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 podcaster: Alison Rosen is your new best friend, but she’s also the host of your new favorite podcast of the same name. She has hosted the popular show since 2012, releasing two hour-long episodes every week.
The show started in 2009 as a three-hour Ustream web series, recorded live from her Brooklyn apartment. But after Rosen moved back to California in 2010, the Ustream show didn’t last in its original form. Instead it was resurrected as a podcast in 2012 when she was working on The Adam Carolla Show and hosted on Carolla’s podcast network. When Rosen left the Carolla Show earlier this year, Rosen turned her dining room into a studio and took full control of the production and future of the podcast. “When it crossed over to being 100 percent mine, I learned to do a lot of stuff myself, and that was valuable for me,” Rosen says of the transition. “It was really an exciting time. We hit the ground running, and I’m proud of myself for being able to do that.”
The A.V. Club: Do you ever continue relationships with guests after the show after establishing that kind of intimate, honest connection? For example, the Jack Burditt interview, after he was so open about the death of his 2-year-old grandson.
Alison Rosen: Yes, it can feel weird sometimes. Sometimes there’s almost an interview hangover effect, where for the next handful of days, I still feel really close to the person. Jack Burditt and I have kept in touch, and we have gotten lunch since then. He’s said to me that he had no intention of talking about his grandson’s death when he came in to do the interview. He just found himself talking about it, and he felt like it was a good thing that he did.
I know that later Burditt referred to me as a sorceress: “You must be some kind of sorceress, because there I was talking about this stuff that I had no intention of talking about, but… I felt okay about it.”
That was so gratifying for me to hear, because I feel like I walk a very fine line between wanting someone to be open and vulnerable and honest with me and the listeners, but not wanting anyone to ever feel like I’m exploiting them. I’m lucky that people feel comfortable sharing things with me. I’m genuinely curious about people, and I’m always interested when people do share with me. But I would not want someone to share something with me and then after the fact feel uncomfortable or regret it. I think my biggest fear would be that they might feel like I somehow pushed them into saying more than they wanted, or manipulated them into revealing something.
Sometimes I try to figure out why I always push things to talk about the really dark stuff in interviews, and I just think it’s healing—for the listener, and for the guest. I believe very much in talking about that the stuff we don’t want to talk about, because there’s power in it, and it’s healing.
AVC: Another thing that stood out in the Jack Burditt interview was your discussion about his sobriety during the grief process: The idea that if you don’t use drugs or drink during the grief process, you really have to deal with those feelings head on. Sobriety comes up a lot in your interviews; when did you first start talking openly about how you don’t drink or do drugs anymore?
AR: My husband is the only guy I’ve ever dated where I’ve never been drunk around him. I couldn’t handle dating without drinking in the past. Drinking is a fast-forward button; it makes you feel close to a person so quickly. But once I stopped drinking and I’d be going out on dates, or hanging out with guys, I’d realize, “Oh, maybe I don’t like them that much!” I think the drinking was to make these guys more tolerable. I know for me, when I would drink, I circumvented my own self-protection and my own judgment and my own discrimination—the healthy kind of judgment and discrimination.
I don’t know when I had my last drink. For a while, for me, if I wanted to have a drink, I could have one, but now, I have no desire to drink anymore. I just don’t want to feel altered. I think at the beginning I danced around it on the show because I didn’t want to use the word “sober,” but at the same time, I obviously am. When people offer me drinks, I don’t take them. When I first hung out with the man who is now my husband, he said, “So, do you not drink?” He had put that together just from hearing things I’d said on the podcast, because I hadn’t really come out with it yet. So at a certain point I just realized, it’s going to be easier if I address this on the podcast and talk about it in its complicated form. Most things that I think about not talking about, ultimately I decide to talk about, and I feel better.
AR: I hadn’t met Jennifer Lee Pryor before this interview. It was a little intimidating. I think once the interview started, it wasn’t, but the idea that this woman, who was married to a legend, Richard Pryor, was going to come over and sit in my dining room—yeah, I was intimidated.
AVC: One of the most memorable parts of the interview is when Lee Pryor is telling you a story about Pryor’s sexual experiences with men, and she laughs because she thought she was scandalizing you because your eyes got really wide.
AR: I remember that, I remember being like, “No, I’m not as innocent as my face looks!” My husband has pointed out that with certain people, I almost lapse into sounding more innocent than I am.
But in general, based on my own history of having been in a bunch of dysfunctional relationships and now being in a healthy one, I think maybe I’ve got this strict, black-and-white idea of what determines a “good relationship” and a “bad relationship.” And if I had been friends with Jennifer Lee Pryor when all those things [with Richard Pryor] were going on, I would have told her, “Get out of that relationship! What are you doing?”
But then sitting in my living room, hearing her talk about the love between them, and the way things ultimately went in their relationship—I do think they were meant to be together. Talking with Jennifer challenged my probably too simplistic view of relationships. There are certain relationships that just don’t fit into “good” or “bad”; they transcend it. That idea stuck with me for a while after that—the fact that I might have judged her relationship with Richard Pryor, and I think I would have been wrong.
AVC: You tell Lee Pryor in that interview: “It’s just the whole pageant of every human emotion… it’s just overwhelming.” Does it ever take a toll on you, listening to the more difficult, painful stories from people?
AR: Honestly, every time someone opens up to me, it just feels like a gift they’re giving me, because it’s a chance to experience another human being. I think maybe if I were getting coffee with them, the idea of protecting myself might come into play more, because I might feel like they are genuinely turning to me and looking for advice on how to handle something, and I might need to think about maintaining boundaries. But this is just for an hour and a half, one afternoon, with microphones on, two people trying to have a really honest conversation, and there isn’t anything expected of me other than listening. I definitely feel moved and affected after interviews, but not in a way that’s anything other than positive. There are moments that make me want to cry, but not in any way I can’t handle.
AVC: Jennifer Lee Pryor brought up Bill Cosby in your interview. Did you expect that?
AR: No, I didn’t. I also didn’t expect what happened afterward, which was that the media picked up on it, and the story was covered in so many different papers, on television, in the international press as well; it was crazy. I thought it was cool that something that happened on my podcast made news like that, but it was a little bit disappointing that the thing that makes news is Jennifer Lee Pryor calling Bill Cosby a “piece of shit,” or whatever the exact quote was. I’ve worked in media for years; I felt like I should be aware that’s the kind of thing that would get picked up instead of a more complex, emotionally resonant kind of quote, but it still felt like a learning experience.
Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend: Daniel’s Pot Cookie Story, Greg’s Surf Lingo Quiz, Bumbershoot
AVC: The episode recently, “The Make It Worse Theater Presents: You Don’t Think Kristin,” where you reenacted Greg Heller’s neighbors’ fight, was so funny. Where did that idea come from?
AR: Greg told me that he had audio recordings of his neighbors having a ridiculous fight, but he didn’t feel like it was right for us to play them on the show, so I was like, “Well, these need to see the light of day because they are ridiculous, so I’ll just transcribe them so we can act them out.” And that was fun. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to reach those shrill tones that Kristin, the female in the fight, had, but I dug deep, I made some great acting choices, and I was able to be very yell-y and shrill.
AVC: Another thing that was great about that episode was how open you were about your…
AR: Infertility? Yeah, I just felt like… I spend a lot of time now, even though my doctors like, “You can’t look back!” I do spend a lot of time thinking, why didn’t I start trying to get pregnant sooner? Why didn’t I freeze my eggs? Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I do this? It’s not like I wasn’t aware it gets harder as you get older; I think everyone knows that, but I refused to let it make me feel nervous. I do think it was probably the right call though, because if you’re walking around nervous about not having kids… it’s like what I said on the show. I was afraid if I was that person who was like, “Gotta have kids! Gotta have kids!” then there would be this desperation on me that would make it impossible for me to get into a healthy relationship.
But in that episode, I just thought, for my own sake, I would say what I wish someone had said to me—like recommending that women freeze their eggs now if they want children later, even though it’s so expensive, and kind of a pain—and then I can just be done with it.
AVC: A big part of the other panel episode you named as a favorite is your husband Daniel’s story about accidentally eating a pot cookie at the Seattle music festival Bumbershoot. How do you and Daniel decide what parts of your life make it into the show and what you leave out?
AR: Yeah, with that, I think it was such a funny, ridiculous situation that it felt like, we have to talk about it when we talk about what happened at Bumbershoot. In terms of what we share from our lives, I tend to share everything. My instinct would be to share everything. And the people around me, like my family, don’t always view it that way, so I’ve had to learn to dial back certain things because maybe that particular story isn’t mine to share, or maybe it would make someone uncomfortable to share a certain thing.
When Daniel and I first met, he was, and is, more so a private person, and he had all these parameters about what was okay for me to talk about, and what wasn’t okay for me to talk about. I would tie myself in knots trying to figure out if I had said something I wasn’t supposed to say based on what he had laid out. But he just didn’t ever want to discover how I felt about something by listening to the podcast. I can talk about our relationship, but he wants me to talk to him about something first, rather than tuning in to the show and finding out, “Oh, that’s how she felt?”
Eventually, he said, “I trust you, just use your own judgment,” and this weight lifted off my shoulders. At that point, he knew me well enough that he felt comfortable trusting me in that way. But when we first met, he also said, “I don’t think I would ever be on your podcast,” which is funny. Daniel was actually a guest on the show before our wedding. He allowed me to interview him as a one-on-one, and then he came back a couple times. Then, when I went on my own with the podcast earlier this year, I had to find new people to be on the Thursday panel show, so just to help me out, he sat in and he was so good that now he’s a permanent member.
It really is the highlight of my week, recording the Thursday show. I feel like since I’m an interviewer, I can talk about the Monday shows so easily, but I think that the Thursday shows have a really devoted following, possibly even bigger than the Monday shows, and I’m really proud of those too. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a mistake to release both shows in the same feed because they are so different, but I just hope that people can enjoy the difference.