Excited and Scared (Ep. 155 - Ari Shapiro of NPR's All Things Considered)

This Week's Guest: Ari Shapiro

ari promo image.jpg

My guest this week is Ari Shapiro, host of All Things Considered. These days, he tells other people's stories on NPR, but his own story was considerably is more winding than you might expect -- behind his calm journalistic voice is a man who spent some time as an illegal immigrant, who carried mace for protection in high school, who nearly became an actor, and who might never have found his place on the radio if a gay icon hadn't intervened on his behalf.

Huge thanks to everyone who makes The Sewers of Paris possible with a pledge of a dollar or more a month on Patreon. There are brand new rewards for patrons who support the show, including early access to content, a signed copy of my book, and Sewers of Paris buttons. It's easy to sign up -- just click "support the show on Patreon." 

If you're not able to support the show financially, there‚Äôs other ways you can contribute -- just by listening, tweeting about the show, following The Sewers of Paris on Twitter and Facebook, and by writing reviews. All of that is a huge help and I'm very very grateful. And I love to get your feedback on the show -- follow @sewersofparis on Twitter or write to sewerspodcast@gmail.com. 

And if you're in Seattle, I hope you'll join me for another live Dungeons & Drag Queens show, starring four fabulous drag queens role-playing their way through a custom-made, very queer D&D adventure. I'll be hosting the show and leading the queens on their adventure. It's happening March 2nd at 7pm at Kremwerk. You can get tickets at DungeonDrag.com. And you can also get on the mailing list to find out when we're bringing the show to you. 

This Week's Recommendation

Thanks again for listening. Into the Woods does seem to come up a lot on this show, and I don't think it's a surprise that a play about soul-searching and finding one's place in a hostile world speaks to queer people. Steven Sondheim's musicals certainly have a way of letting you know: Life's going to be tough. There are no easy answers. Now let's sing about it.

For this week's recommendation, take a look at another of Sondheim's shows, Assassins. It goes without saying that it's a play about moral gray areas and feeling adrift -- but this time, instead of fairy tales as a framing device, the play tells the story of people who have tried to kill presidents.

There's Leon Czolgosz, who wanted to kill McKinley; and Sam Byck, who had plans to kill Nixon. John Hinckley went after Reagan, and Lynette Fromme wanted to get Gerald Ford. Most of the characters you've never heard of -- when's the last time you thought about Sarah Jane Moore or Giuseppe Zangara? But this play excavates their stories, explores their motives, and turns them into real people driven by madness or desperation or a need to belong or dreams of being heard.

It's a hard show to watch, particularly given the politics under which the country is currently laboring. And there's a beautiful epiphany in the song Something Just Broke, when various Americans sing about where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot. The violence of the assassination is so far away and to someone so symbolic as to be completely abstract and yet it jolts everyone out of their routine not with meaning but with a flash of ambiguity and bewilderment, confusion about why it happened and what it means and what comes next.

The show sets up a lot of questions that it doesn't answer. -- but it doesn't want to answer those questions. It's not an explanation, just a reflection. It's portrait of a country that, even after 200 years, is still struggling to make sense of its own dream.

Stuff we Talked About