As a person born in the 80s, I remember it well when Microsoft launched Windows ’95 and asked ‘Where Do You Want to Go Today?’. I remember along with the internet appearing in homes, and being able to ‘go’ where seemed like literally ANYWHERE via your computer and I remember that feeling still. I hadn’t had that kind of feeling since then, until I started listening to the Beautiful/Anonymous podcast.
I started listening to podcasts as a means of keeping me interested in running on a gym treadmill for a full hour without losing my interest. I started with Serial (didn’t we all?) since that was what everyone was talking about at the time. I then added This American Life to my subs list, and it was during one of these episodes that I was introduced to Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People (or Beautiful/Anonymous).
Living in the UK, I’ll admit I’d never heard of New Jersey born Comedian Chris Gethard. But I immediately liked his conversational style, his use of friendly banter and (of course) his accent. The premise of the podcast is that the producers of the show will periodically put out a telephone number, people will call and if they get through they can talk to Chris, totally anonymously, about anything of their choosing. The caller can choose to end the call whenever they want, but Chris can’t. Then at 60 minutes the call is disconnected.
It’s a great idea. But how does this remind me of Windows 95? It all goes back to ‘that feeling’. I adored being able to instantly find out about people’s cultures and lives in other countries. I could watch a webcam of Times Square or a beach in Hawaii. I could see photos of someone’s quinceañera and feel like I was there. I could live chat to people in other countries in chat-rooms, and learn all about their lives! So when I started listening to Beautiful/Anonymous I started to get similar insights into people’s worlds. Where else could I listen to the story of an Australian Bushman? How else would I get to hear fun, disgusting, heartbreaking and sometimes very dark stories?
And it’s not just American people featured. Chris recently put out a number for UK residents to call, and that call was just as insightful as the others. And obviously there’s not just Americans who can make a call from America.
But it’s not just the content of the caller’s stories that make Beautiful/Anonymous so engaging. Chris, the host, is fantastically natural and just as engaging on the calls. As a huge advocate of therapy and taking care of your mental health, he relates to a lot of the callers. He’s in a position where, even though he’s loathed to give the kind of advice you might consider counselling, he is a fantastic listener. He knows how to keep a balance between entertaining and prying – a skill I feel he has honed during the period of the 100+ episodes that have been put out.
But coming away from the podcast itself, we should also talk about the BA Facebook community. A community which is currently at 26k members and growing at quite a rate. I’ve never been part of a large community that’s so understanding, welcoming and diplomatic. That’s not to say that everyone agrees all the time, but with the help of some awesome moderators, conversation is just that – a conversation. A meeting of minds. It’s a respectful community where people celebrate differences of culture and opinion, bred from an environment of just that on the podcast.
I have often recommended this podcast to people I know. People who I feel are interested in other lives and cultures and ways of doing things. But I have had a 100% decline rate on it. And here’s why I think that is – the people I’ve suggested it to, I’ve chosen being that they are all of the above – interested in other people’s lives etc. However, I have a theory – everyone who loves BA, loves it because they’re on a journey themselves. They’ve accepted their Self, and even if they’re still a work in progress, they’re willing to listen to other people who are also works in progress. They might be listening to stories that could challenge their own wellbeing and make them ask questions about themselves. And this is too much of a challenge for some, understandably. Because who can judge others when they’re not without judgement themselves?
It’s a theory, but it seems to fit for now. These stories aren’t gossip, they’re not going to make you feel better about yourself. But you will come away from each of them with something – a sore stomach from laughing, a heavy heart, maybe tears in your eyes, inspiration, admiration. Awe.
If you, like me, are genuinely interested in people, you might just like it. I’m subscribed via Apple Podcasts and I’m so glad I was there from the very start, to hear the journeys of these 100+ people. I hope to be able to attend a live show eventually, as they tape them from time to time.
If you decide to listen, or if you listen already, please let me know. I’d love to know there was a fellow BA fan in my midst!