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March 2016

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The Hot Pod Review: Sleep With Me

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When I had my wisdom teeth removed several years ago, the oral surgeon put me under intravenous anesthesia and also gave me one of those scented nozzles for nitrous oxide. He asked me to count back from 100. Then he told the nurse a story about how reindeer had taken over the New York subway system. He said the reindeer were running loose on the tracks, and none of the trains could operate. I knew exactly what he trying to do, of course. He was testing to see whether or not I was knocked out.

When the procedure was over, I told him I’d heard his story and that I knew it was a test. He said he had no idea what I was talking about, but I know what I heard.

I get that same twilight disorientation when I listen to Drew Ackerman’s “Sleep with Me” podcast. I don’t know how I learned about this show, and I’m certainly not above self help, but I remember expecting it to be a “you’re getting sleeeeeepy” guided meditation. This is not that. It’s more like performance art than self help. Endurance weirdness than guided meditation.

(The content “sounds like it was generated by a computer,” one 5-star iTunes review said.)

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Img credit: Drew Ackerman

Each episode of “Sleep with Me” tells a long story that’s supposed to be interesting enough to distract you from your neurotic head, but boring enough that you don’t need to find out what happens (versus, say, an episode of Cupcake Wars). It’s not boring-boring, because he’s funny. Sometimes he slants his syntax (not memory lane, but “old nostalgia road”). One line I had to rewind to hear again was “remember that glue is a binder and not just a sticker.” He laces in a huge assortment of references that are somehow subtle and absurd. He does some Jim Gaffigan-esque meta-commentary, occasionally berating himself for mispronouncing a word or being too boring. These digressions should make you annoyed (or monotonous enough to put you to sleep), but to me they accumulate and build on themselves to form this strange magical landfill.

The show comes out three times a week (!) on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s narrated by Ackerman in character as “Dearest Scooter.” Scooter’s voice sounds pretty sleepy. On his site, he compares his delivery to ASMR. I don’t know a lot about ASMR, but wish I’d never seen this video of a woman softly scratching plastic. Apparently, most listeners are asleep within 10-15 minutes.

Which is too bad. They’re missing everything. An episode from last week called “Ghost Belt” begins with Scooter visiting Florida to see his dad perform in a nursing home production of the musical MAME. Scooter looks around the audience (“scanning all these people suspending their disbelief”) and locks eyes with Morley Safer. They meet up with Glenn Greenwald, “Eddie” Snowden, Lesley Stahl and Lowell Bergman. (“Glenn Greenwald has this chuckle . . . because he’s wry, you know. And then Lowell Bergman just does this slow smile. And Lesley Stahl always looks likes she’s smiling. And then Eddie Snowden . . . I think it freaks him out that we have similar hair. Because he sees his future in me and that kind of deflates him. I don’t know, I can’t put words in Eddie Snowden’s mouth. I’ve done it before. We did a seance with Eddie.”)

I’d buy that novel!

One serious drawback to this show is its very long preamble. This might not matter if you’re trying to go to sleep, but it’s extremely long when all you want is the story. Ackerman makes it easy to skip the intro by putting each story’s actual start time in the show notes (which is great, except that the notes don’t show up on the iTunes tile).

On the whole, this show doesn’t put me to sleep — I’m often rewinding to see if I heard what I thought I heard — but it does help me feel a lot less serious and worried. Sometimes, I listen to it during the day. It makes me happy to remember that the best part of this mania around podcasting is that you can make weird ass shit without regard to money or convention, and find your audience. A show this playful really breathes fresh air into a field that can get pretty stuffy.

Listen: iTunes | Website

Lauren Spohrer is the co-creator and producer of Criminal, a podcast under the Radiotopia label. She is also the founder of Two Serious Ladies, a magazine to promote women writers and artists. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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