Yesterday, my friend Marc’s girlfriend died suddenly. He’d mentioned that she’d been under the weather and he was trying to be nurturing, but that they had ruled out COVID-19. I saw a tweet about her death go by just moments after Fred Willard’s death was announced. I thought about how happy Marc had been lately and how devastating this would be for him. I sent a short email to share my condolences and then I ordered up her most recent movie on Amazon.
Marc is not my friend.
I’ve never met him. I suppose had my life gone a different route, we might have crossed paths. Marc is, obviously, comedian and podcaster Marc Maron of WTF. I haven’t been a fan since the beginning, but I’ve listened regularly for a couple years and in the last 6 months have really come to feel an affection for him.
We’re two months into the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order in Chicago and his archives have been keeping me company. I live alone with two cats in a friendly six-flat. My neighbors have a group chat and we occasionally sit in the backyard together but apart. Every month or so, Jocelyn takes me to a grocery store in a car and occasionally friends drop by with treats.
But I’m alone.
I have lived alone since April 2005, when I bought my condo and have lived alone for the last 15 years at 4 different addresses. Occasionally a friend would come and stay for a month or so while they got housing sorted out, but I live alone.
Living alone in the before times meant going to an office more days than not, regular meetings at the synagogue, solo trips to bars, brunch with f
riends, movie theaters with shared popcorn and my Broadway in Chicago subscription. The before times for an introvert also meant skipping game night to stay home alone with my Netflix and chill cats. The before times meant occasional dates with total strangers from the internet to interview each other on a route to finding love. It was daily encounters with baristas, bartenders, coworkers, cashiers. Sharing food. Sharing recommendations. Spontaneous plans.
Now I’m alone.
Just me, my cats and my podcast friends.
Other than Marc Maron, most of my podcast friends are in the extended universe of How Did This Get Made and not, as you might expect, the comics I used to know back in the day.
For example… Jason Mantzoukas (my #1 Hollywood crush [which started by hearing him on an episode of Gilmore Guys and then a podcast rabbit hole that led to HDTGM,The League and everything else]) was a guest on Doughboys, so I listened to that episode. Fast forward and Nicole Byer (HDTGM All Star) does a live show of Why Won’t You Date Me in Chicago and her guests are the hosts of Doughboys and Gabrus from High & Mighty. Then I have to listen to the whole suite of live shows from the Headgum Live in Chicago and decide that I also now listen to Doughboys in addition to listening to three of Nicole’s podcasts weekly. (Why Won’t You Date Me, Newcomers and Best Friends).
I will let Doughboys play all night while I sleep and run through the day as company. Mitch and Nick talk about fast food and restaurant chains, so none of it is critical. If feels like I have some dudes just hanging out. Plenty of their jokes would get eyerolls or lectures from me in person, but as company… I love having them around. I think Spidey and Cowboy like hearing about Wolly and Irma from Mitch. (And Monkey and Buster at Marc’s house).
In addition to the intimate, one-way friendships that I have with podcast hosts, I’ve also entered a stage of “unadulterated fan and cheerleader of people and art.” I think it was when I was introduced to Hamilton that I learned that being an unironic fan of something is very fun.
I’ve seen Hamilton in New York, London and Chicago. I’ve gone alone, with friends and family. I have shirts and books and programs. I just loved it and didn’t apologize for loving something popular.
Me in a custom shirt guarding Zouks on stage at the Chicago Theater during a live HDTGM. I said I was a fan, right?
After Hamilton, I turned my fandom energy to HDTGM and flew to Los Angeles after I was laid off to see my first live show at Largo. Then I saw the crew at 5 different live shows in Chicago. I made custom shirts, wrote thank you notes to Paul, June and Jason for being my podcast friends when I was recovering from my hysterectomy and then unemployment. I made IRL friends through a fan group. I seek out the projects each of the hosts are in and continue to celebrate the crew.
As I wrote about 2 years ago, I was so inspired by seeing a few HDTGM live shows that I tried stand-up comedy. I lasted a summer and just… I guess I’m okay with not doing comedy.
But in that window, I was podcast-matched with the Jackie and Laurie Show. Two women comics who have each worked the road for over 30 years talking about the business of comedy. I’m hooked and I’m a fan. I’ve seen them both live at Zanies in Chicago, gone to their Zoom comedy shows, tweet too many replies to both Jackie Kashian and Laurie Kilmartin and cheerlead their successes.
I live alone and the people I spend the most time with are podcast hosts. Friends who live in my phone and keep me company during a global pandemic.
Sometimes I catch myself and say, “Leah, they aren’t your friends.” Doesn’t matter. Marc isn’t my real friend, but I can still care that a woman he described with so much love and tenderness died suddenly. I can care about the comics who are sheltering in place alone and listening to as many podcasts as I am.
I’m grateful that I went to as many live shows as I did where I got to see many of my favorite podcast friends on stage. That I have those memories to carry me through until we’re allowed to gather and laugh together in an auditorium.
No blue tooth speaker will ever match the roar of Chicago Theater when Paul Scheer stokes the Team Fred/Team Sanity fires, but I’m glad we can be friends.
Other articles tackling the one-way intimacy of being a podcast listener.
Glen Waldon on NPR: The One-Way Intimacy of Podcast Listening
Noelle Acheson: The intimacy of podcasts and the monetization of relationships
Philippa Goodrich: Intimacy Plus: Is that what makes podcasts so good?