ATWWD: A Must Listen for Podcast Lovers
Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
Last year, podcasts exploded. EVERYONE came out with one. Hell, even we came out with one.
But seasoned podcast vets Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz have been around the block for a minute. Their hit show "And That's Why We Drink," which they started back in 2017, merges the worlds of comedy, true crime, and paranormal activity. Shit gets both really weird and really funny, culminating in a binge-worthy series to get lost in this summer (if you haven't already).
Because working at a magazine means we get to reach out to people we're obsessed with, V spoke with Em and Christine to learn about the show's origins, as well as to learn more about the crazy ride of becoming podcast allstars.
Mathias Rosenzweig: For anyone that's not familiar already with the podcast, can you just tell our audience a little bit about what your show is about?
Christine: So, it's called ‘And That's Why We Drink.’ And it's basically a summation of all the reasons why we drink; specifically, through crime and paranormal stories. So, every week, Em comes to the table with a paranormal story and I come with a true crime story and we don't know each other's stories in advance. So we get to surprise each other and tell each other the story while our audience listens to us react to it.
MR: What stories have you covered on the show that really stick out for you?
Christine: I think the one that probably sticks with me the most is the Golden State Killer, Joseph de Angelo, “original night stalker;” a man of many names. Because I covered the story, I don't know, in 2017 or 2018. I ended the episode saying he's never been caught and, “Who knows if we'll ever have an answer?” And then a year later, all this groundbreaking DNA research and all this stuff happened. And I don't know if you've seen the HBO special, but it's really great. And so, I was able to do a follow-up and I feel like that's such a rare thing that I cover an unsolved case and then a year later we get to piece it back together and see how they ended up solving it and who the mystery man actually was. So, I think that's the one that really sticks with me the most probably.
MR: And what about you, Em?
Em: I think probably the most popular ghost story out there is usually Amityville horror or some haunted jail depending on where in the world you live. Everyone's got a haunted penitentiary somewhere nearby. But I would say Amityville was…
Christine: And asylums. I feel like people love asylums.
Em: People love asylums but I would say Amityville was probably the one I was most excited about. I only waited for three episodes to work on it. I probably was thinking about doing some of our older episodes again and revamping them since we're probably a little better at our research now. So, I would love to give that another crack.
MR: It feels like the stories you cover aren’t necessarily just true crime or paranormal activity, though. It’s a bit larger than that. What do you think all these stories have in common?
Christine: I feel like we've learned over the years that even though at the beginning, we thought, “Oh, it’s killers and ghosts”, now it's become everything from aliens to cults to scam. There are so many different elements of paranormal and….
Em: Everything spooky.
Christine: Everything creepy or spooky. Anything that's darkly fascinating maybe, or the kind of things that maybe your parents don't want to hear about at the dinner table. So, I feel like that's the bar.
MR: Life-threatening stuff, basically.
Em: Maybe that’s a good way to sum it up. But when we first started the show, we weren’t originally going to call it, “And That’s Why We Drink.” We were going to call it “Erie in Theory.” And so, I feel like the point of that was just to get all-encompassing, anything, spooky, any conspiracy theories, any unsolved cases where we could come up with our own theories, anything mysterious. So, I don't know. Anything that gives you goosebumps.
MR: That's a good way of putting it. How did you two meet and start this? Cool.
Em: We went to grad school together in Boston. We actually went to school for television. And the last semester of the program sends you out to Los Angeles to do internships and if it goes well for you, you can graduate and stay out there. But a lot of people end up moving back to Boston after school. And all my friends that I hung out with left LA after we graduated and all of Christine's friends left after graduation. So, even though we didn't run in the same circles in Boston, we knew of each other and we both knew we were all alone.
Christine: And desperate.
Em: And out of desperation, we thought, “I guess we’ve got to get to know each other.” And so, I asked Christine if she would come with me to a fall festival that had a corn maze and tractor rides and all of that. And when we got on the tractor ride, there was nothing to do because we were sitting next to each other. We were kind of forced to talk.
And we exchanged Twitter handles. And I realized that she was really funny and I saw that she had tweeted about some spooky stuff and we got on the topic of ghosts and true crime. And we both found out or realized that we both really liked that stuff. And Christine asked me if I ever listened to any podcasts. And I asked, “What's a podcast?” And she gave me a few recommendations, which were all aligned with “And that’s why we drink” in some way; the same genre. And within a few months. I was saying, “It sounds like all these people are best friends just hanging out.” And every time we see each other, now we talk about this kind of stuff. Why not get a microphone and see what happens?
Christine: At the festival, Em was literally carrying around a lemon poppy loaf in their hand and eating it. And I thought, “Who is this person?” I was wearing my new flannel. And I was making Em take pictures of me in front of the hay.
Em: For LA it never rains, but it had really rained the day before. And so, the corn maze, which was just a dirt pack. It was a mud pack. And you couldn't even make it through one turn without your shoe getting ripped off your foot because it was so muddy and the mud was so sticky. And so, we only got through a portion of it and my feet were muddy and I was just eating this loaf of bread the whole day. It was a very weird first meeting, but it was one of those meetings where I like to give it a credit where either you're in or you're out after.
MR: There's no turning back. You can't unsee that.
Em: I was really bearing my all there. Christine latched on.
MR: You guys then obviously began to work really hard on the podcast. And on top of working hard, had a sort of talent for it. I recently saw a New York Times article about how it’s now the “Age of the Audio Content Creators” or something like that. Does that resonate with you?
Christine: I think about that a lot. And I studied journalism in undergrad and it was broadcasting. And so, most of it was TV and stealing my roommates, blazer to sit in front of a microphone and talk about DC weather. It was all video. And I took one class with this rally old man named Dr. Doolittle. That’s literally his name. It was a radio class. And we were all so annoyed that we were forced to take this class because we're thinking, “Oh my God, this is such an outdated form of media. Who wants to learn about radio?” And we had to do a sample podcast. And I remember thinking, “Who on earth is going to be listening to people talking when we have YouTube and we have TV? And at that time, I don't know, Snapchat or whatever?” And I thought it was just so ridiculous. And now to this day, I think Dr. Doolittle's probably cursing me from his grave because this is literally what I do for a career now.
But I think there's something about… I personally think that ease of access is… There's a low barrier to entry with podcasts and audio in general. You don't really need any fancy equipment. Nowadays you can literally just talk into your phone and make a podcast. And obviously, it helps to have a nice audio setup, but that's not necessarily required. So, I think there's just a low barrier to entry. So, it’s just available to so many more people if you have something interesting to talk about. Your audience will find you. and especially if you're so busy driving, doing errands, or cleaning, having something to listen to during that,
MR: How do you interact with the people that listen to the show?
Em: I think one of the best parts about having such a successful show is still seeing that there are people who've been listening since the beginning and going on social media and seeing that there are new people every day just discovering us. And it's fun to see that happening in real-time. But also, if people want to reach out to us, I like to think we're pretty accessible. Especially for our Patreon people, we have a lot of ways that people can reach out to us and interact with us. Almost every other day of the week, I have a set social engagement on my Instagram. And as for being able to suggest things, usually we go off of either people's suggestions or what's topical in the world. So, if people are tweeting about this new documentary, there's a chance Christine's going to cover that serial killer, or if people want to suggest local stories or something they really care about, our website is really easy and there's a contact form for them to send any story that they want. And people will just DM us or tweet us too saying, “You've got to cover this.” And I like to think we're both pretty active on our social media. So, people feel like we're definitely….
Christine: It's definitely overwhelming to a point. We obviously can't respond to everybody. I think most listeners understand that. So, I feel like we're in a cool club of people who listen. We all have inside jokes together and it's just a fun group, even though there's a lot of them. Some people have listened since the beginning and we've gotten to know them over the years and even met them at shows and stuff. So, it's kind of cool. It's really interactive.
Em: Especially during quarantine, I've been doing a lot more Instagram live streams, and I tried doing live streaming on YouTube, which people then followed me on. I've just kind of been dabbling while in quarantine and there was nothing else to do. And I've started noticing that people who come to every single thing that I… and so I've become actual friends with some of our fans just because of the proximity effect of always seeing their name and knowing when they're going to respond and things like that.
MR: How do you balance having a private personal life but also wanting to share bits and pieces of that on the show?
Em: Well, I will say one of the reasons that I think we even got pretty successful is because when we first started the podcast, we had only been friends for a month or two. And it was just on a whim that I asked Christine, “Hey, we're new friends and I've got nothing else going on. Let's start a podcast." And while this podcast has grown and evolved, so has our friendship. And I think a lot of people who started from the beginning, it's not just listening to a podcast for them. They feel like they became friends with us because we were learning things about each other on the ai.
Christine: My favorite thing was learning and graduated from clown college while we were recording on air. And everyone else got to learn with me that Em is a professional clown. Stuff like that. And I feel like people identify with one of us as we're kind of building friendships with the other one. We didn't know each other's parents or anything.
Em: We learned everything about each other. I think because that became almost the norm for our friendship. Also, huge events have happened. Announcing that Christine and Ashley were engaged and asked me to their officiant. And so, all these things have happened in real-time on the show. So, I think a lot of people definitely blur the line between ‘I'm listening to a show’ and ‘I am invested in this relationship because I've been here since its origin.’
So, a lot of people have come to us. So, there are some really wonderful things and definitely feel like they could relate to us. I know that there've also been a lot of not-so-great life experiences that have happened in the last four years that we're really open about. We discuss mental health a lot on our show or I'm queer. So, people from all walks of life in some way, feel like they can relate. But there are times where we have to say, “This one's personal. So maybe don't ask too much of us to talk more about that.
Christine: I think there’s definitely… at least I've had to really learn boundaries. I'm not great at boundaries, to begin with. And I think there is that really easy line to cross of somebody reaching out and saying, “I need help. This is happening and I feel obligated to help”, but then you get overwhelmed. And it’s sort of a strange relationship when somebody knows pretty much everything about you and you don't know them. It's almost an imbalanced relationship sometimes. And for the most part, it’s good and fun and awesome and people are great about it, but it can get kind of tricky as far as keeping our own sanity intact.
Em: A silly experience or a silly example too, is that a lot of times, because I cover the paranormal stuff and, in my past, I was a paranormal investigator and a ghost tour guide.
MR: Oh, my God. Amazing.
Christine: I know right?
Em: That makes me sound really cool. But at the same time, it was my college job and I did it while I was ignoring my homework. So, it's not as cool of a job as it seems. But everyone kind of really blows that out of proportion and so, I'll get DMS all the time saying, I think my dogs possessed. And I think my house is haunted. What do I do?” And I'm thinking, “I'm not a priest.”Now, people will even just say, “Oh, hey, how do I stage my house and cleanse my room?” And I’m not Wiccan or I don't align with any of that. I don't know those things. So please don't ask me practical stuff on magic when I could really fuck up your life. I don't know,
MR: I understand this podcast totally started as a side thing. Now it’s your full-blown careers. What would you say to people that are in a similar position, where they hate their day job and want to make their passion their main income?
Christine: I've thought about this a lot just because it’s something I don't think either of us ever could have dreamed up. I didn't know you could be a podcaster for a living? And we both worked in the TV industry. We both had our dream jobs ostensibly. We were both really doing what we liked anyway. So, my thought is always, “If we can do it with these ridiculous, low-paying LA jobs that take up 12 hours a day of our lives, then anyone can do it. “I think my personal advice is to go into it, talking about, if you're podcasting, for example, something that you will never get tired of. Because if you look into it in terms of, “What's trending these days? What will people want to listen to?” That's not going to work.
Em: If you don’t care, then how can they care?
Christine: If you're burning yourself out, it’s not going to be enjoyable, no matter how successful it is. So, that's my first piece of advice. My second is; don't go into it for money unless you have a production company behind you or something. I guess that goes back to the idea that you shouldn’t necessarily look into, “Oh, people really like X, Y, and Z these days, I should try and cover that to be successful.”
But I just feel like as long as it's something you like; the audience will find you. And if not, at least you're enjoying what you do. If you don't even end up making any money, which we never had any intentions of making money from this, at least you're having fun and enjoying yourself. So, I think that's the safest and most fun way to get into it.