The Internet is full of content. That’s good and bad. You don’t have to go far to find an article, video, or podcast about whatever topic holding your attention.
Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t mean quantity. Big brands pay a lot of money to companies to craft something compelling, just to make you buy a jacket or coat.
They disguise ads as content adding to the sludge of content on the web. That’s why, when you find something that’s genuine, it stands above everything else.
That’s how the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People captured my attention.
The podcast, shortened to Beautiful/Anonymous, is hosted by Comedian Chris Gethard.
Here’s the gist of the show. Gethard has one phone call with one random person for one hour. Gethard can’t ask their name nor can he hang up. The caller can hang up at any time and they can talk about whatever they want.
This simple premise makes Beautiful/Anonymous the most genuine podcast I’ve heard. Period.
Callers reveal aspects of their life few people outside their closest friends and family are privy too.
The woman in “Married to A Monster,” was married to a pedophile for 10 years, masks her pain with laughter and light-hearted jokes. She even dropped some self-deprecating humor as well. All, as the host points out in the episode, were coping mechanisms she used to deal with her emotions.
It’s one of, if not the most genuine moment I’ve encountered in a podcast. Even for a produced show with commercial breaks, her personality comes through. The caller comes across as somewhat broken, but not beaten by the harshness of her situation.
In all his calls, Gethard tries to be helpful as he can given the format of the show. In other episodes, he’s the voice of the audience, asking all the questions you would if a close friend had these issues.
That shines through in “4 Kids 0 Sex.” In that episode, the caller is in a sexless marriage with his wife. They’re still best friends and have each other’s back in life, but her libido disappeared after the fourth child.
Gethard navigates the situation carefully. His questions are pointed but tactful. He walks a tight line with sensitive topics. He knows that one wrong step could end the episode sooner rather than later.
Some of the harder questions are prefaced by more questions asking if it’s okay to ask a hard question. He does this to every caller on any sensitive subject.
The shows aren’t all serious. In “The Hardest Part Is that You Love Me,” Gethard quickly develops a report with a California girl. The conversation bounces from a mid-quarter crisis to her boyfriend to her parents. They spend time talking about their made up band and Gethard’s inability to get over how Californian she is.
It’s an absurd conversation that doesn’t land anywhere.
A cynic would listen and think Gethard uses the caller’s stories for his own gain, either to sell the ad time or inflate his ego by doling out free advice.
There are some episodes they could point to for evidence. One of the earlier episodes, “The Illustrator” has a different tone than his later episodes. The conversation seems like one between a client and a professional. It’s not bad advice but the episode has a different feel than the newer ones.
Yet, at the same time, this podcast can benefit the caller. Sometimes just talking about a troubling issue is what those people need.
We’re in a world where our worth is (unfairly) judged by our follower count or number of Facebook friends. Those numbers increase while the number of real friends decline.
That’s fewer and fewer people who give a shit about our problems.
In that world, it’s hard to find someone who actually listens. That’s what Gethard temporarily fixes with Beautiful/Anonymous. It’s a conversation, but Gethard does something that’s becoming a rarity: He listens.
While not as polished as Invisibilia or Serial, Beautiful/Anonymous is authentic storytelling. We hear stories from the people that lived them. And isn’t that who should be telling the stories?