Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse Go Back to the Beginning

Photo: Sarah Jacobs

By any measure, Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings are consequential figures in the podcast world.

Formerly hosts of The Nod, a show telling stories about Black life that was published by Gimlet Media and later adapted into a Quibi program (short-lived for obvious reasons), Eddings and Luse were at the forefront of conversations around equitable creative ownership in podcasting; they spoke out last summer against their Spotify contracts, which carried many constraining norms around intellectual property that were calcifying in the growing podcast industry. They drove another wave of headlines in the spring, when their public pushback against Reply All’s “Test Kitchen” series sparked a reckoning at Gimlet Media over the company’s past workplace culture that resulted in the departures of two key figures from the show.

It’s been several months since the “Test Kitchen” brouhaha. The podcast world has changed quite a bit over that time, and so have Luse and Eddings’s positions within it. Eddings is now an executive at SiriusXM’s Stitcher, where he develops new shows for the company as its director of lifestyle programming. Luse, meanwhile, has been freelancing across several production, editing, and writing projects — including, I should note, a recent feature about the fiction of the color line for this very website.

Both are also returning to the project that first brought them into the podcast world: For Colored Nerds, a chatcast they started independently seven years ago where they process the pop culture that they take into their lives, occasionally with the help of a special guest. Now published through Stitcher, and with a team that includes executive producer Kameel Stanley and producer Alexis Williams, For Colored Nerds kicks off its relaunch today. New episodes are scheduled to drop every Tuesday.

To mark the occasion, I checked in with Eddings and Luse about the show’s return, their experience making a Quibi show, and how they feel looking back at everything that happened with Gimlet Media earlier this year.

What does it mean to the both of you to return to For Colored Nerds?

Eric Eddings: Honestly, it’s exciting. For Colored Nerds was what got us into this business. We were just listeners before that. So to have the opportunity to come back to this podcast, which was so purely from our heads and our friendship, is great.

It’s also really exciting to do this at this point in our careers. We had some choice in terms of what we wanted to do next. There was also this feeling — let’s be frank — that we’re both starting from a position of strength. It’s a show we own. We control it. We haven’t necessarily started a project like this since we first created For Colored Nerds seven years ago. So it feels great all around.

Brittany Luse: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve been listening to the very first episode because I was looking for clips to put into the new episodes, and it’s been incredible to hear the growth. Just, like, how much better we are at this, and the conviction with which we’re now able to share our thoughts, opinions, and feelings. It’s night and day, even though we are in many ways the exact same people we were at our core when we first started.

Also, For Colored Nerds is a lot more personal for us than The Nod. Those old episodes captured some amazing snapshots of who we were in a way that The Nod never did, as much as we both love that show. It’s been cool to go back into that time capsule.

How are you approaching these new episodes?

Eddings: So, one of the big things is that we’re trying to chase the second step of our curiosities. That’s maybe a good way of thinking about it. We’re consuming the same stuff everybody else is, and as we do that, there’s a light bulb that goes off in how they make me feel or think something specific as it relates to what I observe about Black people in the media, or how I look to the media either as an escape or a reflection.

We’re also two friends who have these shared interests, and we try to understand the depths to which we feel about them through conversation with each other, and sometimes with guests that we bring in as well. There are so many of these things that matter to us, and we don’t always sit down and do the work of contextualizing why.

Luse: To compare it to The Nod a bit, one of the bedrock things about that show was that it was reported. But as the years went on, and we had 50-something episodes to do every year with just four people on our team, we couldn’t build every episode as a reported piece, you know?

We spent a lot of time focusing on what is and what isn’t a Nod story. That show was about looking outward into the worlds of other Black people, seeing what other stories were out there and people to tell them. For Colored Nerds is more … like a clubhouse, for lack of a better term? [laughs] But with semi-open membership. Eric and I are always in there shooting the shit. Sometimes we have other people in the room. Other than that, it just has to be centered on Black culture, and it has to be interesting to us. That’s really it.

You’ve mentioned a few times now that you own For Colored Nerds. May I ask what happened to The Nod? Were you able to gain ownership over that show as well?

Luse: No, we didn’t own The Nod at any point in time.

When we started there, we signed the same contract as anybody else who signed on to work at Gimlet. And when Spotify purchased Gimlet, they had a different way of doing things — now, that could’ve changed over the years — but when that happened, we signed a new talent contract that had a different structure and all these sorts of things. But we didn’t have the opportunity to own the show then, either, because Spotify bought all of Gimlet outright, and thus all of their IP outright. All those ownerships transferred over.

We had initially pitched a version of For Colored Nerds to Gimlet back in 2016. They passed on it, but they had this great editor, Jorge Just, who circled back to us and was like, “Do you really want to make a show about Black culture?” We said, “Yeah,” and he, along with some incredible producers, including a few who ended up on the team, worked with us to pilot what would eventually become The Nod, and when we pitched that to Gimlet, they loved it.

I suppose, technically speaking, the fact we piloted The Nod at Gimlet using other Gimlet people to make it was what made the show a Gimlet-owned property. But I’ve always found that idea curious, and I know others have as well. When you make a show that’s so personal and culturally specific …

Eddings: … at a time when there wasn’t a lot of representation of that culture at the company …

Luse: … to say that the company should be the sole owner of that IP is curious. To me, it’s sending the message that you could make that show on your own without any input from us, and I just don’t think that’s possible. [laughs]

Eddings: Totally. They own everything. There were some instances where we have asked permission to use some things created, and things worked out, there, but they continue to retain full ownership of The Nod.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: How do you feel looking back at everything that happened at Gimlet, now that we’re a few months removed from the whole thing?

Eddings: Look, I’m happy about where I am now. Do I wish my time at Gimlet and Spotify had been a little less rocky? Absolutely. The shit was really hard — I’m not going to beat around the bush. But it worked out for us. I’m happy. I’m overjoyed, for real, to be returning to For Colored Nerds with Brittany, with the support of Stitcher.

Where I still get frustrated is when I think about just how not complicated it could have been. The things we all were asking for were reasonable. At this point, I can’t continue to lose sleep on it. We’ve got 48 weeks out of the year to fill. If I’m going to sit here and think about all the shit that happened with Gimlet and Spotify, I wouldn’t get anything done.

Luse: Honestly, for me, it did suck to be reminded of all those experiences. But one positive is that a lot of things are out in the open now. I don’t have to pretend I feel 100 percent great about my time there. Also, there’s people I don’t have to be fake about liking! [laughs] Ever again, in my life. They probably wouldn’t even approach me if they saw me on the sidewalk, and as a Scorpio, that’s a blessing.

Sure, it was messy and sad to work through those things publicly, but there’s nothing to feel bad about any more. The weight is off my shoulders. I’ve been spending the last six or seven months freelancing, so I’ve had the opportunity to do some really great projects, to write some things I really care about. I’ve gotten to edit other shows, which is something I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do. That has all been so rewarding, and to be able to do all those things while building out another version of For Colored Nerds … that’s really exciting.

I’ve always been curious: What was it like making the Quibi show? That was such a strange moment in the entertainment business.

Luse: Well …

Eddings: It wasn’t as bad as people maybe thought it was?

Luse: We had an extremely positive experience with Quibi. Now, I do not doubt other people’s experiences. I trust their reflections. But we had a really positive experience.

Making a Quibi show was amazing … up until the point where we had to start making it at home. And even then, the only issue was that we were working constantly and tired all the time. We also had various family members around us who, like, wanted to watch TV but couldn’t because we were shooting in the middle of the living room. That part was tough.

Eddings: For what it’s worth, the bummer is that it’s all behind the paywall. This isn’t to shame them for not releasing everything. They gotta get their check. But we did awesome work there. So many things were happening last year, especially as they related to Black people, and it was exciting to feel like we got to respond to it.

I had a lot of friends who, at that time, woke up every day and wondered what their purpose was in terms of their work. I didn’t have to worry about that. Like, I was tired. Maybe even a little depressed. But I had a purpose that felt important and additive to a time that was really consequential to everybody.

I mean, if Jeffrey Katzenberg called me tomorrow … I, uhh, don’t know. We’ll see. But I’m definitely not upset we answered the call when we did.

Last question. How do you feel about the podcast world today? Do you feel it’s any better than it was a few years ago?

Luse: On one hand, I’m inclined to say yes. Overall, I think there are a lot of net positives as far as the types of shows that are now getting made. There’s a greater diversity of creators, shows, and topics being covered.

When we first started working at Gimlet, there were just fewer podcasting companies, and a lot of those companies, or even the podcast divisions of legacy media companies, were still … so, there’s this thing in podcasting, I’m sure you’ve heard before, where people refer to NPR as the “mothership.” And that DNA, that very specific idea of what radio and podcasting should sound like, loomed very large during the time when we started at Gimlet. That created very serious boundaries that we constantly found ourselves hitting up against for a very long time. There are more companies getting involved in podcasting today, and there’s been a broadening in the kind of things people are green-lighting and saying yes to. So I think that’s a positive.

But there are other aspects of the business that have changed in ways I’m not sure I fully understand. I’m not certain how some of these changes are going to affect me as a creator, or even as a listener. But overall, I still do think things are better. The conversations around a lot of things I was most concerned about in the industry have progressed a lot.

On the other hand, I also don’t know if Eric or I are the best people to answer that question. We’ve been doing this so long. The industry has changed like 7,000 times since we started making podcasts. Plus, we have a certain level of privilege in the space now that we didn’t have before. So my opinion might count for something on this matter, but an independent producer who’s 25, who’s not based in New York, and who may not have connections to people “within the industry” … that person is probably a better indicator of where the business is.

Eddings: I echo a lot of what Brittany said. The overall degree of access has kind of widened, but the question has shifted to amplification. Who gets the resources to be amplified has gotten a lot more complicated. How we open that up, and make some of those systems more equitable, is worth exploring further.

We’re at a point right now where people are still trying to figure out all the possible business models. I think that’s great in the sense of providing longevity for the industry and a way to integrate podcasting with the rest of media more seamlessly. But it’s interesting to have that happening at a time where we’re breaking off some of the guardrails that have shaped what podcasts actually sound like for a long time.

I don’t know if it’s a chicken-and-egg thing in terms of what gets figured out — I imagine it’s all being figured out at the same time — but I hope that everything happens in a way where the largest possible group of creators are in the conversation and can thrive. I’m just not sold that things are set up that way just yet.

Eric Eddings and Brittany Luse Go Back to the Beginning