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New Discovery

New Discovery: Normal Gossip

What if gossip was treated with the respect it deserves?

3:30 PM GMT+1 on April 18, 2024

    Normal Gossip from Radiotopia is back for its 6th season and I , for one , could not be more delighted. Every Wednesday for the next few weeks, I get to marinate myself in the  “juicy, strange, funny, and utterly banal gossip about people I’ll never know and never meet.” HEAVEN. 

    For those of you not familiar with the show,  let me break it down. Each episode, host Kelsey McKinney spends an hour or so deliciously unspooling a very detailed piece of parochial gossip which happened to a ‘friend of a friend’. Subjects are anonymous, locations are changed, thus reputations are protected. So, it feels like a very satisfying guilt-free guilty pleasure. Afterall…. Who is going to get hurt?! 

    Each week, Kelsey is joined by a guest who will listen to the gossip. They are usually a cultural commentator of sorts who has  an impressive CV and is more usually known for their thoughtful and clever takes on society or politics. And that is what is so smart about Normal Gossip; the subjects are daft (woman infiltrates dog walking group but pretends to have a dog, a family rents an Airbnb for Thanksgiving which turns out to be a cannabis farm, a woman volunteers for a blood drive to find a man and ends up trying to impress her secret crush who is also engaged to the prettiest donor in town...) - but the treatment is almost academic. 

    At the start, each guest will be asked about ‘their relationship to gossip’ and this opener sets the tone for the whole show. Guests brought up in churches talk about the sanctified ‘gossip’ of prayer requests versus the forbidden gossip of non-believers and young women in competitive workplaces talk about how gossip can be a protection of sorts from people you just should not trust. It’s a mix I really love in podcasts - it’s why You’re Wrong About is a perennial fav of mine and why I mourn the OG High Low with Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton. Treating fluff forensically is fun.

    And that, I think, is why having a completely invested audience of one on the show works so well in Normal Gossip. After each little chapter of nonsense in let’s say, the plant theft story or queer football league drama, the guest is invited to comment and share what they would have done/ would do differently if they were part of the story. And this is where it gets completely genius. Details of the story are picked over in minute detail and the characters behaviour is put under a microscope. There’s outrage, disbelief, hysteria and complete bafflement. And there’s Kelsey’s whip-smart commentary to boot. 

    Whatsapp etiquette, Facebook manners and neighbourly niceties are all dissected with the same attention that the guest would normally afford to something serious that actually matters  and I am here for all of it. Plus, in a funny way these absurd and hilarious stories do actually matter, in that they are quite sweetly revealing. They show humans for what we are: proud and silly and a bit rude and vulnerable and selfish and trying to get it right and not really hitting the mark. And in that way we can probably see a bit of ourselves in every episode of this warm and silly, and very relatable show.

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