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The oddly soothing emerging subculture of couples-in-quarantine podcasts

Kumail Nanjiani, Paul F. Tompkins, and even best friends have launched podcasts as coping mechanisms.

The oddly soothing emerging subculture of couples-in-quarantine podcasts
[Photo: Remains/iStock; Jason Rosewell/Unsplash]

My wife is not a fan of my extreme devotion to podcasts. Nor is my child, who refers to the place I visit when I have one earbud in and the other dangling around my neck as Podcast Planet. I am routinely mocked for listening to podcasts while making dinner, doing chores, walking home from work (back when I did that), and so on and so on.

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Now that podcasts are one of the easier new forms of media to create in these quarantined times, who’s laughing now?

As people experiment with new forms of using technology to feel less alone, from virtual happy hours and dinner parties to movie nights, via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or whatever, a new subgenre of podcast has emerged: the couples-in-quarantine podcast.

Staying in with the professional nerds

Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and his wife and writing partner Emily V. Gordon (The Big Sick) kicked the trend off in earnest last Thursday with Staying In with Emily and Kumail, a podcast that the couple clearly has high hopes for, given that they got all of the Hollywood trade press to write up its existence.

It’s a return to podcasting for the couple who hosted the videogame-centric The Indoor Kids from 2011 to 2015, though the first episode displays a bit of ring rust as the couple tries to figure out just what they’re supposed to say and do here. Gordon and Nanjiani clearly want to be helpful, but their first episode too often lives up to its title: “Fumbling for Normalcy.” They’re a bit too overt in their recommendations both in terms of what to watch and how to live. Their conversation never quite hits the kind of groove that one assumes this married couple has when there aren’t mics in front of them. And their lives even as screenwriters (much less Nanjiani’s film career) seem rather removed from most people’s reality, so their advice about how they break up their day feels less utilitarian than perhaps Gordon and Nanjiani intended. If you like them, then you’re likely to enjoy their company for an hour a week. But otherwise, there’s not much reason to hang out here.

The greatest podcast presence of all time joins couples night

Comedian and character actor Paul F. Tompkins has likely appeared on more episodes of other people’s podcasts (and been their single best and most popular guest) than any other person in podcasting’s 15-year history. Including his own many podcasting projects over the years, he has logged, by the count of the kind of obsessive fan that the internet was born to serve, 1,685 hours, 44 minutes, and six seconds of being conversational and witty in people’s ears.

Although the vast canon of Tompkins podcasting efforts should keep you sated through this quarantine, he also pulled the podcasting equipment out of the garage last week to introduce Stay F. Homekins, a “hopefully” limited series podcast with his wife, the actress Janie Haddad Tompkins. The couple’s playful banter may seem slightly elevated from what they’re like in real life, but the conversation always feels organic and relaxed. It’s like having on-demand access to the funniest, coolest couple you know, which may be exactly what you need when you’re alone or sequestered with your partner full-time and a Zoom movie-watching party with your couple friends isn’t an option.

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The best couples coronapods are the friends we make along the way

Although there’s something special about the intimacy of listening in on a married couple’s conversation, two very close friends checking in with one another is a pretty good simulacrum. Jason Stewart and Chris Black are internet famous as content creators who make their living as coastal elite brand strategists. On How Long Gone, Stewart, a DJ who had two long-running podcasts,  Tall Tales and The Stew, re-creates his frequent phone calls with Black (who has become a 21st Century Style Guy among a certain class of New York and Los Angeles people who work in a creative field and like mouthy white guys in their 30s to tell them what’s popping—like me).

The duo’s chemistry is perfect right out of the gate, and their banter about workouts, diet, fashion, relationships, and internet culture is comforting in its normalcy (no fumbling here), even as its vapidity can be a bit jarring. When Black immediately knows the colorway of the Uggs house slippers that episode three’s guest, actress-model Hari Nef, packed to ride out the pandemic at her childhood home, it’s both impressive and shocking. But sometimes it’s nice to spend an hour with two friends without having to talk about flattening the curve, Dr. Fauci, and the political response to the economic aspect of the pandemic.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the point: The couples-in-quarantine podcast should be a respite, not a resource.

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