In our everyday lives we pursue meaningless, vapid conversations with people who we don’t particularly care for. The idea is that it makes existing easier. That it’s better to have that one co-worker whose last name you can’t remember wave at you every morning than be on your own. It’s a foolish notion, but the majority of humanity embraces it—and I can’t say I’m totally against it. It’s how we as people establish relationships… most of the time.
I am not the kind of guy who’d go out of his way to make casual conversation with a stranger. Nor would I bother with acquaintances if there’s nothing to talk about. To be blunt, if I don’t know you—I could give a fuck about you. Part of that has to do with a lack of interest in forging false relationships, no matter how small, and the other part is due to a healthy amount of social awkwardness. You wouldn’t see me jumping at the opportunity to feign enthusiasm over your cat, your trip to Guatemala, or worst of all, the weather. But if approached to make conversation, I will politely play your game and hope that buried beneath the layers of bullshit there’s a genuinely interesting human being who is worth talking to.
Keeping all of that in mind, I host a podcast called Shootin’ It. In case you’re somehow living in the 18th century or without any awareness of Apple, podcasts can be best described as ‘pseudo-intellectual, yet ultimately mind-numbing, conversations recorded between two or more individuals that are distributed over the internet’. In the beginning, that was Shootin’ It at its core.
Fellow author Ken Dereste Dorcely and I would sit down once a week in my podcasting studio, drink 2-6 beers, and spew absolute garbage (usually with a chunk of gold hidden somewhere in the middle) into microphones. The conversations were scattershot, the editing was choppy, but people were listening. Not a lot of people. Not enough to ensure that the majority of this article’s readers would recognize the show by name—but a modest amount that kept us recording.
Kenney and I had quite a history together. We’d been friends for over ten years, had collaborated on a number of projects—including my directorial debut Practice Makes Perfect, and I even introduced him to the future mother of his children. There was a chemistry there from the jump, and a clashing in personalities—myself being the nerdy, middle-class white guy with a brain like an encyclopedia and Kenney, the easy-going black guy with a personality like a California surfer bro. The formula worked.
As time went on, however, we simply ran out of things to talk about. We’d gone through some of our best stories in the first twenty weeks of podcasting and decided it might be best to bring in guests. Every major comedy show on iTunes, with the exception of Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, had a new guest on each week. In past episodes we had brought in indie authors like Charles Ray Hastings Jr. (Tea on the Riviera) and Christoph Paul (Great White House, The Passion of the Christoph) to mixed results. Neither of us had prior experience conducting interviews and it was very much so apparent during their respective episodes. Still, the only other option to liven the show was to bring in a third mic. We were both entertaining the idea of having Jersey-native and stand-up comedian Mike Malkiewicz join the podcast over Skype. Being a ‘social media friend’ of mine, Mike had asked to make an appearance on the show around Christmas to promote an upcoming gig—which I approved. A few weeks later, Mike would go on to be voted ‘Best Guest of 2013’ by listeners. It was only natural that he became a staple.
Around the time that 2013 came to a close there was a definitive plan in place to feature guests at least three times a month and have Mike (in addition to a small roster of other comedic personalities) pop in whenever available. But then… real life took precedence and things quickly changed.
Kenney’s girlfriend became pregnant, he picked up two new jobs, and long story short—the podcast was a man down. The dynamic changed, the formula changed, and I was now in a position where I alone would be interviewing people on a consistent basis who I’d never spoken to before. When you view social interaction the way that I did, something like that could very easily be seen as a problem. Suddenly I was staring at a long list of guests without a co-host to bounce off of. My comfort levels dropped and for the first, and only, time ever I considered snuffing out Shootin’ It. Even though these people who’d been booked for the show were interesting artists, there was no guarantee that the interview would go smooth, or that either of us would have much to say to carry an entire episode. Something that I had avoided most of my life, sitting down with people I didn’t know and getting to know them over forty or fifty minutes of discussion, was now going to be my weekly gig.
When we eventually brought in the first month’s line up (Jeremiah Walton, Germar Derron, Heiko Julien, and Alexandra Naughton) I was surprised by just how well the interviews flowed. Not only were the guests captivating, but the sheen of trying to maintain a professional environment wore off pretty quickly and all parties involved treated the podcast for what it was intended to be: a collective of creative individuals shooting the shit and, really, just fucking around. It helped that Mike offered to fill-in as a full-time co-host. Although he didn’t have any journalistic skills, his addition to the show kept the first batch of interviews from being stiff. To drop from a comedy podcast consisting of drunken ramblings to NPR would’ve killed the show. Not just killed it, but plowed it down like a freight train railing over a bum.
In time both Mike and myself found our footing as hosts of this new interview-based talk show. Shootin’ It had managed to distinguish itself as a separate and more popular beast from its previous incarnation. During that time, something else changed as well. I became more comfortable. The level of concern and general anxiety I had about holding court and getting to know new people eventually dissipated. By an act of repetition, a layer of confidence in speaking and engaging had developed that I had once lacked. I managed to pick up a technique to tear away certain walls of discussion and get to the root of what people really want to talk about; an ability that, if not for podcasting, I may have never learned. Sixty episodes later and it’s a skill I’m continuing to sharpen, and get better at.
Granted, I still much prefer a quiet ride upon entering a taxi, but if I wanted to hear my cabbie whine about the traffic and break beyond that, I very well have that option.