Behind the premise of Beautiful/Anonymous, Chris Gethard’s critically acclaimed podcast where he speaks to an anonymous caller for one hour, is the idea that people feel free to open up beyond traditional boundaries when given complete anonymity. More than 100 excellent episodes have proven this concept over a wide range of topics, from battling cancer to drug trafficking, but never anything quite as compelling as today’s conversation with a brave woman who survived the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas one year ago.
At the very beginning of the call, Gethard admits that he’s at the end of an exhausting seven-hour audiobook recording session for his new book, Lose Well. “Hopefully I can add a little bit of excitement into [your] day,” the caller hints moments before revealing that she survived the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The caller is surprisingly upbeat and positive throughout, proudly stating that “laughter is good for the soul” even while talking through “one of the best weekends of my life, and one of the worst weekends of my life.” One minute she was dancing to Jason Aldean, and the next she was getting literally tossed to safety by her former Army-medic husband. She recounts the harrowing night and ensuing fallout with vivid detail and humanity: “One of the worst parts about that whole experience for me was having to wake up [the next morning] and put the clothes back on that I was wearing the night before, that were torn and bloody and dirty, and look at the news and see what happened.”
Gethard lets the caller drive the conversation and ensures she’s comfortable reliving the details at every step of the journey. It’s an exercise in patience and empathy for survivors not found anywhere in mainstream media coverage. “This is one of the realest conversations we’ve ever had on this show by far,” Gethard proclaims halfway through the interview. “Every question I ask and every answer you give, it gets just another bit realer.”
When asked about seeing the politicization of this and other shootings on social media, the caller shared an important message: “The people who are victims and survivors of this event are also on Facebook or any social-media platform … Do you not have respect for what I’m going through?” She goes on to call out supporters of both sides, asking, “What are you really doing about it anyway other than ranting on Facebook? Support the people who are going through this and don’t spread more hate in this world.”
While remaining a firm supporter of the Second Amendment, she and Gethard find common ground over sensible gun laws. Ideological differences or not, Gethard agrees with her notion that “if I was friends with everyone who shared the same opinion as me, my life would be pretty boring.”
Despite the hand she was dealt, the caller shows striking resiliency in the face of such senseless violence. “As a survivor, a lot of people don’t really get to tell their entire story,” she explains. “[The media] focuses on who the shooter was and how many people were injured or didn’t make it through … but there’s a lot of positivity that also comes out … and I hope to share a little of that side.” In honor of the 58 lives lost in the massacre, she and a community of aptly named “warriors” (those who survived and/or lost loved ones in the shooting) have committed to perform 58 acts of kindness. The hope is to spread more love and less hate through small gestures, like handing out Starbucks gift cards to strangers at her local beer garden.
The conversation is filled with sporadic reminders that this is still a comedy podcast. At one point, the caller brings up the fact that the chaos happened at the end of a weekend-long music festival, so her memory was already pretty hazy. “I can’t believe we’re finding laughs!” Gethard responds, multiple times. The caller’s parting thoughts leave listeners with gratitude and perspective everyone should live by: “I’m really lucky to be here. I’m happy to share my story and happy to live life the best that I can. You know, that’s all I can do.”