Vital Moments

Podcasters Let Loose!

In the social column this week: Leon Neyfakh, Steven Phillips-Horst, Evan Hughes, Emily Blunt (sort of), Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Wesley Morris, perpetual party guest Matt Zeitlin, Elvia Wilk, and many more…

Maybe it’s the nice weather calling for long walks with dulcet tones chattering in your ears. Maybe it’s podcasters emerging from their production hibernations as the drabbest of drabby days recede. Whatever the explanation, podcasters dominated this week’s gatherings. A coterie of French podcasters has been flitting around New York, including Wednesday’s champagne-soaked drinks at the Villa Albertine’s Payne Whitney Mansion on the Upper East Side. But American podcasters, and other media-types, made a stronger showing at the Fiasco wrap party on Thursday, which is where we focus this week on how the stuff of life coursed through the city…


On Thursday evening, at an unmarked venue on Lafayette Street, down a dark stairway, in a cavernous bar, Leon Neyfakh hosted a wrap party for the Fiasco podcast’s latest season. Some early arrivals wondered if they were in the right place as they made their way down to a space in a transitional phase, no longer what it once was and not yet sure what it will be. There were troughs of canned piña coladas, Palomas, and beer on the bar and couches along the walls with tables alongside them, but a ladder and a jumble of chairs stood in a corner, and the bathrooms had no lights. “This used to be Butter, which was the club in 2007 that Mischa Barton and other starlets of the time would go to. When I first moved to New York in 2005, because I am a hundred years old, Butter was a mythical place that you read about in Us Weekly,” said Steven Phillips-Horst, co-host of the Celebrity Book Club podcast and Gawker columnist. Wasn’t the space a bit small to have hosted a legendary club? “Sweetie, m’kay, when it’s 1 a.m., and Courtney Love’s doing coke in the back, the world feels huge,” he said. “Now it’s a place you can wander in for free and have your podcast party at. So that’s how the city’s evolved: It’s gone from Courtney Love doing coke to podcasters having canned cocktails at 7 p.m.”

The last episode of the Fiasco season had been posted that morning, and host Neyfakh was ready to party, though he’d be back to work on forthcoming seasons soon. “We have two next ones going and another thing, there’s a lot,” he said. “Bernie Goetz is our next one.” Writer Evan Hughes, who’d come down from Rhinebeck for the party, interjected, “Isn’t he a lyric in ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire?’” Neyfakh conceded that that wasn’t an uncommon association. “People have been joking we should do a podcast on all the different lyrics,” he said.

Hughes was buzzing with exciting developments of his own. News had just broken that Emily Blunt would star in the adaptation of his new book The Hard Sell. “If it’s in Deadline it’s really going to happen,” predicted Fiasco producer and novelist Sam Graham-Felsen. Even as that bright future loomed, Hughes thought back to the setbacks of his youthful term at The New York Review of Books. “I worked for Barbara Epstein, I was her last assistant before she died. That was actually why I left. They laid me off,” he said. “It was pretty rough. It was funny, my corporate lawyer friends would be like, ‘Say what you will about corporate America, that would never happen that you get fired because your boss dies.’”

New Yorker staff writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus and New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris stood chatting in a corner by the bar. “I haven’t been to a party in a space where there’s no obvious ventilation in two and a half years,” Morris said. “That feels good.” They weren’t total pandemic hermits, but neither had been to a media or book party in recent memory. There were some they were looking forward to, however. “I think when Josh Cohen gets back from Jerusalem, we’re going to have a Pulitzer party,” said Lewis-Kraus. “I don’t know that guy, but that book is great. And I can’t believe it won! I can’t believe it,” said Morris. “It means they actually read the fucking books.” Lewis-Kraus assured him that he’d be welcome at the party when it finally came around. “I don’t know him, don’t waste a spot on me,” Morris said. “Come anyway,” said Lewis-Kraus.

They were part of a contingent of old-school, text-based media types, including The New York Times’sDodai Stewart and Joe Coscarelli, The New York Times Magazine’s Willy Staley and Sasha Weiss, The New Yorker’s Alice Gregory and Carrie Battan (“I fucking love the podcast!”), Vanity Fair’s Dan Adler, Bloomberg’s Max Abelson, New York magazine contributor Caroline Bankoff, The Nation and New York contributor Max Pearl, former managing editor of Snoop Dogg’s Merry Jane Zach Sokol, and Grid reporter and perpetual party guest Matt Zeitlin.

The podcasters, however, were not to be overmatched in the crowd. The largest group were employees of Prologue Projects, Neyfakh’s company that produced Fiasco, including production manager Percia Verlin(who’d recently been part of a bachelorette party where they went clubbing dressed as clowns), producers Rachel Ward and Samantha Lee, executive producer Andrew Parsons (“I have these two kittens — they’re not kittens anymore. They’re cats that are a year and a half old. They were born underneath the house across the street from us, and we adopted them. Whenever there is rain or any sort of wind blowing really bad outside, and they’re on my lap, it just makes me so happy that they’re there”), 5-4 co-host Peter Shamshiri, and Phillips-Horst’s Celebrity Book Club co-host Lily Marotta (“This is more rocking than I thought for a podcast party”). Podcasters from outside the company milled about the room as well, including Tracie Hunte of WNYC’s The Experiment, Red Scare co-host Dasha Nekrasova (who, along with Neyfakh and director Eugene Kotlyarenko, gave the party some Russophone cred), and Know Your Enemy co-hosts Matt Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell.

Sitman had returned on Sunday from a trip to a ranch in Oregon with his boyfriend. “We mostly hung out with his grandparents, both of whom are in their 80s,” he said. How much of the week did he spend on horseback? “It’s not that type of ranch,” he explained. “It used to be a ranch, and now rich people live there.” Shamshiri had also recently been out West. He’d proposed to his girlfriend about two weeks ago at a spa in Santa Fe. “It was a very ritzy little spa,” he said. That wasn’t the only talk of nuptials going around the party. “A friend of mine here just soft invited me to their wedding,” said Phillips-Horst. “Carrie and Joe are getting married. I’m excited.”

Meanwhile, another couple talked about the apartment they’d just bought on the Lower East Side. How did they afford it? “I’m a lawyer, but that’s not how,” said the wife. Her parents, the husband explained, had paid for them to move back into the building. “We used to live there and then we got divorced, or separated, for a year,” he said. “I think her parents are trying to incentivize the getting back together we were doing anyway.”

A procession of pizzas broke through the crowd. One with “Fiasco” spelled out in ricotta veered away from the rest of the stack and was put up for display on the bar. Novelist and essayist Elvia Wilk tried to snag a slice of the flagship pizza but was stopped by the forthcoming establishment’s proprietor. Moving past that rebuff, she sat on a couch along one wall, away from the airless center of the room, with artist David Levine. “Neither of us belongs here at all,” said Levine. “I want to occupy the most marginalized position. I don’t belong here!” Wilk exclaimed. Where did she belong? “Literally nowhere! Not even my own bed!” Reconsidering this a few minutes later, she clarified, “I am not whatsoever a marginal character, I am extremely central and important.” Levine was quick to back up this course correction. “Yeah, I take it all back,” he said, “I still don’t belong, but she belongs.”


Wednesday: New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz will be talking about her memoir Lost & Foundwith This American Life host Ira Glass at 7 p.m. at St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights.

Thursday: Vice News will celebrate the approach of summer at its Williamsburg headquarters at 6 p.m.

Monday, May 23: New York Times Magazine writer-at-large Jon Mooallem will be launching his essay collection Serious Face at 7 p.m. at the Powerhouse Arena bookstore in Dumbo. As the erstwhile host of The Walking Podcast, Mooallem will fit right in with his Q&A interlocutor, walking Substacker Isaac Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, May 24: Historian Lesley M. M. Blume will be talking about John Hersey’s Hiroshima with New Yorker archive editor Erin Overbey and Foreign Policy columnist Janine di Giovanni at 6 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Wednesday, May 25: At 7 p.m. in the library at The Malin in SoHo, Penta magazine senior editor Mitch Moxley and Bloomberg Businessweek contributor David Gauvey Herbert will host the second edition of The Night Editor, a series of storytelling, readings, and interviews. Presenters for this show include Harper’scontributor Sam Sussman and The Ringer, Marie Claire, and Vice contributor Katie Gee Salisbury. There’ll be an after-party nearby. 

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