From Big Brother to the porn industry to ESPN, Chris Nieratko has been killing the game of brutally honest interviews for years. His frame of mind is unparalleled. Once you indulge yourself in his work, everyone else becomes boring. Chris’ list of accomplishments is quite extensive, he put Big Brother Magazine on a legendary scale, frequently comes out with new and intriguing web content for Vans Shoes, published his own book "Skinema", and is already working on his next one. His hard hitting journalism and constant determination is admirable. Get Born has been lucky enough to flip the mic into Chris’ direction to pick his unadulterated mind about his career in skateboarding thus far.
GB: How old were you when you were just starting your career as writer?
I was seventeen and I skipped my senior year of high school to start writing comic books. Then I realized there was no money in that, so I started working for this little magazine called “Disney Adventures.” It was a little kids’ magazine that Disney put out, something you would see at the supermarket. For my very first interview they had me interview Tony Hawk and then they gave me a check for five hundred dollars.
So, essentially, Tony Hawk is the first skateboarder you ever interviewed?
Yeah. I mean, it was a fluff piece. It was like “What’s your favorite ramp?”, “What’s your favorite transition?” To call it an interview is sad to the art of interviewing. It was really nothing.
Did you skate back then? Do you skate now?
Yeah, all my life I’ve skated, since I was in the seventh grade until now. 1989 was the year I started. That’s why they asked me to interview Tony Hawk, because I was the intern who always had a skateboard.
If you could go back to those years, what is some advice you would give yourself?
Sell drugs, take the money, and invest it in real estate.
What year did you start working for Big Brother Magazine and how did those connections fall into place for you?
I started freelancing in I think 1997, and I was just writing for a bunch of people. My first real job in the skate world was doing music interviews for Thrasher Magazine. Then I just started doing a bunch of interviews for different people and I started pitching music ideas for Big Brother and they liked them. From 1997 to 2000 I was freelancing for them and then I moved out there in January of 2000.
Heres a tip for you, they are doing a DC shoe and book dedicated to Big Brother. They interviewed all the dudes who wrote for them and are having them write something for the book. I think it's coming out later this year or something, I'm not sure, but for my bit I opted to write the eulogy because it's dead and it's never coming back. All the people in the skateboarding industry that are like, “Oh dude I really miss it” and I'm like, “Yeah you should have advertised so that it didn’t die, or maybe you shouldn’t have pulled your advertising so it didn’t die, so don’t cry.” A murderer shouldn’t cry about the person he killed afterwards.
What was your reaction to the end of Big Brother? Did it affect your creative process or ambitious goals? Did you ever lose faith in the skate industry?
We got told on a Friday that we had to have all our stuff out by Monday and I was living in the office. It wasn't just like, “Clear out your office” it was like, “Clear out your home” so my immediate concern was, “How am I gonna move?” and I had a trade show that weekend for ASR. On a bigger scale, I was sad because it was the greatest job anyone could ever ask for. I mean working with Dave Carnie was just tons of laughs and the office environment was just complete chaos all the time. We were always torturing interns and just giggling all the time. It was hard to believe that you get a check for doing it because it was truly so much fun.
Did you get bummed out on writing after a while because of it?
No, I’ve always written for a bunch of different magazines. Even while I was at Big Brother, I wasfreelancing for Vice, amagazine in London called Bizarre, just a bunch of different mags. I don't really put all my eggs in one basket... but yeah Big Brother was done and I moved on. But six months before it ended, I started NJ Skate shop in New Jersey with two of my buddies. So I pretty much just packed up my stuff and moved back home to focus on running the shop.
Maybe it was like a sign? Did it start to feel right to you, moving back and all that?
I mean I'm supposed to live in New Jersey so yeah, it was just meant to be. It was gonna happen eventually. I was taking trips back from LA once or twice a month just to see my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. I knew I would end up here, even if they didn't can me.
Who do you prefer interviewing the most? Skateboarders, musicians, or people in the sex industry?
Skateboarders without a doubt. Musicians have too many hang ups and their publicists are always too close and get mad at them speaking too freely. Porn stars are a lot of fun because they are so similar to skateboarders and they have crazy stories but I love interviewing skateboarders because they've got the same outlook on life as I do, even though skateboarding has turned really jocky now. Its just lawless, it's always been pretty lawless and that's the way I enjoy living my life. The stories and the attitude that naturally come out of skateboarders is so much more fun than dealing with any other segment of society that I have ever come across.
Have you ever gotten punched in the face while interviewing someone?
I don't think I’ve gotten punched in the face during an interview, but I’ve been punched in the face a lot. I don’t think during an interview though, maybe I did but don’t remember because it was that good of a punch.
I do remember during one of my early interviews for Big Brother, I interviewed Big Pun and I made a lot of fat jokes. At the time he was a slender 400 pounds, when he died I think he was 758. I was making all these really fun fat jokes, asking him what his favorite pair of most expensive shoes were and then I would ask him if it was a waste of money because he would never get to see them. He was being a good sport through the whole thing, making jokes about me being white. I thought it was all fun, but at at the end of the interview I was like, “Alright can I take some photos?” and he stands up and I put the camera to my face and look through the viewfinder, and I realize I’m looking down at a nine millimeter beretta and I drop the camera and I was like, “Dude I was just kidding about all of that, those were just jokes” and he just smiled so big and was like, “Oh no I just want a picture of me with my gun” but he fully knew I was gonna shit my pants looking down at that unexpectedly. It was excellent.
What is the most interesting interview you've ever conducted?
I don't know if any of them are interesting. I go for humor and entertainment, so I prefer the silly business. I’ve come across many dudes who have a great sense of humor in skateboarding. Jeff Grosso is one of my all-time favorites to talk to. Adam Alfaro sticks out in my head cause he was always so burnt out. One time he was so high, just staring at the clouds, and I was like, “What are you thinking about dude?” and he’s like, “Someday dude, they are gonna have to have nets between the buildings to catch all the bodies when the air cars crash.” Haha, that’s the stuff that I love.
What is your take on girls trying to get involved in the skate industry, like with Get Born?
I back anyone that actually skates to want to get involved with the skate industry. What I don't back is people that are opportunistic and have nothing to do with skateboarding. You know people who run a tennis company or a basketball shoe company who just want to leech off of skating until its blood dry, I'm really not down for that.
I’ve got a near dear friend of mine Terri Craft that does Juice Magazine and she’s great. I used to work for them in the ‘90s and I think they are on their 20th anniversary or something. For 20 years they were telling Terri that her format doesn't work, her content doesn't work, a woman in skateboarding is just not gonna work, and she showed them all wrong. I sent her some birthday love the other day and I was just like, “Everybody told you you couldn't do it and you said fuck off to everybody and fucking killed it.” It doesn't matter if you're a dude or a chick or like, a mutant with only like half a face and one arm and octopus legs, it doesn't matter as long as you have the drive and determination in you.
After viewing so many pornographic films, do you think about sex differently? I recently took a sexual representation in film class, and it almost turned me off because we learned about the gnarliest and most sexist shit in the porno industry. What’s your take on that?
I mean truth be told I have watched like less than 10% of the videos I have actually reviewed. I just look at the box cover or at the funny title, something that makes me laugh that I can write about. It was a device that was put into place before me, at Big Brother I would do record reviews like that, look at the album cover or look at the name and write something stupid. I haven’t actually watched as many as I’ve reviewed, but I am about to be 40 next year, and I am hornier than I was when I was 14. Now it's like, no movie or anything can change my outlook on my two favorite past times. There’s a reason why I only write about sex and skateboarding—they’re pretty much the only things I care about.
Oh that makes sense, so you haven't seen anything too gruesome to turn you off to it?
Yeah, I mean I have seen the worst of the worst. You know the Internet, what's out there is just disgusting, and I haven’t even gone to the deepest levels of the internet. You know what is readily available, what like, a six-year-old can accidentally stumble upon on the internet is gruesome. I don’t even know how you fit five penises into two holes, the math is off, but they do it, and from technical stand point its impressive, but am I like going home and asking my wife to do that? No, its like going to Coney Island and seeing the guy with the lobster claw and the bearded lady, it's like, is that going to turn you off from lobsters and beards altogether? Maybe, but you got to be a little sensitive to not want to eat lobster anymore after seeing that guy’s hand.
Do you see any similar traits between porn stars and skateboarders?
The similarities are uncanny. In skateboarding it's like, bring them in when they are young and chew them up and then spit them out. It's the same thing with porn, it's like you’re a milf by the time you are like twenty-two, it's just a weird thing. There are skateboarders and porn stars doing well in their professions well into their thirties nowadays, but there was a time when they were retiring at twenty-two.
Would you ever voluntarily be in a porn production?
I mean, I’ve made my fair share of homemade ones. I have been a background character in a few actually, just like a cameo, I think I was eating pizza in one.
Any funny Johnny Knoxville stories?
The one that him and I always laugh about was probably when we first met. I was out in LA in '99 and was looking for somewhere to live. I think we were out bowling or something.There’s a skit from an old Big Brother video where he shot himself with a Snub Nose Revolver to test a bullet proof vest. I was a huge Big Brother fan before I even worked there, and I watched that video over and over and I called bullshit on it. I didn't think the recoil of the gun was that of an actual bullet, I told him I thought it was a blank, you know? I didn't buy it and I just kept busting his balls all night about it until the point where he was like, “Alright lets go, let's get out of here” and I thought he was taking me outside to fight, which I thought was hilarious. But instead, he drove me to his home a half hour away and took me inside and pulled out the plate from the vest, and it turned out it did have an indentation from a bullet slug. So I was like, “Alright dude you proved it” and he was just like, “Now get the fuck out of my house.”
Tips on how to be cool?
I don't know. I'm not very cool. If I had to guess... base yourself off of historical figures, smoke cigarettes, get a 72 El Camino, wear a leather jacket (I've never owned one but they seem required), whiten your teeth (that always helps), stop biting your nails.
Favorite Adventures with Chris episode?
I really loved going diaper shopping with Trujillo, so many tender moments with a lot of the dudes. I loved taking Daniel Lutheran to a porno photo shoot, I loved chilling with Gilbert Crockett, I loved going to Nuremberg with Chris Pfanner. I'm very thankful to be working with those dudes.
What skateboarder do you hate the most?
John Fitzgerald and Omar Hassan. I don't really hate them, but I have all the Vans team riders in my RSS feed in my google alert so anytime they are mentioned anywhere in the internet, their name pops up into my email. Every morning I have like 400 emails and the majority of them are John Fitzgerald and Omar Hasan. John Fitzgerald isn't even on the team anymore but his name is shared with the most popular U.S. president ever, JFK. Omar Hassan is the president of Sudan who always headlines the news. Theres always a Tony Trujillo getting arrested somewhere. Jason Dill is the name of a high school reporter in Florida. I go through each email everyday and maybe one or two of them will be the right dude. John Fitzgerald and Omar come up 300 out of 400, and they are never the right John Fitzgerald and Omar. Dude fucking Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago, why are we still talking about this? Why are you emailing me about it?
Who's coming up in New Jersey right now? Any local hometown heroes?
The best dudes come out of NJ. Ron Deily is pro for Zoo York and he's about to have a Thrasher and Transworld feature, he is so damn good. On the come up really Dick Rizzo, who's on Huf and Mother. Josh Wilson, all those Bronze dudes. All the good dudes are from New Jersey. I mean the best dudes in New York are always from New Jersey, I've said it a million times. If you see any footage from New York and you're like, “That guy was sick” chances are he's from New Jersey.
Why is skateboarding important to you?
It truly saved my life, and gave me life. I don't know what I would be doing with myself if I didn't have skateboarding in my life. I mean I met my wife through my friends who skate. Skateboarding helped me get a down payment on my house. Its just everything that I have in my life is thanks to skateboarding. I wouldn’t have a friend in the world if I didn't skate, cause im a weirdo. I'm not generally all that pleasant but skateboarders are used to dealing with nut jobs, they have looked passed all my shortcomings. Honestly, I would be destitute, friendless, on the street if I was even alive, if I didn’t have skateboarding.
Any future plans you got going on?
I’ve recently been inspired to put together all my notes that I’ve been working on. Its a parenting guide. I mean its just nothing but bad advice, kind of like the worst parenting guide. I had no dad, no point of reference so I went looking in books for advice and basically all the books on the market were like, “You’re gonna kill it.” I’m just trying to write a humor book that people don’t have to be so afraid about killing the baby. I told myself by the end of the summer, I would finish it. I don't know when it will come out or if it ever will come out but that’s what I’m working on at the moment.