Barring No Holds
Carolyn Faye Fox '80 (Carolyn Berg while at SLC) can fire off comebackers and repartee with the best of them—in fact, better than almost any of them. "I've always been this way. It's an irresistible impulse. I spent a lot of time in the principal's office."
Now her principal can hear her answer back every week on National Public Radio's high-rated "Says You!", a nationally syndicated quiz show that gives Fox and five other regulars a regular workout of what she calls "aerobics thinking." The host and producer, Richard Sher, throws each panelist a question that requires a quick, and almost always humorous, response:
Q: Carolyn, define "pantheism."
A: The worship of underwear?
The questions may focus on grammar, syntax, usage or neologisms, but for Fox, who also writes for The Improper Bostonian, it's pure joy: "I was born to do this." Born to it, undoubtedly, and then nurtured by her don, the late SLC writing faculty member Dale Harris. Harris's own quick, sly wit and protective appreciation for the English language deeply influenced her. "I adored him. He had an elegant way with words—once he referred to the author of Nana and Germinal as 'that Gorgon, Zola'—a glowing little smile, and a kind of intellectual complicity that kept us on our toes."
Her ability to keep her balance while thinking on her feet helped her land the "Says You!" spot five years ago. She had written radio news for WEEI in Boston, then done advertising copywriting. "Richard brought me in as a temp, a dark horse, but somehow it all worked." Perhaps Sher fell for her mellifluous, dreamy FM-radio voice as well as her no-holds-barred way of answering any question put to her.
"I just have a certain way of thinking, a need to take the stuff stored up in my brain and shoot it out the right pathways. Sarah Lawrence helped me find the fun in it, inviting my brain out to play." Her producer points out that "it's not important to know the answer; it's only important to like the answer," but sometimes Fox's brain—and those of the other panelists—requires some editorial fencing in: "It all depends on how silly we get," she notes.
Q: Carolyn, define "bonnyclabber."
A: The garment that answers the question, "What do Scotsmen wear under their kilts"?
"Carolyn is always a second away from telling us what she really thinks," says Sher. In radio, that's the second that creates the drama. Or, in this case, the comedy.