Books

‘Fox & Friends’ host explains live show — and how ‘overall, history is under attack’

Courtesy of Fox News

Brian Kilmeade took Monday off from his job co-hosting Fox News Channel’s morning show, “Fox & Friends,” and also took Monday off from his 9 a.m.-to-noon gig hosting Fox News Radio’s “The Brian Kilmeade Show.”

“Trying to get those last few days out of the summer,” he said.

But the 55-year-old didn’t exactly spend the day taking it easy, either.

“I signed off on the maps 20 minutes ago,” Kilmeade said, referring to the illustrations that will be included as part of his sixth book: “Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers: The Texas Victory That Changed American History,” due to be released Nov. 5. “When I talk about (Texas Revolution battles) Gonzalez, or Concepción, or Bexar, people are like, ‘What the hell is that?’ So we’ve got to put maps with the story.”

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, his “day off” also included fulfilling press obligations — in this case, to promote a live show he’s bringing to Booth Playhouse in Charlotte on Friday night.

Called “America: Great From the Start,” the event leans heavily on patriotism and the perspective he’s developed on American history via his Fox Nation series “What Made America Great,” as well as his three other books about historical figures (“George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution,” “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History” and “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny.”)

Kilmeade also will answer audience questions on Friday night. But first, on Monday afternoon, he answered a few of ours. (This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Q. So how did you settle on Sam Houston as the subject for your new book, after writing about three men who were U.S. presidents?

Yeah, I don’t think Sam Houston has the (same built-in audience), which has me worried a little bit. But I’ve always wanted to do something I don’t believe gets enough attention, and very few people really know how special he was and the role he played. So I like to shine lights on people in a way that kind of enhances the depth of American history. There are some unbelievable writers — like Dave McCullough, Jon Meacham, Douglas Brinkley. I can’t do what they do. They go deep into the most famous people in our country’s history.

Instead, I like to go and tell a story that made them famous. And with “Sam Houston and The Alamo Avengers,” what he did with Andrew Jackson leading up to him being the perfect guy in 1836 (when Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas), I thought that was an effective story. I’m trying to tell people, “Hey, you might know history, but you probably don’t know this.”

Q. How did this book compare to the others in terms of the amount of and type of research and reporting that you had to put into it?

Well, much harder and longer. The thing that really set me up to maybe knock it out of the park was when they asked me to do the series, “What Made America Great.” Our first stop was the Alamo, and in the back of my mind, I thought, How do I do a book on the Alamo that hasn’t been done before? I Google it, and there’s so many books.

But I see the depth of the story, and I go, The real story is not that we lost, but what we did after San Jacinto. And San Jacinto — which most people don’t know — was an 18-minute battle that really gave us Texas, and Sam Houston played it perfectly and took out Santa Anna and actually captured him. So I said, What if I bring this full circle? I tell you what led to the Alamo, but then I tell you what happened after the Alamo? And how so many things happened that day, with 187 guys taking on 3,000 to 5,000 that allowed San Jacinto and Texas to happen.

I thought I could tell that complete story, for people outside Texas that don’t get this in grammar school. Like me, I had one page of it. If you talk to people in Texas, they have two full years of it. So I thought I could tell this story to a nationwide audience and let them know this is an American story, not just a Texas story.

Q. You obviously have great enthusiasm for the history of America and patriotism. Why is it important to you to tell these stories and talk about these issues through the books, the Fox Nation series, and the live show?

Here’s the thing: When I went to do these books, I just hoped people were interested. I had no idea how newsworthy they’d be. For instance, we had problems with intelligence and the CIA when the Washington book came out and talked about different spy methods. We continued to have Islamic terror as a major story in America when I was doing “Thomas Jefferson and The Tripoli Pirates,” which was our first clash with Islamic extremism. I didn’t know that Trump was going to win, and aptly compare himself to Jackson — and there are so many similarities.

And now, overall, history is under attack. The news media, and many on the left — and maybe some Republicans — are trying to look at our past and say, “We should apologize for it. All of these people who are on statues or are being studied in school, well, they’re flawed people because of x, y and z.” They’re putting our values of today on people that lived 250 years ago. And I find it astounding, that we’d be arrogant enough as a generation to think that we know more than everybody.

Obviously, society makes progress and we do things. Nobody could ever, ever rationalize slavery. No one could say that how we dealt with American Indians was beyond reproach. But it doesn’t mean — in this age of the automobile and airplanes and space travel — that we should be putting our values on George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and America’s past. I mean, we have an incredible past. We’re not perfect.

But now, all of a sudden, our history of coming from nowhere to being the number one economic and military power in the world, that’s now under attack. To me, I think we should study it, not judge it.

Q. Would you ever consider writing a book about a modern-day politician?

Nope. I think I’ve found my niche. I think there’s so many people writing about politicians today. Plus, politicians are writing about themselves. But no, I’d never do a Trump book. I would never do a Bush book. There’s nothing I could bring to Bush 41 or Ronald Reagan that hasn’t been written about by people who knew them. I got to know 43, but there’s no way I could bring something new to the table. I wasn’t with him every day. I feel much more comfortable going back in history, trying to bring these people to life.

Q. Were you always interested in history, even as a kid?

I always was fascinated by it. I always excelled in it. I had a minor in political science (he graduated from the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in 1986), but most of those political science classes were also historically oriented. I’m still in touch with the best social studies teacher I ever had. I still see him around Massapequa (on Long Island in New York), which is the town I grew up in and the town I still live in.

Q. There are a lot of famous people from Massapequa.

Yeah, there are a lot of people from my hometown that for some reason have ended up in the news. The Baldwins, Jerry Seinfeld, Brian Setzer, Steve Guttenburg, the Buttafuocos. Obviously Ron Kovic — played by Tom Cruise in “Born on the Fourth of July” — he’s from Massapequa. So my goal is, instead of being successful as someone who used to live in Massapequa, I’m trying to be successful while living in Massapequa.

IMG_TV_Fox__Friends_9468_3_1_IEDLNL13_L387590029.JPG
FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2018 file photo, “Fox & Friends” co-hosts, from left, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade appear on their set in New York. Roughly 1.5 million people watch “Fox & Friends” each day, more than its counterparts at CNN and MSNBC and less than half the audiences for “Good Morning America” or “Today.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) Richard Drew AP

Q. Going back to the show: During the Q&A section of it, do you find that the audience is more interested in hearing from you about political issues of the day and your take on them, or —

Yes. Absolutely, yeah, it’s issues of the day.

Q. Is that the most common type of question?

No, the most common is: “How are your dogs?” Because I’ve got two Great Pyrenees. My family has banned me from putting anything about my family online. My kids, they’re 16, 18 and 22. And I don’t blame them. So I go, What’s safe? My dogs. They’re huge. They’re brothers. One’s deaf, one’s got bad knees — everybody knows about them.

Another one is, a lot of people want to know: “What’s Trump like?” Because he was on our show every week, and we did specials — I did a Christmas special on him and his family. We did a half hour of just the Trumps. Also, one week before he announced, I did one of my features — “Celebrity Stroll” — where I stroll with somebody who’s famous. And he asked me, “Do you think I’m gonna run?” I go, “I think you are gonna run.”

But yeah, you do get people that ask, “Who do you think is gonna be the Democratic nominee?” Absolutely. Do I expect gun violence questions? Absolutely.

Q. Generally, what do you want your fans to get out of the live show?

I think in the end, they’ll see it’s about their country and their life. I mean, I talk about how I got to where I got to, so people don’t think that I just stepped out of bed and got the best job in the world. It took me 13 years to get that job. So I’ll put up a tape that shows how bad I was, and the journey I took. And my hope is to inspire people, number one, to defend their country verbally and feel pride for their country. And give them some additional facts to go with. And number two, I hope they feel good about the journey they take in their lives.

Everything they hear will be new. You may know, I did stand up for 10 years. I love being live. But I don’t want to be involved in politics, so if a Republican or Democratic club tried to book me, I can’t do it. If a conservative or liberal thinktank wanted me to come down and speak about my books, I probably can’t do it. It gets so complicated. So I said, What if I just got a stage and I talked about them? What if I just created my own event? And when Fox Nation launched the series (“What Made America Great”), I said, That’s it. It’ll be part of that series; it’ll be about the country; it won’t be my own thing; it’ll be helping Fox Nation. And I do think it’s less about polarizing politics, and more about patriotism.

Q. You mentioned your stand-up comedy past. Do you ever miss that?

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how good I could have been. But I know I can’t do a morning show and that. And I didn’t want to be the best stand-up comedian in the world. I wanted to be better on television.

Q. Do you have a favorite stand-up comedian?

Seinfeld. I just saw him a month ago, and I don’t think he’s ever been better. I’m in awe.

My first job was actually for his dad. He was a sign maker and his shop was just down the block. When I got my working papers at 13, I walked my whole town looking for a job, and he hired me to go out and hold the ladder and unload and load trucks. That was before Jerry was famous.

Q. Do you know Seinfeld?

Never met him. Talked to him once on the phone. I was doing a car special for Channel One. And he had this great joke. He said something like, “Why do guys always pop the hood up and look at the engine, as if we’re gonna solve the problem so easily. Like there’ll be a giant on/off switch turned off. ‘Oh, I can fix it.’” I thought that’d be a perfect way to start my feature. So I got him on the phone, and he said, “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone ever taped that. So you can do it.” I go, “I’m not gonna do your joke.” But he’s like “No, you have permission. Go ahead and do it.” I go, “No, no, I’m not gonna do it.”

But yeah, believe it or not — even though I know a lot of the same people — I’ve never met him. Maybe it’s intentional. Maybe he does not like me. Like, Alec Baldwin does not like me. But Billy Baldwin does. So maybe Jerry’s more Alec than Billy.

Brian Kilmeade: America: Great From the Start

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: At the time this story was published, only a handful tickets ($25-$45) remained.

Details: 704-412-5098; www.blumenthalarts.org.

Programming note: Those not in attendance can watch the event via Fox Nation, Fox News Channel’s on-demand subscription based platform.

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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