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Flipping the Script: An Interview with Chris Van Vliet

Chris Van Vliet is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster with years of experience, traveling the world and interviewing the biggest names in entertainment. From top names in the wrestling industry such as Triple H and The Rock to presidential candidates and the biggest celebrities in Hollywood, the native Canadian has interacted with a who’s who of the elite. His YouTube channel and podcast, Insight w/ Chris Van Vliet, are both wildly successful and full of great content.

Chris was nice enough to take the time to have a phone conversation with me recently. We talked about his beginnings in broadcasting, his favorite memories, what he has planned moving forward and a variety of other topics. 

Let’s get into it…

Jon: First things first, thank you for taking time out of your morning to speak with me. How’s your day going so far? Are you doing ok?

Chris: Yeah, I’m doing fantastic. I like to get up early and try to either beat the sun up or get up as the sun is getting up. I read before I start my day, I get out a workout in and then get to work!

Jon: What are you reading right now? What’s your book of choice?

Chris: I have a lot of books on my shelf right now. But, the book that I’m reading the most is a book called The 3-Minute Rule. My friend named Brant Pinvidic wrote this and it’s fascinating. He’s a successful television producer. He’s produced shows like The Biggest Loser, Extreme Home Makeover and Bar Rescue. He’s basically written a book about how you can pitch absolutely anything in a presentation of three minutes or less and I’m fascinated by this idea.

Jon: That definitely sounds like something worth looking into. So, before we really get started, can you kind of run through your backstory for my readers? For those who maybe don’t know about you, how did Chris Van Vliet get to where he is now?

Chris: Well, I guess we would have to go all the way back to when I was four-years-old and I had a Fisher-Price tape recorder. My mom still has these cassette tapes. But I would pretend to be a radio host. I was just fascinated by broadcasting, both radio and television. As I got into high school, we had a communications studies class where we actually went out and made a television segment, every single week. So when it came time to pick a college major, I was like, “Well, that communions studies class was pretty fun. We got to make television.”

So the whole process really began with just me being drawn to what broadcasting was and how creative you could be in it. While I was in college, I was having so much fun and learning a ton there. But it really hit me in my senior year that, when it was over, when we graduated from college, I was going to have to work for the next 40-50 years of my life! And I didn’t want to HATE my job. It was so crucial to me that at best, I could at least not hate going to work. That I could at least kind of enjoy it. 

So I reached out to every radio station in my college town and every television station in my college town. I just said “Look, I’m a communications studies major. I would love to come in and see how it’s done in the real world.”

To make a long story short, I got a volunteer position at a local television station. One radio station offered me a job. I was working as a board operator. That’s really where the process began. It began with a love of broadcasting and a hatred for (the) mundaneness of what a job would be like, or what the day-to-day would be like if I didn’t enjoy my job. 

The cover for the podcast 'Insight,' created and made by Chris Van Vliet
Chris Van Vliet is 4-time Emmy Award winner and the host of Insight with Chris Van Vliet.

Jon: That makes a lot of sense. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the world adapt and change the way that we work. Before all of this hit, you would do all of your interviews in person. What was the adjustment like for you, going from mostly face-to-face to more phone or video calls?

Chris: It’s been an adjustment for sure. Because up to this point, every interview that I’d done was in person. I just love being able to feel their energy. I love being able to shake someone’s hand or give them a hug, look them in the eye. Obviously, none of those things are options right now. So, you know, we’ve all had to pivot. We’ve all had to pivot during this last year. For me, it meant starting to do these interviews virtually. 

I think there’s pros and cons to them. The pro is it’s obviously a lot easier to do. You just email somebody a link, they click on it and boom, you’re doing an interview. The con is that you aren’t able to have that interpersonal communication. You’re not able to really share that moment with them 

I’d say that it’s definitely afforded me the opportunity to do more interviews, But, man, I can’t wait, Jon, to be able to go back to doing these interviews in person. 

I think for me and my broadcasting career, I would fly all around the world to interview some of the biggest celebrities in the world, like Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Stephen Spielberg, the list goes on and on. Sometimes they would offer us a satellite interview. This was before Zoom was really a thing. They would offer a satellite interview and you would always be hesitant to take the satellite interview because regardless of how good that satellite connection is, or the Zoom or Skype connection is, there’s always that half-second delay or that quarter-second delay. That doesn’t happen when you’re in person. So, I’d say these interviews are 90% as great as they could be, compared to if you were talking to that person in-person. 

Jon: There’s something about, like you said, being able to feel that person’s energy and they’re whole vibe. For me, eye-to-eye contact is critical for a conversation. So it does change the dynamic pretty dramatically.

Chris: I think the other thing is, if you have a Zoom call with someone and you talk to them for half an hour or an hour, did you really meet them? I’m struggling with this. Did you really meet them? If you couldn’t actually shake their hand and take a photo and sit with them and have a chat with them, did you really meet them? I think the answer is “I’m not sure.” 

Jon: You’ve interviewed quite the who’s-who of not only professional wrestling, but from all over the spectrum, including Hollywood stars and presidential candidates. If it’s even possible to pick, what has been your favorite interview of your career so far and what makes it stand out to you?

Chris: It’s difficult to narrow it down to just one because I’ve been afforded the opportunity to speak to so many influential people and so many people that have just inspired me in various different ways. But The Rock meant so much to me growing up. I remember walking around my high school, raising the People’s Eyebrow, asking people questions, just so I could say “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!” 

So, The Rock was at the very top of my list for years and years and years. I knew that when I started as an entertainment reporter that it would be possible. I knew that one day it might be possible to talk to The Rock. So when I finally had the opportunity, I did my first interview with The Rock in 2012 and it was in a wrestling setting. I got him backstage at Raw in Cleveland as he was preparing for WrestleMania against John Cena, WrestleMania 28

Chris Van Vliet interviews The Rock
Chris has interviewed Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson a total of nine times.

Man, The Rock is everything that you want him to be. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. But if your hero happens to be Dwayne Johnson, you should 1000% meet your hero! Because he’s funny and he’s kind, he’s charismatic and he’s self-aware enough to know that this is a big moment for you. I think a lot of celebrities just think, “What’s in this for me? How can I promote my book, my movie, album?” Whatever it is. The Rock is self-aware enough to know that this moment is big for you and he turns the moment around and makes you feel special. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview The Rock nine times now, not that I’m counting or anything. But he’s definitely at the very top of that list. He’s incredible and he deserves all of the success that he has now. 

Jon: That leads into my next question. What guest blew your mind the most when it got scheduled? As in, who really made you stop and think “Wow, I can’t believe that I’m actually going to interview _______?”  Was The Rock that realization for you?

Chris:  Well, since we just talked about The Rock, I mean, yeah of course. Actually, I’ll tell you that story really quickly and then I have another part of this. 

So, I knew that Raw was coming to Cleveland, where I was living at the time. I got a phone call from the person that was setting up the interview with WWE. They said “Alright, we’ve got you locked in for an interview on Monday. We’ll let you know who it’s going to be with.” So I’m like “Okay, cool. Sounds great.”

Then a few days before, I get a phone call from that same contact and they say “Alright, are you ready for this?” “Yeah, sure.” “Alright, well, we’ve got you set up for that interview on Monday. It’s going to happen at 6 o’clock and it’s with…are you ready? It’s with The Rock!”

I’m like “What?? It’s with The Rock?!” So, that was definitely one where I was surprised. Because, of all of the people on the WWE roster in 2012, The Rock would have been the biggest name, for sure. The fact that they made him available was pretty incredible. 

The other one, after interviewing The Rock, the other person on my list was Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise doesn’t do a ton of interviews, but he does a lot of red carpet events. I knew that when Mission: Impossible 6 was coming out that there would be a possibility that we could maybe do the interview with him. Then I found out that the red carpet was happening in Paris. So the world premiere is happening in Paris and I’m like “Well, that’s kind of on the other side of the world.”

Then we got invited to cover the world premiere in Paris and they said “We don’t want to guarantee that you’ll talk to Tom Cruise, but Tom Cruise is very good with the press. He tries to speak to absolutely everybody. So, there’s a really good chance that you’ll get to talk to him.”

So, that was kind of more in the moment. I saw Tom Cruise come out (on) the red carpet. He started doing interviews. Maybe 100 to 200 people away from me and working his way down the press line. It was kind of more like “Will he have time to do this interview?” And then he just kept getting closer and closer and closer. Then he was right next to me and we were doing the interview. So, that was kind of like, in the moment, like “Yes! This thing is actually happening!”

He was amazing. He was so present in that moment. Here we are in Paris at the world premiere of one of the biggest movie franchises ever, Mission: Impossible. We’re in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and he’s talking to me like he bumped into me in the hallway and no one was around. He looked me dead in the eye the entire time.

At the end of it, I said: “Would you mind if I took a photo?” “Yeah, of course.” He put his arm around me for the photo. Yeah, it was great. It’s someone like that, I watched his entire career as a kid, and to be able to share that moment with him and get some of his insight was amazing.

Chris Van Vliet interviews Tom Cruise on the red carpet in Paris
Chris Van Vliet interviewing Tom Cruise at the world premiere of Mission: Impossible 6 in Paris.

Jon: Who is still on your bucket list of people that you haven’t interviewed yet but definitely want to?

Chris: It’s a long list. But I think if we’re going to speak in the wrestling world first here, it’s Vince McMahon. I want Vince McMahon, the person. Because everything that he’s created is pretty mind-blowing. You and I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now if Vince McMahon hadn’t created the WWF. I’d love to just find out what makes him tick. Like, what inspires Vince McMahon? Because he inspires so many people. 

If we’re talking outside of wrestling, I would love to speak with someone like Oprah Winfrey, who’s the very best at what she does. I’ve spoken to her briefly, but that was like 13 years ago. It’d be great to have a long-form conversation with her. 

It’d be great to talk to Joe Rogan, who has completely defined a medium. You can’t think of podcasts now without thinking of Joe Rogan. He’s been a broadcasting inspiration for me my entire career. I remember looking up to him on Fear Factor. I remember watching Fear Factor in college. You know, it was an interesting show. But Joe Rogan’s style of hosting I just thought was great because he’s so conversational. To see what he’s done with this medium of broadcasting and podcasting is amazing.

I just love that, for Joe Rogan, he’s taken all of his interests and turned them into jobs. He likes stand-up comedy; well, now he’s one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all-time. He likes MMA; now he’s a commentator on UFC. He likes having conversations with people; well, now he has one of the biggest podcasts in the world. So, yeah, there’s my roundabout of a handful of people. 

Jon: That’s a great list. Who is somebody that you would consider “reliable” to always give a good interview, no matter how many times you’ve done it before?

Chris: There’s a few. There’s a few that when you see them on the list and you know that you’re going to do an interview with them, you know that it’s going to be awesome. The Rock is on that list. Kevin Hart, Will Smith, Hugh Jackman. They just get it. 

I think for a lot of people, doing interviews is like a chore. Like, they just want to act. They just want to be in the movie and have the movie come out. They see the promotion as this task that they don’t want to do. Those four guys, they have fun with it and they make it interesting. They’re always going to bring their A-game. As soon as you enter the room, you just instantly feel that energy. I always look forward to speaking to any of them.

Jon: Outside of what you’re doing now, what would be your dream job?

Chris: If I couldn’t be a broadcaster? Oh my goodness, you’re making this so hard for me. I really enjoy being an entrepreneur. So I think I would start some sort of business. I mean, I have a business right now. I’m super passionate about fishing. Bass fishing, specifically. When I’m passionate about something, I dive all the way into it. I don’t check the temperature of the water. I don’t check the depth of the water. I just dive in, head first. 

I’ve done that with bass fishing. It’s something that I’ve done my entire life. My friend and business partner Aaron and I saw a real opportunity here. So we started this bass fishing brand. So, I think it would be something along those lines.

But if I can’t have the bass fishing company or anything that I’m doing right now, I think that I would start some sort of brand. We live in such an interesting time right now, where we’re all walking around with these supercomputers in our pocket. I think you can use it to both buy and sell things like we’ve never been able to do before. I think there’s a real opportunity there. I think the people that are capitalizing on it right now are doing really, really well.  

Jon: What does Chris Van Vliet have in store for not just 2021, but beyond? Let’s say the next 5-10 years. What are your goals?

Chrs: Well, every single day my goal is to be excited for what I’m going to do that day and then, at the end of the day, to be proud of what I’ve accomplished that day. So that would be every single day moving forward. That really drives me every day. 

But, if we’re looking at long-term, big goals: I want to host a national show. I want you to be able to turn on the TV, whether it’s NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, Discovery channel, whatever. I want you to be able to turn on the TV and see me hosting a show. So, that’s a big goal that I have and I think it’s completely obtainable. It’s just a matter of time. We’re obviously living in a very strange, weird time right now with COVID. But hopefully, as we start to transition out of this, we can all kind of get back to a somewhat normal version of life. 

Chris Van Vliet gives a speech upon receiving an Emmy
Chris Van Vliet is a 4-time Emmy Award-wining broadcaster.

Jon: That’s a great answer and I don’t see it being out of the realm of possibility.

Chris: I always say that vague goals get vague results. I think it’s so important to set specific goals for yourself and know what the path is to achieve them. I say to find someone that’s doing what you want to do and number one, that tells you that it’s achievable, but number two, it also shows you the path to get there. Maybe they’re at step 15 and you’re at step one. Well, just figure out what step 14 and step 13, 12, 11 all the way back to where you are is. Then you’ll be able to take that same path as them. 

Jon: Very true. That’s kind of what I’m doing here by reaching out to you and Alicia Atout. I want to pick your brains because you guys are the best at what we do right now. That’s where I strive to be. That’s why I appreciate this so much because it’s a dream and a passion of mine as well. 

Chris: Well, you’re doing it, man. You’re doing it. You’re taking the steps towards making it happen. So, my hat’s off to you. Congratulations for being on this journey.   

Jon: Thank you so much. Before we wrap up, I’d like to give you one last chance to plug anything that you’d like to, such as your YouTube channel and podcast. Anything that you’ve got, go ahead, shout them out for us.

Chris: My podcast is Insight w/ Chris Van Vliet and the whole idea here is reverse engineering, having the techniques of, “What makes successful people so successful?” And you can find me on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I’m @ChrisVanVliet. 

Jon: There we go. Chris, once again, I want to thank you for your time and allowing me to pick your brain a little bit. I certainly appreciate it. Have a wonderful rest of your day, my friend.   

Chris: My pleasure, Jon. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this. Be well.

You can catch Insight w/ Chris Van Vliet on all major podcast platforms as well as YouTube. Make sure that you follow him on social media, @ChrisVanVliet. We here at Sports Obsessive wish Chris nothing but continued success in his career and life and hope to be able to follow up with him down the line.

Written by Jon Shartzer

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