Selected Shorts: Celebrating Hunter S. Thompson

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Guest host Stephen Colbert celebrates a classic by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson was the original bad boy of journalism, creating in the 1960s an entirely new style of reporting called “gonzo” that threw out traditional standards of objectivity.  Instead, Thompson became a leading character in his stories, and influenced a generation of writers.  He wrote regularly for Rolling Stone, among other magazines, and his other books include Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hells Angels, and Rum Diary.

Stephen Colbert says he first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when he was in his 20s:  “I was immediately struck by the constant torrent of ideas on every page, the creative destruction and fluid chaos of the experiences that Thompson was pouring out at the reader.”

We hear three chapters from this 1972 book, which began as an assignment from Sports Illustrated to cover a high-profile motorcycle race, and winds up being what Thompson called, in the subtitle of the eventual book “a savage journey to the heart of the American dream.”  His manic cross-country road trip, fuelled by drugs, tequila, and other people’s money, turns into a kind of metaphor of American excess.

In between readings by Alec Baldwin, Anthony Rapp, and Michael Imperioli, we hear about Thompson’s legacy from friends and literary heirs.  Terry McDonell, who interviewed Thompson for The Paris Review, said Thompson’s aim was to be more interesting to his subjects than they were to him, and talks about their long friendship—a wild man who was somehow never scary.  Chuck Klosterman, whose style in Killing Yourself to Live was compared to Thompson’s, says it’s impossible to really write like Thompson without living on the edge, and few people can.  Fear and Loathing could never be published today, he says, in the age of fact checking and the Internet, but somehow Thompson’s fabrications and hyperbole, seem essentially, if not actually, true to his times. 

Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, talks about how Thompson’s essential honesty—warts and all—exposed other people’s hypocrisy. 

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part One, Chapter 1,” by Hunter S. Thompson; performed by Alec Baldwin

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part One, Chapter 3,” by Hunter S. Thompson; performed by Anthony Rapp

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part One, Chapter 10,” by Hunter S. Thompson; performed by Michael Imperioli

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

We’re interested in your response to these programs.  Please comment on this site or visit

And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at


Alec Baldwin and Stephen Colbert

Produced by:

Sarah Montague

Comments [9]

From the producer:

Dear Bob Luna:

Thank you for your interest in this program featuring work by Hunter S. Thompson. Unfortunately, due to copyright and licensing restrictions, we are able to offer audio only for a limited period after the first broadcast of a program. From time to time works that have been featured in broadcasts are included in CD anthologies; check for current offerings in this format.

Jun. 09 2014 07:47 AM
Bob Luna from CA

Where can I download this from?
Making a trip to Vegas in a few weeks. Would love to bring this with me!

Jun. 03 2014 01:13 PM
Schlies from Pomona N.Y.

Wow, finally a Selected Shorts I didn't have to work through! I remember the first time I read F&L, late at night in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, repeatedly waking him as I burst into fits of laughter. For those who find it necessary to point at his lifestyle to dismiss his work, that's your loss- "you can't handle the truth". If nothing else, his feel for, and understanding of American politics was damn near unerring. Maybe you have to be a bit of a beast to understand a system co-opted by beasts. Thank you Dr. G, thank you NPR.

Feb. 09 2014 02:08 PM
Giacomo Servetti

Bill Warren:

It's rifles, not riffles. Otherwise, you're right on .

Jan. 23 2014 08:51 PM
Bill Warren from Ellensburg WA 98926

Seriously? You're presenting multiple-award-winning Steven Colbert, "The Late Night Host Of The Year", and you can't assign an editor to make sure the person transcribing Steve's words knows the difference between "pouring out" and "poring out" (which must mean something like 'dying slowly from blackheads and zits' or some such, because 'poring' usually means 'taking in' ...

SPELL CHECKER IS NO REPLACEMENT FOR A LITERATE PERSON MAKING EVEN MINIMUM WAGE, and for you (NPR, fer crysakes!!) to make such an illiterate error for such a notable personality (I'm pretty sure Steven Colbert didn't write that word that way) is egregious! It's its there they're their your you're driving me NUTZO by perpetuating the continuous disintegration of the English Language!

(Which, I admit, was truthfully characterized once as a tongue that "... doesn't only borrow from other languages, it mugs them in dark alleys and riffles through their pockets for loose change" )

Thank you, NPR, for enriching my life!

Jan. 14 2014 11:09 PM
Matt kennedy

Found this on twitter. I follow Colbert like I live and breathe Thompson. Thank you for this, this will re-broadcasted at my
Funeral. Seleh!

Jan. 12 2014 06:20 PM
Beverly from Houston, TX

I wonder if maybe Colbert could have considered throwing in something comedic, like maybe another tone of voice. Oh well... maybe some other time.

Jan. 11 2014 07:45 PM
Vic from .

"Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas"...
It's funniest & craziest book I ever read.
Be there & WOW ~> !
(can you feel your lip getting numb...?)

Thank you for re-broadcasting this event.

Too bad, though, you were compelled to edit
the strong fuc'in language.

Jan. 11 2014 01:55 PM
Ben from Boone, NC

Loved it, particularly the observations of insight and depth of Hunter's work. I look forward to more selected shorts.

Jan. 11 2014 10:25 AM

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