Elizabeth Nakano and Paddy O'Connell, hosts of the new interview show 'Safety Third,' talk about their interviewing techniques and what they're listening to
Like any great love story, this one starts with two strangers at a baggage claim.
Last year, at 5Point Film Festival, Fitz Cahall, the elder statesman of outdoor podcasts for the past 11 years as host of the Dirtbag Diaries, approached writer Paddy O’Connell about potentially hosting a second podcast. He wanted to start an interview-style show about the outdoor world, but he wanted it to be weird and irreverent and fun, and after watching O’Connell drop from the ceiling wearing flaming fairy wings while hosting the festival, he figured he might be the right person for the job. O’Connell was interested.
Elizabeth Nakano, who had been freelance producing for the Seattle-based Diaries, came to town to meet the crew and talk about ideas, and by the time they left baggage claim at Sea-Tac, she and O’Connell, who had never met before, were riffing on each other, tossing jokes back and forth.
Nakano was initially just supposed to produce the show, but when Cahall heard their rapport, he had a better idea. The two would co-host, and use their banter—O’Connell’s goofy good cop, and Nakano’s eye rolling bad cop—to draw out guests. The result is a brand new weekly podcast: Safety Third, which launched at the end of May. In the first season they ask people like BASE jumper Chris MacNamara about disasters, or Wylder Goods founder Jainee Dial about losing her boyfriend in a climbing accident.
“Like Dirtbag Diaries, we’re still building on a story arc, and some poignancy, but we’re doing it in a really different way,” O’Connell says. “We’re going to talk about the outdoor industry, about death, about love. It’s a really wide scope.”
Nakano says they try to get guests to drill down to a specific belief statement that shapes the way they look at the world. The statement for their show is “ideas forged from adventure.” We asked them about their podcasting philosophy, their dream guests, and what they’ve been listening to (besides their own show).
On Why They Like Podcasting as Their Platform
ELIZABETH NAKANO: It’s an overused trope, but people always say it’s like storytelling around a campfire, and there is something really intimate about hearing people’s voices right in your ear.
PADDY O’CONNELL: We didn’t really want an interview podcast, we wanted it to be a conversation. Originally the plan was me in front of a microphone. We tried one run through of that and everyone was like, “This is not it.” In a conversation you interject and talk over people, so by miking everyone and layering the audio, we could make it feel like that.
On Belief Statements
PO: The way I see it in my head, Elizabeth and I are kind of like aliens floating around asking people, “How do you do life?” Those people are going to tell us the lessons they’ve learned, and how they use those as fuel to move forward and navigate life. Selfishly, it’s kind of like: “Can you make me a better person based on your good stuff and your hard stuff?” I love the outdoors because it really puts your character on trial in front of you. You can be happy-go-lucky in the parking lot, but what happens when you’re in the backcountry and shit hits the fan?
EN: I ask guests, do they have a gut feeling about a certain principle, and from there we get into the facts, and things from their life that build up to that. It’s not necessarily how they apply their beliefs, but more, how do we arrive at certain conclusions.
PO: We had my parents on, to talk about love, and their belief is: “We believe marriage is a path to self,” or [director of Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry] Luis Benitez said, “The outdoor industry needs to operate like the oil industry.”
On Helping Guests to Open Up
PO: Elizabeth and I, because of who we are, use humor as a way to connect but also a way to hide in plain sight. I’ve had to laugh through the difficult things I’ve been through and now we’re getting to use humor to discuss big things. You can disarm people, and get their shields down. Wait, that sounds creepy. I mean we use it to ease the listeners in, to talk about the tough parts. We call it the beach entrance.
On What’s Next
PO: Coming up we have episodes with Stacy Bare, Eric Jackson, and Erik Weihenmayer. But I’m also excited about digging into the rapport between Elizabeth and me, and figuring out how we use that. As a writer I’ve never had a writing partner, and I’ve had tons of editors, but I’ve never sat across the table with someone and worked on the same piece. I finally realize how Lennon and McCartney felt. Did I just call us the Beatles?
On a Dream Guest
PO: Michael Jordan. Dude, I still watch Michael Jordan videos on VHS.
On What They’re Listening To
EN: I listen to over 100 podcasts every month, to try to focus on different storytelling techniques, and track what people are finding interesting. Right now I’m really into Caliphate from The New York Times. It’s by one of my favorite Radiolab producers, Andy Mills, and Rukmini Callimachi, who I think is an amazing journalist.
PO: I just finished reading The New American Road Trip Mixtape. The world needs to read more Brendan Leonard. I could listen to Terry Gross all day. Have you heard the interview she does with Marc Maron? He flips it around on her and makes her talk about herself, and it’s amazing.