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Matt Gourley has an irresponsible amount of podcasts. He is the creator of the I Was There Too podcast and the co-creator of the Superego, James Bonding, Pistol Shrimps Radio, The Complete Man, Keys to the Kingdom, and Mallwalkin’ podcasts as well as sidekick to Andy Daly on Bonanas for Bonanza and producer and co-host of the Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend podcast. As an actor he’s also been seen or heard on Community, Adventure Time, Kidding, Comedy Bang! Bang!, Blindspot, and has been featured multiple times on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. In his down time though, Matt plays music with his band Townland and works on design and renovation projects at home, where he lives with his wife, daughter and their huge cat, Margaux The Fat Guy.
Describe Keys to the Kingdom in 10 words or less.
An inside look at the peculiar world of theme-park performers. (I strategically hyphenated theme park to get it to 10)
Was it hard to get people to talk?
Some were more than willing to go on the record, speak freely, and even fly in the face of The Mouse while others insisted on either pseudonyms, voice disguising, or both. Their choices were mostly determined by whether they still wanted to maintain a working relationship with whatever theme park they were discussing. But we definitely had people that flat out refused to speak to us for fear of reprisal — even some very close friends. The specter of the major theme parks looms large, and even when you are obeying all the rules as an employee, it can feel like you're always being watched by a shadowy force!
Share something shocking from the show to get people to listen.
If you’ve been to Disneyland over, let’s say, 20 times you’ve probably inhaled human remains. I’m only somewhat exaggerating, but there is quite a trend for people to smuggle in their loved-ones’ ashes and scatter them throughout the deceased’s favorite attractions — most notoriously (and appropriately?) The Haunted Mansion. It happens quite a bit and the workers that have to deal with it even have their own lingo for the removal of remains. CODE: GRANDMA.
How did you get your start in podcasting?
I co-created Superego in 2006. It was a very loosely improvised sketch-comedy podcast that was then tightly edited and sound-designed in post production. I think because podcasts in the early years were almost exclusively just people chattin’, it was able to slowly distinguish itself.
You also host a mall podcast. What do you like about malls?
That’s right. My friend Mark McConville and I do a podcast called Mallwalkin’ and it’s the single stupidest excuse for a podcast since my last one with Mark (Pistol Shrimps Radio where we called live play-by-play of my wife’s women’s league basketball games even though we don’t know the first thing about sports). Mallwakin’ consists of Mark and myself doing exactly what the show promises – walkin’ a local mall and just saying what we see and taking any conversational fork in the road that comes up. I’ll now reiterate how dumb this is but also note that none other than the esteemed Guardian recommended it, calling it ‘part ASMR journey, pert psychogeography.’ So there’s no accounting for taste.
Pretend you were going to start another podcast. Don’t worry about the logistics or whether or not anyone will like it. What’s the show?
Well, luckily those parameters have never been a hindrance for me! I always have a couple of ideas on deck. And as stupid as this sounds, and as stupid as these nascent podcast ideas are, I hesitate to list them for fear of someone else doing them!
Are there too many podcasts?
Nope! Because who is it hurting? Even if someone does a podcast solely because it’s fun and no one listens, at least the podcaster is getting something out of it. In fact, I think the best podcasts are inevitably the ones where the hosts are doing it for love of the game (to borrow a phrase I learned doing a sports podcast). Luckily, podcasting is still an open sandbox with a low-barrier of entry and those are the conditions best suited to produce some of the most inspired ideas for shows and innovative evolutions of the format. But take that with a grain of salt — I have a podcast that ends every episode in a mall massage chair.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Julie Shapiro and John DeLore have launched Audio Flux, a collection of short audio works that respond to a set of rules established with a different creative partner each time. For their inaugural circuit, they partnered with writer and artist Wendy MacNaughton. Six producers were invited to create three-minute “Fluxworks,” that a) include some manifestation of the theme: letting go b) include previously unshared personal archival tape and c) take inspiration from one of three illustrations by Wendy (keys, gas station, person reading.) Wendy then responded to each Fluxwork, with original illustrations. You can see it all here. The short format allows these audio wizards hone their work into perfection. This is how it’s done. Each one will sound different each time you listen, each one inspires and delights, and each one made me wish I captured more tape from my life. (So did the most recent episode of Heavyweight.) It’s not a podcast yet, but I hear that’s coming in 2024.
✨I was the happiest little trick-or-treater on Halloween when I got to haul my ass into the WNYC studios to be on All of It with Alison Stewart, to share my favorite spooky podcasts. (Pinch me.) They played clips from Spooked, Radio Rental, Eerie, Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest, Euphomet, Let’s Make a Horror and we got to discuss a few more. I was a little nervous but instantly felt better when Arielle called in. Listen here.
✨Read my article 10 of the Best Podcasts About Adoption from Lifehacker.
🎙️Sound Detectives is an adorable new show hosted by LeVar Burton that features Detective Hunch (Vinny Thomas) and his new sidekick Audie the Ear (an ear, Jess McKenna,) who are hot on the trail of sounds that have gone missing, which is actually really scary if you think about it. (Also scary to think about: an ear who can eat toast.) LeVar has gifted Hunch and Audie a box of the sounds, and this show takes us on their adventures as they track them down. Some of the sounds are obvious, some involve a bit more exploring. Along the way they learn about where the sounds come from and how they are made. It’s technically for kids, but it’s really Pixar-y in that lots of the lines seem written to make adults lol. I know I did. Sound Detectives is so cute I want to pinch its cheeks. Listen here.
🎙️A jolt of excitement runs through my body when I see there’s a new episode of Nymphet Alumni, and there’s no better way to warm up to fall and the new season of Thanksgiving than their latest episode, which is a mood board for the holiday. Biz Sherbert, Alexi Alario, and Sam Cummins explore what specific traditions (wearing leather) might say about our traditions (is it tied to the turkey or Thanksgiving football games?) and look at this day of thanks from a sociological perspective—how we dress for the occasion, why it’s a day of scrutinizing young women about how they look, what they eat, and what they wear, and why everything we do, from watching the parade to shoving our hands up turkey asses, tells us something deeper and darker about ourselves than we realize. They use Thanksgiving and Black Friday and living room glam to evoke a feeling of that golden hour that comes before the darkness of winter. This whole episode is basking in a golden glow. Listen here.
🎙️This season about The Dream is about gurus and life coaches, so bullshit positive mindset and hustle culture come up a lot. I loved the episode Striving Is Bad for Your Health, about how if you’re a minority, striving for the American Dream might make you sicker or die earlier. Jane Marie talked to Sherman A. James, an American epidemiologist at Duke about something he invented called the John Henryism Hypothesis, which posits that repeated high-effort coping with chronic adversity rooted in structural racism can lead to an early onset of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases in African Americans. You may know about the story of John Henry, who challenged a steam-powered drilling machine to a race to prove that human strength could outperform the machine and won, but died from exhaustion. There are two ways to interpret this story: it can be seen as proof of the triumph of the spirit of Black people, or a cautionary tale about getting caught up in the system. Dr. Sherman talked to a man literally named John Henry Martin who was able to, against all odds, pull himself off his bootstraps but not without repercussions. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is impossible and a distraction that gurus sell us. They don't know the physical costs associated with the American dream. But what would they say if they did? Listen here.
🎙️Cat worshipper Amanda B’s investigative cat podcast 6 Degrees of Cats is dedicated to answering all the questions you might have about cats—not so much whether you really have to be brushing their teeth every day (Monty’s vet says yes and I literally called her a liar) or if your cat still needs to be on a special diet even though his perineal urethrostomy was ten years ago (okay these are my questions, specifically.) It’s about cats’ place in society—mens’ relationships with them, St. Gertrude, the Patron Saint of Cats, how cats and science go paw in paw, the significance of Schrodinger's cat, and more. It’s really a history, religion, culture, and science podcast, using cats as a vehicle to flesh out the past. The show is both informative (Amanda brings on experts to help her get answers) and beautiful. Episodes are carefully and expertly hand-crafted and use a mixture of interview, storytelling, and lots of personality from Amanda. I loved the first season so much and it’s back for a new season with an episode about witches as the original brew-masters and how they were seen as crazy cat ladies. There’s real overlap between witches and cat ladies—they both threaten everything that a male-dominated society holds dear. You knew that. But do you know what that has to do with whiskey? Listen here.
🎙️Shelley Duvall was all over the place in the 70s and 80s, but what happened to her? The last time you saw her was probably from spicy Dr. Phil clips. But where did she go? Texas Twiggy is a podcast that gives Shelley the “Missing Richard Simmons” treatment. Host Shelley-obsessed Emma Lehman is meticulously going through her past and talking to people in her orbit with tons of respect and admiration, for a podcast she says she wanted to make so that even Shelley could listen to and enjoy. There’s more to Shelley than her 1980 performance as Wendy Torrance in The Shining—she starred alongside Robin Williams in Popeye (which also sounded like a painful experience,) won loads of awards (including…get this…a Razzie for her role in The Shining,) started her own production company and revolutionized cable TV (anyone remember Faerie Tale Theatre?) and other stuff you may have forgotten, but Emma has not. Some of the editing was a little scattered (I kept thinking I had already heard an episode when I had not,) but don’t let that steer you away. This is the story of Shelley Duvall told by someone who adores her and it feels like it. It feels homemade and full of Emma’s heart. Listen here.
🎙️I have been enjoying the new series of Physical Capital about swimming, all about the politics and sport of swimming, Black bodies in pools and all bodies in lakes. As a former swimmer, I think it’s doing a really good job of interpreting the culture and language of a sport that sometimes feels like a secret language. The episode about bodies in the pool, and what it’s like to be a female or gender fluid body, was particularly striking, and reveals all the embarrassment, humiliation, and awkwardness that women and nonbinary swimmers experience by jumping into a pool practically naked and being thrust into the spotlight, when performance is dictated by how broad our shoulders are, how powerful our thighs are, and whether are not we are eating enough calories for two full-grown men. It’s impossible to ignore your body in the pool, but Physical Capital is able to portray what that really feels like. Listen here.
🎙️There are millions of podcast feeds, but only a fraction of them are active. (Not to be a party pooper, but that’s why your Listennotes score is so high.) Podcasts are a lot of work and it’s hard to keep them alive. Why do they die, and what can we learn from their deaths? On Podcast Graveyard, James Bishop is sitting down with people who have ended their shows after one episode or eighty six episodes. I listened to four episodes in a row, unable to tear myself away from hearing dudes admit their terrible reasons for starting a show, the bad advice they were following, and the sheer confidence they had to make something they knew nothing about. The underlying problem seems to be that people don’t realize how much time it takes to make a podcast (not even a good one, none of these are exceptional) and to hear them tell themselves they think they could only release an episode a month, or rely on social media as their only growth strategy…well it’s enough to put this podcast marketer into her own early grave. But there is something to learn from these people. Some of them seemed to be onto something, sometimes their shows had good bones, and one of them was even making money. James knows how podcasts work (he’s the founder of OneFinePlay, a production company that makes “conscious podcasts,") so he’s a good interviewer, and the show maintains this fun spooky vibe dedicated to treating these podcast deaths like real deaths, which is actually unnecessary because the show already has a very strong mission. Listening to Podcast Graveyard is like watching a train wreck that lets you take notes on how the train wrecked. Listen here.
🎙️The Athens Lunatic Asylum is now closed, but the grounds contain three cemeteries where approximately 1900 patients who weren’t claimed by their families when they died, were buried, sometimes under date and name-less tombstones, sometimes under rocks. Who Lies Beneath shares the life and stories of the unnamed, using a first-person style account and voice actors. The first episode of the new season focuses on father and daughter Amanda Smith and Levi Mercer, who were both buried there—Amanda first, after she was sent to Athens for vague mental illness that nobody seemed too worried about looking into (if low-level delusion and unhappiness is all it took to get institutionalized, then I would have been really fucked) and then her dad. These are tragic stories that expose a fascinating slice of history, and these people are getting somewhat of an ending to their stories, which are much deserved. Listen here.
🎙️There are 25 billion chickens on earth, they are our most-eaten animal. (For perspective, there are a mere 8 billion people on earth.) We don’t think about them very much. It’s more comfortable to eat them if we don’t, and if we instead reclassify them as stupid and abundant. But on Fed, Chris van Tulleken is thinking about them a lot. He’s an expert of processed food (he wrote the book Ultra Processed People) but for the podcast, he wants to know about the chicken part of the chicken-eating process. Not what eating them does to our bodies, but where they are from, how they’re reared, how they’re processed. For the show, he’s seeing if he can eat them after he’s learned about their fascinating histories and raising a few broiler birds. (His daughters pop on the mic—they’re in on this project too, and it’s adorable.) In the second episode he gets into the farmer’s wife who really kicked off the industry and how antibiotics were introduced. I would love, love, love…I am so serious…love to hear if anyone listens to this and cuts back on how much chicken they eat. Let me know, and listen here.
🎙️Detroit is home to Ford, General Motors, and…Detroit-style pizza, known for its thick, cheese-lined and airy, and crispy crust and tons of sauce cut into square or rectangle-shaped pizza. Dough Dynasty is a new podcast from Michigan Radio that takes us through the history of Michigan slices—how pizza here in the first place (we really don’t know) and why Detroit was the place where it sparked. (Credit to the engineers and immigrants flocking there for work.) It’s basically a big pizza party, taking us back to the chains that were born in Michigan and how those chains shaped the state’s identity and politics, the innovation that took pizza from something being scoffed at to botched in American kitchens to a staple that was being delivered (in the perfect box) to people who eventually realized how delicious and convenient it was. Pizza is one of those topics that gets people fired up—when I studied in Florence, the woman I lived with made us order pizza from Prato, a neighboring city—and this show is reminding us of the glory that is the Detroit pie, which if you don’t already like, you will at least have respect for it after listening. (Despite the fact that the hosts have questionable toppings taste and like to dip their slices in ranch dressing.) Start here.
🎙️I love you!
📦 From the Archives 📦
[From June 1, 2020] I always roll my eyes when someone says their podcast is not a podcast. Get off your high horse! It’s a podcast, it’s fine. The word podcast can mean so many things, what you are doing is probably not as elevated as you think. But if I were to categorize anything as a non-podcast it’d be Constellations, which defines itself as “a sound art and experimental narrative collective that illuminates international artists making sound works that convey meaning through evocation and abstraction.” I think of it kind of as an art installation, it’s very focused on sound experimentation and asks nothing of you but to listen and let your mind wander. The first episode of the new season is a two-parter—FEEL THE SKY A (Jaye Kranz, Australia) and FEEL THE SKY B (Myra Al-Rahim, USA.) They are two separate projects brought to us by creators who were given a single prompt: to make art from a recording from 1992 made by a news reporter unfamiliar with field recording, but entranced by a chance encounter with trumpeter swans on an icy lake. The results are unbelievable, I cannot fathom how these pieces were made. At the end, the creator shares some words about their thinking. I wish Constellations would release the original 1992 audio so that people could play along. But part of the magic is not knowing the thin space between what was provided and what sprung from the mind of the artist. I could see myself getting frustrated by these pieces if I were to think, “what does it all mean?!” I sometimes do that, but you can’t do that here. You just have to trust the artists, and yourself, that listening will change how you experience the world.
From the Desk of Tink
Describe Mina AF in ten words or less: Real, hard topics discussed candidly and unapologetically to build connections.
Who is it for? Anyone looking for a place to feel like they aren't alone in their struggle; mostly women, a lot of moms, in my age group looking for someone to discuss openly the things they are all thinking or feeling but afraid to express.
Which episode to start with? Where you should always, start, at the beginning.
Favorite listener interaction: I am humbled every time someone, usually a woman, thanks me for being so vulnerable and honest bc if gave them the courage or motivation or permission to do so in their own life in a way that affected change for them in a positive way.
Dream guest: Glennon Doyle.
Would love to be a guest on… ArmChair Expert or We Can Do Hard Things.
What does your family think you do? My son thinks I can/should build and fix any dilapidated structure we happen to drive or walk past; Mom builds houses. I'm not sure what my daughter Charlie would say I do but I'm definitely going to ask her now. My overall family would probably give the easy answer; I renovate homes.
Do your kids think you're cool? I think they DO! Someone was talking to me about their renovation problem a week or so ago and Jack was with me and he whispered, "Mom, tell them about Good Bones. You can fix it for them!" It was definitely a proud mom moment.
Podcast The Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.