Like many of us living through these trying times, Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings and Long Winters frontman John Roderick have been thinking about the end of the world a lot lately. The two friends, who met via Twitter, share a love of arcana (how else does one become a 74-time Jeopardy winner?) and they started to wonder what trivia would be lost in the apocalypse. So they came up with Omnibus, a podcast that saves history’s minutiae for later generations.
“It’s a podcast for the civilization that ends up surviving us,” says Jennings. “John and I are worried that much of what made humankind great will not survive the cataclysm and we wanted to create a time capsule of things that we thought were worth surviving the end of the world.”
The idea for the podcast, says Roderick, sprouted “in the Economy Comfort section of a Delta Airlines flight.” The two were on their way to Atlanta to pitch a different podcast, but realized they liked the idea of a podcast for the end of the world a lot more. “By the time we landed we had a half a dozen show ideas, we had the name of the show, and we were very excited about it,” says Jennings. So they pitched Omnibus instead. Fast forward a few months and Jennings and Roderick have teamed up with the HowStuffWorks podcast network and the first four episodes of Omnibus have just been released on iTunes.
Each episode takes a deep dive into a historical oddity. The topics range from Gadbsy, the great American novel written without the letter ‘e’, to the defenestration—that’s the act of throwing someone out of a window— craze that took over Prague in the 1600s to the time the U.S. and Britain nearly went to war over a pig. “John and I both have a very broad approach to what is worth knowing in the world we are pretty omnivorous brain-wise,” says Jennings, with a laugh.
He’s not kidding: A future episode of Omnibus will address the importance of the haircut known as The Rachel, popularized by Jennifer Aniston on Friends. “If you go online and look at the Rachel there are one million references to it as like a hairstyle, but there’s not a lot of critical commentary on it as a cultural phenomenon,” says Roderick. “We would like to record that before it fades into the mist.”
The Rachel, The Tesseract (a.k.a. the man who taught his brain to think in four dimensions, and also invented the automatic pitching machine), and the advent of smell-o-vision are all topics that Jennings and Roderick think future generations need to know. In one of the first episodes, the pair examines the Pig War of 1859, during which, the Omnibus website notes, “the United States and Britain take up arms over one potato-hungry pig.”
“It’s like a Norwegian seed vault of podcasts,” says Roderick. “Or a Noah’s Ark of ideas,” interjects Jennings. It’s clear that the two have spent a lot of time thinking of the post-apocalypse, as they frequently address future listeners on the show. “We speculate about what life is like for them,” says Roderick.
“It is a way to look through your own culture and history through unfamiliar eyes to say, how do I explain like, college or Seinfeld to a super intelligent coral reef living 6,000 years in the future?” adds Jennings (who, by the way, remains the winningest champion in Jeopardy history and the show’s second highest-earning contestant).
The podcast release couldn’t come soon enough for the friends. “People are predicting sort of the imminent end of the world, so we felt like we needed to hurry up and get this stuff down, because you know the whole thing could come to an end at any time,” says Roderick. “You don’t want to be starting the podcast when the meteor is in the sky, you know?”