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Already our socially distant friends, podcasters say listeners need a distraction from coronavirus

“I don’t think its weird to talk about ‘Survivor’ right now," Cesternino said. "It’s really a great distraction. There’s no sports. The normal world is nothing like it’s supposed to be. ‘Survivor’ for the time being is very normal.”

Natasha Scott and Justine Kay, hosts of 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose, Podcast are expanding from their recaps of The Bachelor into general lifestyle podcasting. "We've seen an influx of people joining now, people are shut inside, they can't go anywhere," said Scott.
Natasha Scott and Justine Kay, hosts of 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose, Podcast are expanding from their recaps of The Bachelor into general lifestyle podcasting. "We've seen an influx of people joining now, people are shut inside, they can't go anywhere," said Scott.Read moreCourtesy 2 Black Girls 1 Rose

Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher sound so sad on their Pivot podcast.

But Rob Cesternino of Rob Has a Podcast (RHAP) is as upbeat as ever on his many — so many — Survivor recap shows. His usual tag line — “Coming to you live from my apartment” — has never been so relatable.

Like other podcasters, Cesternino knows that what the stay-at-home world needs right now is more content. Cesternino says he will keep churning out those obsessive recaps of Survivor Season 40 while he still can. People will gather 'round the livestream, listen to two hours-plus of analysis of why Boston Rob got voted out, how Sandra got magnificently blindsided by Denise, perhaps now more than ever, he said.

“I don’t think its weird to talk about Survivor right now," Cesternino said. "It’s really a great distraction. There’s no sports. The normal world is nothing like it’s supposed to be. Survivor for the time being is very normal.”

Truth is, podcasters had already been our socially distant friends, broadcasting from their couches, or at least seeming to, directly to ours. With the world at a standstill and people on edge, podcasters say their intimate connection with listeners feels more needed than ever. (Although researchers warn it’s too early to draw conclusions about the coronavirus’ affect on subscriber numbers, Italy has seen a 10 percent increase in podcast listening, with spikes in shows about religion and spirituality.) And these days, the lucky ones still have something to talk about.

“Justine and I have always recorded virtually,” said Natasha Scott, 30, cohost of the funny-smart, satisfyingly exasperated, roll-your-eyes-along-with-us recap of The Bachelor (“the whitest show on Earth”) podcast 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose.

Scott and cohost Justine Kay, friends since bonding at a private all-girls high school over Laguna Beach, had already mastered the art of bringing listeners into their warm friendship.

“We’ve always recorded our podcasts from two different locations, then put our audio files together like we’re sitting in the same room," said Scott. "We’ve gotten the hang of doing things in a virtual way. Now, everybody’s trying to get on board.

“We’ve seen an influx of [subscribers] joining now,” Scott says. “People are shut inside, they can’t go anywhere.”

Gabby from Philly

Still, podcasters have had to adapt.

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett is now calling people in their homes for his Lovett or Leave It no-longer-recorded-at-the-Hollywood-Improv show, and they are laughing with joy. From inside the shower no less. And Lovett’s fiancé Ronan Farrow is there too! Shout-out to Gabby from Philly: You were hilarious last Saturday.

» READ MORE: Philly podcasts to check out right now

With The Bachelor having suspended production of its new season, 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose, is now recapping Netflix’s Love is Blind.” They are planning general lifestyle podcasts, and, depending on what their listeners choose on their Patreon platform, offering Google Hangouts, and, for the diehards, one-on-one Skype sessions.

“You have to get creative," says Scott, who, with Kay, had been scheduled to do their first show in front of an audience at South by Southwest, since canceled. “We put our brains together to see how we can continue to nurture our community, give them opportunities to connect with us.”

Like Cesternino, Scott says she sees “a hunger and craving" for non-coronavirus content.

» READ MORE: Coronavirus has shut down concert tours. How are Philly musicians adapting?

“You can’t ignore what’s happening in the real world,” Scott said. “We always talked about our personal lives. We’re going to be honest and continue to talk about it. That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy life, enjoy the shows, turn off MSNBC, just turn to something a little lighter.”

The night the NBA shut down, Cesternino was hosting a live recap show before an audience in Los Angeles, a little too close for comfort. He subsequently asked Survivor contestant Mike “Dr. Mike” Zahalsky from Season 35 to host a show with other Survivor doctor contestants on the coronavirus.

Crying in the shower

Over at Gaslit Nation, the podcast’s dystopian warnings have found “a new receptiveness,” according to the cohosts, journalist-scholars author Sarah Kendzior and filmmaker Andrea Chalupa. Chalupa told listeners the long-awaited North American release of her Agnieszka Holland-directed film, Mr. Jones, had been delayed. Planned appearances with Kendzior, whose book Hiding in Plain Sight will be released in April, were scrapped.

Chalupa said on a recent episode she was crying in the shower, not only about Mr. Jones, but the whole mess we find ourselves in, the horrible inevitability of it all (especially inevitable to loyal listeners of Gaslit Nation). Haven’t we all.

Kendzior and Chalupa have been preaching a dark gospel about President Donald Trump and his family on the podcast since June 2018, documenting what they describe as a “transnational crime syndicate” that has taken control of governments from Moscow to Washington, the creep of authoritarianism, the impotence of Robert Mueller, the ubiquitousness of Jeffrey Epstein, and, a favorite target, the “mediocre white men of the mainstream media.” Now they are talking about the “deliberate malice” of the response to coronavirus.

They were the place you could go in the middle of a sleepless night to indulge your pessimism when it seemed nobody was paying attention. But now! Ack!

» READ MORE: White male rage is Team Trump’s only response to impeachment. We shouldn’t put up with this. | Will Bunch

Chalupa and Kendzior say listeners are flocking to older episodes, particularly ones about the 2019 government shutdown, a seeming prelude to the current situation. Those episodes are getting a lot of traffic,” she said, "where we talk about the GOP as a death cult, and specific people like Jared Kushner. Those are listened to with new ears.

“No one thinks this is too wild, this is too dark," said Kendzior. Unlike some other podcasters, there’s certainly no shortage of material.

A quarantine Festivus

In a twist, Gaslit Nation is lightening up a bit, though Kendzior and Chalupa have always brought a dark humor to their outlook.

“We’re also doing something we don’t normally do a lot on this show; how to incorporate lifestyle management in this new reality,” Chalupa said. “I think we’ve shared both openly how we’re struggling with that.”

The two recently shared “a quarantine Festivus,” Chalupa said, “to air our grievances. There’s a lot of grief.”

Now they want to bring in some culture and entertainment to their podcast and are asking their audience to submit “true crime radio plays,” whose plot will “bring a member of the Trump family to justice.”

» READ MORE: Kevin Bacon has adapted his ‘Six Degrees’ game to support social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic

Over at Rose Pricks, meanwhile, a savage Bachelor takedown, comedian Stefanie Wilder-Taylor says she and cohost Ronnie Karam have no plans to modulate their caustic humor. And while the next season of the The Bachelorette has suspended filming, there’s still a spin-off, Listen to Your Heart, in the queue, and talk of ABC rerunning the infamous season starring hated-bachelor Juan Pablo. They’re all in.

“We’re not going to turn into a really sweet podcast because of the corona," she said. "People are listening to podcasts as an escape.”

Karam, she noted, is perfectly fine being shut in, but she has been terribly bored, and so started yet another podcast, with film critic Cecily Knobler, to talk about the shows they are currently bingeing. It’s called Bored AF.