Welcome to “Should I Listen To This?”, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.
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Podcast: Presidents Are People Too!
What Is it?: You know who most of the U.S. Presidents are by name, but do you actually know much about any of them? Do you know that Richard Nixon actually did some good things as President? Do you know that FDR did some pretty bad things as President? Do you even know what William Henry Harrison did as President? This podcast provides a sometimes funny and often insightful look into the quirks, coincidences, and choices that defined each leader for better or worse.
Kalen is one of the rare people in the world of podcasting whose inclusion in anything, as a guest or host, makes it a must-listen. The former head writer of The Daily Show is now the head writer of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot and his commentary on bad movie podcast The Flop House has already revealed a treasure trove of knowledge that also come in useful here.
Coe is an award-winning historian and her writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Guardian, Jezebel, and in many other places. While Kalen is the reason you might notice the podcast, Coe is the history-loving driving force behind it.
What’s A Normal Episode Like?: Coe and Kalan introduce the President that they’ll be talking about. From there, each episode follows it’s own path. They’ll meet with people who are themselves historians of the President or potentially people who knew them (if they’re still alive). They’ll also speak with people who represent those affected by the President’s policies and actions. Each specific subject brings their own story with them, which in turn influences how the episode is structured.
Who Is It For?: People who, somehow, are not Presidented-out after the election. Also, people who want to learn more about the people who held the position in order to remind themselves of a time when a great leader moved the country forward, or perhaps remind themselves of a time when a bad leader made choices that America weathered and survived. It’s also for fans of Kalen who are excited to see his intellect be applied directly to a topic you just know he knows well.
Who Is It Not For?: People who are just done with politics and Presidents following what felt like a never-ending election cycle. People who already know all the intimate details of our nation’s prominent leaders, famous and infamous.
How Many Episodes Are There?: As of this moment, there are six episodes in the bank, covering Presidents recent and not-so-recent. It’s a nice mix that spans from Richard Nixon to both Roosevelts all the way back to John Adams. And obviously. if they haven’t made one about your favorite President yet, they’ll probably get there eventually.
Any Special Guests?: The show called in plenty of favors for a star-studded first episode. Jon Stewart shows up to do old-timey comedy bits. John Hodgman makes an appearance and so does Grammy Award-winning violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. (It makes sense, just go with it.) Latter episodes pull back on the star wattage, but there’s still plenty of noteworthy guest spots, such as “Welcome to Night Vale” narrator Cecil Baldwin, comedian Paula Poundstone, and Radiolab‘s Robert Krulwich.
Can I Jump Right In?: Don’t see why not. Each episode is a contained look back at an individual President. You don’t really need to have heard everything about Richard Nixon to full appreciate the episode on James Polk, or vice versa. Start where you like.
What’s Not Great?: If you’re coming to the podcast because you’re a fan of Kalen, the scripted nature of the show detracts from the natural rhythm of his jokes and banter. And because the show is scripted, some bits hit stronger than others. You’re also going to be interested episode-to-episode based on how interested you are in each specific President. Personally, I know I found myself very interested in some Presidential backstories more than others.
Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A good one to start with as it’s a President you’re familiar with, but perhaps not his entire story. They do a nice job of balancing the good things about FDR with the challenging aspects of his tenure (kinda-sorta becoming dictator-y) and extremely disturbing aspects of his tenure (internment camps).
Richard Nixon – My favorite episode so far, this one gives you a chance to re-learn the history of one of our most infamous Presidents. Was he as terrible as we remember him? Not exactly. It’s interesting to also hear a performance piece based on his own words as a way to make sense of what was going on in the head of this mercurial man.
So, Should I Listen To This?: So long as you’re still interested in listening to people talk about Presidents, this podcast is worth checking out. You might not make it through each episode, depending on your attention span or interest in that person, but if you’re an American history buff you’re sure to find something that will intrigue you.