📝 All work and no play..., polygraphs, prison songs, swingers 💃🕺 Jack O'Brien⚡️
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
This week we’re getting to peek into the podcast app and listening life of Imran Ahmed, founder of Great Pods, a website, newsletter, and podcast that uses podcast critic reviews and ratings to help you find your next listen.
The app I use: Castro for listening. Hark for clipping.
Listening time per week: 6-10 hours
When I listen: In the morning I’ll end up catching up with a daily podcast like Snacks Daily, Marketplace, Axios Today, or Cup of Tea and a Chat w/ Allie and Bean.
Afternoon runs are perfect to catch up on my listening like SmartLess, You’re Wrong About, and any new pod. Finally, at night, I listen to Sleep With Me because the host is so boring it’s perfect and I don’t need to replay it in the morning in case I miss something.
How I discover: Everywhere. Newsletters, charts, friends, social, new releases on various apps, and Great Pods. Our mutual friend Cory will text me episodes but give no context around them. Cory, if you read this, give me context! On Great Pods, we are aggregating podcast critic reviews, so I’ve read and added over 600+ critic reviews with their recommendations.
Anything else? Coming from corporate TuneIn to now being independent, I have to say that the independent podcasting community is so uplifting to one another. A lift-all boat mentality. It’s inspiring and a nice reminder of what we have, continue to and will achieve through this medium.
ps If you are pleased with Podcast The Newsletter, please spread the word.
ALSO ps Getting to talk to Jack O’Brien (below) is a big deal for me, and this is one of my favorite interviews, ever.
👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Jack O’Brien is the co-founder of Cracked.com and the co-host of The Daily Zeitgeist. Follow him on Twitter here. Follow The Daily Zeitgeist on Twitter here.
What’s something from your search history that is revealing about who you are, what’s something overrated, and what’s something underrated?
Search History: Looking into the movies that came out in 2015. I like to use the Oscars each year to relitigate the Oscars from five years before. I think that’s the schedule the Academy should be on so we can appreciate the film’s actual impact. It seems like it takes movies a couple years to fully soak into the cultural consciousness and for people to decide how much they matter to them. The big one from 2015 is that Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t win Best Picture, even though that seems like one of the stand out cinematic achievements of the last decade. I love Spotlight, which won, but it’s a different level.
Specifically my search has been around documentaries of the time. There was some really great stuff from that period around the US / Mexican boarder and revolutions that commented in really interesting and meaningful ways on what we were about to live through during the Trump administration.
Overrated: Mainstream media. Weird that my answer is probably the same as a lot of Fox News commentators (of course I count Fox News as part of the mainstream media). The longer I spend paying attention to the way the news relates to the Zeitgeist, the more I see these baked in biases towards sensationalism, defending the status quo, and ignoring disadvantaged communities that have created an incredibly toxic cultural ecosystem in America.
How many hours of podcasts do you listen to per week and at what speed do you listen? Sometimes I hear you mention all the listening you do, and I wonder how it's possible. (I also once heard that you listen with only 1 earbud at a time so your headphones never run out of battery and you can listen longer. Is that lore?)
I probably listen to 15 hours a week, down from 25-30 at a particularly unhealthy point in my life. I stay between 1 and 1.25. I used to listen to more information based shows at higher speeds but feel like I wasn’t absorbing the information as much as I would if I just read the article. I do tend to keep one pod in ear and one in the charger. I don’t ALWAYS have a show on. I’ve tried to stop leaving the headphone in when I’m not listening because it really changes how you interact with the outside world. There’s something about having both my ears literally open to the air that makes it possible for me to fully engage.
What shows do you make sure you never miss?
Like I said, I’m less and less of a “must get this information” listener than I used to be. Chapo Trap House, The Read, Desus and Mero, Behind the Bastards are shows that I think make me better at my job because of the perspectives and voices of the hosts. Blank Check is starting to join that group.
Then I have my guilty pleasure shows I save for the weekend: Doughboys, The Dollop, Last Podcast on the Left, and I never miss The Flagrant Ones with Carl Tart and the hosts of Hollywood Handbook, which is probably my favorite podcast at the moment.
You are obsessed with the coal gas study. Why? Does it kind of connect a lot of things you’re interested in? Does it symbolize the kind of content that fuels the Daily Zeitgeist?
I think it illustrates something that is hugely overlooked in the Zeitgeist, probably my biggest underrated overall: second degree suicide, the likelihood that you, the listener, the reader, will take your own life.
The Zeitgiest is obsessed with murder but twice as many people die of suicide each year. I think it’s important to always keep in mind that I am twice as likely to kill myself than get killed by someone else, and also keep in mind that that’s true of every person I know. That might seem strange because of course I know I’m not going to kill myself—I’m me—but then there’s the main finding of the coal gas study: suicide is often a spur of the moment thing. We talk about second degree murder but we don’t talk about second degree suicide. The way we cover suicide is that it’s the final answer to a riddle that was a human’s life. And it’s frequently as simple and stupid as the person who shoots a spouse they catch cheating or a friend after a disagreement over money. They get really mad at themselves for something stupid and if they have a gun, they lock it in.
So back to your original question—I talk about it a lot because I still don’t think people understand how important it is, and it reveals a lot about the human condition, something I’m interested in.
Does your wife listen to the show? How do you two support each other in your work, which is very different?
She listens to the show sometimes, which is weird because she feels like she talked to me during the day and I didn’t get the same interaction with her.
We support each other by having real, engaged conversations about each other’s jobs. I find what she does incredibly interesting. I read a novel she was assigned in medical school just because I thought it was interesting that they were assigned a novel, and I’ve been fascinated by the lives of doctors ever since.
So when she tells me about work, I’m engaged and want to talk about it. And she gives me the same attention and interest.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Do you remember when Covid hit, and everyone talked about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic and we should all get started on our masterpieces? Heather Li is maybe the only one who did that. She was laid off from her finance job and started making It’s Nice To Hear You, and now It’s Nice to Hear You is here. The idea is pretty neat: Heather wondered if she could make romantic connections between people through voice memos alone, and started collecting profiles of people who wanted to be part of her project. Then she matched them up, and asked them each to send a voice memo answering questions from 36 questions to the person they were matched with. Heather sent the voice memos back and forth, so each participant knew nothing about the person, not even their name. Just what their voice sounded like and how they answered theses questions. It’s like a reality podcast dating show social experiment. And have I mentioned the sound? It’s obvious that Heather has painfully edited each moment so that you feel like a perfect little gift is carefully being placed in your hand with each episode. So much care and attention to detail. And you know how they say when you rescue a pet, the pet ends up “saving you?” It’s like this show has saved Heather. She want from losing a job she loved to finding a project that invigorated her, one that taught her a lot about herself. In It’s Nice To Hear You, she is two people. One Heather is a dutiful researcher, mapping out each participant’s likes and dislikes and what they are looking for in a mate. The other Heather is bringing her heart and all of her vulnerabilities to the show. I don’t know who this Heather person is but she is good at a lot of things. Data, podcasting, connection, innovation, and most of all, the ability to tell mini stories that flow perfectly together into a greater one.
🎙️The best part about Pretend’s very good two-part series on the lie detector test was getting to the voice of Doug Williams, who has been on a crusade to defeat the polygraph machine since 1979. In 1996, he started a website called polygraph.com, offering a handbook and one-on-one training teaching people how to pass the test, which he’s gotten into a bit of trouble for. (He’s been convicted on multiple counts of witness tampering and was sentenced to two years in prison.) Both sides of the polygraph test argument are presented in this episode, and Doug sounds like the crazy guy railing against lie detector tests on the street corner, but I think he is right, just extremely passionate. At the end of episode two, he admits that being on Pretend is an opportunity for him to advertise his services. “If you have been harmed by a polygraph test,” he says, “if you have lost a relationship or been denied a job, call me and I will come to you and help you. Just pay for my transportation.” This is his mission. Or was. When the episode was done, Javier sent it to him to let him listen to it, but he couldn’t get a response. It was then he discovered that Doug Williams had died on March 19, 2021. Listen to part of the episode here.
🎙️Meta is an Australian podcast about podcasts (I have already written about the episode with Declan Fey, of one of my favorite fictional shows ever, Cross Bread.) This episode with Jade Le Flay and Jazmine Nikitta, two Australian hip-hop podcasters and djs, is important for anyone interested in what is going down in the audio industry. They are on to talk about their podcast A1: The Show, which has typical weekly radio format, but thanks to Spotify’s podcast creation tool, Anchor, Jade, Jazmine, and co-host 24 Karat Kev can embed songs from Spotify into the show, something most creators can’t do. In this case, the show is built around the day’s top hip-hop hits, which are chosen by the Spotify algorithm. It’s a show that isn’t a Spotify exclusive because the hosts want $300 Billion, it’s a Spotify exclusive because that’s the only place this show can exist.
🎙️What’s happening over in LA’s Echo Park is so fucked up and nuts. About 200 homeless people built a commune-like encampment there, which is seen as either a utopia or a public hazard, depending on who you ask. The police ousted the unhoused people from the park, and Worst Year Ever’s conversation with two members of Echo Park Lake Community and reporters from KnockLA gives context to the homeless situation in LA, and answers a lot of questions people have about the unhoused. Like why they aren’t thrilled to be placed in hotels, or why the encampment they had built was such a positive space, and the inhumane way it was taken away from them.
🎙️If you think you had a rough year, think about what it would be like if you had been in prison. We made it through with sourdough and friend Zoom calls. How did prison inmates make it through? On Uncuffed, inmates shared the songs that they played that made them feel hopeful and less alone during quarantine, when they were limited access to all of the few things of comfort that used to be available to them. It’s a beautiful tapestry of personal narrative and music. What someone is listening to says a lot about that person. We always want to know what athletes are listening to before they compete. Each of these songs, and why they were chosen, gives a unique insight into what it’s like to be in prison during pandemic. This playlist reveals these people’s fears, hopes, pride, and frustrations, through song.
🎙️Ear Hustle presents what it’s like to trans and in prison by telling the stories of two people, Marcel and Angie, who spent years in prisons determined by the gender on their birth certificate, not the one they identify with. They each talk about the path that brought them to prison, and they speak candidly about the violence they experienced there. (It’s hard to hear, and Ear Hustle doesn’t always go there.) Angie talks about her transition surgery, which is scheduled and being paid for by the prison, but was delayed due to Covid and if Angie gets out of jail soon, it will be cancelled all together. (And yes, she says, somme people prefer to stay in jail if it means their surgery will be covered.) Listen to her here.
🎙️On The Margaret Cho, Margaret has launched a new season called Mortal Minority, which will examine the historical crimes that laid the groundwork for the recent onslaught of violence against Asian-Americans. Consider this all the stuff you should have learned in school about Asian-American violence that your teachers neglected to tell you. The first episode, with Helen Hong, dives into The Chinese Massacre of 1871, which some people believe is the largest mass lynching in American history. A dispute between two Chinese factions had erupted, which led to the death of a white man, which sparked a mob of around 500 white and Hispanic people to come to Chinatown to murder Chinese residents in cold blood. Listening to the description of one of the hangings gave me the same feelings I had when I first watched the George Floyd video. It’s such a gruesome moment I decided I couldn’t include it in Hark Daily, but I did clip it for you, and you can listen to it here. It opens with the warring factions and gets into the murder pretty quickly. Helen also talks about her father, who was attacked in February while he was grocery shopping for being Asian. This episode will sink you heart and soul, but it’s so important to hear. (Oh Margaret was also on an episode of Good One to talk about her “Asian Chicken Salad” joke.)
🎙️Spinsters is a basketball podcast with feeling, and the most recent episode is a perfect example of why. Haley and Jordan talk to writer Katie Heindl about the emotional rollercoaster that is getting traded from team to team. We are so used to looking at sports through the male experience, and since men aren’t allowed to have feelings, this isn’t something that’s often considered. But can you imagine if your boss could shuffle you around as if you were a chess piece? My boss is a HUGE bitch now (I own my own company) but in the olden days, I would become emotionally unraveled if I didn’t think my boss liked my sweater. Getting traded would undo me. It changes your identity, your self-worth, your own abilities, your entire family, and you have to find a new favorite place to get good takeout. This episode was so funny and different, and it’s a great place to start if you haven’t listened to the show yet.
🎙️Imaginary Advice is an ingenious, perfectly-produced show that I promise is unlike anything else you’ve heard. I’m always tickled to see what concepts emerge out of Ross Sutherland’s brain, and the execution is perfect. Part two of “All Talk And No Play…” dropped last week, it’s an interview with Graham Owens, the man who supposedly, physically wrote the famous manuscript used in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Who is this person behind the prop that is so essential to the story? If you believe Graham, it’s him, and he was ordered to type out the phrase 10,000 times in a row, trapped in a cupboard. It’s an exercise in madness, not unlike the one Jack Torrence underwent at The Overlook. Ross gets on the phone to hear about what it was like, and gets into a form of method acting that dives deep beneath the work of the actors (it’s all in the set design) and Graham takes Ross on a mental experiment that paints Graham as either an unreliable narrator, or a spiritual genius. There’s still one more episode of this series to come, I have no idea where Ross is taking us.
🎙️John Moe brought The Hilarious World of Depression over to Max Fun and renamed it Depresh Mode, and it’s fantastic. Patton Oswalt is the guest on the first episode, and he shares the heart-breaking day he spent with his daughter, explaining that her mother had died. He also talks about why artists shouldn’t be worried about “losing their edge” by going to therapy (which is interesting after you’ve listened to Rose’s episode above) and why everyone should go, and why every depressed person needs to watch The Sixth Sense. Listen to my favorite moment here.
🎙️I’m trying to catch as much coverage on the Derek Chauvin trial that I can, but most shows aren’t able to cover it with quick turn-around, and in depth. I will enjoy to hear how shows cover it after they’ve had time to reflect and produce a thoughtful episode on their weekly podcast. American Public Media and MPR News are following the trial up-close with In Front of Our Eyes, short episodes that feel hot off the press. (Though they also are excellently made.) They’re covering the trial itself and how it’s impacting the community in Minneapolis, and the life of George Floyd. Listen to a clip here.
🎙️The first episode is season seven of Flash Forward is a blend of fictional storytelling, science, ethics, and the future, asking: what if you could be immune to everything? It’s a question that opens up a universe of possibilities. What would happen to the environment if things like snake bites were no longer a fatal threat? (Would we kill them more or less?) Or what about addiction? Should we really thwart people from their reliance on alcohol and drugs? Where do you draw the line, and how would drug immunization change the human experience? Rose asks the best questions and the fictional opening pulls you in and launches your brain in the future. Listen to a clip here.
🎙️OC Swingers is a new true-crime series about surgeon (and former Bravo reality star) Dr. Grant Robicheaux and his girlfriend Cerissa Riley, who have been accused of drugging and raping maybe more than 1,000 women. Robicheaux and Riley insist they are victims being punished for their swinger lifestyle and that the women were party girls who made bad decisions and want to rewrite history. I am most excited about this podcast because it is in the hands of Justine Harman, of Broken Harts and The Baron of Botox.
🎙️I had heard the story of Ruth Coker Burks and how she dedicated her life to helping people dying of AIDS through their last breaths and beyond, so I wasn’t sure if I’d learn anything new listening to this episode of This is Love. But it was cinematic and completely fleshed out Ruth’s story. It starts with an odd anecdote about Ruth inheriting the plot to a cemetery when she was young, and how it shaped her ideas of death. Then we hear about a tiny moment that changed everything—she was in the waiting room of a hospital, visiting her sister, when she noticed that none of the nurses would enter one of the rooms. She went inside to find an AIDS patient that no one would touch. (AIDS patients were untouchable.) So she took it upon herself to go inside and give the patient the love and care he wasn’t getting anywhere else, and she dedicated her life to this. I think we would all love to expand our hearts into a huge act of kindness like this, and it seems that Ruth was presented the perfect opportunity to do it. That this opportunity to be kind was practically handed to her on a silver platter. But surely we all must experience these opportunities and just don’t see them. Maybe an opportunity to make a change in the world or other people’s lives has presented itself to me, but for one reason or another, I didn’t recognize it. After this episode, I listened to the latest from The Cut, which talks about the difference between kindness and niceness. Kindness is saying little but taking action. Niceness is saying kind things but doing nothing. I am sure we are all pretty nice. But how many of us are participating in active kindness? And how do we know when we are being called upon to do it? BTW that cemetery that Ruth inherited? She later used it to bury the bodies of the people she helped, when nobody else would have them.
🎙️Those Happy Places dropped an episode which I am hoping means…it’s back? This delightful show approaches theme park rides and attractions as a literary text and canon, exploring what makes them magical. (I wrote about the show for The Bello Collective’s 100 Outstanding Podcasts of 2020.) I obviously prefer the Disney episodes (oh my god listen to Birds of Paradise episodes or the Haunted Mansion episode) but I listened to this new episode about Knott’s Berry Farm’s Calico Ghost Town. It dives into this history of this happy place, why it’s crucial to the story of Knott’s Berry Farm, and it made me really miss amusement parks. How I would love to walk around a magical world like Calico Ghost Town. I felt pangs of sadness thinking about how much I miss that experience.
🎙️This is Uncomfortable, “a show about life and how money messes with it,” tells the story of Axton Betz-Hamilton, who was being hunted down by an identity thief for 20 years. It pretty much ruined her life. While her credit was being destroyed, she feverishly tried to hunt down the thief who was stealing her mail and taking out credit cards in her name. It became an obsession. But discovering who was behind it all changes her entire life. I’m obviously not spoiling the surprise, but even if you know, it’s hard to stop listening to Axton tell the story.
🎙️Counter Culture kind of reminds me of Secretly Incredibly Fascinating—by doing deep dives into anything that has the word “counter” in it, Arielle and Shira are able to turn the mundane into the interesting. (I always think, ‘can that be an episode?’ And it always can and is!) There’s the added bonus that the two have an adorable friendship. That is also what this show is about. On the last two episodes I learned about Beyoncé's Countdown and Counting Crows. This show is a fun way to dip into something random and come out with a better understanding of it. Or maybe you’re just reminded of why you loved it in the first place.
🎙️I love you!