Summary: A safe space for nerding out about all the things you're watching, reading, listening to and encountering IRL.
The 90s TV drama 'My So-Called Life' had a profound impact on Nerdette host Greta Johnsen. (“Jordan Catalano still holds a special place in my heart,” she said of the fictional Liberty High School heartthrob played by Jared Leto.) Jason Katims helped create that TV show, along with other heart-wrenching dramas like 'Parenthood' and 'Friday Night Lights.' Now Katims is the writer and executive producer of another dramatic network TV show set in high school: 'Rise,' which combines football, musical theater, and plenty of high school teen angst. “I mean, I’m clearly stuck in my own progression in life,” Katims tells Nerdette. “I got stuck at 17 and never moved on.” Katims talked with us about 'Rise,' why so much of his writing examines adolescence, and what a busy Hollywood showrunner does to recharge. (Plus, get hyped for plenty of TV clips featuring PEAK teen angst.)
Tomi Adeyemi is the 24-year-old author of 'Children of Blood and Bone,' a new young adult novel that — in terms of pop culture blockbusters — could be on par with 'The Hunger Games' or 'Harry Potter.' The book, the first in a West African-inspired fantasy series, hit shelves earlier this month — more than a year after the movie rights were picked up by Fox 2000. Adeyemi tells Nerdette that part of her motivation to write the book stemmed from racist reactions to 'The Hunger Games' movies. “There were people online being like, ‘Why’d they make Rue and Cinna black? Why’d they make all the good characters black? It wasn’t sad when Rue was speared to death because she was black,’” Adeyemi says. “Seeing that level of racism applied in a fictional world heightened it for me. Because yes, The Hunger Games isn’t real, but the fact that someone could feel that strongly and have that much hatred for something that isn’t even real? I’m like, if that’s what you feel for fake things, then what do you feel about me?” Adeyemi talks with Nerdette host Greta Johnsen and special guest-host Jenn White (of WBEZ's Making Obama and Making Oprah podcasts) about how she came to write a fantasy novel that simultaneously depicted the modern black experience.
As a four-year old in Juneau, Alaska, Nerdette host Greta Johnsen was diagnosed with an eye condition known as "Best disease." That name is a misnomer for several reasons — the big one being that "Best disease" causes premature macular degeneration — but curiously it happens to be among the best diseases for experimenting with CRISPR, a genetic engineering tool that can be used to edit DNA. This very special episode of Nerdette follows Greta, her father, and Dr. Bruce Conklin, the scientist who's currently trying to develop the perfect CRISPR system to inject into some Johnsen family eyeballs. Plus, you can't have a conversation about experimental gene editing without discussing the ethical implications of making irreversible changes to human evolution. “We’d be permanently altering the course of evolution if we decide that we think it’s OK to edit human embryos," says Megan Hochstrasser, a science communications manager and CRISPR expert. "Is that something we want to be able to do as a society?” That's a great question. Let's talk about it. Special thanks this week to the Innovative Genomics Institute as well as the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Anna Deavere Smith might be best known for her acting roles on NBC’s The West Wing and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. But she’s also one of the most prolific playwrights of “documentary-style theater,” where she uses verbatim interviews as source material in hopes of pushing her audience toward “an adjustment in the way that they think.” Her latest work is a one-woman show called Notes From The Field, which was recently released on HBO. It examines how minority students living in poverty often end up incarcerated. To make it, Smith interviewed 250 people affected by the school-to-prison pipeline, including inmates, educators, and witnesses to injustice. Smith told Nerdette co-host Tricia Bobeda about how she made Notes From The Field and what she hopes it will achieve.
If you’re looking for a way to combat the online trolls and bots fomenting unrest in the U.S., comedian Negin Farsad might have a solution for you. “I guess if I were to name it, it’s a philosophy called ‘being aggressively delightful,’” she tells us. Farsad, an Iranian-American Muslim, is the co-host of the podcast Fake the Nation, the author of the book How to Make White People Laugh, and sometimes you can hear her on our very own WBEZ as a panelist for NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! She told us how she manages to be aggressively delightful, even when confronted with intolerance.
Ilene Chaiken has been a showrunner for TV hits like Fox’s Empire, an executive producer for Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale, and a writer, producer, and director for Showtime’s The L Word in the mid-2000s. In other words, she’s a boss. “I don’t like the word that much,” Chaiken said on Nerdette. “I mean, I like it as in, ‘Oh, she’s a boss.’ You know, ‘She’s a badass. She’s a boss.’ But I don’t like the kind of hierarchical aspect of it.” Chaiken talked with Nerdette co-hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen about the upcoming reboot of The L Word, her recently greenlit pilot project with Fox, and about how she became a boss. She also had some important homework for you: “I want to know who hasn’t seen herself — and I’ll just make it gendered — who hasn’t seen herself represented on television, and what would she like to see?” If you’ve got an answer, tweet them to @NerdettePodcast and @IleneChaiken.
Olympians and experts on the science of fear, the physics of sliding down ice super duper fast, and the feminist fight to get women into more sports.
When Teresa Woodruff started working for a biotech company fresh out of graduate school, her employer revealed that the first studies for a new heart attack treatment had been performed on 50,000 men. “And so I kinda raised my hand and said, ‘That’s interesting. Where are all the women?” Today, Teresa is an expert in ovarian biology and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University in Chicago. We ask her why so many prescription drugs were tested only on men for so many decades, what that’s meant for women’s health, and what’s changed. Plus, Teresa tells us about Repropedia, her encyclopedia for reproductive health, and “A New You, That's Who” (think “Schoolhouse Rock!” but instead of conjunctions, it's about puberty.) More info on Teresa Woodruff’s work can be found at www.woodrufflab.org.
Comedian John Hodgman, longtime fan of the lovingly-reviled Swedish spirit called Malört, tells Nerdette, “I’m fascinated with things that are still regional in an increasingly non-regional country.” He also calls the disagreeable beverage "“a delightful, heady blend of pencil shavings and shame.” Nerdette's Tricia Bobeda talked with Hodgman about his new book, Vacationland, before inviting in Sam Mechling, director of marketing for Jeppson's Malört, to better help us all understand this unique, wormwood-based liqueur. Prost!
Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Her most recent novel, Manhattan Beach, was among 10 works of fiction long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award. Not too shabby, right? But Egan told Greta that an early draft of Manhattan Beach was so bad she almost scrapped the whole thing. “I probably came as close to abandoning this as I have to any project I’ve worked on,” she said. On this week's Nerdette, Egan explains why things got rough, how she powered through, and the evolutionary advantage of forgetting how hard things can be. Plus, we get some help from Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Historical Society, to break down Egan's nerd obsession: Out of place buildings.
“I think it’s going to last more than a moment,” said the celebrated author on this week’s Nerdette. “But how much more than a moment, it remains to be seen." Nerdette co-host Greta Johnsen talks with author Margaret Atwood about the recent TV adaptations of her novels Alias Grace and The Handmaid's Tale, how her take on feminism has changed in recent years, and what needs to happen to make sure the “Harvey Weinstein moment” isn’t just a moment. Plus, we explore one of Atwood's nerd obsessions: The 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner.
Daveed Diggs says starring in the hit musical Hamilton opened a lot of doors for him. One of those doors? Meeting hip hop legend Busta Rhymes. “Like, I can text Busta Rhymes right now. That? That is a crazy thing to me.” Diggs stopped by WBEZ to talk with Greta about his first feature film, Wonder, out in theaters Friday. They also talk about Hamilton, his ABC TV series The Mayor, and his rap group Clipping. Note: In the audio of this week’s episode, we state that a groundnut is “an acorn that has fallen.” This statement is actually quite false.
Knitting can be dangerous. Just ask author, scholar, and (of course) knitter Eve Ewing. She explains what she calls “the sweater curse” to Nerdette hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen. They also discuss the impact of the late music icon Prince, the rise of Afrofuturism, and why Ewing can’t wait to get off social media. Plus, an excerpt from Ewing's new book of poetry Electric Arches.
In her seminal work on 'Muppet Theory,' Slate reporter Dahlia Lithwick once wrote that "every living human" can be categorized as either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet. On this super-special Supreme Court edition of Nerdette, lifelong SCOTUS-nerd and Nerdette host Tricia Bobeda asks Lithwick to apply her Unified Theory of Muppet Types to each Supreme Court Justice. The results are pure madness! Then Greta talks with Bryant Johnson, who is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal fitness trainer. He recently wrote a book about RBG's hardcore conditioning routine. Waka waka!
Like the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons, Betty and Veronica taking down the Predator alien, and Sabrina the teenage witch dating Eric Matthews on Boy Meets World, nothing beats an epic crossover. That’s why Nerdette hosts Greta Johnsen and Tricia Bobeda sat down with Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, hosts of CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND, the premiere podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. They talked friendship, feminism, and bodily fluids before playing a Newlywed-esque game to determine which pair of co-hosts knows each other better. It's the podcast mashup you didn’t know you needed — but definitely do.