I love podcasts — and you might too

I love podcasts — I love listening to them and I love being interviewed on them.

Regular readers have already heard me sing the praises of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. Gladwell doesn’t just deliver a fascinating story each week, he also offers a subtle lesson in how to write well. Well? Brilliantly.

I talk a lot about the importance of reading good writing. Gladwell reminds me that it’s equally important—actually, maybe more so—to listen to good writing.

i love podcastsI should have mentioned Revisionist History when Pete Mockaitis, the host of the podcast How to Be Awesome at Your Job, asked me about good material to read. Guess I was in a literal mood that day. And while pretty much every episode of Revisionist History would make a damn fine book, it’s still a podcast.

I love Gladwell’s podcast so much that I included it in the “great writing” I analyze for the writers who subscribe to my Weekly What program. You’ll hear more about that tomorrow. But—seriously—when was the last time you heard a podcast put together with enough thought that it deserved a deep analysis? Yeah, I thought so. If you haven’t heard Revisionist History yet, start here at episode one. You’re welcome.

I love podcasts (lots of podcasts)

I also love more anarchic podcasts, like the ones from the Crooked Media stable. Actually,  Pod Save the World, Pod Save the People, and Friends Like These have too much structure to call them “anarchic.” Lovett or Leave It, Jon Lovett’s podcast, has been gradually acquiring more structure, although the lineup of guest comedians remains hit-or-miss. (This episode, however, shines.) But their flagship show, Pod Save America, feels like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation between some really smart friends.

Whatever the format, I listen because—well, because Lovett and Jon Favreau are speechwriters. Ya gotta support the tribe, right? And because I appreciate the insights of all of the “Crooked” podcast hosts in these baffling, frustrating, and scary times.

But there’s a qualitative difference between podcasts that capture free-flowing conversation and tightly scripted podcasts like Gladwell’s. It’s the difference between watching a baseball game and a baseball documentary. Both tell stories, but the stories may be a little harder to tease out from the live event. Unless a junior league outfielder falls over the fence in pursuit of a sure home run and catches the baseball. Now, that’s a story.

Anyway, you can catch up on all my podcasts here. Can you tell the difference between the ones I prepped for and the ones where I winged it? Whatever the format, I’m just happy to be contributing to this fabulous new medium. Because—I’m not sure if I mentioned this: I love podcasts.


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Casual remarks in print — regrets, I’ve had a few

I remember the horror of seeing my casual remarks reproduced in print for the first time. It was back in my early days as a singer (yes, I have a not-so-secret life) and the interviewer asked me how I’d gotten started. I talked about my high school musical and added, “I was the lead—of course.”

casual remarks about one's early "stardom" can backfire
Yes, that was me once.

I was joking. Believe me, there was nothing inevitable about my high school stardom; in fact, until about 15 minutes before they posted the cast list, someone else had been slated to take my role. (And boy was she pissed.) In person, that “of course” was self-deprecating. But it gave the writer, who had clearly taken a dislike to me, the opportunity to skewer me in print. Which he promptly did.

It was a lesson I needed to learn. And I’m just glad I got to learn it in a tiny neighborhood publication, back when nothing got archived on the internet, rather than, say, The New York Times today.

Casual remarks: a checklist

Here are four things to think about when unleashing the folksiness I wrote about yesterday or making casual remarks in what might not be a casual situation:

Audience: You need to think about more than how your words will play to the first audience. You need to consider how subsequent audiences will react to them. Especially in the internet age, content can migrate across platforms easily and quickly.

Editing: Can your words be taken out of context or filtered in an unflattering light? If a self-deprecating comment slips out, call attention to it. Try to avoid sarcasm. You’ve probably experienced how poorly it translates in email. It can be even worse in an interview or an article someone might write about a speech you’ve given.

Appropriateness: We all love to tell old stories, but review your mental story bank from time to time to make sure it still fits the prevailing sensibility.

People: It’s probably best to avoid folksy comments that refer to human beings. I recently used the standard colloquial phrase “she’s your gal” in a blog and a friend gently reminded me that the world doesn’t hear the word “women” used nearly often enough. It’s a fair point. So you don’t have to be an 82-year-old billionaire dude to misread changes in the Zeitgeist. Even a fairly “woke,” longtime feminist like me can do it.

Seriously…it’s still okay to be funny

Keep your sense of humor—these days, laughter feels like the crocus leaves poking through the snow of our lives: an unexpected and welcome sign that maybe beauty and grace will return to the world some day.

Just don’t use your folksy language to hurt someone. The reputation you damage might be your own. And, almost as bad, you could step on your message, too.


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