21 Questions with Mark Zeigler

He is a legendary figure among FSU students and his name has a way of making its way into conversations all across campus. You may have heard him referred to as the man who calls the names of every single student at graduation each semester, who bikes to his classes all over campus or who seems to be almost everyone’s favorite professor. But many of us just know him as Mark Zeigler. 

I remember the first time I heard his name; it was freshman year and I was in exploratory advising. My advisor recommended his speech class to me, but by the time I tried to sign up, the class was full. I spent the next year and a half hearing his name in conversations with friends who loved his class or with faculty who have worked with him, but I didn’t manage to snag one of his coveted class spots until last spring. I immediately loved his class and, despite the course material often being dense, Zeigler has a way of making the content interesting and relatable to our everyday lives, whether through personal anecdotes or hilarious hypotheticals. In fact, Zeigler’s lecture on Uncertainty Reduction Theory resonated so much with one of my friends that she still refers to the onion analogy repeatedly, specifically in an instance where I was frustrated about a situation with a boy. This stuff has real-life applications, people!

Much like his demeanor, his office in the school of communications building is warm and inviting. Always one to look out for the well-being of his students and knowing I’d been stressed with midterms, he asked me how I’m doing. I answered “tired,” to which he replies that I seem like I am always in need of a nap (I am! He is so observant!). One of my favorite things about Mark is how much he genuinely cares about his students and how he is always down for a chat, whether you have a question about his class, want to talk about life or are writing a profile piece for Her Campus and want to interview him. 

I had the opportunity to play 21 questions with the man himself, and no this isn’t the same game you played with your middle school crush where he asked you your cup size. I’m talking hard-hitting journalism, the real stuff we want to know about Mark Zeigler.

Her Campus (HC): What is your favorite color?

Mark Zeigler (MZ): I don’t know that I have one. No, I don’t have a favorite color. I like brown, I like gray, I like orange, I like blue, I like dark red, but I don’t have “ooh that’s my favorite color.” Never have.

HC: What’s your zodiac sign?

MZ: Leo.

HC: What’s your favorite FSU memory, either as a teacher or a student?

MZ: Probably any time I’ve been in a play at the school of theatre. And I’ve done that 7, 8, 9 times, and those are really, really good memories. And others would be tied to really good classes that I had, like a student who’s scared of speech gets up and gives a really good speech, or a group project is just jaw-dropping, or a student who had a hard time writing turns in a paper that’s kick-ass. Those would be my [favorite] memories.

HC: What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you on campus?

MZ: This was a long time ago. I was riding my bike and the gate came down on me. Like, I was riding my bike, the gate came down, hit me in the chest, my bike went on into the road and I was just on the gate. Like, a gate in a parking garage. They used to put this real thick lube-grease on it so no one would touch them, because it gets nasty. And I had on a new jacket, so there was just black grease right across my chest and the bike rolled into the middle of the street.

HC: Can you explain why students flip you off when they see you on campus?

MZ: It has to do with the symbolic nature of communication. All communication is symbolic, and we were taught that this is hello [he waves], that wave again is goodbye, this is good job [he gives a thumbs up]. So, when I started having those big classes, I would recognize when I was out sometimes people would be looking at me and maybe they were in my class, but I didn’t know. And they would be shy and didn’t want to say anything, and I thought there’s got to be some way to break the ice. I thought, well this [he raises his middle finger] is a profane thing; why don’t I just have them flip me off when they see me and then they’ll laugh and the ice is broken; then I know that means they’re in the class. Any other symbol would be tied to other things, but you don’t just randomly flip people off when you’re at Chick-Fil-A. So, I did it and it just took off. Students just love flipping me off and I know who they are and it’s funny.

The other thing is, I got it from my dad. When I was in high school, I’d be driving across town and I’d be at a stoplight and see him and he’d roll down the window and flip me off. And my dad was a minister, that’s why it’s so funny. I always thought if he can do it, I can do it. I just use it as a way to connect, lighten the mood a little bit.

HC: I remember you mentioning in class a while back that you sometimes run to the song Juice by Lizzo. What else is on your running playlist?

MZ: Country, right now, because of the Ken Burns documentary that was just on PBS. [He pulls out his phone to check his music,] here’s what I’m listening to right now: some Beatles, Buddy Holly, Avett Brothers, Sturgill Simpson and a lot of old country. That’s my current stuff right now.

HC: Who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive, and what would you cook for them?

MZ: Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy and John F. Kennedy. And probably Texas Hash, which is the only thing I cook anyway.

HC: What novels or plays do you think everyone should read in their lifetime?

MZ: Man Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Angels in America by Tony Kushner. And then, find an author and read all their books. Get a favorite author and be devoted to everything they wrote. 

HC: What are your all-time favorite movies?

MZ: Jaws, The Graduate, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Brokeback Mountain, American Beauty, Pulp Fiction. There are so many. 

HC: What’s your favorite place to eat in Tallahassee?

MZ: Ted’s Montana Grill. Other than that, I like Mom and Dad’s Italian. I’m not a big out-to-eat kind of guy, but those would be my main two.

HC: Do you have a favorite coffee shop in Tallahassee?

MZ: No, but I have them in London. Caffè Nero, which is a chain. Actually, any coffee shop in London is my favorite but Caffè Nero and Pret are my go to’s in London for coffee. There’s nothing in Tallahassee that comes close to that.

HC: What’s your favorite part about teaching?

MZ: I think my main thing is seeing students get better at what I’m trying to teach, whether it’s reading or writing or speaking. My favorite part is talking about something and then having students get interested in it and pursue it when the class is over.

HC: What’s your biggest pet peeve with your students?

MZ: Bad attitude. Surly, no enthusiasm, humorless, angry. You know what I mean? I know sometimes you can’t control that and there are circumstances that I don’t understand, but I like for people, even under duress, to have a ‘let’s make the best of it’ attitude. I really have a hard time with someone with a bad attitude.

HC: If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing?

MZ: Maybe an actor. That would be what I’d want to do. There would be no living because I wouldn’t be good at it, but that’s what I’d really love to do if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing.

HC: Have you ever been thrown in Wescott?

MZ: No, but I’ve thrown a couple of people in. 

HC: If you could choose the lineup of a music festival, who would be there?

HC: The Eagles, The Avett Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, The Clash.

HC: What’s your most prized possession?

MZ: The pipe from my dad’s childhood that showed how prevalent discrimination was.

HC: Are you a dog or a cat person?

MZ: DOG.

HC: What’s your dog’s name?

MZ: Barron. He’s a schnauzer. 

HC: What’s your favorite food?

MZ: Maybe chips and salsa.

HC: When you’re at a bar, what’s your drink of choice?

MZ: Gin and Tonic. Or sweet tea, regular tea. My third would be carbonated water; gassy water.

HC: Gin and Tonic with or without lime?

MZ: With lime.

HC: If you could swap lives with anyone for a day, who would it be?

MZ: I don’t really want to switch lives with anyone but let me see. Willie Taggart, because I have some ideas.

If you haven’t taken a class with Zeigler, and if for some reason his wonderful reputation and this interview haven’t been enough to convince you to do so, you can follow him on Twitter @FSUZeigler. I also made a playlist of all the Zeigler-approved artists mentioned in this article which you can listen to here. And take it from a student having him as my professor for the second time, you will not regret adding Zeigler’s class to your schedule. 

Responses have been edited for clarity.

All images courtesy of Mark Zeigler.

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