So today we're gonna talk all about the art of storytelling with Max Linsky. Max is one of the hosts of Longform, a weekly podcast where he and his co-hosts interview writers, editors, podcasters and other creators about their work.
So Longform is most easily described as an interview show, but it’s also part master class and part therapy session. I find that whether I’m familiar with the guest or not, I walk away from every episode with some type of great life wisdom, whether it be journalistic or otherwise. So, I figured, why not try to share some of that with you guys?
So one more thing before we get on with today’s show, this episode contains some adult language and themes, so before we get started, now would be a good time to send your kids out of the room or put some earbuds on yourself. Ok, so let’s get started.
BRITTANY: So I wanted to have Max on the show because Longform is like, my comfort listening. It's like my Cheez-Its. But it also has the nutritional value of like, kale.
MAX LINSKY: [laughs] Kale, kale flavored Cheez-Its.
BRITTANY LUSE: Kale flavored Cheez-Its. Like something that tastes regular but have lot of Vitamin A.
MAX LINSKY: Okay. Okay.
BRITTANY LUSE: If ever I don't really know what I want to listen to, definitely if I'm on a plane or in an airport, I'm listening to Longform.
MAX LINSKY: It's funny that you say that because I think my favorite moment in the whole show is about airports.
BRITTANY LUSE: Really. What moment?
MAX LINSKY: I did this interview with George Saunders. And basically like the first half of the interview, I was like asking him about writing, and the normal things to ask him about. And then something clicked in my brain, and I was like, okay, I'm right now, in this small room with George Saunders. I'm probably never going to be in a small room with George Saunders ever again, he is basically the wisest person I know... so at some point I just kind of stopped asking writing questions, and just started being like "please teach me your ways, George Saunders." I asked him a question that was like basically "what's the meaning of life," pretty much.
BRITTANY LUSE: Right there.
MAX LINSKY: Yeah. And he had this amazing explanation.
----CLIP: Longform, George Saunders----
GEORGE SAUNDERS: You know when you're saying goodbye to someone at the airport that you love, and you get all soft, like "oh my god, I didn't even hardly... I hardly knew ya... you know, that kind of feeling... what if that's the truth... that mode is the mode... that times 10, maybe, is the mode that we should exist in all the time." Then another day you're just yourself. There's a big gap between those two people. So how much time did I spend in that regular old stupid habitual mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed this exalted state of being super tenderized to the people that you care about. And I'm guessing that, you know, uh, if there's a heaven, it's that at the airport times 10 or 20 or a thousand.
BRITTANY LUSE: Damn that's beautiful.
MAX LINSKY: Fucking George Saunders.
BRITTANY LUSE: Yeah. One of the things I like about your interview style is that you seem like that you're really connecting with the other person. You definitely come prepared, but you also seem really open to like examining whatever it is that they bring you.
MAX LINSKY: I... used to go in with alike a list of 1000 questions. I'd spend so much time before interviews just like, coming up with questions. And then those interviews sucked.
BRITTANY LUSE: Really?
MAX LINSKY: Yeah because I would just sit there and people would say like "that's when I knew, I didn't like my mother." And I would just be like "And then in 1972 you went to this place for college."
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs]
MAX LINSKY: Yeah like I wouldn't, I wouldn't listen at all... the whole point was just to tick off all the questions on my list, which were just questions I'd come up with before I met the person.
BRITTANY LUSE: Yeah.
MAX LINSKY: Those are shit questions for the most part.
BRITTANY LUSE: Why are they shit questions?
MAX LINSKY: Because it's just what you assume about them, right? One of the great things about doing the show, one of the funnest things about doing the show is that most of the people that I talked to, are people that I like, admire. It's basically like a fanboy show. You know? It's gotten better I think. The early episodes were like, straight Chris Farley Show, do you remember that sketch on Saturday Night Live?
----CHRIS FARLEY SHOW CLIP----
MAX LINSKY: I was basically doing a Chris Farley impression for the first many many shows.
The first one I did was with David Grann, in the offices of the New Yorker, which gives you some insight into my hubris. Like, the first interview I'm ever going to do for a podcast is with David-fucking-Grann. And basically the whole interview is just me being like "Remember that time? In that story? Where the guy? He thought he was dead? But he wasn't dead? Do you remember that?" And he was like "yeah." and I was like "That was awesome." You know—ooo , terrible.
BRITTANY LUSE: How did you get out of that?
MAX LINSKY: I don't know you do enough of them and you get a little better at it I guess. Just like by sheer... practice. But also I realized that like, it wasn't good.
BRITTANY LUSE: So in addition, the way that you ask questions, one of the things that I like about... your show but also about podcasting in general is that it gives you this chance to kind of like get really deep into stories, in, the same way that on Longform, you talked to people who wrote something that really affected you, or wrote something about the way that you see the world, you get to ask them how they did it...
So I want to turn to the clips I’m going to be playing for you today… Kind of working within the theme of getting really deep into stories, our first clip is from… It comes to us from a podcast miniseries What the Hell Happened in East New York? East New York is a neighborhood in Eastern Brooklyn, which is a borough of New York City.
And this mini- series gets into why that neighborhood has become so dangerous and neglected.
The series is hosted by Alexander Abnos, who follows another journalist--a guy named Kevin Heldman.
So Abnos uses a lot of Heldman’s reporting, but in this particular episode he focuses on Heldman’s own story and how he got started as a journalist.
It really struck me, and reminded me of a lot of conversations you have on your show.
The first voice you will hear is Michael Shapiro, the editor of the story Heldman was writing about his background.
----CLIP: What the Hell Happened in East New York?---
MICHAEL SHAPIRO: So how did it come to be that you became a journalist?
KEVIN HELDMAN: I came from a really hellish crazy abusive sick family, um, uh, and also I was troubled, you know, living on the streets, homeless, so... I had nothing... and one thing I had was school. I was smart, and I love... smart but not smart arrogant, I liked teachers, most smart guys back then hated the female teachers, tried to challenge them, embarrass them. I loved the female teachers—it was like be my mom, take me away, you don't know them what is going on there. And I actually told them, a famous story when I was in kindergarten, I went up to Mrs. Leaf, my kindergarten teacher, and I knew damn well I was doing it, it's not like Kids Say The Darndest Things, I was intentionally saying it. I was five years old, "Mrs. Leaf, my father said the other day that he's going to pick up a chair and hit my mother over the head with it." She called my mother into a parent conference, told her I said that, and my mother couldn't, I don't know maybe she did deny, she lies all the time, but she actually did say that. So... I was saying that I wanted him to know, that this is wrong, so. That was early journalism... every piece. Broken family, bad teenager, drugs, depression, running wild, cutting school, cutting myself, put in a... I was in a facility for years, got kicked out for bad behavior... put in Phoenix House, which was hardcore, and eventually joined the army when I was 18. Did two years in the army, got out, pursued my earlier writing ambitions in college, Columbia Journalism School, and been a journalist ever since 91.
MICHAEL SHAPIRO: And you've gone back through the same kind of stories again and again.
KEVIN HELDMAN: My type of journalism is like, a substitute for life, kind of.... morality, my thing, religion for me, so I use it... I can't just do like, fun stuff with journalism or just make money, or just to watch movies sometimes, be in the mood for comedy, sometimes i'm in the mood for a drama, sometimes I want to see a heavy documentary. It's not like that for me with journalism, you know, I have to do like... important, significant, like… worthwhile. Things that are of valuable, things that make a contribution actually.
MAX LINSKY: Sounds like it'd be a good podcast interview.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs]
A lot of the journalists who you interview on your show have these wildly different paths into that career.
Like some people, like the guy from the clip, went to Columbia J school, you know? And other people wrote for their paper at Dartmouth, and other people wrote for the internet and maybe someone found their blog... but it seems like, what makes a person a journalist is less like training sometimes, and more like a certain set of skills, or like a way that you see the world and a way that you think about things.
MAX LINSKY: Yeah I mean a thing that comes up all the time is... curiosity. That’s like the number one recurring theme I think. When you ask people that question, basically why are you a journalist, or why do you do this? Their answer, overwhelmingly, no matter what that path was... is that... they're curious. And they follow their curiosity, and this is a job that allows you to that.
BRITTANY LUSE: Even like I kind of struggle with whether or not I'm a journalist.
MAX LINSKY: What do you think?
BRITTANY LUSE: I don't know. I don't know.
MAX LINSKY: Does it matter?
BRITTANY LUSE: I don’t know, I think there’s some legitimacy to it… like I didn't, and this is like a pattern that I hear come up on Longform a lot, is that I never had any formal training.
MAX LINSKY: It's not something that you necessarily need to go to school for for a bunch of years. The way that you learn how to do it is by doing it, for the most part. Another thing that has come a lot in the path part of those conversations is that the journalism industry is changing so much in bad ways.
BRITTANY LUSE: How do you mean?
MAX LINSKY: My first job was in 2004. And it was at the alt-weekly in Tampa Bay Florida. I had to write a 5000-word story every month. There were these fantastic editors who had been doing it for a long time who would like, sit with me, teach me how to do it. It was great... it was like journalism school except I got paid to do it. So there was this path 12 years ago, where you could go to a place and learn how to do this and someone would pay you to do that. There are far far fewer of those jobs now, than there were before. Like I don't know what you do if you are a young, aspiring journalist in 2016.
BRITTANY LUSE: What’s the best story anyone’s ever told you about how they got started?
MAX LINSKY: I’ll tell you what’s not the best story. There is one aspect of the path conversation that has gotten boring, which is a lot of the people who have come on the show, the answer to that question is "I went to a good college, I came out of college without any debt, I knew someone who knew someone, I got an internship, I worked for a while with no money, and then eventually I got a job." And that story is boring, too... so on the episodes there isn't the path conversation, often time it’s because it's that and we've had it a million times.
BRITTANY LUSE: Mmm... okay we're actually going to take a short break. And when we get back, more podcast storytelling.
---- AD BREAK----
----END AD BREAK---
BRITTANY LUSE: We're back. Sampler. Max Linsky. Longform. Doing it big.
MAX LINSKY: Doing it big.
BRITTANY LUSE: Doing it big.
MAX LINSKY: That's our slogan [laughs]
BRITTANY LUSE: 2016. We forgot the... I always like to add the year to any one of my personal slogans. Um... so we're going to move onto the next clip. Are you ready?
MAX LINSKY: Great. I'm ready.
BRITTANY LUSE: Okay so this one comes from Modern Love. So Modern Love is a column in New York Times. It’s about all types of love and all different relationships. But it’s also now a podcast by WBUR, hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti. So on the podcast they actually have written columns that are read by actors followed by the person who wrote the piece. In this episode, the actor that’s reading is Connie Britton and she is reading an essay by a woman named Elizabeth Fitz-simons.
And I should warn, it’s a pretty emotional story.
It's about her going to China to adopt a child.
------CLIP: MODERN LOVE------
CONNIE BRITTON: I saw the scar the first time I changed Natalie's diaper. Just an hour after the orphanage director handed her to me in a hotel banquet room in Nanchang, a provincial capital in Southeastern China. Despite the high heat and humidity, her caretakers had dressed her in two layers, and when I peeled back her sweaty clothes, I found the worst diaper rash I had ever seen, and a two inch scar at the base of her spine, cutting through the red bumps and pink skin.
CONNIE BRITTON: The next day, when the Chinese government would complete the adoption, was also Natalie's first birthday. We had a party for her that night, attended by families we had met and representatives of the adoption agency, and Natalie licked cake frosting from my finger... but we worried about a rattle in her chest. And there was the scar. So afterward my husband Matt asked the adoption agency to send the doctor. After listening to Natalie's chest, he said that she had bronchitis. Then he turned her over and looked at the scar. Frowning he asked for a cotton swab and soap. He coated an end in soap, and probed her sphincter, which he then said was loose. He suspected she'd had a tumor removed, and wondered aloud if she had spina bifida, before finally saying that she would need to be seen at the hospital.
Two taxis took us all there, and as we waited to hear news, I Tried to think positive thoughts of the room that we had painted for Natalie in light yellow, and the crib with Winnie the Pooh sheets, but my mind shifted when I saw one of the women from the agency in a heated exchange in Chinese with the doctors. Then with someone on her cell phone... we pleaded with her for information. The ACT scan confirmed that there had been a tumor that someone, somewhere had removed. It had been a sloppy job.
Nerves were damaged, and as Natalie grew, her condition would worsen, eventually leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Control over her bladder and bowels would go too. Yes, she had a form of spina bifida, as well as a cyst on her spine. I looked at my husband in shock. Waiting for him to tell me that I had misunderstood everything. But he only shook his head. I held onto him and cried into his chest. Angry that creating a family seemed so impossible for us, and that life had already been so difficult for Natalie.
Back at the hotel we hounded the women from the agency. Why wasn't this in her medical report? How could a scar that sieze not be noticed? It was two inches long for god's sake. They shook their heads. Shrugged. Apologized... and then they offered a way to make it better. In cases like this, we can make a re-match with another baby, the one on charge said. The rest of the process would be expedited and we would go home on schedule. We would simply leave with a different girl. Months before we had been presented with forms asking which disabilities would be acceptable in a prospective adoptee. What, in other words, did we think we could handle? HIV. Hepatitis. Blindness... we checked off a few mild problems that we knew could be swiftly corrected with proper medical care.
As Matt had written on our application, this would be our first child and we feel we would need more experience to handle anything more serious. Now... we faced surgeries! Wheel chairs! Colostomy bags. I envisioned our home in San Diego with ramps leading to the doors. I saw our lives as being utterly devoted to her care. How would we ever manage. Yet how could we leave her? Had I given birth to a child with these conditions, I wouldn't have left her in the hospital, though a friend would later say, well that's different, it wasn't to me.
I knew this was my test, my life's worth distilled into a moment. I was shaking my head no before they finished explaining. We didn't want another baby, I told them. We wanted our baby, the one sleeping right over there. She's our daughter, I said. We love her.
MAX LINSKY: Oof.
BRITTANY LUSE: Hmmm.
MAX LINSKY: Um, man! Hmmm... uh... uh...That was a hard thing to listen to. But we can talk about it. It was a really strong narrative. And it was Mrs. Coach, so that's cool.
BRITTANY LUSE: Oh Mrs. Coach, from that show, I don't watch it.
MAX LINSKY: Friday Night Lights.
BRITTANY LUSE: I know her as the one with the really nice hair from Nashville.
MAX LINSKY: One in the same. Yeah.
BRITTANY LUSE: Sometimes on your show, you asked people about things that are really hard. Sometimes you will even say that you are afraid. How do you get over the hump? Because there are questions you could easily not ask them, when you get face to face with them, you decide they're too invasive, you decide they're too difficult.
MAX LINSKY: I find it hard, whether it's on the podcast or it's in life, to not ask those questions... and it doesn't always work out. Sometimes it is invasive. Sometimes it's like, you actually shouldn't ask that question... both on the show, and in real life. Usually there's a long preamble and stuff, because I'm nervous about it, and it's hard to ask those questions. And you know, I often wish that I have to do the whole preamble, those questions might be better if you just as them, but I really want to know, you know? And some people don't... sometimes people try and answer them and can't, sometimes people don't answer them. But if you really want to know, if you genuinely care about the answer. Then my experience is whether or not the microphone is... people will talk about it. People want to talk about hard stuff if they think they’re talking to someone who is listening.
BRITTANY LUSE: Have you guys ever thought about having people read some of their stories on the show?
MAX LINSKY: Yes, one of the original ideas, one of the first ideas that we had, was that that would be the show. People would come on and read their magazine article, and we would ask them questions about it.
And then we had another idea, where people read the magazine article and you just interrupt them, and you be like "what just happened there." And both of those ideas were terrible. Particularly the second one. But what I have found, often times, the medium that you intended to tell a story in is the best medium for that story. So... a story that was written for a magazine, might not... work that well as... audio. Maybe it does. Like I listen to audio books a lot, and I think the ones that are heavily produced really work. But we nixed that idea, in part because there are logistics about it, you have to get someone in, reading this kind of stuff is hard, reading compellingly is hard.
BRITTANY LUSE: I guess that's why Modern Love uses actors instead of authors to read their pieces.
MAX LINSKY: Oh yeah for sure. I think they were smart. To not have those writers read them. You know, and we started the show with zero money and never expected to make a dollar so the idea that we were going to like, hire an actor to do... read an article, not going to happen.
BRITTANY LUSE: Yeah no, unless you could pay them in crumbs and pocket lint.
MAX LINSKY: If I could've started a podcast where Mrs. Coach just read things, I would've started that podcast.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs] Well we're going to lighten it up..
MAX LINSKY: Thank you.
BRITTANY LUSE: You're very welcome. The next clip comes from a podcast miniseries from ESPN. It’s called Dunkumentaries. And it’s about famous slam dunks in basketball history. So in this clip you will hear one of the hosts, David Jacoby-and also former NBA player Dee Brown. So Brown is now retired, but he was a member of the Boston Celtics, when he made his famous dunk...
MAX LINSKY: You don't have to tell me who Dee Brown is.
BRITTANY: Back in 1991.
BRITTANY LUSE: I...
MAX LINSKY: You can tell other people who Dee Brown is, but I want to make it clear that you do not need to tell me who Dee Brown is...
BRITTANY LUSE: Noted.
MAX LINSKY: I wore my Celtics socks yesterday... I had a wireless network called Dee Brown once.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs] So I take it you're a fan.
MAX LINSKY: That's right.
BRITTANY LUSE: Ok well for the people who are not totally obsessed with Dee Brown, he was an NBA player and he played for the Celtics and he got really famous for this amazing dunk he made in the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest.
DEE BROWN: I wasn't nervous at all, because I was the guy nobody thought would win... so there was no pressure on me...
Announcer: Dee Brown.
DAVID JACOBY: Before he even attempted a dunk, it was clear that Dee was different.
Announcer: Oh he's pumping his shoes...
DAVID JACOBY: If you aren't on Snapchat, you remember this moment... Dee Brown, bending down, inflating his Reebok pumps, scoring style points before setting his sights on the room.
DAVID JACOBY: The best part, Reebok didn't even pay Dee to pump his shoes... they didn't ask Dee to do it, they didn't suggest he do it... they didn't even know he was gonna do it.
DEE BROWN: At that time I had a contract with Reebok already, so they didn't tell me to do anything. They didn't tell me to pump my shoes up or anything, that was my idea.
DAVID JACOBY: Here's the thing about sports... you can look and act as cool as you want, but none of it matters if you don't win... Dee backed it up with the dunks... by the time he got to the final round, he had already clinched the win... but still he knew his last dunk had to be special, and honestly, whether he pumped the shoe or not, this contest might be forgotten, if not for his final dunk.
DB: So while I'm running up there, well then I can look if my eyes are close,d if they're behind me... or if they , it's not on TV...
Announcer: So he already started his dunk... he's running toward the basket, and he's still... making decisions about exactly what he's going to do.
DEE BROWN: Callow's a progression, while I was running, just closing my eyes, to... hand over my eyes, to hold my arm over my eyes.
DAVID JACOBY: The man's a genius. He's not just going to dunk... with his eyes closed... he's going to dunk and show you that his eyes are closed, so he tucks his face into the inside of the his elbow, and then completes the dunk. It was brilliant, it was exciting, it was also the invention of the dead-up[?]
DEE BROWN: 25 years later people would be talking about the guy who ran up to the side of the backboard, or the guy who made the no-look dunk.
DAVID JACOBY: Of course he nailed it.
DAVID JACOBY: With the sneakers, with the eyes closed, with the arm over the eyes, unknown, Dee Brown took down the dunk contest.
MAX LINSKY: Dee Brown.
BRITTANY LUSE: Dee Brown!
MAX LINSKY: That was awesome, I've never heard him talk about it.
BRITTANY LUSE: I actually, I'm going to be honest, I don't relay know anything about sports really... but I like loved, just like the stories around basketball to me, are so endlessly fascinating. Like all the shoes, and all of the celebrity crossover in dating.
MAX LINSKY: Yeah I have a rule with my wife, she like likes sports but doesn't follow it, and we have ruled that if there's a game that I really want to to watch, if I can convince her of the storylines beforehand then she'll watch with me. And she's super into it.. but I need to like a half an hour to break down all the different things that are going on, who the underdog is, and that guys being a jerk to that guy, and this is his redemption game, and yada yada yada, and if I can hook her, then she's in and she watches with me.
BRITTANY LUSE: That's a really good rule.
MAX LINSKY: Yeah. It's great. But then she's super invested. She roots incredibly hard for whoever I've like, set up as the protagonist.
BRITTANY LUSE: So you can kind of like control the narrative And use that as means of watching whatever you want.
MAX LINSKY: But it has to be a really good story. Like it takes time, I have to think about it... I have to prep... if I fail... she's like, I don't know, I don't care...
BRITTANY LUSE: Then what do you watch?
MAX LINSKY: Whatever she wants to watch I guess...
BRITTANY LUSE: Well you actually brought us a clip.
MAX LINSKY: I did... I felt like... when you asked me to do this, I was very honored, and very excited.
BRITTANY LUSE: Oh my gosh thank you!
MAX LINSKY: And I didn't know whether like I brought clips or not... but... I was like... in the event that I bring clips, I feel like it would be disingenuous for me to bring anything other than a Bill Simmons clip. Because I've been listened to Bill Simmons podcast, when did it start like 2008... I think that... in like our little world, where people talk about podcasts, and everybody is like listening to the new podcast and stuff, I think that Bill Simmons is underrated.
BRITTANY LUSE: Really?
MAX LINSKY: Yeah... When was the last time someone was like, you know who is a really good podcast host? Bill Simmons.
BRITTANY LUSE: But people love him, not just people who talk about podcasts, but people who listen to podcasts love him. Those are almost, I think they're like two different groups of people. People who talk about podcasts, and people who like listen to them...
MAX LINSKY: Definitely people who listen to podcasts love him... he has an insanely popular podcast listened to by tons and tons of people, including people I know, who kind of like don't even cop to listening to it. I think he's really really good at hosting a podcast. I think he is sneaky good. And he does it so effortlessly, that people don't give him shine for it.
BRITTANY LUSE: What do you think makes a good podcast host?
MAX LINSKY: Part of what makes a good podcast host is getting people relaxed enough that they can have an honest conversation, but also keeping it like... keeping it up, keeping it going... and I think he's really good at that, he brings people on... some of them are like, foils for him, and they just kind of like allow him to like riff on what he cares about... he's good with ig guests I think. And he also doesn't do this thing which has no become... what people think of with podcasts slot, is like, you know he doesn't do the kind of big emotional crescendo interview. He shoots the shit, you know? And like... those shows are so lightly edited, you know there's not like a massive team of people who then go into post production for two weeks. They get them up in 20 minutes.
BRITTANY LUSE: Well I excited to hear it.
MAX LINSKY: The thing about Simmons is like, he's very comfortable. It's very tough to throw him. But this moment that I wanted to play for you, he actually gets like a, little thrown. So Brittany, you don't follow sports very much...
BRITTANY LUSE: Mmm-mmm.
MAX LINSKY: But they're talking about a guy named Joe Lacob, who is the owner of the Golden State Warriors, have you heard anything about the season that they just had?
BRITTANY LUSE: Um... okay... ooo... okay..
MAX LINSKY: This is not a pop quiz, I can just tell you the answer...
BRITTANY LUSE: So I know...about... Steph Curry, he's on the Golden State Warriors, I know he's married to Ayesha Curry who has her own line of olive oil.
MAX LINSKY: That's true. Steph Curry, and his teammates, just won more basketball games in a season than any team in history.
BRITTANY LUSE: Wait, wait, they beat the Bulls, the beat the Bulls’ former record, right?
MAX LINSKY: Yeah.
BRITTANY LUSE: Yes! See?
MAX LINSKY: Exactly. A record that no one including Bill Simmons ever thought would be beat... and... there was this profile about the owner of that team, Joe Lacob, in the New York Times Magazine, in which basically he's like taking credit for the season they just had.
BRITTANY LUSE: Mmmm....
MAX LINSKY: In this clip, Simmons, that's who you're going to hear first, talking with Chuck Klosterman.
BRITTANY LUSE: Oh, the writer?
MAX LINSKY: The writer. Who is like a recurring guest, and... he and Klosterman are talking about Joe Lacob,who is like a VC guy.
-------CLIP: Bill Simmons Podcast----------
BILL SIMMONS: I really honestly feel like he violated some Karma rules. It's really the hot blackjack table thing, right? If you're winning money at a blackjack table, and you're just raking it in hand after hand, don't talk about how great you are at blackjack. Just don't do it.
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: I gotta ask you, I gotta ask you one question quick though.... so you kind of posted that on twitter, and you just said it now. I'm curious... when we talk about things like karma, is that sort of your media take, or do you actually believe...
BILL SIMMONS: I actually believe it... no I genuinely, I genuinely believe it. I Really do...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: So...so okay... so what is your belief system then... like are you a spiritual person?
BILL SIMMONS: Oh this is good, I like, I like when you... no it's weird I am a little spiritual with stuff like this... I guess I am... because I'm not religious. But I think it's, I think it's bad form... well first of all...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: No it's definitely bad form... but when you say karma, what you're actually saying, you're, you're saying that there is... is... that in some ways, he... in intangibly just put the team at risk, of winning the title.
BILL SIMMONS:: I do! I feel that way. Does that make me a crazy person? I honestly feel that way.
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: No I... I... I'm not going to say it makes you a crazy person, but I'm wondering what makes you think that. Like have you had experiences in your life that have validated this? Do you just feel like the universe must work this way, it only seems reasonable that doing something negative will bring negativity... you're kind of like, do you believe like in crystal and shit like that, would you?
BILL SIMMONS: Nooo...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Or like, feng shui and like the way your house is designed. Do you believe in that?
BILL SIMMONS: I don't believe in that...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Do you read your horoscope?
BILL SIMMONS: No... but I do... the...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Ever.
BILL SIMMONS: The horoscope thing scares me though... it scares me that people born in different months have the same characteristics, like people have guessed that i'm a Libra, and that scares me... I don't understand that whole thing, and then you get to the Chinese New Year stuff, that's also frightening to me. So I stay away from all that stuff. Psychics, stay away.
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Do you pray?
BILL SIMMONS: I don't pray.
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Ever.
BILL SIMMONS: I don't pray. But I do...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: Even when, even when... when... when... when... the Giants were driving against the Pats in that Superbowl?
BILL SIMMONS: No... who am I praying to?
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: I don’t know.
BILL SIMMONS: God's gotta have better things going on than that...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: But yet you believe that there's some force that's interested in NBA ownership, and how the guy acts to newspaper reporters, you think that they as a consequence... so that's what that thing is... when people talk about God, they'll be mad, they'll be... but why would God care who wins this NBA game, or why would God care, about like, my, it drives my wife crazy when someone on survivor will thank god,and she was like why would God possibly care about Survivor?
BILL SIMMONS: Well I never know...
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN: If you believe in a conventional god, god kind of cares about everything right, equally... cause he has unlimited bandwidth to care... so it's like... you could, you know? You could do this, but I mean also praying for a team would essentially mean you're essentially praying against a team... in a weird way.
BILL SIMMONS: Maybe, maybe this is always being shaped by... all the experiences I've had watching sports and gambling in casinos and it's not rational at all.
MAX LINSKY: It's rare that he kind of gets kind of thrown like that and is like, huh what do I believe? You don’t hear that very often.
BRITTANY LUSE: No I liked that a lot... it was about sports, but it wasn't about sports...
MAX LINSKY: if your basketball team that you happen to own because you're a kajillionaire, is playing really well, don't go get the New York Times to write about how that's your deal... Even if you don't, uh, believe in god necessarily--
BRITTANY LUSE: I have like a friend who doesn't, she doesn't believe in God, but she does definitely believe in horoscopes and like anything mystical.
MAX LINSKY: I used to do a thing when I was little kid where, whenever I was shooting baskets by myself, I'd be like, if I make this one, Betsy is gonna go out with me.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs]
MAX LINSKY: And then I'd miss and I'd be like it wasn't that one, it's actually this one.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs]
MAX LINSKY: So I think I believe in that stuff too.
BRITTANY LUSE: Yeah no no... I know that I kind of do... every once in awhile, I'll be in the train, on like, maybe a Sunday morning, maybe I'll be like hungover or something like that... and then I'll just be like, why do you hope for anything? Who is in control of any of this? Why do you think god cares specifically about you? Why do people suffer?
MAX LINSKY: Like on the train you'll think that?
BRITTANY LUSE: I mean you know, I feel like the train is a place where I end up considering a lot of my life's choices...
MAX LINSKY: Sounds like you feel very differently on the train than you do at airports.
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughing] Yes, trains are where I contemplate life, and airports are for listening to Longform. Well... Max, thank you so much for coming.
MAX LINSKY: Thank you.
BRITTANY LUSE: This is like a Sampler bucket list box checked.
MAX LINSKY: Wow, this is also my Sampler bucket list. This is it, this is my dream.
BRITTANY LUSE: Oh to come on?
MAX LINSKY: Yeah. This is it...
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs]
MAX LINSKY: If I was gonna do Sampler, this is how I'd want it to go..
BRITTANY LUSE: Oh! Well I mean I'm glad, I'm glad that we were able to fulfill your fantasies.
MAX LINSKY: This is it...
BRITTANY LUSE: No one, I had my BEST friend on this show... no one ever, my mom's been on this show, no one's ever said that to me. So I'll take that. I cherish it.
MAX LINSKY: I'm here for ya...
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughs] Thank you so much.
MAX LINSKY: It is weird to not be the one asking the questions. I will tell you that.
BRITTANY LUSE: What's weird about it?
MAX LINSKY: I'm just not used to it... like I'm not, there have been a couple of moments where you have been like "now it's your turn."
BRITTANY LUSE: [laughter]
MAX LINSKY: This is where you talk for awhile, and then I'll ask you a follow-up question.
To recap the clips we’ve heard on today’s show…
Kevin Heldman’s experience in journalism was from What the Hell Happened in East New York, the adoption story came from Modern Love, and Dee Brown’s famous dunk was from the ESPN podcast Dunkumentaries. The clip Max brought for us about spirituality and superstition in sports was from the Bill Simmons Podcast.
Stay tuned after the credits for a taste of what we are sampling next week.
This episode was produced by Rose Reid, Sarah Abdurrahman, and myself with help from Kate Parkinson-Morgan.
It was edited by Annie-Rose Strasser.
Our theme music was made by Micah Vellian and our ad music was made by Mark Phillips.
Additional music in the show was by Cobey Bienert.
The show was mixed by Matthew Boll.
Sampler is a production of Gimlet Media.
Next week on Sampler…. We enter the world of over-sharing, and things get sexy - or just plain awkward - when I talk to the host of the show My Dad Wrote a Porno.
BRITTANY: One of my... favorite.. favorite things that actually I've heard on the show.
JAMIE: Oh yeah. Come on.
BRITTANY: Was... was it breasts that hung like pomegranates?
JAMIE: Yeah, the pomegranates line. That was a favorite.