I listen to an absurd number of podcasts. I love everything from highly polished scientific and political shows, all the way down to the over-caffeinated ramblings of comedy dudes furiously scrambling to out-riff each other. Many of my favorite podcasts have made me laugh so hard that strangers on the train have switched seats to avoid me. Others have left me so engrossed in the subject matter that I’ve actually walked past my own apartment building.
But there’s only one that caused me, on a gorgeous summer day, to stop dead in the middle of a crowded sidewalk and burst into tears.
The JV Club with Janet Varney, part of Nerdist Industries, is a podcast focused on comedy, women and the joys and pains of growing up. In each weekly episode, Varney (an actress/comedian you may know from Burning Love, The Legend of Korra and Rifftrax) interviews a female guest, most of whom are comedians, actors, writers and other artists. Some of her past guests include such badass ladies as Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Carrie Brownstein and Lizzy Caplan.
But the true gem of The JV Club is Varney herself. So generous, sincere and curious, she draws in both her guest and her listeners with an almost impossible magnetism. As much as I adore podcasting, it is a medium absolutely drenched in male energy and cynicism. Anyone can snag an audience with sarcasm and dick jokes, but Janet Varney does it just by being her earnest, authentic self.
The JV Club is certainly lady-centric, but in a way that doesn’t feel girly. Topics include tumultuous teenage years, career goals, art, mental health and body image issues, among many others. Each guest brings her own experiences to the conversation, so each episode takes a unique direction. To me, it feels like I’m listening in to the kinds of conversations I have with my own best friends late at night in the glow of multiple glasses of wine. And that’s the greatest thing about this podcast: it’s incredibly relatable. It is an absolute revelation to hear that these amazing, talented women have experienced some of the same struggles and triumphs I’ve had myself. There is something so empowering in that connection; to simply know we are not alone.
I have a few favorite episodes, but the one that reduced me to the aforementioned public tears features actress Janie Haddad Tompkins. Allow me to pause here and admit that, although I claimed earlier that The JV Club is not necessarily girly, the topic of boys (and girls – no heteronormative bullshit here!) obviously does come up, in both expected and unexpected ways.
It was Tompkins’ episode that I was listening to one summer day at Hollywood Beach, laying in the sun and enjoying her stories of growing up as an ‘80s kid in a small town, and laughing at her fear of being caught in an earthquake while wearing inappropriate clothing. I had just gathered up my things and was heading home when the subject changed to a relationship she’d had when she was younger. As she began to explain what happened, my heart beat faster as I realized what she was describing was so eerily similar to something I had recently experienced myself, I almost couldn’t believe it. Now, I will be a tease and say that if you want to know exactly what happened to Tompkins (and it’s a doozy), you’ll have to listen to her episode. But suffice to say, it involved a man, some “extracurricular activities”, a boatload of lies and a heavy dose of gaslighting.
As I listened to Tompkins describe the pain of being manipulated and tricked into doubting her own instincts, I stopped dead in my tracks. My own version of this ordeal was a fresh wound and, although the initial sting had faded somewhat, the painful residual feelings of disbelief that I’d been taken advantage of so thoroughly and for so long still had a firm grasp on me. Tompkins described having nearly the identical feelings, and I was blown away that someone so beautiful, smart and awesome would have experienced this too – and had come out the other side just fine. The combination of relief, gratitude and connection sent me into long, ugly sobs right there on Sheridan Avenue. I got some weird looks, but I didn’t even care. It was like the light had just been turned on in a very dark room.
My connection to The JV Club may be a bit more dramatic than others’, but I maintain that even if you aren’t nursing a recently broken heart, the shared stories, philosophies and (of course) laughs are powerful indeed. The JV Club is a resource and a community for female podcast fans, but I’d recommend it for savvy men as well. It’s a window into the thoughts and feelings of some of the coolest girls around, and consistently proves to its listeners there’s real reward for opening the curtains and letting in a little light once in a while. I mean, hey, one can only listen to so many dick jokes. Right?