Daniel: And were there other names you were considering besides Keaton?
Michael: Hand to God, I swear this is true: My middle name is John, and where I come from, people throw around nicknames all the time. So they’d call me John or Johnny. And for a long time my brothers would call me Jackson, and I thought, Oh, that makes sense. I’ll just be Michael Jackson.
Daniel: Michael Jackson!
Michael: I’m going to find a way to ease it back into my name.
Daniel: You worked on Mister Rogers back in 1975, right? What was he like?
Michael: Yeah. He was funny, just deceptively funny. So authentic, but also so unusual. I worked on the crew at the local PBS station in Pittsburgh. I was making like $2.25 an hour or something. When you work there, you kind of do everything. And when you did his show, you did everything from pull cable for the cameras, to running the trolley, to dressing up in the black-and-white panda suit for 25 bucks.2
Michael: What people don’t realize is what his crew looked like — they almost all had hair down to their lower backs, one guy just dripped with patchouli and marijuana smoke, worse than Tom Petty. But everyone was really funny and would do these insane things — and Fred just loved them. And they loved him back.
Daniel: So he’d never just lose his shit and scream at a gaffer for getting in the shot?
Michael: No! In fact, one time, my friend Nicky Tallo, who was this really funny, big Italian kid who was his floor manager — and I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say generally Nick was feeling the effects of smoking dope the night before — or maybe even that morning …
Daniel: It was a different era …
Michael: So one day, we were taping, and Fred comes in, and starts singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day … ” puts the shoes down here, goes to hang up the sweater in the closet. And he’s singing, and he opens the door — and there’s his floor manager, Nick, this big guy with his long goatee, pierced ears, hair all over the place, totally nude, just standing there naked in the closet. Well, Fred just fell down; it was the most hysterical thing you’ve ever seen. He was totally cool.