The Mike Daisey Affair or Why you should have an opinion about Mike Daisey and his recent antics.

You could say art is always in danger and that’s what makes it art. That’s what makes it a rare, important, special thing. But it seems two art forms truly suffering right now are: compelling, socially-conscious theater and good journalism.

Mike Daisey has damaged them both. And he has done so in really terrible ways.

You must listen to this whole story first:  LINK to TAL Retraction Story

We need good journalism so much right now in this country and still it suffers. We all see the slants on TV. Seriously…where would we be without NPR? I often listen to the BBC for world news and our own national coverage. We can’t get decent coverage in LA for theater reviews because NO ONE values journalism anymore.

We need good journalism so we know what’s going on in the world. We need it truthful and unbiased so we can form our own opinions and develop feelings about the things that matter to us.

We need good theater/art so we can learn how to PROCESS our feelings and opinions and, perhaps even more importantly, so we can process the feelings and opinions of others. Theater can give us varied points of view we may not have thought about or had no way of knowing. Theater can challenge us.

Much has been said already about Mike Daisey and what has happened here. I have followed some of his work over the years. I have never seen him perform live. In some ways I thought he was often trying to be an instigator for the sake of instigating….which I’m totally a fan of. But unfortunately, this event makes me think another thought I was having (but didn’t want to believe) is actually closer to the truth.

Mike Daisey wants to be important. He has placed this importance above his art. It happens to many people. It is our unfortunate over-saturated world in which artists have to do crazy things to get noticed. And regular people do crazy things to feel special. And reality TV makes people think they matter more than they actually do. Celebrity and “getting discovered” is out of control.

We are all susceptible to this. We are all capable of thinking that the art we do and thoughts/feelings we have are so important that we should stop at nothing to be heard. Because this will give us value. As I write this I am aware of it myself…my desire to be heard, for people to agree with me. My soul craves the affirmation.

When taken to an extreme, this places us off the mark as humans and as artists.

Beware this thing that lurks inside all of us. Our desire to be heard and feel important can be so strong. And we live in a time that feels impossible to get any attention.

We make art so that we do life better. Whether that art is political or edgy or fluffy…it doesn’t matter. We reflect the world back so audiences can ponder what’s happening around us. So we as artists can continually decipher how the world is evolving.

The aftermath of Mike Daisey’s blatant lies to sell an agenda and sell HIMSELF as a performer is the true piece of art here. It is the real “life as art” that we must see in ourselves. The way he tries to hide behind the veneer of “but I’m an artist” and making empty statements deflecting responsibility like “I stand behind the work.”

Listen to what’s happened here. Watch his many appearances on high-profile shows promoting his lies as if a pundit and then tickets for his show as if an artist. Agree or disagree with what he’s done. But form an opinion because you need to know yourself to be an artist.

What would you have done?

We are all capable of fanaticism. Our desire to be heard can be intensely passionate. Our desire to reach audiences can become insatiable. Our drive for success can consume us.

Mike Daisey is still soaking this limelight. He got a standing ovation the other night.

It is art that can keep us from the abyss. Mike Daisey would rather push us over just so he can sell more tickets.

Filed Under: amy tofteFeaturedPonderings


Amy Tofte About the Author: Amy Tofte is a writer/director who worked way too hard for her SAG card that she stubbornly hangs on to. She has her MFA from CalArts (Writing for Performance) and has seen her work produced all over the country and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is a founding member of Fierce Backbone in Los Angeles (a theater dedicated to all levels of play development) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America. Visit Amy at

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  1. nancy says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I listened to This American Life this weekend and Ira Glass gave him many opportunities to retract, apologize, mea culpa. In my book, he didn’t.

  2. harvey perr says:

    The bottom line is this: Mike Daisey is the best monologuist since Spalding Gray. If you have not seen him live, you do not know what a great performance artist he is/ I saw The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in New York and, in it, Daisey went beyond being merely a great monologuist and became, as previous work had been proving he might, part of our national conscience. And that piece actually affected change. Lies? Well, I read that Daisey acknowledged that a certain amount of fiction did get mixed up with the facts and that he made retractions. It is not that he thinks he is important, but, thanks to the media telling him so, he realizes that what he had to say is important,and he place the text on his website for anyone to do, while forfeiting any royalties. But, for anyone to imagine that the entire piece is one big lie is denying reality. And to damn Daisey without seeing him is stupid. For me, at least, Daisey is on higher ground, morally, politically, and, since he is a man of the theater, artistically.

  3. Eric Verlo says:

    “Where would we be without NPR” you ask? I rarely tune in to NPR because I haven’t heard a single story in years that isn’t PR generated. NPR is worse than “commercial” media because its listeners trust it. Marketplace Morning Report is absolutely the worst.

    Your condemnation of Daisey is equally uninformed. TAL and Marketplace exposed Daisey’s translator, whom he had been protecting. Ira Glass did not explore whether her account was revised under the duress of her cover being blown. It seems rather obvious.

    • You know it’s interesting that no one has asked about that, Eric, the veracity of the translator. It definitely dawned on me when I was researching the story. She’s a Chinese National, isn’t she? However, the fact that Daisey admitted to the lies kinda makes it moot, doesn’t it?

      Or perhaps it’s just an endless cycle of international user generated performance art.