🏆My new favorite podcast, the best podcast of all time 👵 Make My Day's Josh Gondelman☀️
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
I’d like to tell you about my new favorite podcast, the BEST podcast of all time. I am the only one who ever listens to it, and I was listening to it walking around the other day and I thought, “what a shame that others do not know of this podcast!”
The show is hosted by an 80-year-old woman named Joyce. Joyce is a little freaked out about “The Virus” but is more concerned that Pennsylvania has closed all of the liquor stores, and is instead frequenting what I imagine are really just speakeasies in her small Western Pennsylvania town, where bars are technically serving people, illegally, in paper bags. Topics include:
Her sister is driving her crazy. More crazy than The Virus!
She does have mass, she can go pray in the church. She lit a candle for you today. Oh, you said masks? No, she doesn’t have one of those.
She had to cross state lines to buy Uncle Sonny two bottles of Black Velvet, but he only gave her money for one. (Question that remains unanswered: does Joyce get to keep the extra bottle of whiskey?)
How does she log into Facebook now, because she’s been kicked out, and is getting some weird error message that you’ve never heard of before. Is someone trying to steal her money? How does she turn off her iPad?
Reading the obituary section of her paper.
Constantly asking you about how many people have died in your city but not taking a breath to hear your answer.
What are you having for dinner? That is not enough.
It is what it is, what can you do?
She loves you.
Oh wait, this isn’t a podcast. It’s a telephone conversation with my Grandma Joyce. The lesson I gain from this podcast is resilience. My grandmother is a resilient single woman who has busted her ass in a tough, male-dominated world, making little money and taking care of herself through many hardships for 80 (eighty) years. She has been training for a pandemic her entire life, it’s been one struggle after the other for her. Talking to her on the phone sometimes sounds like I’m listening to a podcast. A very entertaining, surprisingly inspiring podcast. Best host ever. Wish you could hear it.
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Make My Day’s Josh Gondelman
Kindly introduce yourself and tell us about the show! Convince us to subscribe right now!
I'm Josh Gondelman, a writer (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Desus & Mero) and comedian. My new podcast is called Make My Day. It's a game show where contestants compete to cheer me up! Originally it was going to be a panel show recorded in a studio, while we're social distancing, it's a one-on-one game show where the contestant is guaranteed to win!
Maris (your wife) is a podcaster (I love her show.) Did she give you tips?
I haven't asked yet! Her show (The Maris Review) is so good that I wanted to get a little rhythm before I asked her expert advice!
If you could get any guest, who would it be? Maybe they read Podcast The Newsletter!
There are so many comedy people I can't wait to have on the show, but I think as a dream guest, maybe...Method Man. Is that ridiculous? His work was so formative for me, and I would love to see what's making him feel good and hopeful. So...Method Man. Or Mel Brooks!! Just putting that out into the world!
Why are you the perfect host for this show? (I say that because you are!)
The host is kind of built around my strengths which are self-aware optimism, and an excitement to talk to other people about their enthusiasms. I want the show to feel really breezy, but not ignorant of the state of the world. I want it to consciously be upbeat in spite of that, but still sharp and funny, is the goal.
Fill in the blank: If you like ______ you will like Make My Day.
”Meeting your very nice friend’s much cooler friends.”
How would you describe your voice? What is your relationship to your voice?
I’ve never thought about how to describe it, but I think I would call my voice “almost gentle.” When I was younger I didn’t like it, but from performing so much I have made an uneasy peace with it. It’s not that I think that. have a beautiful voice, but it’s mine, and it’s specific, and I have figured out how to use it.
What was the last podcast episode you listened to, and would you recommend it?
I've been listening to a lot of Doughboys and Good One (Jesse David Fox's podcast about jokes) lately! I look forward to new episodes every week! Also, Rebecca Carroll's new podcast Come Through, which is really thoughtful and fascinating and sincere! Also My Brother's Sneaker, Yassir and Isaiah Lester's show!
🎙️Josh mentioned loving Good One above, and I love it, too. The last episode was an interview with Chelsea Peretti—not about a specific joke, but about Chelsea’s comedy concept album all about coffee, Floam and Flotsam. (It’s hilarious.) Hearing about what the album has in common with a standup special was so interesting. Chelsea is paving her own way by doing what makes her happy, and it shows, listening to her talk about it. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic but hearing her talk about deciding to make an album, when she is not a musician, sort of changed my life. She committed to this project and created something she is so proud of. (She says that she can die happily now.) It made me want to start my own wild project just to see if I could do it.
🎙️Thanks to The Bello Collective, I discovered Preach…….just in time to hear the last episode. It’s over. Which means I have a lot to catch up on! On Preach, Lee Hale, who grew up in a devout Mormon household, sits down with people from different religious backgrounds to hear about their doubts and beliefs, what their beliefs are, and how spirituality plays into their lives. The first episode interview with Rainn Wilson is about Rainn growing up, leaving, and returning to Baha’i. Episode two is with the host of Snap Judgment’s Glynn Washington! (He grew up in an apocalyptic cult!) And oh my goodness, the two-part series on Veggie Tales is worth a listen if you’re interested in Christian pop-culture or entrepreneurship. I’m working my way through one by one but slowly…I am already terrified about finishing them.
🎙️This Day in Esoteric Political History (hosted by Jody Avirgan and political historian Nicole Hemmer) reminds me of another show I love, Throughline, which grapples with our present by examining the past. (And come to think of it, another show that Nicole co-hosts, Past Present.) But This Day in Esoteric looks at our present through tiny moments on their anniversaries, in only ten minutes. Every topic so far (Letter From a Birmingham Jail, the Lincoln assassination) has been one that made me think, “oh! I have always wanted to know more than the BARE FUCKING MINIMUM about this subject! Now’s the time!”
🎙️I never expected to find an interview with the social media manager for Steak Umm brand frozen meat slices on a podcast called COVID Sucks People Don’t (which is about “people working very hard to fight COVID” and hosted by HANK GREEN, THE HANK GREEN) but this is the world we are living in. (See: Nathan Is A Frozen Meat.) Nate’s viral Twitter soliloquy about people spreading COVID misinformation made Steak Umm famous (for some reason? for sounding woke?) and he talked to Hank about his philosophy for tweeting for a brand. I didn’t want to love this conversation, BUT I DID. I’m not sure Nate should really be lauded for making the world a better place. (Do you know what Steak Umms are? “chopped and formed emulsified meat product that is comprised of beef trimmings left over after an animal is slaughtered and all of the primary cuts, such as tenderloin, filet, and rib eye, are removed…The emulsified meat is pressed into a loaf and sliced, frozen and packaged.”) But this is an interesting conversation if you’re interested in brands and marketing.
🎙️Josh’s Make My Day launched, and as I mentioned in the interview above, it is just what we need right now. I don’t know Josh personally, but I am a fan of his writing and comedy, and I know he is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone, who makes terrible situations feel less awful. This is what his work does for people. The gameshow/news format of Make My Day is fresh and fun, and listening to the first episode with Akilah Hughes was a bright spot in my day.
🎙️I think the description for The Daily Beast’s The New Abnormal sums it up well— “blunt truth and dark humor for a world in chaos.” There are so many COVID shows but this one is sharp and funny, feels wildly homemade, which adds to its charm. Hosts Rick Wilson and Molly Jong-Fast (Daily Beast’s Editors-At-Large) come from things from different perspectives but have fun chemistry and don’t take themselves too seriously. Love the segment at the end “Fuck That Guy,” which highlights the fuck-head of the week (can also be a group of people, or someone who does not identify as male.)
🎙️Barry Sonnenfeld was on WTF with Marc Maron, and it felt like a conversation between friends. Barry’s book, Call Your Mother, is humorous and thoughtful, and dives into Barry’s film career and strange childhood. I have been working with Barry (he’s a Tink client) and I have known he’s a talented filmmaker and very funny, but I’m always surprised, reading his writing and listening to him talk, how much I can take away from him. He has a dark humor that resonates with Marc, and the two talk about fate, writing, film, and crazy moms. I kept going back and forth between laughing and saying to myself, “oh my god, that’s brilliant. Write that down, Lauren.”
🎙️I listened to Dani Shapiro’s conversation with Sinéad Burke on As Me three times. As Me is wonderful—Sinéad is unable to gently dig into guests about what it is like to live in their bodies. Dani’s story (she found out, as an adult, that the man she believed to be her father was not) created an interesting twist on how people usually answer the question “what’s it like to live in your body?” Dani also had wonderful advice for writers and people trying to maintain sanity during a pandemic. (She has a yoga and meditation practice.) She has found that the things that we are most ashamed to talk about are the things that resonate with others the most. Her outlook on work is inspiring—she admits she experiences imposter syndrome but dives in, anyway. This interview moved me.
🎙️It’s 1963 when Tara Hollis moves into her ancestral home, Light House, with her family. And Light House is haunted. Light House is a fiction show that tells my favorite kind of classic ghost story—nothing complicated, it’s not hard to follow. Just SPOOKY. Just GHOSTS. Listening to it makes me feel like it’s Halloween and I’m 8 and about to go trick-or-treating with my friends in my childhood neighborhood. Only one episode has been released and I am PSYCHED to hear more.
🎙️I was absolutely devastated to hear that the last episode of The Waves was THE LAST EPISODE OF THE WAVES. Ever. There is not a single show I have been listening to longer, without missing a single one. I was trying to think of my favorite episode to tell you to try, if you haven’t already, but I don’t know. All of them. This show had become part of my life. (You can read my interviews with hosts June Thomas and Christina Cauterucci.) This is a result of advertisers pulling from Slate shows. Now’s a time when I need The Waves more than ever. I imagine I will go back and listen to old episodes, maybe I’ll start from the very beginning, when the show was called Double X. I find such comfort with the hosts, who now feel like friends. And I miss them already.
🎙️UnFictional’s The Rowing Man is such a beautiful piece. It tells the story of Ove Joensen, who in 1984 rowed across the North Atlantic Ocean from the Faroe Islands to Copenhagen in a ship he built himself, with a cat. On his first attempt he failed and had to be rescued by villagers of the remote Shetland Islands. This episode is about the relationship that blossomed between Ove and the people of the Shetland Islands. The combination of the music, sound, and voices of the actual villagers 30 years later (speaking in their native tongue) makes this an episode that really thrusts you in another place and time.
🎙️I LOVE Remember Reading?, a show from Harper Collins that is a triumphant ode to the best books from our childhoods. If they have an episode about a book you loved when you were young, listen to it. You will love that book even more. But if there’s an episode about a book you specifically did not love when you were young (I have always been a Secret Garden hater!) LISTEN ANYWAY. This sweet Secret Garden conversation with Bridge to Terabithia’s Katherine Paterson and Sara Pennypacker (Pax and Here in the Real World,) about secret places and quiet, slow language providing comfort to shy kids made me want to pick up The Secret Garden and give it another try. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever *read* The Secret Garden. I think I’ve just seen the 1993 film, which traumatized me, because I saw it at a birthday party that ended badly. Don’t get me started. As if this episode wasn’t convincing enough, minutes after I finished listening to this episode I saw this IG post from my friend Whitney, a photo of a page from The Secret Garden, that includes “A raging plague, screaming, children drinking entire glasses of wine, the insolent are abandoned.” I think the universe is telling me to read The Secret Garden.
🎙️Where was I? Oh yeah, PODCASTS. On Sugar Calling, Cheryl Strayed interviews hugely impactful authors over the age of 60, (listen to this amazing interview with George Saunders) and I loved her Amy Tan interview. In quarantine, Amy talks about her past—her grandmother committed suicide after being forced into concubinage, and her mother used to threaten to commit suicide to join her. Amy seems to have a different approach to disaster because of this. (aka resilience.) For years she has lived with her husband in a home built to accommodate them as they age and die.
🎙️I have listened to a few shows that generally address why people of color are impacted by COVID more drastically than white people. But on The United States of Anxiety’s Why Covid-19 Is Killing Black People, Kai Wright asks Arline Geronimus, a public health researcher, about what relentless racism does to black people’s bodies on a cellular level. I loved hearing Arline talk about “weathering,” which can mean to endure something, and can also be used to described something that is worn down, and how it pertains to people of color living in a racist society.
🎙️I don’t always listen to The Daily, but when I do, I make sure it is the darkest episode ever. The episode The Next Year (Or Two) Of The Pandemic paints a picture of our future that didn’t really depress me, but it was one I hadn’t thought of before. Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter for The New York Times, explains The Hammer And The Dance. The Hammer is the disease, which will come down on The Dance, which is people slowly going back out onto the dance floor (aka into society.) So, McNeil says, we won’t just slowly ease back to normalcy, we will return a little, then The Hammer will slam down on us, and we’ll retreat into our quarantine a little. Then we ease back to normalcy a little more, then…THE HAMMER! My friend told me she was unable to listen to the whole thing, but for some reason I wasn’t too freaked out. This makes total sense.
🎙️Then there’s an episode of The Daily, a poem, I Forgive You New York, that brought tears to my eyes. New Yorkers rush through their days, taking for granted the beautiful things about their city, complaining about rats and crowded subways, Times Square and dodging piles of barf on an early Sunday morning walk. (I have always said that I love New York for the things everyone complains about—I love the dirt, the grit, and the chaos. I am not a fair-weather New Yorker.) But now we are without the good and the bad, and author Roger Cohen addresses all these things and says, “I forgive you, New York. Just please, come back.” It’s a beautiful ode to this amazing place.
🎙️I don’t LOVE sports and know practically nothing about them, but I’m always interested in them culturally. (Or when something juicy happens, which is why I love Crooked’s Hall of Shame, a comedy show about sensationalistic scandals about cheating, gambling and sex, in sports, and the humanity behind the headlines.) I think I love sports more than ever now that they are not happening, because the pandemic is forcing us to ask: what does the world look like without them? What do sports do for humans, and how will we be different now that we can’t watch them in person or even on TV? Mouthpeace (a show hosted by NFL defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys Michael Bennett and his wife Pele) had a great episode answering that question: what will this huge gap in the culture impact us?
🎙️There was also a great episode of Telescope that talks to Mina Kimes about the future of sports. Mina points out a lot of huge issues that non-sports fans (like me) probably haven’t thought about (for instance: even if sports can be played without fans in the stands…how will that lack of energy impact the game?) and how sports will never be the same.
🎙️Finally re: sports, on an episode of Six Feet Apart, Alex Wagner interviewed professional athletes about how they’re coping when their professions (and obsessions) have been put on hold. Anyone who has trained for an athletic event knows that when you acutely train for something, you’re mentally preparing yourself so specifically, down to the minute. How do you train when you have no idea when you’ll be able to preform? Or if you don’t have the equipment (Alex talks to a WNBA player who doesn’t have access to a basketball hoop) or even the ability to work with teammates?
🎙️The biggest compliment I can give a podcast is that listening to it makes me feel that I’m in Disney World—I mean it makes me feel like I’m in a magical, curious place, learning about the world or myself. Ologies is one of those shows. Host Alie Ward interviews ologists about science, and it’s her hosting abilities that makes this show so magnetic. She’s so warm and likeable, you want to be her friend. And her writing is lyrical—she has a special way of putting words together about anything. If you jumped into the middle of an episode of Ologies, you would immediately know what you were listening to, because there is nothing that sounds quite like it. I often feel nostalgic listening—a lot of the subjects Alie talks about (dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, aliens) are things I was fascinated with as a child. (Who amongst us did not go through a penguin phase as a kid?) I’ll stop gushing in a sec, but another thing I love is that Alie interviews people she is interested in, not celebrities. We are talking to people passionate and knowledgable about their subjects. They’re not making podcast rounds. Each of these episodes is extremely special. FINALLY, Alie donates money to a charity of the guest’s choice for every episode. My favorite episodes are this one about the future with Flash Forward’s Rose Eveleth, and this one about pumpkins with the charming Anne Copeland.
🎙️The new season of Dissect is covering Beyoncé’s Lemonade. I am SO GRATEFUL for this. I’ve always sensed that Lemonade was too brilliant for me to possibly appreciate, and listening to the first episode (Pray You Catch Me,) I’m finding that that’s true. Because Lemonade demands being examined from all directions, there’s also a visual guide that accompanies each episode.
🎙️Episode two of Rabbit Hole dropped. Kevin has Caleb download all of the YouTube videos he watched in a year to track his entry into the rabbit hole. The exercise gives us a clear picture of how YouTube messaging can subtly mess with our brains, leading to extreme changes in belief. Set with a thoughtful conversation between Kevin and Caleb, it’s clear how easy this drastic spiraling can happen, and that maybe it could happen to US. Part three, the final part, drops next week. Listen to part one if you haven’t.
🎙️When I first saw this episode of Planet Money, Making It Work, stories about businesses that are able to thrive in the pandemic, I thought it would be a grumpy story about people capitalizing on this unfortunate situation. But it’s the opposite of that—it’s about small businesses who could have gone under just like so many others, but found a way to pivot and provide their services with a twist. (Think: a goat farm bringing goats into Zoom calls, or a man who owns a strap company.) There is even a piece on trampolines, which have seen incredible growth during our national quarantine. The trampoline seems like the perfect metaphor for what we are all doing in our homes right now. It’s a singular thing kids (and adults) do to release energy, and you don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy it. I’m picturing people all over the country bouncing their way through the pandemic, it’s kind of a representation of this time. And yes, I see us bouncing back up.
🎙️I love you!