‘The Long Shot’ Explores the Complex Relationship Between a Podcast and its Most Devoted Listeners

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There’s something about the intimacy and relatively modesty of the medium of podcasts that encourages obsessiveness and intensity. Podcasters and fans tend to be intense people so it makes sense that the bonds they share are similarly intense. This is particularly true of venerable podcast The Long Shot.

The Long Shot may not be the most popular podcast, but it has some of the medium’s most devoted fans. The podcast began with bitter Buddha Eddie Pepitone as the hilarious if perpetually distracted main attraction. The genially cranky character actor was joined by ingratiatingly sincere thirty-something dreamer Jamie Flam, ebullient comedian and dancer Amber Kenny and Sean Conroy, a master improviser, TV writer, and comedian with the stern, commanding, and authoritative air of the teacher he once was and remains.

Then Pepitone left and was eventually replaced by Joe Wagner, whose shambling vulnerability and openness made him a terrific addition. Wagner began his Long Shot journey as a loyal fan and still brings that sensibility to the podcast as a regular. As both a Long Shot fan and fixture, Wagner has a unique perspective on podcast fandom, particularly when it comes to “mailbag” episodes where the podcasters read letters from listeners, in part as a way of reminding themselves that they are not just sending their thoughts and ideas and podcasts out into a black, endless void from which nothing can ever return.

Mailbox episodes are common for podcasts but they are particularly well-suited to The Long Shot because the podcast is very much about relationships. It’s about the host’s relationships with each other, and how those relationships have changed and evolved over time. But it’s also about the individual podcaster’s relationships with themselves and with the world around them.

Lastly, The Long Shot is about the podcast’s, and the podcasters’, relationships with listeners, a bond that is no less powerful and important for being overwhelmingly one-sided and virtual. For a lot of die-hard podcast listeners, their favorite podcasters are close friends they probably won’t ever meet or interact with except in the most fleeting fashion.

On the inherently fascinating mailbox episodes of The Long Shot, we get to meet listeners of the podcast from around the world and learn about their lives and habits and most pointedly, the role The Long Shot plays in their lives. There are several letters read in the latest mailbag episode of The Long Shot but it is dominated by a note from a listener named Heidi whose length, intensity and impact make it feel closer to a manifesto than a regular email.

Heidi’s email is notable for its quality as well as its quantity. Like so many podcast listeners, and also letter writers, she cannot resist the urge to indulge in armchair psychotherapy. When podcasters open up emotionally the way the Long Shot podcasters do on a constant basis, it’s tough not to see yourself as an unofficial therapist tasked by the universe with diagnosing your favorite funny people based on what they’ve revealed about themselves and their lives.

The letter is overwhelmingly flattering. It reduces Amber to tears but it is not without its critical elements. The bracing tension in the podcast comes from Sean’s persistent mocking of Jamie, for example, which is affectionate and amusing but can sometimes have a harsh undertone. Heidi posits that Sean is critical of Jamie because he represents elements of himself he dislikes or is uncomfortable with. This is an assertion that inspires not just reflection but genuine soul-searching on Conroy’s part. The letter is almost intentionally overwhelming. There’s so much to it that a lot of the podcast is devoted both to reading the letter in its entirety and then processing it, a process that extends to the following episode.

The letter sent to the gang is at once strangely universal in its themes and fascinatingly specific. There are themes in her treatise that reappear throughout tales of podcast devotion, like a life-changing, traumatic, and life-altering tragedy made bearable by the comfort found in the always-soothing voices of her favorite podcasters. Heidi’s husband also makes an appearance in the email and in doing so stands in for every other loving partner or spouse of an obsessive podcast fan who ends up learning a lot about the lives of the people behind a podcast they don’t even listen to because they are such an important, if unseen, element of a loved one’s life.

You’d think an episode like this, which delves so deeply into everything that came before it, and years upon years of obsessive podcast fandom and analysis, would be an imposing, or even foolish place to begin with a podcast like The Long Shot. I would argue that the opposite is true. Among other things, listener Heidi’s manifesto doubles as a compelling Cliff’s Notes primer as to who these four very different but equally fascinating people are, what they’ve been through, and why some obsessive listeners are more emotionally invested in their lives than they are in the lives of their own families and friends.  

Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.

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