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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Live After WireTap

Wanda Schmöckel
Published Thursday January 21, 04:55 pm
Jonathan Goldstein has no hair or Kardashians for you

Jonathan Goldstein
The Refinery
Friday 22

Jonathan Goldstein is a writer, broadcaster and, for 11 years, was CBC Radio’s resident Eeyore as host of the beloved WireTap. That’s some tenure for a show that was mostly personal essays and exasperating fictional conversations between Goldstein and his friends and family. How did it last so long? We don’t know (and didn’t ask), but we’re very glad it did. Planet S reached Goldstein over the telephone (naturally) in advance of his appearance at Winterruption.

Have you been to Saskatoon before?

I have been. It’s the Paris of the Prairies, right?

Yes, but there’s more than one. Montmartre is also the Paris of the Prairies, I think. They have a replica of the Eiffel Tower. It’s about a four-hour drive from Saskatoon, though, so you’ll probably miss it.


So, what do you have planned for the show at the Refinery?

I think it’s going to be probably, more or less, a reading. But, for a couple of stories, I might present something like a slide show. I have a friend [who] had a book that came out called the Post-It Note Diaries where he illustrated stories on Post-It Notes. I might read and have accompanying illustrations as though I were presenting a PowerPoint. So, it’ll be all the entertainment you’ve come to love from the radio show but with cartoons.

So, it’ll be like television.

Just like television but without movement. Or Kardashians. Just a bald man on stage.

That sounds worth the price of admission.


Do you do a lot of live performance? How do you find performing live versus doing something like WireTap?

I don’t do a lot of live stuff. It makes me nervous. But I feel it’s a good thing to do every so often as a reality check — to see the people that I’m theoretically talking to. I think I gravitated to radio where I could do my work behind people’s backs in locked, dark seclusion. Like mold. Or like Batman. Which is all to say I don’t do it that often but when I do, I like doing it and it’s important to me.

I always assume writers are naturally introverted and then I’m surprised by how comfortable a number of them are in performance settings. You seem like someone who’s comfortable with both.

Or equally uncomfortable with both. What’s nice is that there’s an excuse for my discomfort. Like, if I’m at a party, it may not be as permissible, but if I’m up on stage it’s kind of an awkward-making social experience, so I kind of embrace that. I think this is the first time that I’m doing [a live show] — since [WireTap] has ceased — in a theatrical setting. I feel like I’ve attained the status of being my own oldies act. It kind of makes me feel like the Rolling Stones doing “Satisfaction”.

So, what did you do before WireTap? Did you have a background as a performer?

I came at it as a writer. Or rather, I went to work at This American Life as a writer and spent a couple of years basically learning the craft of radio and learning to become a radio producer. Prior to that, I’d done some radio essays for the CBC and I had done a summer radio show. Then I moved back to Canada, and shortly afterwards started WireTap. And the original main characters of the show — none of them came from a performance place. They were just my friends and my parents — just people I felt were naturally funny and entertaining.

So, they only worked within the bubble of the show? Someone like Howard, for example, does he [perform in anything] beyond WireTap?

He doesn’t really. Which is kind of a sad thing. We wanted to get together to do a proper send off or maybe a holiday special. I don’t know how amenable the CBC was to it or what will become of it, but people have grown to love these guys. Howard isn’t a performer — well he is; he plays in a band. And Gregor is a guy who works in advertising, and we’d talk on the phone while he was in his office on breaks between meetings or whatever. What was really gratifying was creating the space for people that you think are funny, and want to share with other people. To be able to do that was a really cool thing.

I’m also thinking of David Rakoff, who was wonderful in so many ways. While he played different characters, you were always aware that you were listening to David Rakoff.

He was so David Rakoff. Always. He was really that in extremis — although he did have a career as an actor. And he was such a dramatic reader. He had such a distinct voice, unlike anything I’d ever heard. He was one of the people who really sucked me into radio. And initially I felt shy to even ask him to do stuff on the show. But he was so amenable, and into it, and found it fun, that it made it easy. Some people were able to give you so much and were so funny all the time that it was just a bevy of things to choose from.

Do you think you’ll do another show?

Yeah, in fact actually I’m talking to you from the stairwell of Gimlet. They’re this new startup podcast network in Brooklyn. They do a show called Reply All. They do Mystery Show with my friend Starlee. So, I’m working on something with them right now that’s been exciting. The new thing will probably not be an anthology show in the same way [as WireTap], and it’ll also be reportorial. It’ll involve me out in the real world on actual long-form stories. I’m still trying to figure out the parameters, but it’ll probably be a short series.

It’ll be long.

And I think it’ll try to go deep.

And try to be a bit more sprawling.

And, like WireTap, it’s going to try to get at certain basic truths. I think, if people like WireTap, they’ll enjoy the sensibility.

Confessional or personal storytelling is much more prevalent now, and people seem more comfortable getting things off their chest than they were 10 years ago. Were there times during WireTap when you felt emotionally exposed?

I tried not to think about it very much. The irony was, when I was writing fiction I felt more inclined to express certain basic truths. I think I would maybe not feel as comfortable [doing that] under the banner of non-fiction because of concern about people’s feelings or that kind of thing. In terms of feeling exposed, maybe it’s just difficult to wrap your head around that it’s going out to so many people. Like, in his lifetime, how many people did Jesus actually get to talk to? A couple hundred or something? But now, any yutz with a microphone sitting in their parents’ basement can reach thousands. Maybe it’s too much for our reptilian brains to wrap our head around.

Well, it’s been a pleasure listening to WireTap and it’s very nice to speak with you.

Oh, thank you. Enjoy [Saskatchewan]. It must be incredibly cold there.

Actually, it’s not today. You’re in New York right now?

I am. I’m in a stairwell, sitting on a very cold metal step.

Well, at least it’s New York.

At least it’s New York. That’s what I keep telling myself.

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