Monday, September 12, 2016

podcasts for my middle years

Lately I’ve been binge-listening to The Jackie and Laurie Show, a Nerdist-network podcast by comics Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin about women in comedy. I’ve seen Kashian perform locally a bunch of times, including once in someone’s backyard. A thing I love about both of them is that they love comedy so much, and are so eager to hone their material, that any shred of diva behavior goes out the window. At the same time, they’re both refreshingly honest about their envy, ambition and exhaustion, three major motifs in my life that are often swept under the rug by artists when they talk about their work.

"Standup is making fun of podium culture."
The general mood of the podcast is “I want to do gigs and learn things and think and make people think, and also goddamn it I’m tired and want to just sit in my favorite chair.” That’s how I feel pretty much all the time.

Kashian and Kilmartin are both about ten years older than me. As a pigeon mom/writer seeking viable role models for my middle years, I have big admiration crushes on these women. (Kashian talks about perimenopause sometimes, referring to it as “middle-aged lady time”; even though I ripped off the menopause band-aid a few years ago, I like that there are people making the next era in my life cool and funny instead of cringe-worthy.) They are scrappy. They are realists. They talk about what it was like to come up in comedy during a time when most lineups featured one woman, but they’re also sufficiently tuned in to the youngsters; their take on the Lena Dunham/Odell Beckham Jr. thing was the closest I’ve heard to my own. They’re open-minded, they question themselves, they’re too old to put up with shit and they are hilarious. I do a lot of literal lol-ing.

Their take: This is what it sounds like when you've always been told that everything you say is really special. I agree, although I also generally like Lena Dunham and think the overall backlash against her is weirdly hateful. She's talented and thoughtful and seems like a nice person who's willing to learn from her mistakes. So let's not act like she's Johnny Depp.
When I run out of episodes and return to my regularly scheduled programming, here is what I will listen to:

99% Invisible: Exquisitely produced, this is a podcast about “the built world” that folds ample doses of history and social justice into the realm of architecture, planning and design. From gentrification in East New York, to the woman who photographed the Bauhaus, to the man who designed “the worst smell in the world,” this podcast will give you lots of weird but relevant tidbits to talk about at parties. Plus host Roman Mars has a beautiful voice.

Check out the episode about Floyd McKissick, the civil rights leader who built America's first (only?) city by and mostly-but-not-exclusively for Black people.
Keith and the Girl: One of the oldest podcasts out there, this one has a simple format. Keith Malley and his bestie/ex-girlfriend Chemda Khalili shoot the shit about current events and invite other New York comics on to do the same. Imagine a morning radio show that wasn’t sexist, racist and annoying, and you’d have Keith and the Girl. Chemda especially does an amazing job of calling out people’s ideas about gender, pulling no punches but never lacking humor. They’ve introduced me to a diverse group of up-and-coming comics that a West Coast girl who doesn’t get out much would never encounter otherwise.

Chanel Ali (top left) is one of the funny people I've discovered thanks to KATG.
The Longest Shortest Time: Hillary Frank’s This American Life-esque parenting podcast is going through some growing pains. Most notably, it spawned a huge Facebook group that proceeded to implode as an alleged casualty of the so-called Mommy Wars. You can Google it. The show switched networks and lately has been short on fascinating interviews with parents of all stripes (a multi-part series called “The Accidental Gay Parents” is one its best) and long on shows about placentas. I know I’m biased as an adoptive parent, but I really couldn’t care less about placentas. That said, I admire a show that takes risks, and the beauty of the world outside network television is that there is time and space for a show to find its way. I’m hanging in there to see what’s next. Oh, and check out the episode in which W. Kamau Bell interviews his mom about her dating life as a single parent.

Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Hosts Allison Benedikt and Dan Kois are both Slate editors; they are smart, thoughtful people who are not especially spectacular parents, nor do they express ambition to be the “best,” which is part of the show’s secret sauce. The show is one part journalism (I especially liked their interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones about school integration and gentrification) and one part real-time memoir. They open each episode with a parenting triumph or fail, from rescuing a daughter’s birthday cake from ants to fighting with a spouse in front of the kids. I especially like Dan, a book nerd dad of two daughters, whose blend of practicality and sensitivity is kind of aspirational for me.

Except in Dan's story, the ants weren't chocolate.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour: Paul Gilmartin’s deep dive into mental illness is my old friend. It’s gotten me through some tough times. As a host—interviewing fellow comics, celebrities and regular citizens like yours truly—Gilmartin is simultaneously gentle and sincere and also funny and dark. He’s had guests who have survived horrific abuse and others who struggle mundanely toward a sense of self-worth. On this show, they’re all equally deserving of love.

London "match girls" who went on strike in 1888.
Stuff You Missed in History Class: This show is the opposite of 99% Invisible in terms of production values. Its hosts are two women with non-radio-friendly voices who read their stories from the page. But the stories are great: Harriet Tubman’s career after the Underground Railroad; the British tradition of trashing brothels; a female serial killer who poisoned a series of husbands in the 19th century; an experiment with importing hippos. Periodically the hosts get emails from listeners complaining that they “only cover women,” to which they respond that no more than fifty percent of their episodes have ever centered on women, and thanks for the feedback, here’s another episode about a woman. The big takeaway from this podcast is the stuff you missed in history class was all the good parts.

What are your favorite podcasts?


Ms. Q said...

Savage Love!

Cheryl said...

Oh yes! How could I forget??

Kat said...

What a great list! When do you listen to podcasts, Cheryl?

Cheryl said...

Driving and cleaning the house. :-)