Strangers

By Joel Simler

Have you ever looked at the people around you, strangers presumably, and wondered what their story was? Being human, and empathic creatures, I’m sure you have. We can be certain that Lea Thau has. A transplant to the U.S. from Denmark, Lea is the former creative and executive director for the The Moth storytelling group. Her decade of work there led her to winning a Peabody award. After that transformative experience of bringing that small production to one of the larger podcasts out there, she found herself working on a new podcast, her own, called Strangers.

Lea Thau sums up Strangers concisely in an interview with Allyson McCabe from The Rumpus: “it’s about the places we go, the people we meet, and the people we become.” Strangers was started in 2011 and has found a solid niche in the podcast and radio community, especially in the last year in the starting line-up of Radiotopia’s debut (see 99% Invisible for more info on Radiotopia). By being part of the Radiotopia collective, Strangers has been able to hold down a listenership that only grows as more people hear her show.

Lea finds people with stories to tell, interviews them, and allows us, the listener, to learn more about the subject and inspire you to wonder more about the strangers around you. Many shows do this, Snap Judgment, This American Life, The Moth, Radio Diaries, Tobolowski Files… The list is inexhaustible. But, it’s a good thing so many shows exist. What Strangers brings to the neighborhood is a personal and intimate interview style that is not often replicated. To some, it’s too intimate and seems to break that mental escape many people crave. But for me and others, it causes you to actually feel emotion and contemplate your own life and its effect on the world around you.

A series of installments that really delve right into the personal aspect of Strangers, is the “Love Hurts” episodes parts 1-5. These episodes are unique in that they are all about Lea Thau and her love life. You get to know her situation and how she became a single mom in LA. I would compare these episodes to a good reality TV show. They suck you in because they are so private and shocking at times. Lea was a serial monogamist, but recently she has not been able to maintain a relationship and find the “one”. Everyone can relate to this experience and you get to learn about her unique quirks and issues with love. While most episodes of Strangers deal with other “strangers”, these episodes are exceptional because they are all about Lea. If you’re more interested in hearing others’ stories, and maybe the romance aspect doesn’t appeal to you, there are Strangers episodes for you too.

To get a good feel for the show, you may want to start out listening to an episode called “Terry’s Treasure”. This episode really is a gem. It’s the episode that I listened to, and realized that yes, I would like to download every show and lay on my bed for the next 3 hours listening. This is about a fascinating individual, which Lea met on a date (no, not every episode is about her love life), who turns out to have curious ailments which appear to be untreatable by any doctor. Trying to alleviate his symptoms, he tried a multitude of remedies, which he and Lea talk about at length. I have to come clean and let you know that the primary talk of this episode, is poop. Yes ladies and gentleman, there is a sect of modern medicine devoted to studying feces and all of its medical benefits. However, as tempting as it is to tell you how this topic of conversation came up between Lea and her “date”, I must insist that you listen for yourself. Keep in mind, this is a mature conversation about poop, and is not meant as a gross out episode, however I’m sure the young ones would get a kick out of it too (fecal transplants, teehee).

 

OK, so maybe you aren’t interested in the rambling ons of someone’s love life, nor in the mood to listen to a fascinating man and his medical obsession with feces. Let me point you towards an episode called “The Mind Shaft”.  For those of you that have been around someone with Alzheimer’s this episode will really hit home, and for readers who have not, it will bring to light this all too common disease. Greg developed Alzheimer’s in his late 50s despite being athletic and a “thinker” of a man. This episode is appealing because Greg is a writer and he gives listeners a firsthand account of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s and the struggles he goes through every day. It’s unique because his writing is so expressive that it’s hard to believe he has such a debilitating disease.

Lea Thau is not a journalist, but a story teller and her emotions become yours. When she laughs with the interviewees or becomes choked up by a sad tale, you feel these sentiments with her. As stated before some will not like the emotional approach Lea takes to the show, but for those of you who enjoy that, you will find an impactful podcast.

Born in Seattle, raised in Bellingham, Joel is a real cloud loving, tree climbing, North Westerner. He can be found living by a Troll in Seattle, often exploring a vast array of breweries, and music happenings. He works as an audio/video technician in Redmond giving him a perfect drive for listening to podcasts. He is also a professionally certified dance instructor, and produces his own local concerts in his spare time.