Podcast People

Fri 13 March 2015 by psu

CGP Grey worries about a lot of things. Here is an incomplete list in no particular order:

  • Riding in airplanes that will fall out of the sky.
  • His checklists and GTD templates.
  • Reviewing his quarterly progress towards life goals.
  • Amazon Kindle text justification
  • The size of his iPhone 6.
  • Minute changes his daily routine.
  • Needing to talk to people.
  • Spoilers in movie trailers.
  • Tiny errors in his youtube videos.
  • Latent objects.

I did not know these things about Grey before a few weeks ago. I only found these things out after finding the podcast that he does with Brady Haren called Hello Internet. I have known about Haren for a long time because I am a big fan of his excellent science and mathematics videos from The Univeristy of Nottingham. I happened across this character CGP Grey from the related links on one of Brady's videos, only to find that Grey himself has a hugely popular youtube channel filled with pithy informational animations.

The podcast falls into the well-known genre of "Two (or more) Nerdy Dudes Talking". The formal subject of each show is mostly followups from the subjects of the previous shows along with one or two new things. The actual subject of the shows is the interplay between the two main characters. In general Haren plays the role of the sympathetic almost normal human against Grey's strange combination of low level neurosis and over the top Vulcan-like rationality. We have heard Haren coach Grey about why telling someone that they have no rational reason to be sad that their family name will not survive this generation is not necessarily the best way to open a discussion about the subject, how watching one teaser trailer will not completely ruin his experience at the next Star Wars movie, and why Grey might have wanted to tell his wife when he went to the emergency room with second degree burns rather than just letting her find out when she got home. It's no wonder that when Grey goes home for Christmas his family spends the whole visit asking after Brady and even sending Grey home with presents for him.

This stuff is gold.

But I don't mean to belittle or make fun of Mr. Grey. I am probably more like him than like Brady. His strange social tics aside I think he is an intelligent and knowledgeable man, a good writer, probably a good teacher, and a reasonably competent technology person. Still, it's no surprise that he is such a dork.

In my mind, "People Just Talking" podcasts are problematic. They have to be carefully produced in order to not be completely irritating. In my podcast life I have only enjoyed two other such programs for an extended period of time: the Gamers With Jobs Conference Call, where they talked about video games and occasional other things, and the B.S. Report where Bill Simmons talks to various people about sports. All the other shows like this that I have tried were intolerable for two main reasons:

  1. The hosts generally do not have the self-awareness to know when they are talking too much.

  2. They don't know how to edit the show.

You do not make an enjoyable audio show by sitting down in front of the microphones for three hours, recording everything, and then uploading the result to the Internet. Yet almost every "Three Dorks Talking" podcast that I've tried (Arment, Siracusa, Dediu, I'm looking at you) at least sounds like it is produced this way, even if they have spent hours meticulously editing it. What this means to me is that they are no good at editing.

All people who make podcasts should watch this panel that Jerry Seinfeld hosted about his web video series about comedians, cars and coffee. The clip starts at a discussion that Letterman has with Jerry about how much he shoots vs. how much he keeps. Seinfeld tends to shoot a few hours of video that he cuts down to a 10-20min show. The illustration of how the edit makes the show is very informative to me, and should be something to which the podcast people pay more attention. Obviously audio is different than video, and you have a bit more leeway, but this does not excuse the barely edited crap that populates the podcast channels in the iTunes store.

The joy that I get from Hello Internet comes from the fact that the two hosts are fairly likeable and have mostly interesting things to say. In addition they tend not to stray into subjects about which I know more than them (Apple computers, software development, etc) so I don't end up just turning them off in disgust. Finally, Grey and Brady fit well together in the show and observing their interplay is worth the price of admission, so to speak.

Most of all, what I appreciate about this show is that they care enough to edit it. I know because Grey posted a time lapse video showing how he does it. This one act makes me give them more latitude to ramble on about Brady's dogs, or waste time trying to make up words for piracy that are not just "stealing" (you are wrong about that Grey), or record themselves googling for a gun called a "48 special". I let them go because I trust that they won't go too far. They have the sense and the good taste to edit out the most boring loose ends so that they do not lose my attention. And this is a good and rare thing.

Category: Things