Bestcasts asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast. Ties are allowed/encouraged. For more podcast coverage, see Podmass, The A.V. Club’s weekly roundup of the best ’casts out there.
The podcasters: Equal parts interview show, bar scuttlebutt, and stand-up routine, The Dinner Party Download is a different kind of podcast. That could be because it comes from public radio—it’s distributed by American Public Media and airs weekly on more than 130 stations nationwide—but it could also be because its hosts, Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam, have a knack for pushing their celebrity guests into new and funny places. That’s clear in the pair’s three picks below, in which everyone from Viola Davis to Randy Newman stops by the show to joke around with them. Along the way there are drink recipes, tips about etiquette, hip dinner party playlists, and even some chatter about news, making the show as fun and unpredictable as a night out with friends.
The A.V. Club: You guys have released 350 episodes of the Dinner Party Download, so picking three episodes was probably a little daunting.
Rico Gagliano: Yes, because we have so many segments in each show, and there are so many parameters that we use to decide, even among ourselves, whether a show is a success or not. We’d like it to be really funny, but we’d also like it to have moments of being soulful, and then we’d like it to have really cool people that you’ve heard of, but then maybe we’d also like to introduce you to some people that you haven’t heard of. We’d also like to be silly but also sound really smart, and we’d like to have all different arts represented. On any given week putting together a show that hits all of those perfectly is always a challenge. But I think we have reasons for picking each of these.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Then I think also psychologically, we’d never allow ourselves to achieve the perfect show, because then we would just explode and not make radio anymore.
RG: We always want to be chasing the tiger.
BFN: We’ve had that difficulty, because recently, we’ve grown big enough that we have some producers, and for them to ask us what makes the show a show and what makes a guest the right guest has been really hard to translate out of our brains, because we’ve just been doing this on our own for so long with our producer, Jackson [Musker].
AVC: Would it have been easier for you guys to just pick three segments?
BFN: Maybe. But that’s in the past now. Actually, it wouldn’t be, because we do so many different things that to get a sense of what the show is about, you need to understand the ecosystem in each show, and so three segments wouldn’t have done that justice.
RG: That’s the other thing. We’ve often thought about doing, say, a live show. Our live shows also have lots of different things in them. We’ve thought about doing live shows where they would have only had one interview or a couple of interviews or one segment of the show represented, and somehow that doesn’t feel like our show. But someday, we’re going to become so stressed out that we’re going to have to figure out how to do that. Until then, our brand is crisis and having a lot of stuff. So I think it’s fair to want people to listen to a whole show.
AVC: Let’s talk about episode 100. It took you 100 episodes to really figure the show out, huh?
BFN: When we started as a biweekly show that was no determined length but usually would come in around 15 minutes or so, the idea was that it was the little thing you would listen to en route to a dinner party. Everyone’s busy, and we’ll just give them the information that they need to kind of be up to date on culture and feel good about what’s happening in the world, and give them a joke, etc. So that’s in the DNA, but those episodes, listening back, are just so abbreviated that we thought episode 100 was a good introduction in that it pulls from those little pieces that we did over the years, and it also tells a story of the DPD and the history segment.
Also, the Sam Prekop open is fun and gives a window into how renegade we were. We were just two guys working at Marketplace who didn’t have permission to use the studio at night and started making our little show and uploading it. Then over time, it became legitimized, because American Public Media liked it. The download numbers were high, iTunes named us the best podcast, and we started getting attention. We’re still going through this maturation process of becoming a real show, because we’re just two guys who stay up late at night and work on this. Now we have a team around us. So this show, episode 100, with Sam Prekop, that was the first time we asked for permission to use that song we’d been illegally using for 100 episodes. It shows how we were flying by the seat of our pants and how Sam Prekop was game, because he found us charming or listened to the show and got a sense that it was something legit that he could trust, and we weren’t misusing his stuff.
RG: I should chime in here, by the way. Brendan said that people can listen to this and get a good idea of our history, because the history segment in this particular episode is the history of us, but that history has nothing to do with reality.
BFN: No, it’s absurd.
RG: One of the reasons we picked this show, too, is because it’s one of the few shows where most of it is purely silly. We just had a great time putting this show together. Normally, we put together the history segment, and you have to really research the hell out of it. Even though the history segments on our show are very short, there’s a ton of information, and we are a public radio product, so it has to be accurate, and it’s really hard sometimes to make those things accurate. There’s a lot of disagreement on the internet, as you might imagine, as to what actually happened and when dates were.
I remember it being freeing when we put together this history where we didn’t have to cling to reality. It was great. Also, the guy who did the cocktail based on that history has been on the show several times, and he’s the coolest dude. He has the perfect blend of laid-back but also ridiculous. I mean, it’s a Twinkie-based cocktail. Lest anyone think that we’re froufrou fancy-drink guys, never forget, our 100th anniversary cocktail was based on a Twinkie.
AVC: Because you didn’t like cupcakes, Brendan, among other reasons?
RG: That is true.
BFN: Yeah, it’s because we didn’t like cupcakes. Frankly, I think I pretended to like Twinkies for Daniel’s sake, because he’s such a sweet guy. But I think they’re a little trashy, looking back on it.
AVC: Did you try it?
BFN: No, we never drink our drinks. We’re not supposed to say that. Our publicist was like, “Don’t say that.” But we’re saying it. We don’t drink.
RG: It’s not because we wouldn’t want to. Some of them sound really delicious.
BFN: It must have been time to make a Twinkie drink in San Francisco.
RG: Also, we’re not doing these things live, for those who have never heard the show before. We’re interviewing our cocktail guys over the phone. Though it would be great if we could travel to the four corners of the Earth to sample these drinks that these guys make.
BFN: Part of the fun of the cocktail segment for us is that the show travels and we get to go to the regions where the history takes place and talk to someone in that area. The great thing about the drink segment—which we’ll have thought of the concept before executing—is that we’ll have a bartender make a drink based on where the story happens. And it turns out that bartenders are amazing storytellers, and they have insight into their communities. Over time, we’ve learned we have these great little windows into America. Did we try every drink? We don’t, because we usually just drink martinis but also because we don’t travel to a lot of these places, because we’re just visiting them and parachuting in like the audience.
RG: It’s all through the magic of radio. That’s a cool thing about it.
BFN: Jessica Coen, who was editor-in-chief at Jezebel at the time, is in this episode, and her story is about the royal couple. Her manner is so wonderful. We never met her—I think she makes a reference to it toward the end of our interview—we just liked her writing online and invited her to join us. She used to come to the studio in New York when both of us were in L.A. and play around with us, and I just love her intelligence and energy. There was this goodwill, and there probably still is, of people who are just game to play around with us. That’s why we picked her. She was one of our favorites.
BFN: We curated a dinner party. If you have a big guest like Randy [Newman], you want someone a little more under the radar. But we also just really liked Jessica. Doesn’t she seem like someone you would want at a dinner party? She’s so funny and great.
RG: What’s interesting is that I still meet people who feel like they know Randy Newman from his Disney work and think of him as just the guy who did that during a period of not his greatest work. But he is an amazing songwriter, and there is another faction of people who really regard him as a proto-hipster. His music is super cynical in some ways, and he’s a really funny guy. I feel like we hit two things there. People who know he’s cool are like, “Finally someone saying he’s cool!” Those who don’t know that are going, “I got a different look at Randy Newman,” which I think is pretty cool.
BFN: We love the oldies: Elaine Stritch, Mel Brooks, Paul Anka, Randy Newman. They just have so much less to lose. You can tell how free he is in this interview. He’s just joking around, and he’s very comfortable with himself. That was a treat.
We also get a kick out of taking someone like Randy Newman, or in a later episode, Cameron Diaz, and not doing your typical conversation with them. In Cameron Diaz’s case, we did etiquette. In Randy Newman’s case, we weren’t just fawning over his recent work. We had a conversation about what he meant in the zeitgeist. And as Rico pointed out, it’s this duality. On the one hand, he’s known for Toy Story, which he won Academy Awards for, and that is legitimate music, but at that time in 2011, what would then become Father John Misty and other hit musicians were finding him in the record bin and digging him. It was fun to talk to him about that point. And then the playfulness with the name was a thing that we continue to do on our show.
We are journalists, and we follow journalistic ethics, and sometimes that prevents us from maybe being as free and fun as Marc Maron and some other podcasts that we love, but we still try to have personality when it makes sense for the audience. In this instance, I played around with my name at the top, which I think shows how game Randy Newman is, and how witty he is. We have a lot of fun when our guests are playing with us and they’re whimsical, but we’re learning about them through it. We wouldn’t leave it in just because Randy Newman talked to us. We leave it in to show you a broader portrait of who the guy is.
RG: Throughout this episode, I love those drop-ins of audience members leaving us answering machine messages on their favorite dinner party guests. There’s this one guy—I can’t remember what his first pick is to be his dream dinner party guest, but his second one is the robot from the movie The Black Hole. Maximilian from The Black Hole. He’s got so much joy that he’s so into the idea of having Maximilian at his dinner party. I’m so happy he’s one of our listeners.
AVC: Then Rico ate a 100-year-old egg or a 1,000-year-old egg or whatever it was.
RG: My favorite part of that interview is talking to the waiter who calls it a 1,000-year-old egg. Of course, the reason that I did it was that it was a 100-year-old egg for the 100th episode. It’s like, if this is called a 1,000-year-old egg, then I don’t have to eat it. That’s my favorite part of that interview.
I went in with a lot of trepidation. I hope that that segment doesn’t come across as being condescending to the food or cuisine, because I do say about halfway through that we set it up as if it could be this distasteful thing, but it’s really no more distasteful than the pickled eggs in a tube at a bar.
BFN: I always get a kick out of the main course, the part of the show where we talk about food, because it’s just so generic. At the time, food journalism wasn’t as fever pitch as it is now. It’s almost jumped the shark at this point in that I feel like everybody has a piece of it, but it’s something we were genuinely interested in and something we thought public radio wasn’t covering. It was something that in the podcast universe wasn’t done super well, so we do these segments when we hit the streets, and it gives Rico and I an opportunity to go outside and mingle with people, which gives you a different audio experience than all the studio talk, the phone talk, and the bartender segment.
This 100-year-old egg, I think you say it at the top of this, Rico. You’re like, “We’re trying to figure out what to do,” and you were like, “There’s a 100-year-old egg, and it’s 100 episodes.” We wanted to be interesting, and we tried to have something obscure and something emerging, but if we can have an interesting discussion about something, we’re really loose about what we end up doing for the main course.
RG: It was a cool experience. You find that on a lot of Chinese menus, but I had never had it before.
The other thing is when we have a main course that there’s some sort of friction in it. Brendan has done interviews with folks about fusion foods, which are becoming ubiquitous—just taking two things and smashing them together. Whenever you can approach one of those things with skepticism, it adds a little something to what is normally, “Mmm, this is delicious, look at how wonderful!” I love it when we can go in and be like, “Really?”
BFN: Remember that woman from Babycakes? When the gluten-free trend was emerging, our first thought was, “Really? Do people really have this problem?” Then it’s so much fun, because we’re putting ourselves in the place of the audience. It just adds a certain energy to have conflict in your story about something that doesn’t matter. They can push back and be like, “Don’t be a jerk. People have this disease and they need to eat gluten-free.” And we will take it on the chin. It’s our pugilistic food segment.
RG: Although in this case, it wasn’t like I was skeptical about the dish. In this instance there was a challenge, like I might not like it. There’s some suspense involved in it.
BFN: We used to do that a lot. I did Randy, and you had to eat that egg. Another time, there was the most potent licorice in the country. I remember being on the phone with you, eating it.
RG: You said that it tasted like licking a battery.
BFN: It did.
AVC: That sounds terrible.
RG: It’s the stuff people in northern Europe really love. It’s this super salty—well, it’s not even literally salt. It’s some bizarre chemical that has this intense salty, bitter flavor.
BFN: It is kind of good, though, now that I’m thinking about it.
RG: See? We’ve become wiser since episode 100. We’re 200-plus episodes wiser.
We should mention, because it’s mentioned in the history segment and people may not get it, but there were a lot of inside jokes in this one, too. In that sense, maybe it’s not the best thing to expose people to. But it is funny, so fuck it.
It’s mentioned in the history segment that Brendan has this hatred of cupcakes, which was a major meme in the early episodes of the show, that we were just vehemently anti-cupcake at a time when all these cupcake shops were opening all over the place. We were since proven absolutely right in our assessment of their ridiculousness.
AVC: Now you have meatballs and poke and whatever else is coming down the pike.
RG: Do we have to develop poke hate? I like poke.
BFN: I’m post-poke, man.
RG: Oh, dude.
BFN: I’m just trying to fend off post-food hate. I’m trying to defend off hating all restaurants.
RG: He was into poke before it was cool.
BFN: It’s true.
Episode 339: “Viola Davis, Alan Cumming, Dave Navarro”
BFN: The kids are all grown-up. Booking Viola Davis? That was amazing.
RG: Part of the reason we picked that episode is she is such a compelling character. She speaks with such authority and passion about everything.
BFN: It’s an example of an interview that isn’t just like, “Tell us something we don’t know.” We actually talk about her childhood, growing up on welfare, and what she demanded out of How To Get Away With Murder, the creators, about taking off her wig, and how she wasn’t seeing a lot of middle-aged black women that looked like her on TV and asked for that from the writers.
We find ourselves in this situation more often now that we’re bigger in that people know us, and we’ve won the trust of the gatekeepers of guests, but we do get offered big guests, or we ask for big guests, and they agree. And then we’re always trying to figure out what makes it different. You’ve seen Viola Davis on Oprah, or you’ve seen her on a late-night talk show, and we don’t just want to repeat that same information, because that doesn’t meet our mission of giving you something new.
RG: I love that the very first question you asked her was almost paying lip service to that. It was like, “Here’s what you said in other interviews. Did the creator of How To Get Away With Murder hear that interview and create that character for you?” It’s interesting, because you get to talk to her about something that everybody’s talked to her about, but you get the answer that was different. She was like, “No, it wasn’t that. I actually said the same thing on another show, and that’s what got her interested.” You kind of acknowledge her role as a celebrity in the world, being interviewed a lot, but getting something new out of it.
BFN: That’s always the trick. As you know from the social media responses, she has a ton of fans. But also, I got more familiar with her work. I knew her from film, but I didn’t watch the show until I was prepping for the interview. The trick is honoring the people that know her, but being open enough to introduce people to her that might not. Sometimes, you can do that by questions like, “You said this generic thing.” But you further it, you acknowledge that she said it, and then you can get a little further into her.
RG: In a similar way, Alan Cumming, pretty popular dude. He was divided across two segments, an interview and an etiquette segment answering our audience’s etiquette questions, and he really shined in that etiquette segment. It was the kind of interview you weren’t going to hear from him elsewhere, where he’s basically saying he’s afraid of, who was it? Taylor Swift? He said he had a fear of Taylor Swift. He almost doesn’t want to talk about it, because of how he’ll come off. But he’s like, “Oh, well, whatever, I’m going to talk about it.” He likes her now, for the record. But also, talking about being a Scot, about wearing eyeliner and a kilt and how masculine that can be—I don’t think we’ve heard that interview with him.
AVC: He’s so charming.
BFN: He’s so charming.
We were alluding to this before, but episode 100 didn’t have an etiquette segment because we didn’t have an etiquette segment then. That came later in our development when we extended it to an hour. Part of it was because people were asking us how to behave at a dinner party, because they misunderstood what our show was about. So we were like, let’s do it, let’s answer some questions. We realized that with someone like Alan Cumming who’s so funny and beloved, we can actually do a little straight interview with him in a different part of the show, but it’s really fun to throw these things at him and see him respond, because you get two things. One, you get a sense of what he’s like as a person, but then you get more stories about him than you would if you had a classic interview.
RG: You have an excuse to ask these totally oddball questions that you would never think of yourself, and if you did, the person might be like, “Why are you asking me that?” In this format, the audience can ask them about completely ridiculous things that have nothing to do with what he normally talks about, and then you get these weird insights. We just had Anna Chlumsky from Veep on a live show, and she told us that her dad used to give her presents on his birthday, because that’s what Hobbits do. I don’t know how we would have gotten that otherwise. I think at some point he was into giving her presents every day, but it was a window into her childhood that I don’t think we would have gotten if an audience member hadn’t asked an etiquette question about birthdays.
AVC: How do you find the right questions to ask?
RG: It’s a mix. We get them from the audience, and then the way that we structure them is the first question or two might actually be related to the subject, and then they start becoming curveballs.
BFN: We try to do a blend of classic etiquette questions, like, “Are you allowed to talk on your cell phone when you’re in a meeting?” Kind of everyday questions, because it’s fun to think about Mel Brooks encountering that problem. But then we tell people, “Alan Cumming’s coming,” so they’ll have a question, and sometimes they’re better questions than we have for the interview, questions that really get to a part of their career. So we’ll do that balance. We try to do a little bit of banal, everyday stuff and then also blend in things specific to them that only they can speak about.
RG: A great example of this that Venn-diagrammed perfectly between those two is when we had Sir Ian McKellen on, and the question somebody asked was, “If you need to leave the aisle in the theater, do you go facing the stage or with your back to the stage? Who do you inconvenience in the rows in front of you or the row that you’re in?” It’s a completely banal thing. It’s also a question that I ask myself every time that I have to do it. And he’s the perfect guy. If Ian McKellen tells you that you should face the stage while you’re leaving the row, now you know that is how you do it. It was perfect.
BFN: We ask every etiquette guest about their most memorable dinner party. I don’t know why we started doing that, but we just started doing it. We don’t always include the answers, though, because they’re not always sexy. Often it’s just like “my wedding.” Sometimes we get amazing stories that I think Rico and I get such glee out of, and this is close to one of them: [Alan Cumming] is talking about going to Liza Minnelli’s wedding, and Michael Jackson is the matron of honor, and Elizabeth Taylor’s there, and Brian May from Queen is playing. It’s like, are you kidding me? It’s such a funny window into this glamorous weirdo world of celebrities.
When Jackie Collins was on, she would talk about her parties with Jack Nicholson and Scarlett Johansson, and we don’t like gossip for gossip’s sake, but it is fun to think of, and in a way it shows that these are just human beings. Liza Minnelli needed a matron of honor, and she was friends with Michael Jackson, so there you go.
RG: And they need a band.
BFN: Yeah, and Brian May knows how to play guitar.
RG: The way that he tells that story, it’s that Liz Taylor shows up and realizes that she’s wearing slippers and has to go back to the hotel to get actual shoes for the wedding. While they’re waiting for her to come they have to kill time, so the band starts playing, and Brian May is there, and he’s like, “all right.” He just picks up a guitar and starts playing “We Are The Champions.” That’s amazing.
Speaking of guitars, this episode ends with the Dave Navarro interview, which was really fascinating. He’s talking about his documentary, which is about his mother’s murder when he was a teenager and dealing with the aftermath. He’s a great interviewee, because he’s so open to answering any of the questions. You can hear me trying to tiptoe around it at first, but I ask him, “Do you mind if I ask you about…?” And he’s like, “Anything you want.” That is a rare and awesome thing when you have somebody that’s totally open and also really soulful and smart and able to talk about these things with a sense of humor, somehow, given how horrible that documentary is. It’s perfect for us. You get some soul, but he brings some levity to it. It ends with one of my favorite Elliott Smith songs, too.
We put out an occasional podcast called Speakeasy that’s only bonus segments. It usually contains outtakes, and there’s a very funny outtake where he talks about touring with the Ramones that is very worth hearing. I’ve mentioned this my whole life, but I saw the Ramones in Pittsburgh, and the opening act was Jane’s Addiction back in the ’80s. They got booed off the stage. I got to ask him about it, and it brought all these Ramones stories, so that was a joy.
BFN: This show starts with a joke from Jack Garratt, who’s a big deal in England, and that’s kind of a different take than what you encounter on public radio on the weekends or on a podcast with Viola Davis at the center of it. At the top of our show, there’s the icebreaker, small talk, history lesson, then soundtrack—these are all these little bites, and that’s something that we wanted to introduce, because we love that part of magazines. We love that part of The New Yorker, The Talk Of The Town, and we find it surprising that a lot of radio shows start with people just blabbing, and then they go into a big interview, or they start with their big interview. Sonically, we like the rhythm of having this whole different thing. You get all these different flavors at the top, and then we build into the features as we go along.
RG: I love the history lesson in this episode. If nothing else, thinking about a wonderfully appointed New York subway stop is a hilarious idea to me.
Episode 347, “Colin Farrell, Maria Bamford, Frankie Cosmos”
BFN: I think people will ask us what show should they listen to, and I would say this one. I’m not patting ourselves on the back, because we try to make every show absolutely amazing. We work really hard, we cut segments, and we really fight over who gets to be on our show. This happens to be a very recent episode, but we feel like it hit a lot of our strengths.
The Frankie Cosmos playlist is great for many reasons. One, Frankie Cosmos, although very trendy in certain zip codes like L.A., New York, and probably Chicago as well, isn’t really known beyond that. Still, she’s an emerging voice, and we’ve always relished that role of introducing people to people that we think are going to be great or people that we think they’ll like but just don’t have access to. So having Greta [Kline, a.k.a. Frankie Cosmos] on was awesome.
The reason we created this segment is that musicians usually, rule of thumb, aren’t great communicators. It’s almost unfair to ask a musician, “How did you write that song?,” because it’s usually like, “I don’t know. I was stoned on the couch.” They are articulating their vision through sound, and the sound isn’t them talking about it. It’s actual instrumentation. We love music, but we’ve been frustrated with these interviews where you ask the same questions, and it’s either they’re too cool for school or they’re not good communicators, so we created this segment where they give us their dinner party soundtrack. It’s pretty neutral, and it’s up to your interpretation, but people have done all sorts of things with it. You get a little window into their influences, and you get a window into their peers.
RG: More importantly, I think that’s what excites musicians. One thing that you can be pretty sure a musician is going to be excited about is other people’s music.
BFN: It’s their language. It gives them confidence. In this case, she mentioned Liz Phair. It makes sense that Frankie would be psyched on that, but it never occurred to me. I hadn’t listened to that album in awhile, but hearing it again, it’s fantastic.
RG: It’s so freaking good. We get so many tweets about that, too: “Thank you Frankie Cosmos for making me listen to Liz Phair again.”
RG: The thing that I liked about this episode—I have my quibbles with some aspects of it—but every segment in this, something really thoughtful is going on. Maria Bamford is a great example. It’s like her comedy, which can be very, very silly and ridiculous but also really heartbreaking and very personal. She talks about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and she does it in this etiquette segment in a way that is really lovely. If you listen to the beginning of that interview, it does seem really silly. And then suddenly, somebody asked a really serious question about how to tell somebody that you’re dating that you have a mental illness. What’s great about that is that her first response to it is a comedian’s response, like, “I like to make sure that information is posted as a soundbite on iTunes so they can just download it.” She starts with a joke, but then she starts speaking really seriously. You learn about her personal experiences with that, and it’s engaging, but it’s real, and I’ve never really thought about that as something that somebody that’s got an illness has to deal with. I was really proud to put that on there.
BFN: That was a perfect strike in that Maria Bamford is someone who’s a little bit more under the radar than she should be, so we’re psyched to share her. She has this new thing [Lady Dynamite] on Netflix, so we’re happy to introduce people to that as an interesting program. There are things that she can tell us that other people can’t about having mental illness, and being in show business is one of them.
I also like this show because of Lindy West. She’s a great guest generally. She’s so bright and smart and a good communicator, and she’s capable of saying her ideas in bite-size ways for people, but she was just a good spirit.
This episode has some of the best stuff happening this week in culture, no question. Her book had just dropped, Maria Bamford’s show had just come out, and then Colin Farrell, The Lobster, definitely the best movie I think so far this year even, and Frankie Cosmos. If you listen to this, you would be totally up to date and capable. You would feel optimistic about what America is creating artistically, because there’s so much diverse and interesting stuff happening here.
RG: Except for The Lobster.
BFN: The Lobster is Greek.
RG: British and Greek.
BFN: But we distributed it, damnit! No, we didn’t. It’s not about America.
Years ago, there were people who were like, “Hipsters are alienating. They made food not fun, and they made music intolerable.” We were like, “You know what? Yes. We get that. How about if we’re the interpreters for you? We’ll sift through all that bullshit, and we’ll give you what is the best, and we’ll package it in a way that isn’t off-putting but also has the integrity that made it great in the first place.” And this show’s an example of that, I think.
RG: About Lindy, it’s interesting. She’s the flip of Maria. Maria is a comedian that brings in some very serious issues, and Lindy is somebody who’s got really serious issues and can also talk about them with humor.
BFN: Did you like this episode?
AVC: I did. I liked Lindy West’s book, and I like Frankie Cosmos. It also made me like Colin Farrell, whereas before I might have just thought of him as a himbo.
RG: He’s a really thoughtful dude. The thing that we both love about the beginning of that interview is when I asked him if he’d had experience with Yorgos Lanthimos’ films before he was in this one, he describes seeing Dogtooth in a Philadelphia movie theater with his sister. Just the fact that Colin Farrell is going out to see art movies with his sister in Philly is cool. That’s inside info, and it’s good to know.
He was super cool. And let us not forget that he was in In Bruges, which is no small feat. That’s a great movie.
AVC: Do you two have Holy Grail guests?
RG: They’re so obvious and ridiculous. First of all, I’d love to interview a president. That would be amazing. But the most obvious for me, as a music dude, is Paul McCartney. I need to interview a Beatle before they’re gone. But I got to interview Steve Martin, and at least two of the Monty Python guys, so that’s a lot of my youthful geekdom taken care of.
AVC: Paul McCartney hasn’t really broken into the podcast world.
RG: We’re going to break him in.
BFN: Part of the inability to get Holy Grail guests is because they’re super busy, but also they don’t have a need for press.
One of mine last year, because I loved the album so much, was Kendrick Lamar. When we’re looking back and putting together the end-of-the-year best-of episode, I’m always astounded because Jackson, our producer, books some amazing guests, but Kendrick Lamar is someone I would have loved to have on last year. He just doesn’t do a lot of podcast interviews, because he’s touring so much and making so much music.
Then there are people I’m scared to interview. I bring this up because one of my fantasy dinner party guests would be Joan Didion. I know from reading her that she’s hyperintroverted and wouldn’t be a good communicator, so I don’t think she would be good for the show, but I would love to meet her in person, and then not use the audio.
AVC: Sometimes the hardest people to interview are your idols, because you already know their answer for everything.
BFN: That’s the trick with being a host generally. If we were more a niche show, like if we were Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment, it’s a great show, but he gets to go deep with guests, because they come in knowing he knows a ton about movies. We believe in our mission of being welcoming to people who are interested in culture but maybe aren’t constantly staying up to date with it, so that puts us in a situation where we’re talking to people we admire and we have to ask the dumb questions, because it’s not fair to the audience that might not know them. You can’t assume that they know Bill Callahan was in Smog. You can’t assume that they know Rashida Jones is Quincy Jones’ daughter.
RG: The reason I love the Steve Martin interview so much is because I was talking to him about his musical tour and band, and so it was going to be about music, and I wanted to honor that. I’m interested in music and how it plays, but you have to also talk about comedy with him. You feel obligated. You can’t do an interview with Steve Martin and not mention comedy at all. And so it was such a relief right off the bat when he started doing the Renfro voice from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It was like, “This is going to be fine.” We managed to talk about all of those things, but that is not always the case. There are times when artists don’t want to talk about something that everyone’s always talking about.
BFN: We also get to edit it, so if we have an artist like Steve Martin, I will have my interview for the audience, and I’ll keep going and have a conversation to enrich my understanding of this person I admire. Sometimes we’ll make it a podcast extra, and sometimes that’s just my fringe benefit for working here.
RG: Who was your favorite person to interview, Marah?
AVC: I’ve done a lot of interviews with people I’ve really enjoyed, but as far as “Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m going to do this,” I’d say Dolly Parton. It was so hard, because I had 10 minutes, and I didn’t want to ask her the same questions she always gets asked.
RG: “Dolly, how come you’re so great?”
AVC: I know a ton about Dolly, but I couldn’t just blast into deep-dive questions, because that’s also a weird way to deal with an interview subject. Plus, she’s had 50 years of experience answering things in a cute way.
RG: Yep, she can blow it off as much as she wants to. It’s really true. I hate it when you know that.
AVC: Have you ever had her on the show?
RG: There was a book that came out about her recently, and books are actually a great way to get somebody on the show, because they need to promote them so much harder to get anyone to buy them. I saw that book and was like, “Oh, man, I hope we’re finally able to get Dolly Parton.” Then I looked, and it was an unauthorized biography.
BFN: We’ve tried to get Dolly on for years. But maybe we don’t need to meet everyone. That being said, Dolly Parton and Kendrick Lamar, you’re always welcome on The Dinner Party Download. That’s my dream dinner party right there.