By Lia Hillman, Editor-in-chief
Podcasts are becoming more and more popular; there are podcasts about anything and everything.
Do you need financial advice? There’s a podcast for that. Do you like criminal mysteries? There’s a podcast for that. Did you watch the latest episode of “The Bachelor”? There’s at least ten podcasts for that.
Do you like eavesdropping on a conversation with an alternative comedian and an anonymous stranger who tells his or her life story? There’s definitely a podcast for that.
That particular podcast is called “Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People” and is hosted by comedian Chris Gethard.
The basis of this podcast is literally “one phone call. One hour. No holds barred.”
The only rules are that the caller cannot identify himself and Gethard cannot hang up. That’s it.
The intent of this podcast isn’t really to create easily accessible way for people to be extra nosy about stranger’s lives without judgement.
It’s a platform that allows people to just listen to someone who has a story to tell. In this day and age, just listening is a rare ability to have.
We also live in a society where most celebrated lives tend to be ostentatious. Living a simple life is living a boring life.
To be entertained means to be busy. To be interesting means to have lived a life full of exciting stories to tell.
But “Beautiful/Anonymous” strips the flashiness and focuses on being real. The real everyday humor, struggles and situations that real everyday people have faced.
These are the stories that most people only share with their closest family or friends.
The first few minutes of each “Beautiful/Anonymous” episode, the caller and Gethard engage in typical chit-chat and small-talk, but by the end, the listener is often left ending the podcast with tears.
The show is inundated with shocking confessions, shocking secrets and philosophical discussions and the conversations are always intriguing.
Gethard uses his background in improvisation to draw stories from each caller.
The caller may have every intention to talk about an annoying co-worker who keeps stealing his pens; however, Gethard is able to focus on a seemingly unimportant detail.
Before he knows it, the caller is talking about the death of a family member or a lost professional opportunity.
Gethard’s ability to hone in on these stories may be due to the fact of his own personal life experiences.
He often says his life didn’t get good until he hit his 30s.
He’s talked about how he watched his friends get amazing careers while he was “stuck” in this limbo waiting for his own big break.
In 2011, his career took off and The Chris Gethard show began.
More recently, Gethard began another show, “Chris Gethard: Career Suicide,” which was performed off-Broadway.
In this play, Gethard uses his comedy to tell his experiences with depression.
“I just try to make sure my jokes come from an honest place, and unfortunately for me being honest means copping to the fact that I once crashed a car on purpose,” Gethard said in a press statement.
According to Gethard, fame is no longer important; being honest is important to him.
His ability to talk about and laugh at his own struggles helps his callers become more comfortable sharing about their lives because he is also a flawed human trying to find his way.
While Gethard is an essential part to making “Beautiful/Anonymous” work, the podcast would not be anything without the anonymous callers telling their stories for everyone to hear.
There are heart-breaking stories, like the woman whose mother has early onset Alzheimer’s disease or the man who, although he loves his wife more than ever, feels that his wife no longer loves him.
There are also humorous stories, like the episode where Gethard and the caller talk about embarrassing bathroom experiences or the band teacher who caught a student dyeing his hair in the girl’s bathroom.
In one episode, Gethard talks to a man who said he cries when he runs.
In another episode, Gethard learns all about autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) and the community around it. (Note: according to the psychological encyclopedia, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response or ASMR is a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of ‘low-grade euphoria’ characterized by ‘a combination of positive feelings, and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin. It is most commonly triggered by specific acoustic, visual and digital media stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attentional control).
In the midst of the 2016 presidential election, Gethard, who was an avid Hilary Clinton supporter, spoke to a woman who supported Donald Trump.
Even though they disagreed on major issues, they had a civil and lengthy conversation.
Together, they prove that people who believe completely different ideas can have a civil conversation.
The most memorable episodes, though, come from the most normal of people who share stories the listener would never expect.
For example, there is the aspiring voice-actress who is also a homeless call-girl or the Starbucks barista who escaped from a religious cult.
“Beautiful/Anonymou”s captures humanity in a time where being civil seems difficult. These are the extraordinary stories from the most ordinary people, and it’s definitely worth trying.
If you are looking for a fresh approach to “reality” entertainment, then this podcast certainly delivers. The host seems to understand that we are all united in the human experience and tries to share that with his callers and audience.
Episodes mentioned in this review:
Episode 4: The Most Amazing Destruction
Episode 10: 4 Kids 0 Sex
Episode 17: Early Onset
Episode 21: Make Fruit Baskets Great Again
Episode 24: I Cry When I Run
Episode 26: Hot Scoop
Episode 32: IRL-ASMR
Episode 41: Escape from A Cult
Episode 43: Marching Band Teacher