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🌊 Cruise hair don't care 🚢 fake breakroom 🥪tortellini saga 🍝 the pests rest for no one 🧑💻 525,600 minutes 🎭
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Today is Monday, August 21. There are 31 days until my trip to Disney World. In case this newsletter is too long…a teen’s secret turns into a tragedy here, this cyberstalking story is absolutely bananas, I’ve been weighting for this forever.
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Jess Rothschild is the creator, exec. producer and narrator of Finding Fire Island. Jess also produces and hosts the LGBT pop iconography podcast Hot Takes & Deep Dives where she interviews comedians, writers, TV showrunners, actors and reality TV personalities. Follow her on Twitter here, IG here.
Describe Finding Fire Island in ten words or less.
Mystique, legends & lore of the gayest place on earth.
Who is this podcast for?
Anyone who loves history, especially queer history, Bravo, The Housewives, New York City, Drag Race, Provincetown and hot gossip.
Why are you the perfect host for Finding Fire Island?
I’ve been obsessed with Fire Island since my first visit in 2008. As years went on, I became more entrenched in Cherry Grove and The Pines communities, reading and watching anything I could get my hands on.
However, there really has not been a piece of media that satisfied all of my curiosity. I wanted something that married the queer cultural legacy with how the rituals play out today… so I set out to create that missing piece of media.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned while making the show?
Two things really come to mind. The first is — I interviewed 20 people (men and women aged 35-65+). At least 25% of them revealed to me during the interview that they were sober. It was so interesting to me that a place like Fire Island, infamous for its party-forward sometimes hedonistic atmosphere, had thriving sober communities, particularly in Cherry Grove. That definitely became part of the story we told.
The second thing is how the same socio-economic, racial, and political issues that play out across the United States are played out in these tiny, remote gay communities of Cherry Grove and The Pines as well. It’s all just a microcosm for the rest of the world, down to the historic rivalry between the two.
Who was the most fun to interview for this show?
Brian Moylan (Vulture Housewives recapper) and Paul Rudnick (screenwriter, The First Wives Club, Sister Act) are so entertaining and speak in perfect soundbites that I was able to use nearly all of their material from our interviews throughout the series.
I interviewed two of the oldest members of the Cherry Grove community - Bob “Rose” Levine and Thom “Panzi” Hansen, who arrived in Cherry Grove in 1955 and 1972, respectively. They both still perform drag today and have SEEN IT ALL.
And, of course Margaret Cho, Matt Rogers and Joel Kim Booster.
What was your favorite story on the show?
Hearing DJ Lina Bradford tell her first-person story of coming out for a one-weekend DJ gig in The Pines which evolved into a 10-year reign, is the centerpiece of episode 4 (“Tea”). DJ Lina is a cult of personality who changed the SOUND of Fire Island. Lina’s presence brought color to the island. The story of people chanting her name and dancing so hard that they broke the deck (twice!) is transcendent.
What’s the number one thing people have gotten wrong about Fire Island?
That it is only for white, gay men. Cherry Grove has always celebrated women, lesbians and trans folks, is a big drag hang-out, and welcomes gay guys who are “over” the pressure that can sometimes be felt in The Pines. The Pines is evolving closer to that mix every single year.
How has Fire Island changed over the decades?
If you only looked on Instagram (or the film Fire Island), you would think The Pines has always been this gay fantasia free-for-all. Guess what! It was originally envisioned as a straight community for families. Its previous owner (John Whyte) was a closeted gay man who wanted to keep the gayness an undercurrent, far away from the honky tonk, free flowing queer vibe of the neighboring community, Cherry Grove.
Tell us about your other podcast, Hot Takes & Deep Dives. How did that start?
I used to focus on Bravo commentary, and interviews with Housewives, Bravo reality stars. It quickly evolved into content I was more curious about, like interviewing people from The Real World (Danny Roberts (New Orleans), Irene McGee (Seattle), Genesis Moss (Boston). From there, I began to focus on those who were truly formative to my gay identity in the late 90s, early 2000s. I’ve been thrilled to interview Melissa Etheridge, the creator of The L Word, Ilene Chaiken, Gina Gershon, SNL writers & cast members, writers from Sex and the City and a lot more! I also love dissecting one particular subject, like the rise and falls of Gawker and SoulCycle.
Who was your favorite person to interview on Hot Takes & Deep Dives?
Rosie O’Donnell and Sandra Bernhard, my queens.
How many hours did you spend making Finding Fire Island?
I started with the concept and outline of episodes in fall 2022. My first interview was with Bob “Rose” Levine (the 90 year old drag performer) in December 2022. I completed the rest of the interviews February-May 2023, with a few final pick-up interviews actually on Fire Island over Memorial Day. We started editing/sound design/scripting/narration April 2023. Hours? Girl, countless, endless.
How many people were on the team?
Just myself and my incredible sound designer Caitlin Whyte!
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Alana Chen was a high-achieving, friendly, smart and athletic 14 year old who had, what I think a lot of people would consider, an unusual obsession with the Catholic faith—she really wanted to become a nun. (How many teenagers do you know sneak away to go to mass every day?) At 14, she confessed to a trusted priest that she was attracted to women. That priest convinced her not to tell her family, and for seven years, Alana secretly sought pastoral counsel and conversion therapy. By the time she was 24, Alana was dead. She killed herself. Her family was left with so many questions. So was Simon Kent Fung, the host of Dear Alana, who reached out to Alana’s family immediately when he heard her story, which deeply resonated with him. He too sought out conversion therapy for nearly a decade in his efforts to become a priest. He teams up with the Chens, who have two dozen of Alana’s personal journals, to learn about the things that went on behind closed doors, the forces that drove a girl who needed real help to the edge, in secret from everyone she knew. This can’t be an easy thing for Alana’s family to do—it takes a lot of trust in Simon as a storyteller. Alana’s presence is felt as he digs and digs. The podcast is a broken conversation between Simon, the Chens, and Alana and brings up all the things it’s too late for Alana to hear. (I became friends with a 90-year-old nun in my early 20s, because I was interested in Jesus. I almost had to file a restraining order on her—she relentlessly called my cell phone, my parents, my work…I know this sounds ridiculous because it is. But I can absolutely understand how someone more willing to listen than I was could completely fall into the darkest hole that a religion could offer.)
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✨ Sorry/not sorry for being obsessed with this story.
🎙️I’ve been waiting for Weight For It for awhile—it’s Ronald Young Jr.’s nuanced conversations and thoughts about fatness and people who think about their weight all the time. We don’t hear enough men talking about their relationship with weight. Ronald says that fat women are having a moment and are more glorified than fat men. That’s a lot to think about—I feel like fat men are just considered people. But it’s obviously something that people are feeling, so I’m extra curious about where this show will take me. Ronald is unafraid to put himself out there, his body and his feelings, for a podcast that shifts the conversation about fat and desirability, and why so many of us are waiting for something…(thinness?) to start living the life we deserve. Listen here.
🎙️Pretend has a wild series about Wisconsin author Patrick Tomlinson and his wife who are being relentlessly attacked and cyberstalked…and it all started with Patrick’s innocuous tweet about Norm MacDonald. These “pests” (nobody has any idea how many of them there are) are going to… honestly…impressive lengths to ruin the Tomlinson’s lives—doxing them, sending things to their homes, generating photos of them in pornographic positions, telling them to kill themselves, and so much more. Every single day. It’s like their full time jobs are to torture Patrick and his wife. And defending themselves as become a full time job for them. They could change their names and identities, move, hide under bushes. That is exactly what the pests want. This is an unbelievable story, the Tomlinsons sound angry and exhausted. It doesn’t seem there’s an end in sight, or anything they can do. Sounds like another episode is coming out—host Javier will interview one of the pests. You can’t help but listen and wonder what you’d do if you were in this situation. Because it’s not about Norm MacDonald. This could be anybody. Start here.
🎙️Employees Only is a new improvised comedy podcast from Ron Howard that lets big voices play in the fictional world of the break room of the fictional retail giant, Buywell. I immediately recognized voices I love—Kara Klenk, Kurt Braunohler, Clayton English, James Adomian (not to sound like a highfalutin movie buff but he was in a favorite film of mine, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) and Madison Shepard. It’s breezy fun, Kara Klenk is great, it reminds me of the kind of TV show I want to have on in the background while I’m doing something else like eating my girl dinner in goblin mode. And you know that sort of thing really hits the spot sometimes. Listen here.
🎙️The Alarmist is one of my favorite history/comedy podcasts—I’ll say it again: I think it should be taught in schools. Host Rebecca and her team go through a disaster in history and try to determine who’s to blame for it. I don’t know how much you know about the messiness of Trivia HQ but even if you, like me, binged The Ringer’s Boom/Bust: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia years ago and just finished watching the documentary about it, Glitch, it’s still fun to hear The Alarmist’s funny panel try to determine who is at fault. In the Aftermath episode (always worth listening to) Rebecca talks to journalist Alyssa Bereznak, host of Boom/Bust, so you get a more expertish opinion. Listen here and here.
🎙️Hear Me Out had an excellent “in defense of cruise” episodes that I was hell yesing the entire time I was listening. The episode is specifically titled “You’re Not Too Cool to Go On a Cruise,” which is perfect because I am fueled by my love for uncool things, and cruises are one of them. Ezra Dyer, senior editor at Car and Driver, argues that cruises are the kind of tacky fun that you might just like in spite of yourself. The episode did not address the two most glaring problems about cruises: crew mistreatment, devastating global and local environmental impacts. Instead, it focused on things that I believe—that cruises are stress free havens for indulging in whatever kind of fun you’d have on land, but on sea. It brings up a larger question about snobbiness and why we’re so programmed to hate things without actually thinking about them. You might think you hate them but really really think about it. Maybe you love them. Join me. Listen here.
🎙️On SongWriter, Ben Arthur puts a storyteller and song writer together to make connections about their art. On a recent episode, RISK’s Kevin Allison tells a sweet story about meeting his future (ex) husband in the days after 9/11—it’s about how a terrible day can get you to reframe things—and songwriter Carolyn Kendrick (she’s also the producer of You’re Wrong About and You Are Good) shares her new song, “What If.” It’s like dinner and a movie but the dinner is a funny coming-out story and the movie is a lyrical, emotional song that goes together perfectly with it. Listen here.
🎙️This Financial Times article about our misunderstanding of Italian food really made people (Italians) mad (it basically erases a lot of the false romanticism we associate with pizza.) If you missed it, Lilah Raptopoulos interviewed the author of the piece, Marianna Giusti, and the guy whose work inspired her to write it, historian Alberto Grandi, on FT Weekend. Alberto was just on Decoder Ring to talk about Parmesan cheese. They debunk our myths about Italian food and explain why it drove people so nuts. The truth is coming out. Listen here.
🎙️A little inventory of all the celebrity book club podcasts: Celebrity Book Club with Chelsea Devantez is the best and most thoughtful, Celebrity Book Club with Steven and Lily is the funniest, and Celebrity Memoir Book Club is the one you listen to when you don’t plan on reading the book and just want the Cliffs Notes. I wouldn’t be surprised if these authors were losing money because why read the book when you can hear Claire Parker and Ashley Hamilton blow through the whole thing.? They give you the run down as if they are two friends racing to catch you up on the crazy lives of Tori Spelling, Kelly Ripa, Matthew Perry, etc. Their episode on Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life was perfectly chaotic. Cat was the beauty editor and the founding editor at xoJane who almost partied herself to death in New York City in the mid 2000s. In some ways we were similar—I was in New York City at the same time, also working in print and digital media. But in most ways we were opposites. Cat was a mess, addicted to drugs, swinging back and forth through eating disorders, and failing up the entire time, carving out a really impressive career. A career I was probably trying to have. Every time she seemed to cry out for help, she was enabled by her parents, her employers, and the few people brave enough to get close to her. This is an unsettling, terrifying story of a young woman’s career, and the commentary from Claire and Ashley (“she’s getting paid to do PCP and not do her job,” “it’s scary that she’s still alive,” “you can smell her apartment and it’s not good”) is maybe not cruel but incredibly honest, and at times funny. It feels like you’re speed reading through the book with pop-up video on. I will not be buying How to Murder Your Life but I feel like I just read it with two valley girls who are pretty good at summarizing books in an entertaining way. (I feel like this is way harder than it looks.) Listen here.
🎙️When Threads launched, Meta named Katie Notopoulos (former senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News) the app’s editor-in-chief (or as she says, “vibes curator”) then fired her on her first day of work when she responded to a question about how Threads would handle nazis on its platform. Or not really, Katie was only pretending to be on staff, but she had much of the digital world fooled. It made so much sense. It (and the reason she was fired) was a lie just close enough to being believable that it set social media on fire, letting Katie become Thread’s first main character of the day. This is the story of a hilarious internet prank that went way too far. On What Future, Katie sat down with Joshua Topolsky (her brother-in-law) to talk about how things got so out of control and what that says about Threads and social media ethics in general. Listen here.
🎙️On Zero, Akshat Rathi interviewed Extrapolations writer and executive producer Dorothy Fortenberry (before the strike) about climate storytelling, the creative things her team had to do to force viewers to consider their futures, and whether or not “cli-fi” is really science fiction or just reality-based. We’re already so fucked by climate change, Dorothy says, that any show that takes places now or in the future and doesn’t address our crumbling world is the real science fiction. Climate fiction isn’t dystopia. Real life is. Listen here.
🎙️The Worst of All Possible Worlds had an interview with Pulitzer-Prize winning composer and playwright Michael R. Jackson (A Strange Loop, White Girl in Danger!) about Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning musical Rent. Love Rent or roll your eyes at Rent or both, it’s really interesting when you tease out all the good and bad and the story’s confusing politics, and try to understand what Jonathan Larson was trying to accomplish and where he was coming from, especially with Michael R. Jackson. I saw Rent in Philly with the original Broadway cast when I was too young to understand what I was seeing, and it was fun to revisit it as an adult who now lives in the East Village (where I must say, you kind of have to, unfortunately, pay your rent.) Rent is far from perfect but it’s perfect to dissect. It was novel, exciting, full of grunge and Gen X angst, and this conversation made me love it even more, flaws and all. Listen here.
🎙️Moshin and Dalia are very good friends trying to make a very big decision—will Dalia be the surrogate for Moshin and his husband? (In episode one, Moshin says something like “if you were asking my advice about doing this for someone else, I’d tell you not to do it.”) It’s tricky—Dalia already has a child with her husband, and that pregnancy had its own complications. Mohsin grew up in a devout Muslim family where it was inconceivable to be gay, let alone be gay with a kid. On Tiny Huge Decisions we’re eavesdropping in on one big ongoing conversation full of friendship and high-stakes. My mind was going back and forth between “this is the worst idea ever” to “this is the most beautiful thing” and back again. Listen here.
🎙️Sing for Science pairs a scientist with a musician to understand something in a new way, and last week they paired Rutger Bregman and 311’s Nick Hexum for an episode about optimism. 311 came on the music scene when most people were singing about terrible things, and 311’s sound and message of connection, possibility and love stood out. Rutger actually talks about cynicism being “a thing of the 90s,” and how fashionable it has always been to be a pessimist. Both of them know that optimists aren’t taken as seriously as the people pointing out everything wrong in the world. It’s easy to make fun of things. Rutger sees solutions (sometimes wild ones), not problems. He casually pointed out that if you want to learn about the world, you shouldn’t watch the news, which will leave you both unformed and mentally ill. Instead step back, read books, and he recommends only one website, the best website he says, Our World in Data. Listen here.
🎙️I love you!
📦 From the Archives 📦
[From March 6, 2020] Over The Road is an 8-part series from Radiotopia and Overdrive that celebrates long haul truckers by interviewing a bunch of them from across the board, and getting on the road with host and musician “Long Haul Paul” Marhoefer. I love this project and Paul is perfect host. First of all, his voice is like Burl Ives as the snowman in Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer—and the storytelling feels just like it, to me. Better yet, Paul is able to see himself in everyone he interviews and has a lot of empathy for them. Paul doesn’t just tell us stories, he makes us feel like we’re along for the ride. One episode lets us empathize with people who can’t seem to figure out why they’ve chosen the hard life of trucking. What drives anyone to choose the life path they have? Are these jobs or professions? Lots to reflection for the listener, too.
From the Desk of Tink
Today we’re talking to Alex Keledjian and Ryan Gibson of How I Got Greenlit.
Describe the show in ten words or less.
How I Got Greenlit is a weekly podcast about pursuing and achieving your dreams in the arts.
Who is it for?
Film lovers, filmmakers, fans and aspirants. Those who used to listen to DVD commentary and people making their own films at home. Anyone who loves art enough to want to know how it was made.
Which episode should people start with?
Depends. Craig Perry is one of the smartest filmmakers out there (producer of “Final Destination” and “American Pie”) and quick with a juicy and funny story about Hollywood. But Gary Carter, “Survivor” and “Big Brother” is almost teaching a master class about media in general, with an eye on why and how to tell stories and the larger context of the artist.
Favorite listener interaction:
Alex: A random tweet from one film nerd to the other: “Dude you gotta check these guys out, they’re as dark as you but actually know shit!”
Ryan: A fan of the show had heard about a script by Anthony Jaswinski that he hadn’t been able to find and was dying to read. Cool guy, long-time listener. I was able to reach out to Tony and get a copy to send to him. He never asked for it and was blown away. It was a cool moment.
Alex: Stanley Kubrick
Ryan: Stanley Kubrick but in the spirit of being different, Harold Ramis.
Would love to be a guest on…
Alex: “The Rewatchables”. Bill Simmons, I’m dyin’ ovah here… Put me in coach!
Ryan: “Late Night with David Letterman”
If I could force one person in the world to listen to my podcast it'd be…
Alex: My daughter, who is interning in a production company now and wants to get in the business. Eli Holzman had some great lessons about breaking in and the important of hard work. We put her to work to run our social, so she is forced to listen!
What do your parents / kids / family think you do?
Alex: My parents are not artistic but great lovers of art, especially films and music. They always have been supportive. My kids were ambivalent because no matter what your parents do, it’s boring to their kids. Lately, they are more interested. I have had people in my life that did not like the circus nature of the life, it is feast or famine. It’s not for everyone.
Ryan: Not podcasting.
Do your kids think you're cool?
Alex: Ha! They would never tell me if they did.
Ryan: My son does and it's the best thing ever but he is only eight. I hope I am able to maintain that status as he continues to grow.