Some podcasts are very dense and information-rich. They require deep focused concentration. I listen with earbuds in, while I’m drawing. My brow furrows. I pause the podcast to jot down notes. I listen in small chunks. Other podcasts are lighter. I can be actively doing something else while listening. These pods are perfect for times when I have chores to do. They serve as the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness is a sugary little spoonful in a cute half-hour package. It’s perfect for making my most boring, repetitive chores seem to fly by. Jonathan Van Ness is an American hairdresser by trade, but he’s also known for the Funny or Die web series Gay of Thrones and is one of the new fab five of the Queer Eye reboot. He’s a little quirky, a bit silly, and — most importantly — very curious about the world around him.
He tackles serious topics such as eating disorders, cancer, and Brexit, but his years as a hairdresser have shaped his interview style. He’s informal and conversational. Like an excited sparrow, he flits around a conversation, briefly alighting on a question before flying off in a new direction. Usually, this would annoy me. When I’m listening to a podcast, I don’t want to come away having felt like I’ve wasted my time. I will not hesitate to abandon a podcast that doesn’t feel worthwhile. But because Van Ness is entertaining and is a genuinely genial person, I feel more like I’m at a casual dinner party with friends, drinking a glass of wine and talking about life.
Me being real, here: I show up for this podcast for Van Ness. He is unabashedly and proudly gay. He wastes no time making a comment or asking a question that relates the episode’s topic — whatever that topic might be — back to LBGT+ community concerns. As a proud rainbow- flag-flier here, I wholeheartedly support that! I also love his constant pop culture references. Van Ness has certain behaviors that could be grating if they came from someone else; his overgeneralization of the word “cute,” or his reliance upon seeming uninformed. But for me, when I turn on this podcast, I know I’m signing up for the "mimosa brunch chat" version of the topic at hand. In other words, I’m picking up what he’s throwing down. He makes tough topics digestible while also making my most boring chores engaging. And that, folks, is very welcome.
This infotainment-style podcast is perfect for livening up chores because my brain is engaged, leaving the rote, mechanical task of weeding the flower bed or mopping the floor to my muscle memory. It totally removes the boredom.
Case in point: today,as I wiped down surfaces in the bathroom, I was listening to Van Ness talk to Professor Lisa Boutin Vitela, Assistant Professor of Art History at Cerritos College. They had been discussing the Renaissance, and Van Ness was excitedly relating it to both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the HBO show, The Bourgias. I found myself both laughing and nodding in acknowledgement as I listened. But even though this was my spoonful of sugar podcast to help the cleaning go down, I still found that I stopped, hit replay, and listened again several times to delight in Van Ness’ exclamation: “This is a cracking-ass, fucking, popping-off time, the Renaissance!” Before I knew it, 30 minutes had flown by, my bathroom and dining area were clean, and I was reminded of some of what I learned in art history, oh-so-long ago.
Van Ness often asks questions of his guests that other interviewers might avoid, but that’s exactly what I love — regardless of where he is (really) starting with his own knowledge of the topic at hand, his approach to the podcast is to assume that the listener is starting from step one. I feel confident that I can listen to an episode on a topic I am unfamiliar with (such as Brazilian politics) and not feel stupid listening to it. I end up being more informed at the end.
However, he is genuinely funny and enthusiastic, so even if I’m more familiar with an episode’s topic, I know I will enjoy listening to it for its entertainment value alone. Occasionally, Van Ness will momentarily lower his more flighty, ditzy facade and drop some facts or a sharp bit of insight, and then finish it off with a nasally, “cute!” or possibly a breathy “oh, honey.” It reminds the listener that beneath his sugary exterior, Van Ness is really helping us all take a dose of socio-political/cultural medicine.
You can dive in anywhere in the available episodes. The podcast has been running for about two years, so there are plenty of topics available from which to choose, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll laugh and probably even learn a thing or two.
Episode referenced: “Who was the Beyonce of Renaissance Art? With Prof. Lisa Boutin Vitela, Assistant Professor of Art History at Cerritos College,” Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, 5/16/18.
Target Audience: LBGTQIA, Millennials, Queer Eye fans, curious minds