In today's world of Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, content overload is something that we've become accustomed to. There are choices upon choices to be made after you've hit that power button. Funny or thought-provoking? Something to make you laugh or help you learn? Comedy can be soothing as well as entertaining but getting educated on important things like political issues that affect the world we live in and bills that may impact us in various ways is something that we really can't afford not to pay attention to.
Now thanks to podcast hosts Arden Walentowski and Lizzie Stewart, we don't have to choose between getting a good handle on what's going on in the country (and world) around us and getting a good and much-needed belly laugh. Walentowski, a political strategist and Stewart, a comedian, come together in the most wonderful way in this two-for-one podcast called "Let's Get Civical." It has been described as "part civics class and part comedy club." Sound good to you? We thought so! Read on and learn more about this dynamic duo in another exclusive interview.
TheThings (TH): Lizzie and Arden, how did you two meet and how did the idea for the podcast come to be?
Lizzie Stewart (LS): We met at work, this podcast was Arden's brainchild that existed in several forms. She would talk to me about it from time to time and it always sounded exciting. Then one day out of the blue she emailed me asking if I wanted to co-host it with her (which made me meltdown with excitement) and we met for breakfast not long after and the rest is history.
Arden Walentowski (AW): Lizzie and I met at the Atlantic Theater Company where we both studied and worked. I came up with the idea for the podcast after the 2016 election. People across the country were engaged, frightened, and angry. I was working on campaigns, but across the board, what I found was missing was a fundamental understanding of the processes of government and politics, at a very basic level. I had friends who were angry at what they were seeing on the news but sometimes didn’t know what they were angry about. They just knew what they were hearing in the news sounded bad. I wanted to add something constructive to the conversation. I was lucky enough to have amazing teachers in high school who taught me about American government, politics, and history and had instilled in me the importance of civics and being involved in our democracy. But most Americans didn't have the public education I had, and so this show is about getting that information out there, but in a fun way so it’s not boring as hell!
TH: You both have such different careers. What do you have in common?
LS: A passion for wine.
AW: Don’t let Lizzie fool you, she knows more about politics than she lets on. I also used to be an actor and enjoy making people laugh, so we have that in common too. But we also just work really well together because we work the same way. Creating and launching the pod has been seamless because we’re always on the same wavelength and that’s a gift I never take for granted.
TH: We’ve heard that “Let’s Get Civical” is like an American Government class with your best friends. Lizzie, if you took American Government, did you enjoy it or would you have enjoyed it more with a best friend who knew a bit about making the subject fun?
LS: I did have an American Government class in high school. It was only a semester-long class, in the spring of my senior year of high school. It was taught by the Lacrosse coach who cared a lot more about lacrosse than he did the class (which is nothing against Lacrosse or teacher's who also coach it's just that this was not in any way his #passion). So it was really dull and no one in the class cared about it because most of us had already been accepted into our colleges. The information was basic, the really basic things like "what are the three branches of government" and things like that. None of it was contextualized into what was going on at the time, we didn't keep up with current events or legislation that was happening. It wasn't relevant or exciting in the slightest. Would it have been if it was taught by my best friend who was passionate about it and wanted to make it accessible? Of course! Anything is more enjoyable when you're learning from someone who really WANTS you to learn what they are talking about. That's what I try to bring to Let's Get Civical. I love learning about this stuff and I love breaking it down and asking questions and getting to tie it into what's happening in our country NOW so that people can better understand that this stuff matters so much more than they've been conditioned to believe.
TH: Arden, you have a successful career as a political strategist. You have worked in a congressional primary race and as a campaign staffer but have you ever entertained the idea of performing comedy?
AW: Yes! I used to be an actor and I actually went back to college in my 20s to study political science at Columbia University. This podcast has been a dream because it combines my two passions, politics and being in front of an audience. Actually, the show has reminded me how much I missed the latter when I was exclusively working on campaigns. I’m tentatively stepping my toe back into the creative realm so more on that at a later date.
TH: The goal of “Let’s Get Civical” is to educate your listeners about American as well as global politics so that the news can be better understood. This is a noble goal in an age where news seems to be largely dominated by entertainment news and political/world news can seem confusing and sometimes, boring to those who don’t understand it. How does “Let’s Get Civical” make the subject of American and global politics fun?
LS: I think it makes it fun because we're striving to create an atmosphere where if you don't know anything, truly anything, then you are most welcome. I find that a big downside to some of the current shows that exist, only value the presence of the expert. And while there's a huge advantage to having experts and analysts and very impressive people talking about these things, they are only accessible to a very small pool and generally are predominately men. Being two women talking about civics in itself is a novelty (although I wish it weren't) and just by our backgrounds and who we are, we're already different from what's out there. But I think our approach to making jokes, speak our minds, give information based on a ton of research, and never be afraid to not know the answer is what really makes us fun and refreshing.
AW: Luckily, Lizzie is pretty funny so that helps. We have a really easy rapport with one another and we were friends before the show so we have an easy time reading one another when recording episodes and we let our personalities come through. We also have fun and notable guests that help us break down the material and give us a fresh perspective. We laugh a lot while we’re recording episodes because we joke around and like to have fun talking about these heavy topics. We hope that joy and hilarity come across through the earbuds.
TH: Who is your target audience? Do you have many male listeners?
LS: Anyone who wants to know more but doesn't know where to start. Although we are women we are not trying to only speak to women and have open arms to any and every man who wants to listen. We also, while being open about what our political leanings are personally, do not believe in alienation based on what your political party affiliation is. We hope that anyone identifying as Republican knows that they are welcome and we will always strive to not speak about any group in a general way.
AW: Ideally, our target audience is literally all voting age (or soon to be voting age) Americans. Facts and information about civics and government should be non-partisan and available to everyone. I think, generally, we appeal to the 50s and under, left-leaning crowd based on our content and use of swear words, but we are very careful not to alienate listeners based on their party affiliation. And yes! We do! Actually, some of the most positive feedback we’ve gotten has been from our male friends and colleagues.
TH: Can you share some of the topics of your upcoming episodes?
AW: Depending on when this comes out, our next episode will cover the topic of the Presidential veto or gerrymandering. We’re also looking at the Electoral College, How a Bill Becomes a Law and The Basics of SCOTUS for potential upcoming episodes.
TH: Can you each share your favorite moment of making the show so far?
LS: One that comes up a lot is, there was a moment in our first recording of the Presidential Cabinet (we had to re-record it because there was too much turnover in the White House for it to air as it) but during our original one, we were discussing the Line of Succession and who is qualified to be on it. One of the qualifications is that you have to be a natural born citizen of the US and while we are discussing this, Arden informs me that Ted Cruz was born in Canada (I'm from Texas, I have a disdain for Ted Cruz, and this SHOOKETH me) and I went on to have a full-on meltdown of unusable audio because I genuinely had no idea AND ALSO could not HANDLE the amount of HOGWASH it was to find out that TED CRUZ ran for PRESIDENT being born in CANADA after all the OBAMA BIRTH CERTIFICATE nonsense. Still not over it.
AW: Recording our episode from February 6th on the Presidential Cabinet was so much fun. It was just Lizzie, our producer and myself and we were in rare form that day. It was a blast. I laughed so hard I cried. But I’ve also been so grateful and humbled by the people who have come on as guests so far and I’ve enjoyed talking to them about the civic and political issues they are passionate about. Geeking out over the voter reforms recently passed in New York State with Piper Perabo was definitely a highlight!
TH: Arden, what is the best thing that you have learned from Lizzie?
AW: Lizzie is my rock. I’m very quick to freak out and react to things and she has helped me learn how to take a breath and remember to take everything in stride. She probably doesn’t realize it, but she’s also taught me a lot about comedy and pacing and I learn more from her each time we record. I couldn’t have done this podcast without her!
Arden and Lizzie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with TheThings!