Real-life gal pals Ann Friedman, Aminatou Sow and Gina Delvac weren’t the first women to pioneer the pop-culture podcast space, but they’re certainly among the few to make menstruation a public, glorious and free-flowing conversation.
“I always get excited when we do 'This Week in Menstruation,’” Sow says. “There’s something about it that makes me so happy, making it a normal part of conversation. We bleed a third of our lives, and we’re going to talk about it.”
The Call Your Girlfriend podcast is both a catch-up call for long-distance best friends Friedman (L.A.) and Sow (San Francisco) — where they gab about gossip, politics and pop culture — and also an interview show, where guests such as artist Tuesday Bassen get to voice their opinions in a safe space.
Bassen was the interview subject on the recording I watched; she has been fighting the good copyright fight after discovering multiple fast-fashion stores had aped her designs. She’s been interviewed by other news outlets, but she says CYG was the first time she could dig into the nerdy world of intellectual-property litigation. Sow and Friedman are more than happy to encourage the kind of long-form convo that might become a side note in a quick-take think piece; Sow’s a renowned digital strategist in the tech space and treats data talk as if it’s juicy gossip.
Normally the three women record in their respective closets, their own clothes acting as acoustic noise absorbers. “I’ve got a Yeti microphone stand, and I’m surrounded by my many caftans,” Sow says. Delvac cleans up any blips and a few stray “um” and “like” hedges afterwards. She jokes her role is like Roz on Frasier, jumping in here and there to give context or reorient the conversation, but she says it’s an art form keeping just enough of a casual cadence to maintain authenticity.
“We’re distilling friendship to a public medium,” Delvac says. “It’s one thing to just be friends talking on the phone, but it’s another to perform it for others.”
They’ve kept the show loose, Sow and Friedman coming to the closet with a short list of pop culture and personal topics to get through, but over time it’s evolved to have recurring segments (like the period talk). Every show is themed — the one I sat in on was about conscious consumerism — but one of their most popular to date was called “American Grifters,” an in-depth look at the terrible Trumps.
It’s still a little amazing and overwhelming to the three how quickly the show became popular, with hundreds of thousands of downloads, especially while remaining independent, unlike other podcasts that go with distribution and production companies such as Ear Wolf and Maximum Fun.
“We do this for, like, zero dollars,” Friedman laughs. And Delvac asks her if she thinks they would have still done the show if they'd known how much continued work it would be. “The time-consuming part of it is trying to figure out how to fairly compensate ourselves for the time we spend on it. At a point, it feels like a real shame to say we put all this effort into making this sound good, and if we want to book a studio or upgrade our equipment, we’re going to need money to do that. Podcasts are a brand-new medium and nobody has figured it out, but the people who have figured out how to get paid fairly are usually men.”
More than anything, they seem driven to do the podcast specifically to infiltrate the space and deliver more female-friendly content. “Honestly, the reasons we’re doing this are because Gina has the technical know-how,” Friedman says, “and because we saw a bunch of dudes doing it and said, ‘OK, how hard can it be then?’” The more listeners they get, the more seriously they have to take the show. But all three have demanding day jobs and personal brands to manage — Friedman’s a journalist and essayist, and Delvac’s a freelance radio producer. But without their fans, the labor of love maybe wouldn't have begun.
“I’m always so genuinely surprised that so many people listen to our show,” Sow says. “My favorite fan letters we’ve gotten are the ones that say, ‘I know I‘m not your core audience,’ and usually it’s an older woman — but that’s who I see myself as — and it makes me happy. Those intergenerational bonds are cool. We even had a dad write in one time about how it’s helped him understand the women in his life. It’s so funny, this straight older man, and he’s like, ‘This is what women talk about when we’re not here!’ Anyone who says, ‘I’m not your core audience,’ and then they hang in there, that’s such an honor.”
Now they’re adding the dimension of a live show to CYG. In D.C., they had 600 people show up to see them record onstage, with a handful of hilarious PowerPoints.
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“It’s the best thing, because you look up the hashtag on Instagram, and all the photos are women in groups, beaming, with wine,” Friedman says.
In L.A., they’re taking over the Ace Hotel stage on Thursday, Aug. 18, for another live recording with some special guests, including actress-comedian Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Caroline Goldfarb from video series and podcast This Week Had Me Like; and Lindsey Weber from Who? Weekly!!! It’s a huge room to fill, but Friedman and Sow are on a mission to prove they can go just as big as the boys. More than anything, it’s an opportunity to bring CYG IRL to spread around the benefits of female friendships.
“We did a book event with [author] Rebecca Traister in March in L.A., and I was walking out of the theater next to these two women, who were clearly together, chatting like old friends. I thought it was sweet, so I asked them, ‘How long have you been friends?’” Friedman says. “And they said, ‘Actually, we just met tonight.’”
Call Your Girlfriend Live, the Theatre at Ace Hotel, 933 S. Broadway, downtown; Thu., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.; $30-$100. acehotel.com/calendar/losangeles/call-your-girlfriend-live.