adjustment to feel union with your fellow man and patient with the guy in front of you in line when you feel like everything is happening at you. Like, ‘These people don’t realize I’m trying to get somewhere.’ Everyone’s trying to get somewhere, everyone’s got some place to be and you’re a part of that, and that’s beautiful. There’s joy in that.”
Segel also had access to tapes of journalist David Lipsky’s interview with Wallace, which served as the basis for a 1996 Rolling Stone profile and Lipsky’s 2010 book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, on which The End of the Tour is based. “I have the recordings. David Lipsky recorded these four days on audio. It’s two guys talking. They are having the most interesting discussion you’ve ever heard in your life. It’s fun and hearing the smartest guys in the room talk about pop culture is a really interesting thing. You get tired after four days, and to have that devolve into the real stuff is where I think it gets really, really interesting.”
“What separates an author and mind like David Foster Wallace,” said Segel, “is he has the ability to articulate. A lot of people are sitting there feeling it, feeling confused about why they don’t feel satisfied. And David Foster Wallace said, ‘Maybe it’s this. Maybe that’s why.’”