“Stuff You Should Know” has remained one of the world’s most popular podcasts through nearly 1,000 episodes, thanks to hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant trusting in their audience’s curiosity about everything from real-life zombies to flea circuses.
Wednesday’s live podcast at the Pantages Theatre offered an opportunity to ask Clark about the workings of the nine-year-old show:
Q: Why are fans attracted to seeing a podcast being made in person?
A: Podcasting is a particularly peculiar medium. The people who do it are not stars to you. They’re more like friends. It’s like having a deep relationship with somebody via e-mail, then finally getting to meet them in real life.
Q: Which shows have generated the most controversy?
A: We did one recently on satanism that got a little blowback, but not as much as we were anticipating. We got two e-mails from two Christian reverends who thanked us for challenging and, ultimately, resolidifying their beliefs. We got a lot of response to a show on voter suppression — it seems to be a fairly right-leaning technique, so it’s hard to show both sides. Not that the other side isn’t doing shady stuff, too, but we were shining the light on one group’s trickiness. We knew we were walking into a minefield. That’s one thing that can help you survive a touchy subject. It makes you approach it more carefully, and I think people appreciate that.
Q: The success of your show counters the theory that Americans aren’t really interested in the truth. Do you think people in general are uneducated?
A: I don’t think there’s a lot of genuinely dumb people walking the planet. I just think people have a lot of stuff on their minds and that we’re fed a lot of tripe that accumulates in the working memory. It can be really hard to see past that.
Q: I assume you guys do a lot of research through the internet, where there’s a lot of misinformation. What kind of red flags come up?
A: When we see the same language or same facts spelled out the same way at more than one site, we know someone is not doing any background. They’re just cutting and pasting. That’s how myths get perpetuated.
Q: When you’re on the road, do you fly in and out, or do you take time to investigate the area?
A: I try to fly in the morning of so I can at least walk around. We were at the Pantages a couple of years ago and got to walk through the gerbil tunnels [aka skyways] and check out the Sculpture Garden, which was gorgeous. We spent a significant amount of time going in and out of the candy store near the theater. [He’s talking about Candyland.]
Q: Any of your shows have a particular Minnesota theme? I know the one you guys did on Spam was very popular.
A: A lot of people thought that show was going to be about computer spam and were genuinely glad they stuck around. There’s a lot more to Spam than you think. That’s one category of shows we do, looking at revered brands and the cultural impacts they’ve had. I can’t think of any other Minnesota-oriented shows off the top of my head.
Q: I can think of another Minnesota link. Didn’t you grow up with the nickname Pillsbury Doughboy?
A: That’s true. Up until the sixth grade. I was kind of a chubby kid. I would let classmates poke me in the belly button and I’d make that high-pitched laugh. I think maybe I was a little too convivial.