PODCASTS: Why Julie Klausner Wins

What sets “How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner” apart from the sea of podcasts? Unique insight, razor-sharp critique and unprecedented honesty.

Words: Anna Graizbord

Much like the explosion of personal blogs, podcasts have become the “thing” that almost everyone now has. A lot of them are hysterically funny, creative, insightful and unique in their accessibility and intimacy— the latter being the most attractive characteristics of podcasts as a medium. Being a sort of “rogue” platform in which there are so many creativity-driven options to choose from, How Was Your Week (HWYW) with Julie Klausner stands apart from the rest in some significant ways: Julie Klausner’s perspective as a theatre-and-arts-loving, critically-thinking Jewish New York woman is rarely represented anywhere in culture (without it being a veritable slur); her ability to blend high/low culture with her personal life and not come off as insufferably self-indulgent is to be marveled; plus, she’s so goddamn funny and honest.

First and foremost, Klausner, though she’s very much in tune with contemporary pop culture, seems like one of the few remaining links to an old-school New York sensibility of the past. Or at least the pop culture stuff she talks about is filtered through this yesteryear-New York lens— Woody Allen’s New York (with less pedophilia and sexism) where people go to Elaine’s (or just recall what it was) and are interested in funny and intelligent banter. Maybe I’m a bit romantic about this idealized version of New York that I seem to think I’ve missed out on, but that’s what you get when you’ve been cooped up in California for your formative years. Anywho, there’s something very re-assuring about someone who appreciates not only Jessica Lange’s but also Teri Garr’s performance in Tootsie, and knows who Fanny Brice is. Everyone has an opinion on contemporary pop culture, but with Klausner, you know you’re listening to an authority.

The structure of her podcast is great, because her seemingly free-form commentary on cultural events bookend her interviews—a nice framing device and touchstone to a podcast episode as a whole, as her guests run the gamut from those who are clearly in on the larger “joke” of talking about pop culture (but clearly invested in it, like John Ross Bowie, author of the Heathers installment of the Deep Focus series which I am dying to read), to those who are veritable punchlines of pop culture itself (Sally Kellerman, any of the Real Housewives). Klausner shows all of her guests the same level of respect, and you don’t get the feeling that she’s just having them on to mean-spiritedly shit all over them or to point and laugh. It seems more that she’s, however implicitly, making a point that none of us really can claim to be “above” any of the ridiculousness by quite literally weaving in “low” culture characters with higher-brow guests— mirroring the sentiment of her opening and closing podcast monologues.

For example, Klausner gave the proper amount of reverence to Sally Kellerman (best know for her work on MASH), even in the face of Kellerman’s cringe-inducing cover of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss A Thing”— no, I don’t know how this idea made it into real life, but what I do know is that Klausner played it on the podcast episode because OBVIOUSLY!

Though Marc Maron’s WTF podcast has certainly gotten a lot of deserved critical acclaim for digging deep into the personal lives of guests, it can be frustrating to hear Maron appease one borderline-loathsome male guest after another. True, Maron’s self-absorption and over-analysis actually works for him quite well in making his guests feel comfortable to reveal personal details in that they feel more normal in comparison and therefore reveal more– but sometimes it’s just exhausting. Klausner, though she may not necessarily get as deep as Maron with her guests, achieves a tone that’s a cross between getting a drink with close friends and meeting someone awesome for the first time—relaxed, playful, fun and yet thoughtful in its serving up some dishing-with-girlfriends realness. Instead of blatantly analyzing each other’s neuroses, as tends to be the case with Maron guests, you’re getting to know the way that guests think about culture in a much more subtle (and less bleak) way.

Obviously Klausner’s podcast wouldn’t be as much fun without her sometimes politically incorrect sense of humor—one that she’s been criticized for on occasion. Though I’ve found myself cringing at a few things she’s said, I think her honesty is an important component to what makes her content truly original, groundbreaking and ruthlessly funny. For example, her critique of the generally-well-liked Anthony Bourdain (who Marc Maron practically drooled over when he was on his podcast) as an out-of-touch, self-important jerk is as accurate as it is biting. Bourdain can be seen as the embodiment of what qualifies as acceptably “edgy” in mainstream culture: a pseudo-intellectual and deliberately misleading rags-to-riches story of a “cool” old white guy who supposedly plays by his own rules—rules that happen to align quite nicely with the tenets of Maxim magazine.

The crux of Klausner’s criticism of Bourdain is that his supposed “edginess” actually reinforces status quo values. Klausner, on the other hand, brings something totally different to the table. I guess aside from that show Glee, of which I am not a fan (again, supposedly edgy with absolutely no edge whatsoever), there’s really no place for people who enjoy theatre and RuPaul’s Drag Race to find their favorite cultural coterie discussed or featured without being somewhat (and sometimes borderline homophobically) derided (cough, Jimmy Kimmel, cough). Klausner fills that niche perfectly and simultaneously draws attention to the fact that there was nothing much in its place beforehand. Unlike Glee, which is distasteful in its grating “positivity” and constant patting itself of the back way too hard, Klausner’s analyses aren’t always what you might want to hear and don’t always wrap themselves up in a neat package: she doesn’t underestimate that her audience isn’t just as up-to-speed as she is, and as such, her content is challenging, interesting and becomes more elevated.

Tune into How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner, HERE.
Follow Julie Klausner on Twitter, @JulieKlausner

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