The Hot Pod Review: Beautiful / Anonymous
There’s a late night call-in relationship advice radio show that often blares out from the speakers attached to the bodega beneath my apartment. I don’t know much about the show — I don’t even know its name — but I do know that the majority of callers dial in from Connecticut, and that the host has spades of familiar, mantric soundbites. “You must love yourself to get through yourself,” she said once. “Do you miss him? Do you love him?”, she asked forcefully another time, certain that the answer would be yes. She always seems so cheery, rooted in some sort of robotic performance of empathy, but there’s a sense that the cheer, to stay with that word, is that of a lord looking over a small, contained fiefdom, basking in her control.
I think about that radio show quite a bit when I’m listening to Beautiful / Anonymous, the new Earwolf show that dropped its first two episodes earlier this week. Short for “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People,” the show has a high-wire premise: comedian Chris Gethard (this guy on Broad City, among other things) anchors a call-in show where he’s committed to staying on the phone with an anonymous caller for a full hour. Put it another way: it’s a call-in show by way of hostage situation.
I’m drawn to the inversion that Beautiful / Anonymous plays out; to how Gethard, parachuted into a conversational fog of war, has none of the power of that late night call-in radio show host. That he has to grapple and struggle and fumble in order to gain some sort of foothold over his situation. He asks questions, makes observations, deploys humor to maintain momentum; basically doing the work of any participant of a basic, decent human conversation. He illustrates, interestingly enough, that the foundational elements of proper conversation is rooted in a balance between exploring the terms of the other person and establishing a sense of… well, not control per se, but a kind of self-control over one’s environment, from that knowledge. (I’m told by show’s producer that the calls are all real.)
One realizes, at some point, that he is always with an equivalent of a nuclear option in his back pocket: he could simply work to compel the person on the other end to hang up. I mean, he won’t do that, but if he does, he wouldn’t have a show, but the flip-side of that is that you get to see someone engaging in the work of trying to connect with another person.
Seeing that dynamic play out is reason enough to check out the show, but you should note that the high-wire premise often translates to very choppy pacing. Indeed, the two episodes have a tendency to run out of steam by the first ad-break, but because there’s a discernible end to the proceedings, the last ten minutes end up being really engaging home stretches.
Listen: iTunes | Earwolf