Anyone familiar with The West Wing Weekly, the podcast co-hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway that saw him discuss Aaron Sorkin’s wonderfully idealistic The West Wing one episode at a time alongside former cast member Joshua Malina, will be very aware that he has an extremely calming voice. Our chat (on the phone of course) in the midst of pandemic-led panic only confirms this.
It’s actually a bit of a shame, then, that listeners don’t get to hear his voice on his new podcast, Partners (a Mailchimp Production in partnership with Radiotopia). Unlike The West Wing Weekly but like his first homerun Song Exploder, Hirway edits himself out of the conversations with the interviewees, so they take on more of a Ted Talk-kinda feel. The approach works — really well in fact — but it’s still a shame. Oh well, we’ll have to re-listen to The West Wing Weekly for those soothing Hirway tones.
Song Exploder has been a tremendous success. At the time of writing, there are 180 episodes which see musicians delve deep into just one song, taking it apart and discussing the inspiration, the creative process, the production — everything. Artists as diverse as Slipknot, Fleetwood Mac, Yo-Yo Ma, St. Vincent, and The Roots have been “exploded,” and each episode offers fascinating insight.
“I usually tell people to listen to one by an artist they love, and then one by an artist they have never heard of,” Hirway says. “Listen to both, then you can get what’s the same in both episodes and you’ll understand what the show is.”
The great news is that all of the episodes of Song Exploder and West Wing Weekly are available to listen to right now. The former is ongoing, while the final episode of the latter was recently recorded. Partners makes three, and that’s particularly comforting during these worrying times.
“I’m torn between trying to read every single piece of news and the updates, trying to learn everything I can, and then going 180 degrees in the opposite direction trying to think about something that is absolutely not that,” Hirway says. “So I think that for better or worse, the Partners podcast has nothing to do with current events and it’s just about close relationships. To me, I feel like in some ways it’s a good antidote in that way, especially if people are feeling apart from people who they are normally close with. It could be nice to have a show that’s about closeness.”
So Partners sees Hirway speak to two people who have been in a lengthy relationship, though not necessarily a romantic one (usually not, in fact), and discusses how they’ve made it work. Early episodes focus on Samin Nosrat and Wendy MacNaughton (author and illustrator of Salt Fat Acid Heat), Kevin Systrom and Mike Kriger (co-founders of Instagram), Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna (co-creators of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and fellow podcasters PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. Future musical episodes include sisters Tegan and Sara, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco and his collaborating son Spencer, while the next episode after publication of this article is Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) — best friends who co-wrote and are co-starring in the movie Blindspotting together.
“They’re best friends and collaborators across music, theater, poetry and film so it’s an interesting partnership because it’s gone on for so long and stretched across so many types of projects,” says Hirway.
The first season will consist of eight episodes, most of which are already recorded. The creator says that he wanted to make sure they were all very different from each other. He also said, a little surprisingly, that his inspiration came from an old Billy Crystal rom-com.
“There are the scenes in the movie When Harry Met Sally — in between the story of Harry and Sally, there are these older couples that tell the story of how they met,” Hirway says. “I love that part of the movie. I love those different characters and the little glimpse you get into those relationships. I had thought for a long time that I would listen to a podcast that was just that. That was one part of it, and then there was a feeling that I had that any partnership — any business or collaborative relationship or anything like that — those are all kinda love stories too, even if they aren’t explicitly acknowledged as such.”
It looks like we’re all going to be on lockdown for the foreseeable future, shut in our houses with our partners and spouses, perhaps for longer than we ever have been before. Many people in L.A. have modest-sized homes, without the luxury of a room to themselves. Friction is inevitable, and Hirway believes that Partners can help.
“That is absolutely the main ingredient of the show — how did you figure out how to coexist with each other,” he says. “What did you have to learn about how the other person operates? Podcasts, in some ways, give you license to do things you are not normally licensed to do if you just want to talk to people about stuff. So this is my way to live out my path-not-taken life of couples therapy. It’s not just a story about individuals. The thing that makes it work between them is yet another entity that lives between them. The partnership is its own kind of shape.”
With two successful shows in the bag, and Partners very much looking like being a third, one has to ask — in such a crowded pool, how do you go about creating a successful podcast?
“I’m looking to try and answer a question that I think doesn’t get asked or hasn’t been answered yet,” he says. “I guess I feel like, if it’s something that I’m deeply curious about then I have to hope that other people are too. I used to teach a workshop on how to start a podcast and I used to ask the people to think deeply about the question of why they are making this show. What could you do to convince someone who has no vested interest in you to listen? Specificity is something that I think helps a lot. Podcasts have a reputation for being niche content, and I don’t think that’s at all a bad thing because it means that if you can find the people who are interested in that content it can be really powerful for them to be able to connect with something that they care about in that way. That’s the thing I’ve tried to do myself. Make things with as much of a specific vision as I can. The more you can bring to it that is unique, then the better off you are for carving a place out for yourself.”
Seems to be working out.
Go to partners.show for all of the info about where to listen to Partners.