Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff. Graphic: Natalie Peeples.

The love doctors of Thirst Aid Kit on why it’s important for women to lust out loud

Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff. Graphic: Natalie Peeples.

Bestcasts asks podcasters to discuss the three most memorable episodes of their podcast. For more podcast coverage, see Podmass, The A.V. Club’s weekly roundup of the best ’casts out there.

The podcasters: Journalist Bim Adewunmi and writer Nichole Perkins decided in mid-2017 to launch a podcast series dedicated to female thirst—one where so-called “thirst buckets” could enthusiastically and unabashedly gush about the gorgeous celebrities they desire, from A-listers to up-and-comers. Beyond being heaps of fun to listen to, Thirst Aid Kit has a mission and a philosophy much more fully realized than that of the average podcast: to give women a space to perform their thirst and “lust out loud.” To that end, each episode culminates in host-written “drabbles”—romantic fan fiction about the dreamboat du jour—to which Adewunmi and Perkins bring the whole of their professional creativity. Giggle-inducing and surprisingly moving, Thirst Aid Kit has been an essential addition to the BuzzFeed network of podcasts, and is only setting its sights higher into 2019, for as its wise hosts have taught us, there is never a shortage of baes over which to salivate.

Season 1, Episode 3: John Cho For President

The A.V. Club: Why did you choose this episode?

Nichole Perkins: John Cho, at the time, was flying under the radar a little bit. But every time we saw him, we’d say, “Oh my gosh, he’s so amazing, he’s so hot.” We really wanted to give him some shine. We see you—not just because you’re beautiful, but because we see what you’re doing on and off screen, and we want to amplify that. That’s where we really found our audience, with that episode. We had such a strong reaction: people were like, “Finally, someone is talking about John Cho!” Before that, there was the #StarringJohnCho hashtag, which was another effort to amplify what could be, with John Cho and with Asian American representation in film and TV. We wanted to make sure that he gets that recognition. We see you, we honor you, and, hey, we love you.

Bim Adewunmi: He was our third episode. We joke that we have two patron saints for the show. The first is Keanu Reeves, and his is the episode we recorded as a pilot, because we felt so strongly. But John Cho is a very close second, and we love him. We’re two black women talking about desire in popular culture; we understand that sometimes, even if you’re the most qualified person in the room, you don’t often get the chance to have your own platform. John Cho is a perfect example. We felt a kinship with this idea of, “I’m amazing. Why don’t enough of the people who have the power to [make things happen], why can’t they see it?” John has been around forever, plugging away for so long doing all sorts of stuff. He’s run the gamut from drama to comedy to stoner comedy. He’s incredibly versatile, but often doesn’t even get recognized for that. We want to honor the fact that you have been plugging away, doing valuable work on screen and off.

NP: And the range of love interests he’s had on screen have been diverse. White women, black women, men—here’s somebody that’s just out there doing his work, and he should be recognized for it.

BA: He’s hitting all these audiences, meeting them at the point of their identity, and he’s doing it with ease. He’s very, very good. We can always strive to have more John Cho. That truly should be a goal for Hollywood in 2019: more John Cho forever. Our [episode] is a drop in the bucket to push it that way.

NP: My drabble in that episode is my favorite for all the episodes that we’ve done.

BA: Great drabble.

NP: Thank you. I love it because it really speaks to my romance novel background. I love romances, and our audience responded very well to it—and there’s no sex in it at all. A lot of times people lump what we do in with erotica. There’s not necessarily sex in the drabbles that we write. We’re trying to let people see that fanfic romance is not a bad thing. It’s not something you have to laugh at; it’s not a joke. Just because women have these fantasies about wanting someone to be sweet to them, that’s not a bad thing. It shouldn’t be downplayed. That’s what we’re looking at with the drabbles: combining our love for fanfic and romance, and recognizing that what we do is work, and it should be respected.

BA: I think of the drabble as creating a mood, and Nichole’s drabble that week was very specifically creating this feeling of swooning, because that’s how John Cho makes us feel. He’s such an underrated romantic performer, so this was a real, writ large, capital-R romance. I bear no ill will toward her for winning [the audience’s “best drabble” vote] that week. It’s yours! It’s a good drabble!

AVC: Do you have a set process for writing drabbles?

BA: For me, it’s the first feeling. When I think about Andrew Lincoln, what do I think? Oh, that’s right—he’s wearing a really nice, soft shirt and he’s washing dishes. That’s my first feeling, so I tend to write what I feel. Sometimes the actor’s performances over the years will nudge you, and you say, “Ooh, I want to explore this thing that I saw in this movie that he did,” and that will tell its own story. But I never sit down and go, “I did a domestic [fantasy] last week, so this has to be outdoors.” It sounds very wanky, but it’s basically: How do I feel about this person? Okay, now write out that feeling.

NP: That’s the same for me. Like, Tom Hiddleston. I want to hurt him in a consensual way. [Laughs.] Whatever feeling comes over me, from the first time I saw this person to interviews that he’s done where you can see his personality a little bit, so you can see what he’d be into—all of that works together. Again, it’s our research into these people, whether we know it’s research at the time. “Oh wow, here’s somebody. Let me Google everything about him.”

BA: “Why do I like him in this clip? What’s he doing here that I like?” A lot of the time, there’s a bit of an awakening as you’re writing. The starting point for all of our drabbles, and all of our episodes, is, “Do we both fancy them?” It’s never a case of one person fancies them, and the other doesn’t. It has to be mutual. That’s our basic, entry-level requirement. Do we both fancy this person? Great. But in general, when we’re writing the drabbles, most fanfic is projection anyway. So we are projecting a good amount of personality onto these people.

Plus, as much as we “know” these people, we don’t know them. When we first started thinking about how we were going to structure the show, we knew we wanted to include fanfic. But for me personally, I hate when people ’ship real people. It always feels a little bit like, “Eh, that’s dodgy territory.” So, how do we make it clear that we’re not writing about the people, per se, but we’re writing about our projections of what they might be like? That gives us quite a bit of room to imagine.

Nichole in particular has very inventive locations. A lot of the time, mine are just about being at home watching TV with whoever. And Nichole’s like, “Now we’re on a picnic!” It’s also about making sure that we’re being respectful to the person, especially if they have a partner. We did [an episode about Mahershala Ali], someone who doesn’t do explicit love scenes, doesn’t get naked. So in writing a drabble for that, in the back of your mind, you’re like, “Well, he doesn’t do this on film, so I’m not really going to put us in a situation where I’m straddling him.” So there’s a lot of considerations as you’re writing.

NP: With John Cho, I was like, he’s not getting these romantic roles, and he’s so smooth. He’s so witty and charming in his interviews. He would be an incredible person to just talk to, and smooth away whatever issues or insecurities you may be having. So I wanted him to do something sweet. And in the Chris Evans episode, we had done an interview with him, and we felt uncomfortable writing drabbles where we were in super intimate situations.

BA: Sexually intimate.

NP: We just tried to move outside of that, and give him something that, if he were to listen to the episode, he wouldn’t be like, “Oh, these girls are creeps.”

Season 1, Episode 12: Chris Evans (feat. Chris Evans)

AVC: On this episode, you’re sort of through the looking glass. Chris Evans is actually present in the episode. Was that terrifying or exciting?

NP: Yes, to all of that. [Laughs.] We always knew we wanted to have our season finale be Chris Evans, whether we got him in an interview or not. That was partly because, for me, there was an evolution of thirst, so to speak. When he first came on the scene, I was like, “Oh, okay, he’s a handsome guy.” But he was handsome in this very familiar way that, quite frankly, I was bored with. He was very American Pie. This blond, blue-eyed guy playing jocks all the time. I’ve seen that so much. But once he started to open up and talk about his own battles with depression and anxiety, I felt connected to him because of my own struggles with those issues. So I was like, “Oh, he’s actually a human being.” Which sounds terrible, but for so long you only see what you’re allowed to see. For him to break down a little bit and show us more of himself, I felt drawn to him. As his career went on and you could see the evolution of his career, his acting ability, and the projects he chose, I thought, this actually is someone I could see myself enjoying as a thirst object.

BA: I’ve always fancied Chris Evans. I’m very basic. I was like, “Oh, he’s handsome! That’ll do.” So I already had such a tenderness toward him. I wrote a profile on him a couple of years back and he followed me on Twitter as a consequence, which I took to mean I must have nailed it. It was done with no access to him; I wrote this very much from my understanding of his personality and his performances over the years. My feeling was, if I had got it grossly wrong, he would’ve said, “I don’t know what that piece was about, but it wasn’t me.” But instead, he followed me, and I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s a normal person who follows people on Twitter.” So we knew that we wanted that to be the final episode. For me, this is one of my top thirsts of my life. He’s a crush I’ve had from a distance for such a long time that it made sense to me, and for Nichole, it was a journey to fancying him. So that seemed like a perfect way to end the season.

We went about trying to get him on the show, and we were shocked when he said yes. Not only is it Chris Evans, but also it was the middle of filming for the Avengers movie, so he was busy. We’d resigned ourselves, but we said, we’ll just put the request out there. If it’s a no, then no worries. The key thing is that we asked. And then instead he was like, “Yep, I’ll do it!” So that was a real treat. And he was in fact the most professional—he called us, obviously. I don’t think he gives his number to everyone, which is a shame, because I would’ve blown up his phone.

NP: Me too!

BA: He was incredibly accommodating, asked us how much time we needed, and he gave us the time that we requested. And he was open. Part of me had assumed he was going to be a little bit closed off, kind of general and gentle. But instead, he was incredibly open, almost tender. I was like, bro, don’t tell us this much! But he spoke about vulnerability, being scared about his Broadway debut, his insecurities as a teen, who his role models were for masculinity—the whole thing just came together and felt very serendipitous. He was just the best guest to have.

And we loved the surprise of it. The listeners of the show like us talking about stuff almost as an abstract endeavor—we’re talking about this person that we all “know,” but don’t really know. And in this case, we were like, “Here’s our thoughts and our feelings, but also, let’s hear from the thirst object himself!” Which felt like a real reversal. The key of this podcast is not to talk to the people we fancy. It’s to talk about why we fancy them and how we fancy them, and bring people into this fellowship. What is fancying? What is thirst? How do we perform it? So to have him in the room, so to speak, changed the way the show was built, just for one episode. We do so much projecting—let’s see what one of the projected-upon is actually thinking or feeling. And he was great for that.

NP: Women celebrities get asked so much: “What’s your beauty routine? What do you do to work out? How do you stay looking the way that you look?” And men don’t often get that. For us to have [Chris Evans] acknowledge that he knows he looks good—you have to know this; talk about that—was a little different. Male celebrities don’t get asked that a lot. It’s just expected that, okay, you’re handsome, go about your business. Whereas with women, it’s, “How did you get to this point?” Those things are broken down so much for women. To ask a guy these things was very important.

BA: “What do you use on your beard?” And the answer is: Nothing. It’s just beautiful.

NP: And they should get the same kind of questions! Like, “What are you doing to look so good?”

BA: He was very open about it. It’s tough on his body, putting it through all that stuff to be Captain America. He said, “I’m looking forward to not going to the gym so much.” A moment of vulnerability. The listeners’ feedback was so strong and happy about how he spoke to us. A lot of the time, that’s what many of us are looking for: someone to be honest and say, “Yes, I look great, but it takes work.” Just an acknowledgement of the fact that, yes, I’m actually quite beautiful. It’s not an accident that I look this way and I have this job—the two things are very much intertwined, and I have to work at maintaining them so I can stay doing this job.

Also, I just really love the episode. Nichole and I were so happy and giggly. The joy just overflows as you listen to it.

NP: In terms of production, we had already recorded the main [segment], but we didn’t get a chance to talk to Chris until Wednesday, and the episode was coming out that Thursday. We had to rush and make the edits. We know our audience wants to hear every single thing that he had to say. We couldn’t make the episode that long.

BA: But we put the bulk of the interview in there, because he was so insightful. It was less about speaking to the general state of fancying, but just about himself and his own place in that particular hierarchy: that this man, who is literally called Captain America, so often embodies a very specific masculine ideal. What does that mean for the actor, but also for those of us who fancy him?

NP: It was a feat to get that episode out so quickly once we got the interview with him. And to see the reactions as people were refreshing their feeds, reaching for their phones—it was so awesome.

BA: People were like, “What? Chris? The real Chris?!” Yes, the real Chris Evans, thank you. And our title for that episode is “Chris Evans (feat. Chris Evans).”

AVC: It’s so subtle.

BA: That was our former producer, Eleanor Kagan. When we said we wanted to do this episode, she said, “I’ve already got the title!” Very triumphantly, she typed it out.

NP: Our feed goes live at 5 a.m. Thursdays. So I wake up and I’m looking at Twitter to see what’s happening. One person said, “I was brushing my teeth and I saw the episode and I almost spat my toothpaste out on the floor.”

BA: We have the best tweets for that episode.

Season 2, Episode 8: Ryan Coogler: Bay Area Bae

NP: One of the things we like to do with the podcast is to highlight people who most people may not know—you may know the name, but you don’t know what they look like. That’s part of the reason we chose Ryan Coogler. He’s normally behind the camera, so he’s not someone that you get to see all the time. Also, his work ethic, and what he does behind the camera, the people that he hires, it’s so important. Let’s not forget the people who might get overlooked.

BA: We don’t necessarily theme our seasons, but with season two, we definitely had names that were less famous than many of the names in season one. When we did the Oscar Isaac episode, a lot of people said, “Oh, I know that guy from GIFs, but I’ve never seen a film of his.” And we did an episode on the Golden Baes of Hollywood, hearkening back to a period that many of our listeners might not be familiar with, and that kind of thing. As Nichole said, he’s not someone who is often in front. He was also beginning to enjoy a big moment thanks to Black Panther. Still, not many people have seen his films, many of which were serious, independent movies. For us, it was a case of: Who is underrated? Who is genuinely worthy of our fancy?

That’s another thing: Of course we fancy the people physically, but we also have to have something to talk about. You can’t just spend 45 minutes going, “He’s so hot!” Which is nice, and great for us, but not something you could put out a podcast about. It was about finding the meaning of his work and himself, away from his obviously very beautiful physicality. That was a really fun challenge for us. He doesn’t have a massive film catalog, but each of the movies he’s done have been as close to masterpieces as you can get. Also, he’s this guy from Oakland who talks like he’s from Oakland. And a very small, but also very big thing: He’s married to a black woman, so, black love. That felt like something worth celebrating and pointing out. Look at this guy. He’s special.

NP: Also, even though he’s reasonably fit, he is not the Hollywood idea of what an attractive man should look like. He’s not super muscly, he’s not very tall. He has the teddy bear look; he’s so sweet and always so respectful with the people around him. We wanted to highlight that, and show that you don’t have to just like the tall beefcake. There are other physicalities out there that you can enjoy, and it’s okay.

BA: That came up with the Hiddleston episode, for example. He’s a lanky stream of piss, isn’t he? But that’s okay! Nichole has a very wonderful saying, because she enjoys—

NP: I like skinny men. [Laughs.]

BA: Yes. And Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash, she called him “a golden French fry of a man.” It’s an example of people who don’t necessarily fit into Hot Hollywood. And here’s [Coogler] who has this incredible visual mind, makes amazing, stunning films, and is so human when you read his interviews, and actively works with women and champions women’s work, putting all this stuff out there into the world in a climate where so many men are unequivocally trash. To have something to glom onto that is not trash feels like a victory for the ages. “Oh my god, this person appears not to be a complete dickhead. Wonderful.” You need it to survive.

NP: With the drabbles for that episode, we tried to respect the fact that he’s married. We went for sweet instead of sultry.

BA: That’s the persona. You want to match that.

NP: And I’m sure whatever his private life is, that’s [his own], but at the same time, we’re just like, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a baby with Ryan Coogler?”

BA: He’d be invested in your interests—do you see the projection here? “My god, I bet he makes great waffles.” Based on nothing at all. You just have this idea.

AVC: What goals do you have for the podcast going forward?

NP: We’ve been doing Thirsty Movie Nights, where we invite our audience to come watch some movies with us and be loud and rowdy, and lust out loud at the screen. It’s like a big slumber party.

BA: So far we’ve done them all in New York, but I’d love to take it on the road. We want to do these things all over the place. Our inbox is full every single day—people will send their own drabbles, or sometimes people just want to tell us they fancy someone at work. Things that we cannot feature on the show.

AVC: Like you’re the high priestesses of thirst.

NP: We’re the love doctors!

BA: People bring us confessions and stuff, and it’s like, all right, go in peace, my child. Happy thirsting. It’s remarkable. It sounds really cheesy, but it does feel like this sisterhood of thirst. It’s not just women, but it’s mostly women, many of them women of color, many of them black women—and that really warms my heart. My hope would be that they find something in every episode, even if they don’t fancy the thirst object of the week. There’s just a bit of release and relief in listening to something that is so unabashedly joyful.

We’re not Breaking Bad—we haven’t got the brooding antihero at the core of our story. Instead, it’s, “Hey, we fancy people. Let’s talk about that!” I want to stay in the zone of joy, and I don’t want it to ever feel like a chore. My hope would be that we continue to love what we do, because we really love it. And it’s great working with Nichole, who is just so filthy and so funny. Every week she says something that scandalizes me as if I don’t know her. It works, and I think the audience really enjoys hearing us play off one another, because it’s genuine. I want that to go on for as long as possible.

NP: Someone tweeted that, at the heart of the show, it’s about friendship. I think that’s important, because Bim and I genuinely like each other. We were not put together by someone who said, “Bim and Nichole, just partner up on this.” This was from our own interactions, and it’s still going. The thirsting does not stop. If we are awake, we are texting each other something. I’ll wake up to a message from Bim like, “Did you see this?” and I’m like, “No—but did you see this?”

As far as growth, we’re open to whatever can happen from here. A lot of people want us to put our drabbles into some kind of book for purchase.

BA: A whole collection of them. Publishers, if you are interested, Nichole and I will write drabbles. We will do it.

NP: At our first movie night, which was Magic Mike XXL, this one woman was crying with her friend. She said, “It’s just so beautiful to be in this environment, in this safe space, and hoot and holler at the screen with this community.” I loved that, it was so moving.

BA: People were throwing their fake dollars at the screen. At that point, I looked around, and I was like, wow, I’m so lucky. What a way to spend a weekday evening—in the company of strangers in the dark, eating food and hollering at Channing Tatum’s neck. This is why I went to journalism school. It felt good.

NP: I like doing the interviews, and I think it’s important that we remain respectful of the people we’re talking to. We don’t ask about their personal lives. We don’t ask if they have a girlfriend. We don’t hit on them.

BA: People ask after each interview, “How did you hold it together?” Yeah, we fancy people—we’re human—but we’re also professionals. We’re journalists, we’re reporters, we’re writers. Just as we don’t yell obscenities at handsome men on the street, we wouldn’t do that to someone who had trusted us and come into the studio to talk about themselves. I hope that the fact that we’re so clear about our intentions, that we’re not here to get gossip, has meant that people are more open to coming on the show. We’re asking intelligent, insightful questions, and we are looking for them to answer in a similar fashion.

For so many of us, we haven’t really broken down the building blocks of desire. It’s never as simple as people think. So my hope would be that we get to talk to more of the thirst objects as they come up, because I do think there is value in asking the questions that these men are not asked. It leaves a void of knowledge, and we could help fill that.

NP: When we first started out, we got a little criticism. “If men were doing this, would it be sexist?” I responded that men would not examine why they find these people attractive. It would just be about a bunch of T&A.

BA: Historically, anyway. We’ve seen how men talk about women a lot of the time in the public sphere, and I don’t think it’s ever been this respectful or careful. It’s not just us salivating wildly. I mean, that happens. But we have discussions.

NP: We also look at what happens when these men mess up, and have to get back on track. We’re looking now at the idea in pop culture of men and redemption, and what that looks like. But we want to be a source of joy for people. We want to acknowledge the missteps, but we also want to recognize when they’ve corrected and are doing the work to prove themselves better people.

BA: The ethos of Thirst Aid Kit, as it stands, is to talk about desire. We’re not here to tell you that one fancy is wrong.

NP: People don’t need our permission to like who they like. Just apply the enthusiasm that we have, and go about your business.

BA: Lust out loud. It’s good for your soul.

AVC: What good life advice.

BA: Just call us Oprah.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.