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The most-watched clips on Podcast But Outside’s TikTok account are those that evoke the appeal of the 2010s Facebook-feed mainstay Humans of New York. They’re clips like this one filmed at a 2021 free-speech rally in L.A., where a passerby sits down to chat with hosts Andrew Michaan and Cole Hersch and reveals that his favorite pastime is visiting the sites of terrorist attacks right after they’ve occurred because they make for cheap vacations, or this one where a former surgeon they encounter at Georgetown University says he didn’t get into the profession to help people but because he “likes to cut.” By setting up their recording equipment in different outdoor locations and offering strangers a dollar to be guests, Michaan (a comedian who’s appeared on The Late Late Show With James Corden and I Think You Should Leave) and Hersch (a writer-performer who made a name for himself on Vine) reinforce the enduring lesson of Humans of New York: Everyone has a story to tell.
But across the 170 episodes they’ve released independently since 2019, usually clocking in at around one hour in length, there is an omnipresent element of chaos the show’s curated TikTok feed doesn’t fully capture. All the people Michaan and Hersch speak to do have a story to tell, but their stories are not always pleasant and engaging, and they’re not necessarily reliable and willing narrators. Watching Michaan and Hersch feel their way through these conversations armed with nothing but their genuine curiosity and offbeat humor is, at points, hilarious, engrossing, shocking, bewildering, and tedious. Each interview is a dice roll that can go in a million different directions, and it’s never clear where it will land.
Thanks to its portable setup, Podcast But Outside is malleable by design. Michaan and Hersch have recorded episodes featuring famous guest hosts like Jon Hamm, Adam Scott, and Jack Quaid, and they’ve taken the temperature at diverse locations like a stranger’s wedding at the Thursday Club in L.A., a Minnesota Vikings practice, and a Trump rally in L.A.’s Koreatown. But in its purest form, the show consists of the two hosts sitting on an unassuming street in L.A., talking to strangers, and being filmed by camera-operator and editor Cameron George — affectionately known in the podcast’s universe as “intern” — who zooms in on peculiar details and splices in funny stills in the edit. (The podcast is available on podcast platforms for listeners, but it’s best enjoyed on YouTube, where George’s artistic touch can be appreciated.) One such entry into the Podcast But Outside canon is the recent October 19 episode, “We Interview a Famous Person But Have No Idea Who They Are.”
The “famous person” referred to in the episode’s title is Van Lathan, a podcaster, television host, producer, and former TMZ Live correspondent who is perhaps best known for his viral 2018 showdown with Ye after the latter said slavery was a “choice.” Michaan and Hersch’s conversation with him is the highlight of this particular episode, but it’s also bookended by four other interactions that demonstrate the show’s signature blend of anything-could-happen appeal and insight into strangers’ unique perspectives. There is the person who walks in front of the camera five minutes into the episode and starts belting a song with no introduction. There’s the eccentric person named “TimBerry.us” who reveals he saw the movie Top Gun: Maverick in theaters 84 times and accidentally invokes Gob Bluth from Arrested Development by referring to the outfit he’s wearing as a “$4,000 suit.” There is the guest named Kylie who has a frank, warm, and understanding discussion about the challenges of dating while transgender. And there is Emery, who takes the hosts through his journey of marrying a man after two previous marriages to women and coming out as bisexual to his five children.
But it’s the happenstance way Michaan and Cole learn about Lathan’s impressive but confusing résumé that nudges this episode up another level. Lathan, in the midst of a “mental-health walk,” has just sat down to be a guest and is engaging in some light banter with Hersch when another passerby walks up to him and says, “Huge fan.” “Van, you’re famous?! You didn’t tell us!” Michaan remarks. Lathan opts to play it nonchalantly. “I’m not burying the lede,” he says. “You guys have a podcast, you asked me to podcast, and so I’m podcasting.” He leans into the fun of this organic moment by declining at first to tell the hosts what he’s famous for. Hersch starts making guesses: “You do comedy? You host a show? You’re an actor? You’re a musician?” The more fragments Lathan offers in response to these questions — a vague confirmation about being a host; that he’s appeared on Fox; that he won an Academy Award for executive-producing the short film Two Distant Strangers — the more confused they get. At the reveal of the latter, Hersch bluntly asks, “Van, who the fuck are you?!” It also leads to a fun moment when Lathan compliments the hosts on the table they’re sitting at, and they inform him it coincidentally happens to be made by a furniture company that is sponsoring the episode. “Of all the podcasts I’ve been on — and I’ve been on thousands — there’s never been a time when an ad read was that seamless,” Lathan says.
As the interview winds to a close, Lathan decides to stop playing coy. He runs down the bullet points of his résumé until he eventually jogs Michaan’s memory by referencing his famous standoff with Ye. “I just watched that! It went viral the other day,” Michaan says. The hosts take this opportunity to pick Lathan’s brain about the current controversy Ye has invited with his antisemitic, racist, and otherwise harmful actions. “I think we’re watching someone go through an intellectual adolescence in real time,” Lathan says. “You know the time in life where you were figuring out what you thought and believed about the world, and you were figuring out how to articulate and posit thoughts to people you hadn’t fully legislated in your mind yet? I think that’s happening with him, but he’s doing it with a mind that’s not quite clear, and he has an immense amount of power … But also, at a certain point, we have to decide what we let harm us. For me, I wish everybody the best and I hope everybody is able to figure out who it is they want to be, but for my own mental health, I have to check out.”
Was the average Podcast But Outside fan expecting to hear a timely critique about Ye from one of the world’s most qualified commentators when they clicked on this episode? Probably not. But this is the appeal of the podcast in a nutshell. Setting expectations ahead of any episode is pointless. The only guaranteed fixtures are Michaan and Hersch, and even they don’t know what is going to happen ahead of time. They’re funny hosts, but they’re also tour guides leading their audience through the lives and psychologies of people they’re meeting for the first time and serving as surrogates for their reactions. They put everyone on an equal outdoor playing field, which is why they pay all their guests one dollar.
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