Nathan's Laserium: PCHH

I'm always coming home from a week at work in the pits with all these movie and book and TV recommendations. Once I couldn't wait to show Michelle about this amazing movie trailer I heard about. "Keira Knightley's in it! Anna Karenina! Russian novels! And it's all like dancing and choreography and beautiful, I heard. Let's watch!"

As we watched the very beautiful trailer, Michelle turned to me and said, "This doesn't really seem like it would be up your alley."

"Hunh. Yeah, it totally isn't. Trey Graham was so enthusiastic about it I thought for sure I would love it."

"Who's Trey Graham?"

"Oh, he's one of my Pop Culture Happy Hour friends*. He's this elegant gay Southern gentleman who works for NPR and is also an opera critic."

"So, the exact opposite of you, then?"

Pop Culture Happy Hour is one of my very favourite podcasts. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is that it continually introduces me to new awesome things. Some of them seem more on the High Culture side of things, though maybe that's because I am a coarse blue-collar provincial man of the Canadian Prairies/Rockies, and never heard a showtune until I was like 26 or so.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of the hazards of amateur ones is the constant tendency to go down rabbit holes and ramble about silly things, not unlike what I did in this space last week. There is none of that in PCHH, which is produced at NPR but really is just four very intelligent friends talking intelligently about mostly intelligent stuff. There's no incoherent digressions about google analytics for their last episode, for example. In fact there's a very tight formula that they adhere to every week, and is another reason for its enduring strength as a go-to show.

There's always three topics each week. Usually the first is a discussion on a recent pop culture thing- a movie, an awards show, a Netflix series. Usually spoiler free and always thoughtful. The second segment is more ethereal, usually a topic discussion. Some examples: Pop Culture Pariahs; Pop Culture Carbon Dating; People We're Pulling For. Occasionally it's a quiz or something. And the third and final segment is, without fail, What's Making Us Happy.

That last is likely where I got the idea to watch the trailer for Anna Karenina. It's also where I've discovered all kinds of wonders. I'm currently reading The Golem and The Jinni, by Helene Wecker, based on a Glen Weldon rec. I love it. So good. Read it! But first listen to PCHH. You can jump into any episode, the current one being as good as any, and just listen going forward, or you could browse the feed and download any whose topics seem of interest. One episode I can't say enough about is one that actually veers from the formula altogether, it's a longform interview PCHH host Linda Holmes did with Trevor Noah. Very fascinating stuff that touched on cultural differences, poverty, representation, all kinds of things. My computer does this weird thing where it will put all these podcasts on my phone that I've already listened to and it's super annoying but I think I will save the Trevor Noah interview and rerun it some day at work when I'm bored and am all caught up on the regular episodes.

I mentioned Trey Graham at the top- he's actually moved on from PCHH, but I should mention that the show almost always has four chairs on the panel- host Linda Homes, Glen Weldon (a comics enthusiast!) and the very funny Stephen Thompson who works for NPR Music and with whom I share almost no common musical taste. A notable exception being a love for Andrew W.K. But that's ok! The point is not to like all the same things but to celebrate the fact that there is stuff to like. Right? Right. And the fourth spot is a revolving chair that changes week to week but is always filled by someone equally intelligent and eloquent. I can't choose a fave because I heart them all but I will namedrop Margaret H. Willison, Audie Cornish, Gene Denby and my distant cousin (probably) Tanya Ballard Brown as people I am always doubly happy to hear from. They are my friends, and they make me happy, every week. Please enjoy.

*The plan was to segue into why I love Pop Culture Happy Hour, last week, after that discussion about friends (and how they aren't really my friends, they just feel that way). But then I sort of went down a rabbit trail and I rolled with it. It was after one of my 12-hr shifts at work so I was just happy any of the words I wrote were coherent. They were coherent, yes?


- Nathan Waddell