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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Introduction to Finding Favorites

On Sunday night, I headed down to the Chicago Theater for my long-awaited return to a How Did This Get Made live show. To be fair, I did go to LA in March to see them at Largo to celebrate my 45th birthday and finishing radiation, but this was a long-awaited CHICAGO live show after COVID dashed our hopes for the summer show.

I’d been struggling with allergies (jk, it was bronchitis), so I loaded my purse with Ricola, my body with cough syrup and wore a KN95 through the show. I also took a friend to introduce her to the beauty that is HDTGM. This summer I took a friend to Milwaukee and introduced him to The Doughboys through a live show as well. For people new to the pods, live shows are a great way in.

There’s a lot of backstory to understanding what happened at the show on Sunday. Some is captured in this blog post from May 2020, where I explored my relationship to podcast hosts during Peak Lockdown. That blog post quickly led to the creation of Finding Favorites.

There’s this moment from the podcast Home Cooking with Samin and Hrishi (and guest Jason Mantzoukas). Every time I open a box from my CSA, I think to myself, “is this leeks?” Especially since the summer this episode aired, I’d chopped up fennel thinking it was dill and was very disappointed when my dill bread tasted like licorice.

There’s my obsession with making my own damn shirt for going to podcasts. I’ve made 3 custom HDTGM shirts (What is happening for Dummies, Don’t Touch Zouks, Custom HDTGM Shirt), one for Doughboys (4 Fork Podcast), and one vinyl banner movie poster to wear to the Halloween show this week.

And there’s my concerted effort to be a nice fan. Do I regret sending a pendantic gift of Chicago coffee to their PO Box after Jason complimented Stumptown Coffee as a local brand? Yes, a bit. That wasn’t necessary. Do I regret giving thank you notes to them after the 2019 Chicago shows with stickers? No.

I come to shows prepared with a question, wearing a custom shirt, and remind myself that I am not the paid performer. If I’m called on, I think my “job” is not to try to be funnier or witter or more than the performers. (As a failed stand-up comic, this isn’t always easy, but nobody paid to hear my joke).

This week was rare, because both Hrishi and Jason were going to be in town and I’d made myself silly merch based on the above clip. And then I kept ordering and made merch to try to give to Hrishi and Jason. I had time and brainpower to write Hrishi a really nice note explaining that as the creator of West Wing Weekly, he was the person responsible for my podcast habits. I said thank you for all the podcasters he brought into my life, who kept me company through lockdown and breast cancer treatment. For Jason… I barely remembered to put a business card in the bag. (Like I said, I had undiagnosed bronchitis [and hopefully soon to be, but as of yet undiagnosed ADHD] and a lot of questions for myself about why I’d decided to wear a 6 foot vinyl banner as a costume.)

The unexpected* happened at the end of the show on Sunday night, when Jason asked me the name of my podcast and then demanded that the rest of the audience subscribe to Finding Favorites. If you want to know why that happened, I don’t know. If you want a guide to episodes of Finding Favorites that I would recommend to Jason and therefor to you as a fellow fan, here are the five… no ten eleven episodes to start with.

Jason Mathes and I went to college together at Millikin University and probably haven’t talked (other than social media) since the day we graduated in 1999, but he’s the reason this podcast exists. We have a meandering conversation that stays mostly focused on his love of game shows, his lifelong goal to compete on Jeopardy, and ideas on how to improve any game show concept. [Who doesn’t love an origin story?]

Matt Zoller Seitz, an author, filmmaker and TV critic, loves the acclaimed David Milch HBO drama – Deadwood. Together with 130 contributors, Matt recently published The Deadwood Bible: A Lie Agreed Upon, which includes critical essays on every episode, original illustrations, a complete account of David Milch’s life and so much more. He also shares some of the backstory of how Shopify stole the thunder and celebration of pub week by trapping his team in a Kafkaesque puzzle. [Deadwood.]

Author Christine Marie Eberle joined Leah to discuss her new book Finding God Abiding and how she has built her personal practice of prayer. We dive into the Ignatian traditions, volunteer fire departments, and the Leah shares some ideas from Jewish prayer. [Jason majored in world religions, I suspect that when his fans think about religion, they think deeply about religion.]

Kevin T. Porter, host of the Good Christian Fun, Gilmore Guys and Inside Voices, makes podcasts about things he’s interested in, but he loves Bruce Springsteen. We talk about how he experienced love at first note watching a PBS pledge drive, the kindness of fellow Bruce fans, and how there is a Bruce for every season. And yes, we also talk about the Jeep commercial. [Hrishi got me into podcasts with West Wing Weekly, but Kevin introduced me to Jason Mantzoukas on Gilmore Guys.]

Deborah Greenhut, author of The Hoarder’s Wife, joined Leah on Finding Favorites to discuss her debut novel, baking challah, and the music of Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. [When I started Finding Favorites, I asked Jason’s publicist if he would come on and talk about Joni Mitchell. His publicist quickly and politely declined. I think this was the right call at the time. He will have to find a new topic.]

To close out 2021, I asked friends to send me voice memos about their favorite things in 2021. This clip show is made up of those voice memos covering all things personal, pop culture and professional. You’ve met most of the guests before and everyone is bringing a new favorite thing or an exciting update to their episode! [Everything felt awful, so I asked for people to think about the good things that happened.]

Kevin Smokler, a San Francisco-based author and filmmaker, loves used vinyl and is here to walk us through how to create a music curriculum at your local record store. You can catch his documentary Vinyl Nation at film festivals across the country or hear the Pointer Sisters wafting out of his windows in the Bay Area. [Music and vinyl]

Jo McCawley, a Chicago-based ad tech rockstar, has been on a journey to love her body and joins Leah to talk about falling in love with her fat body after years of dieting and body shaming. We talk about body positivity, body neutrality, the pervasiveness of shame in our culture – particularly for women.

CW: Dieting, birth trauma, preeclampsia, medical fatphobia [This is one of the most listened to episodes and is an honest discussion about the bodies we live in.]

Dawn Hogan, also known as DW Hogan, is a Hunstville-based author and publishing her first novel on October 5th. We talk about women’s access to healthcare, homes for unwed mothers that were common the United States in the 1950-70s, and her family’s love affair with Lego sets.

CW: Leah and Dawn talk about coerced adoption, access to abortion, access to birth control and modern searches for biological parents. [Another popular episode recorded before Roe was destroyed by the supreme court.]

Dave Coustan, an Atlanta-based podcast producer and marketing strategist, picked up trumpet for the first time at the age of 39… because why not? We talk about what made him start playing trumpet as an adult, a 5-hour lesson in Portland from David Monette, and how he became a podcast producer at I Heart Radio. [Starting new hobbies as an adult is hard to do and Dave takes us through his career change and his trumpet habits.]

Shai Korman, from Friday Night Movie Podcast and the Goldnerds, joined me to talk about his devotion to the musical CATS. We do talk about the How Did This Get Made livestream show about CATS a fair amount, but I think we limited the inside baseball to a low roar. [Two people who met over a HDTGM shirt and became inner circle level friends in the years that followed, talking about CATS and HDTGM].

*there must be a bigger word for how I felt. Flabbergasted? Dead? Dead and buried? Like the dog who caught the firetruck and doesn’t know what to do next?

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done on this podcast over the last 120 episodes, so even picking ten because I think fans of Jason, Chicago, and HDTGM will enjoy them feels like a betrayal to the rest of my archives. I’ve got Drop King and Robs! I’ve got Shai Korman and Amy Guth doing guest host spots! I have whole stretches where I interview fans of HDTGM and Doughboys about things other than those podcasts! The candy episode with Jocelyn that was so fun it became it’s own podcast! Sometimes I go deep with my guests and sometimes we skate around the surface.

If you are here from the Chicago Theater, welcome. If you have kept my dormant RSS feed in your newsfeed, welcome back. I’m still single in Chicago, I’m on the other side of breast cancer, and Spidey is no longer with me.

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