“The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” tackled the increasingly strange topic of the capture of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Monday night’s show and could not escape the fact that the inside story provided to Rolling Stone by actor Sean Penn was worse than anyone would have expected. Sean Penn’s self-indulgent writing, that is. Host Larry Wilmore was left to ask with mock sincerity, “Did you turn yourself in, El Chapo?”
Talking Points Memo reported January 12 that Larry Wilmore was severely underwhelmed by Sean Penn’s rather lengthy account of his meeting with Sinoloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in October, he voiced his theory that El Chapo may have actually turned himself in to get away from Penn, infamous for his seeming condescending self-righteousness. (It turned out that the Mexican authorities were following Penn’s movements every step of the way, using the interview to pinpoint El Chapo’s whereabouts to affect his capture.)
“Sean Penn and El Chapo had a sit down,” Larry Wilmore told his audience. “Why would you cozy up to a monster like that? Seriously, El Chapo, it’s Sean Penn,” he said, pulling a classic bait-and-switch.
“And you spent seven hours with him?” Wilmore continued. Then, accusingly, “Did you turn yourself in, El Chapo?”
In the “Well, This Is Weird — Sean Penn Sits Down With El Chapo” segment, Larry Wilmore pointed out some of the more narcissistic passages in the piece. As nobody really wants to call the Rolling Stone article a piece of investigative journalism (since Sean Penn, who was asked by Guzman himself to meet with him, writes primarily about himself and his trip to see the drug lord for nearly 9,000 of the article’s 11,000 words), the El Chapo interview comes off as a TMI (never-ending) moment for the actor. It even starts out with a foreshadowing of Penn’s (most) excellent (dude!) memory, because the “Milk” star forgot to pack even the most basic tools of journalism needed to record the interview.
“I feel naked without pen and paper. So I only ask questions one couldn’t forget the answers to,” Wilmore quoted the piece. “Jesus Christ! You went to write an article and you forgot the actual instruments of writing?” Wilmore asked jokingly before providing the killshot. “Your last name is Penn!”
Penn went so far as to describe passing gas and relieving himself (“d*** in hand”) in the article, the writing of which provided the reader with any useful information. Except perhaps…
Teen Editor-in-Chief of Rookie magazine Tavi Gevinson, who sat in on “The Nightly Show” panel later in the show, called Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone article a “painful” read. “A very revealing profile of Sean Penn,” she noted, that was “written by someone who reads a lot of really bad screenplays.”
The one thing Wilmore and company, including his panel at show’s end, did not do was make a snarky comment about how Sean Penn had made a poor attempt at emulating Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalistic style (New York Magazine’s Allison P. Davis picked up on it), although one panelist did note the sort of Kerouac-like tone of the article. At 11,000 or so words, there’s little doubt one feels as if they’ve been “on the road” with Penn to just this side of finding solace in suicide by the time the El Chapo piece finally comes to a close. And for anyone’s money, poorly penned Kerouac lite is still a far cry from the brilliance of Hunter S. Thompson’s prose.
In short, Penn’s piece does not pass the muster for anything akin to real journalism, according to Salon’s Jack Mirkinson. It reads more like an ode to El Chapo as the misunderstood everyman, “a simple man from a simple place” just doing what he has to in order to survive. And he noted that El Chapo was given final approval of the piece (Journalism 101: Subject does not get to edit final draft), but acknowledges that El Chapo probably simply gave the go-ahead after reading a few thousand words of the article.
So Larry Wilmore just might be right. After reading and giving the Penn article the nod, El Chapo may have simply had enough… and in a moment of dejected self-loathing and clarity, hoping to repent for letting loose citizen reporter Sean Penn into the world, turned himself in.