Willie Geist and his father, Bill, are both journalists, but until recently they never thought of collaborating. “We have always worked in our own lanes,” says the younger Geist, the 9 am anchor for NBC’s Today show. “We laugh at the same things, but never thought we wrote the same way.” It turns out Geist and his dad, the longtime feature correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning and before that a New York Times columnist, had a lot to share. Good Talk, Dad (Grand Central), which arrived in bookstores in late spring, is a vibrant exchange between the elder Geist, 69, and his son, 39. In it, they tell stories on each other—from teenage drinking to middle-aged angst to grandchildren envy to why they never had the obligatory birds-and-bees talk. The younger Geist, a basketball and football star at Ridgewood High School before heading to Vanderbilt University, took time after a Today broadcast to chat about his favorite verbal sparring partner.
New Jersey Monthly: Did you always want to be in media like your father?
Willie Geist: My dad used to shoot some of his pieces for CBS in our Ridgewood living room. There were cameras and lights around, so it was like magic. When he wasn’t in our house, he was always doing something on some interesting person, so, yes, I thought, What a cool way to make a living, and when I realized I liked to write, I said, Well, I probably won’t be a doctor, so why not take a shot at this thing in our genes?
NJM: What was your favorite piece your dad wrote as you were growing up?
WG: He had to write three times a week at the Times, and in pre-Internet days, that was a chore. He got a call from a guy who had a barber shop in the Bronx who said there was a car in front of his place for two days, unlocked, and the guy was amazed that no one stole it. This was 1980s Bronx. My dad took that and made it into a hilarious story. It was a nugget of trivial information, and he made it great.
NJM: You live in Manhattan a few blocks from your dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. How has that affected your relationship?
WG: So much of it now is based on my kids [Lucie, 7, and George, 5]. We will spend more time with my dad and mom, taking the kids out to dinner or going to Riverside Park or whatever. Frankly, he wants to see his grandkids and I am just along for the ride.
NJM: What’s the most important professional lesson you learned from your dad?
WG: He was never a diva. It even sounds funny comparing him to one. I think I got his sense of humor and his general skepticism. He has an amazing BS detector. The biggest thing I got from him is to take your work, not yourself, seriously.
NJM: Your dad wrote Little League Confidential (Dell, 1992) about coaching you and your sister in youth sports. What is your sports legacy today?
WG: I can still dunk a basketball. I recently did a piece about Michael Jordan’s house in Chicago, which he was trying to sell. He has a court there, and Today had me go and put on a Michael Jordan jersey. So I’m in his house with his jersey on and repeating to myself, “You MUST make this.” I did it, but I may never attempt another dunk again.