If you'll excuse a moment of autobiography, I have to say that when I found How's Your News? I became obsessed, demanding an explanation of how I could not have already known about it. It is, in short, a new show airing on MTV (based on a documentary of the same name) in which reporters with disabilities conduct on-the-street interviews, frequently with celebrities. In high school I worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children and adults with developmental disabilities, and the bonds that were created there among the staff and campers were incredibly... special. Pun intended. The show reminds me vividly of the spontaneous joy and humor that came out during camp activities like mock weddings or talent shows, when campers were encouraged to be expressive.

How's Your News? immediately reconnected me back to that time—and it was a very good time—and when I found out that the director, Arthur Bradford, lives in Portland, I tracked him down. I was right: Bradford is the camp director of a similar summer camp in Massachusetts, where the cast members/reporters all met, and he confirmed that the people who connect most strongly with the project are those who have direct experience with people living with disabilities, pointing out what an important role humor plays in their lives.

If you're thinking it sounds exploitative, it's not. The cast members are clearly having a blast, and the unscripted show is structured in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to manipulate. The dynamic is fascinating: Their disabilities give the reporters a certain power, and often additional access (trips to both the Grammys and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions led Bradford to conclude that "celebrities are a lot harder to get to than politicians"), as well as license to ask any question that comes to their minds. "It's truly independent media," says Bradford. "They are completely themselves on this show, and I'm so proud of that."

Knowing that many of his friends in Portland aren't really TV—much less MTV—people, Bradford is hosting a free screening this Thursday, March 5, showing clips from the project's early experiments, the original feature-length documentary, the convention coverage, and the new show, as well as giving a concise history leading up to the present, and holding a Q & A alongside one of the most popular cast members, Jeremy Vest.

MERCURY: How is it possible that I haven't heard about this before??!!

ARTHUR BRADFORD: It's always been sort of underground. Hardly anybody saw the short film [which is where IMDB gets off stating 1999 as the release date of the How's Your News? feature documentary—Eds.]. The real release date was 2002 for the feature film.

The short film was used to raise money for the feature film, but what prompted the initial short film?

I was working at Camp Jabberwocky in Massachussets. I started working there in 1993, and I've been the camp director for three years now. We were doing a video class, and one of the ideas was to have some of the more outgoing campers come downtown and interview people. It was funny, but funny in unexpected ways. You were laughing at the weirdness of the situation, and not at anybody's expense. We made these videos in '94 and '95, and friends of friends gave them to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and they got in touch with me—that was before South Park existed—and we became friends. When South Park got big, they agreed to fund anything we did outside the camp. They gave us $10,000 and we made the short film.

What was the initial reaction?

People were pretty freaked out by it. I think the whole idea of humor and disabilities [makes a lot of people uncomfortable]. I'm interested in the idea that people are uncomfortable at first, but I don't want them to feel uncomfortable for very long.

For those who haven't seen the feature film, can you tell us a bit about it?

It was sort of like a road trip movie. We would seek out places, like an alligator farm, or people coming out of a church. It was supposed to be sort of a slice of Americana. After we did the feature film in 2002, we were always kind of looking for a way to continue doing it. We worked really hard to get press passes, and the reporters started doing these great interviews.

Including at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2004 [the coverage from which aired on HBO].

What we learned is that we actually had an advantage over other reporters, because politicians don't want to turn their backs on a reporter with disabilities.

So how did MTV come in?

We pitched it to HBO and a couple other places, but it turned out MTV was the most interested—actually, originally it was MTV2. They put up the money for the pilot, and MTV ended up picking it up, which was a big surprise.

So would you say that it has been MTV-ized, with the added infusion of celebrities, red carpet interviews, and such?

What I really like about How's Your News? is that there are all these interesting discussions. I think people assume that MTV messed it up, but that isn't the case. MTV really recognized that it wasn't going to work if they took over production. The charm of the show is that it's produced by a group of people who are really close. We wanted to be successful on TV, and we wanted to interview people who people who watch TV would find interesting. It's a false assumption.

Do they control anything? The editing?

I'd never let MTV do the editing. We have final say over everything that gets put on the air, even the promos and ads, because it was so important that all of the people and their families who had put their trust in us didn't get sold down the river. It's such a stupid assumption to make [that the show has become exploitative], because no corporation is going to make money by making fun of people with disabilities. What I found is that they were really excited about the show because they felt it had some substance. It's a risky thing.

MTV certainly isn't where I would look for a program with this much heart.

That's also why I want to do this screening here in Portland, because I know people [here] don't watch a lot of television. And the thing is, if we get a second season I want to move some of the production [to Portland]. I think there's room for even a more diverse cast than we have now.

So if all that happened and you moved production locally, would you look in Portland for new cast members?

When we were in pre-production for the show, I met with some arts groups here. It's really hard to just have any person with disabilities, though. I would need to have a close relationship with both the person and their family. The level of trust we've built up is super high.

One of the things I like about the show is that the reporters seem to bring out the best in everyone they interview, but have there been negative experiences that ended up on the cutting room floor?

Nothing real negative, I'd say it's more just a condescension, like they'll talk to our reporters like they're kids. It's not that offensive, it's just not interesting to watch. We've gone to events like the Kentucky Derby where people drink a lot. [Some drunk people have acted] really indignant about what we were doing, and felt really protective toward the reporters. Sometimes they were too drunk to comprehend. I'd say the only slightly negative political interview was Al Sharpton. He just wouldn't talk to us, and made us feel like we were being really unreasonable [for asking].

Did you get a sense of why he was resistant?

I think he felt uncomfortable with reporters with disabilities. It's hard to tell, but I think he just wasn't sure where we were coming from. Politicians really like for everything to be scripted, and you can't really do that with our reporters.

Tell me more about what people can expect from Thursday evening's screening event.

I'll try not to talk too much, but what I'll do first is give some background information and show some early clips. Then I'll show a clip from the feature film, then from the convention documentary, then two episodes of the show. Jeremy Vest is going to come up, and we'll do a Q & A afterward. He loves doing the Q & As, and we might have him play drums [Vest has Williams syndrome, which is characterized in part by loquaciousness and musical aptitude].

Finally, can you summarize what the point of How's Your News? is?

Our first goal, really, is just to make a great, entertaining show, and the social agenda kind of has to take a backseat to that. But, what I hope people come away with is a wider sense of what it's like to have a disability, and realize that people with disabilities have great senses of humor, and that humor is a really important part of living with disabilities.