Follow Friday
"Thirsty on main," distilled knowledge, and future karaoke classics

Avery Trufelman (The Cut)

Since August 2020, Avery Trufelman has hosted the New York Magazine podcast The Cut, which covers "culture, sex, politics, and more." She previously worked at the widely beloved design podcast 99% Invisible, where she created and hosted an award-winning miniseries about the meaning of fashion, called Articles of Interest.

On the series debut of Follow Friday, Trufelman talks with Eric Johnson about comedy that only makes sense to Twitter addicts like her; why she wants her email newsletters to have "meat on those bones"; the strange feeling of hearing a stranger describe a real-life friend's private life; and her Batman-like philosophy of karaoke.

Follow us:
- Avery is @trufelman on Twitter
- This show is @followfridaypod on Instagram and Twitter
- Eric is @heyheyesj on Twitter

Who Avery follows:
- Lake Micah
- Drew Austin
- Emma Kohlmann
- Sasami Ashworth

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Theme song written by Eric Johnson, and performed by Yona Marie. Show art by Dodi Hermawan. Special thanks to Katherine Chang.
Full transcript of this episode
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AVERY TRUFELMAN: This is the culmination of everything I've been thinking about. It feels like a luxury, that his brilliant thoughts are just served to me on a platter.

ERIC JOHNSON: But whose brilliant thoughts is Avery Trufelman from The Cut raving about? The answer is coming up, today on Follow Friday.

[theme song]

ERIC: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a show about the best people on the internet and why you should follow them.

This is our first episode, so thank you so much for giving this show a chance. Every week, I'm going to talk to the internet creators I admire most about who they follow online. Some of them will be other podcasters, others will be writers, or comedians, or musicians, or something else entirely, but they all have amazing taste.

They will be our guides to the hidden and not-so-hidden gems of the web, the people they find fascinating, who we should be following, too.

Today, I'm talking to Avery Trufelman, a former producer for the design podcast 99% Invisible. She's also the creator of an amazing miniseries about the meaning of fashion called Articles of Interest. And since August of last year, Avery has hosted The Cut.

Here's a clip from a recent episode of The Cut, titled "Five Reasons to Get Married on Zoom."

AVERY: "OK, so, one of the byproducts of the wedding-industrial complex is the myth of the Bridezilla. And sure. There's a degree of truth in it.

Some brides do get really stressed out, trying to plan this one very expensive day-long party for everyone you've ever known that has all these moving parts and is going to be extensively documented and is supposed to be perfect, and also it's supposed to be fun and breezy, so can you blame them?!

The sexist cliche of the Bridezilla insults women for the burdens that the wedding industry has marketed to them, and a virtual wedding is a way out."

ERIC: You can find The Cut podcast at thecut.com, and I recommend that you do — it has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts, for real.

But we're not really here to talk about Avery's work. We're here to talk about the people she follows online.

If you want to follow along with us, everything we talk about today will be linked on our website, FollowFridayPodcast.com.

Avery, welcome to Follow Friday!

AVERY: Thanks for having me. This is such a fun idea.

ERIC: So before we get into your picks, let me just ask: Scale of one to 10, how online would you say you are?

AVERY: Uhhhh…

ERIC: And not how online you wish you were. How online are you, actually?

AVERY: Um, I'm on Twitter a lot, which I hate, how much I'm on Twitter. Um, but it is kind of the only place I go. Like I'm not on Instagram, I'm not on Facebook, I'm not on TikTok. Like, that's kind of my — I'm like a bottom feeder.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: Actually, no. Redditors are worse. I'm not a Redditor, but I pretty much have this one outlet, and it's Twitter, which is horrible. I'm all like, "Oh, I wish I could quit you."

But it's like my one — it's my one internet vice, and I go to it over and over and over again, and I low-key kind of love it. Like Twitter has also brought me a lot, and it keeps me on top of everything. But I would say honestly, as the rest of my life goes, I'm pretty analog. Like, I listen to the radio-radio.

ERIC: Wow.

AVERY: I have a radio in my kitchen, and that's the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning. I turn on WNYC.

ERIC: I was going to say, you're waking up with Brian Lehrer, or whoever's …

AVERY: Totally. Well, when Brian Lehrer's on, it's like, okay, you should be at work now. It's 10 o'clock.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: But sometimes I try to catch a little bit of Brian Lehrer. But, um, yeah. I'm weirdly … how do I put this? I'm not as online as I would like to be, but I like to keep up with trends and I like to have, I have a lot of friends who are really online. So I like to talk to my very online friends.

ERIC: There you go. So you let them do the homework of scouring the internet for anything that's not on Twitter.

AVERY: Yeah. Oh, and also, the other fun thing about working for New York Magazine is, I have these amazing, brilliant colleagues who I ... haven't met yet because we haven't been in the office. But the Slack is so live, like just going on to work-Slack, everyone is talking about the news and what's happening.

And so that feels like this extra source of material. Like, that helps me feel way more online, seeing what everyone at The Cut is talking about.

ERIC: So, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and asked you to tell me four people you follow who fit in those categories. Your first pick is in the category "someone who makes you laugh." You picked Lake Micah, who is @afrofatalism on Twitter. Tell us about Lake, why does he make you laugh?

AVERY: Oh my God. I mean, his tweets are so genius and they're also so self-aware. They're like these meta-tweets.

His tweets are content-specific. They are jokes that could not exist in any other medium. And it's perfect for bottom-feeders like me who live on Twitter. His tweets comment on life on Twitter. His tweets are like, I don't know, Twitter culture.

This all means nothing if you're not a complete Twitter freak, like I am.

ERIC: But if you're in the Twitter cult like you and I are, then it's like, oh my God, this is the funniest thing I've ever read!

AVERY: They're so funny. And he's so aware. And that's the other thing. He's like very actively bucking against Twitter clichés.

ERIC: OK.

AVERY: So I feel like he's kind of ahead and reacting to Twitter culture. Let me read you my favorite tweet that he tweeted. And when he tweeted this, I messaged him and I was like, dude, you should go on book tour for this tweet.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: It's so good. He tweeted, on October 29th: "One's aim in life should not be to do well (unimaginative), to earn large sums and salaries (vulgar), to pursue the obvious pleasures (assimilationist)—but to cultivate mystique, to tread lightly, wear perfumes, and stir up feelings of devotion and enchantment among all you meet."

And I feel like that … He's like a philosopher. That is funny, and also beautiful, and way too smart for its own good. And I just like — I think he's a genius. I love following his tweets.

ERIC: So I was looking at his tweets and it seems like he's a very literate person, very hyper-verbal. I understand like 20% of what he was saying. But my favorite thing about Twitter is that you get these really smart people who sometimes make these incredibly stupid jokes, and it cracks me up.

AVERY: Totally.

ERIC: So I highlighted this one tweet he made, uh, in between his writing about literature and politics and identity, he said: "no matter what it might do to my ratio there is always room to follow one more hot girl on this app."

AVERY: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. He just has this, like the vibe is like Professor Off-the-Rails.

ERIC: So about that last tweet, there's this meme that I'm sure you know, "being thirsty on main," which is when you are flirting with someone or hitting on them on your main public social media account. So real talk, is it okay to be thirsty on Twitter?

AVERY: Oh my God. I mean, I was very blatantly thirsty with ... I definitely slid into his DMs and was like "what's up?"

ERIC: But on your public timeline, though. If this were not a character he were doing …

AVERY: On your public timeline? You know, it's funny, I think about this all the time, because this is definitely one of the privileges that I exercise as a cis woman is, I think it's really fun to talk about how hot other people look, in a way that I think might be gross for cis het men to do. But honestly, it's a question I'm still figuring out because, I'll be really honest with you, it's really hard being here in my apartment alone.

And like, sometimes, I wear an outfit and I want to feel cute and I want to feel the feeling of being seen by others. But that's so not Twitter's vibe … Well, I don't know. I'm on the fence about like, is Twitter a place where you tweet out selfies and you tweet out outfit shots?

There's like a tipping point, right? Sometimes I love to see when people tweet pictures of themselves and it makes me really happy. And sometimes it's like, ah, a little too much. When are you going to come back with the cerebral, substantive jokes? So, I don't know. I'm still figuring out how thirsty or horny one should be on Twitter.

But like, a good friend of mine who I miss dearly, who still lives in Oakland, posts a lot of thirst-trap pictures of herself. And she always looks great. And she's always in the beautiful golden California sunlight. And like, I live for that. That makes me really happy.

So maybe I just have to get more comfortable with myself. But I think that's why I'm not an Instagram person.

ERIC: Yeah.

AVERY: Cause I don't know how to…

ERIC: To perform in that way.

AVERY: Yeah, I'm an audio person. I'm not a visual person. I don't know how to translate this.

ERIC: Yeah, I totally hear that. I used to be on Instagram. I quit over the whole being afraid of Facebook thing.

AVERY: Sure.

ERIC: But I constantly have felt like Twitter is my people. Twitter is warts and all. You get some people posting selfies, you get some bragging, you get some obnoxious thought leadership people, but generally it still feels less … performative than Instagram to me.

AVERY: Totally. No, it's for radio-face people like us.

ERIC: All right, Avery. For your next fellow, I asked you for "someone who makes you think," and you suggested Drew Austin, who writes the email newsletter Kneeling Bus. Explain what this is about.

AVERY: Oh my God. This newsletter is so brilliant. It's about urbanism and cities and the way we live. And also, he applies this kind of internet lens to it. Like he'll take some sort of case study of gentrification or cybernetics or surveillance or something that we're seeing in the physical world in our cities and our architecture and our buildings and our landscaping, and then apply it as a metaphor to the internet.

And he writes his gorgeous little ... pithy, few-paragraph summaries. Like you can just eat it up.

ERIC: Yeah.

AVERY: It doesn't, feel like some essay that's landed in your inbox: "Oh, I'll read this later." You just gobble it up right there. He clearly thought about it enough. It's like twice-distilled wisdom. He's not wasting your time. It's really, really nice. Like, can I read you one?

ERIC: Yeah!

AVERY: I saved the latest one in my inbox because I was like, "this will be a great …"

ERIC: This is an excerpt … we're publishing as a few weeks after we're taping it. But this is from a December issue of Kneeling Bus by Drew Austin.

AVERY: Yes. Kneeling Bus #146. This is from December 18th: "What burns, never returns. As this year limps across the finish line, it's a perfect time to revisit one of my favorite quotes, from cybernetics pioneer Norbelrt Wiener: 'There are loca and temporary islands of decreasing entropy in a world in which the entropy as a whole tends to increase, and the existence of these islands enables some of us to assert the existence of progress.' The broad narrative about the pandemic is that it's been the worst year ever, and that is undeniably true in the aggregate, as well as for many individuals, but in reality, some people have had pretty decent years despite it all, or at least managed to tread water relative to those around them (even if everyone is certainly having less fun). This unevenness, more than anything else, makes 2020 a true microcosm of contemporary human experience: We largely inhabit our own islands, oblivious to how local and temporary they may be. 'Progress' is a bit of an illusion, something that only exists for individuals and groups that are subsets of the overall population, and rarely shared globally. As we expand our perspective outward toward all of human civilization, there is no such thing as progress—only survival." That's just paragraph one of three.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: There's just, like, meat, meat, meat, meat on those bones.

ERIC: I assume paragraphs two and three, that's when he gets into being thirsty on main.

AVERY: Oh yeah, totally. That's where it devolves.

ERIC: I subscribe to a lot of email newsletters, but I don't think I really have the sophisticated attention span for meaty, distilled knowledge, that it seems like you do. I'm the sort of person who subscribes to like, "Here's a bunch of links to pictures of things I saw on Reddit." I'm a very low-class newsletter subscriber.

AVERY: Interesting. No, I feel the opposite! I have some newsletters that are like, "here's some links, and here's some things I read, and here's some things I watched," but that overwhelms me because I'm like, "How am I going to get to all the things? Look how much this person read!"

And the thing I like about this newsletter is that it is the meat in and of itself. It's like, "here's a full thought I had, and this is the culmination of everything I've been thinking about." Not, you know, it's like a processed, finished product. It's not a bunch of raw material that I need to go check out.

So honestly, the linky newsletters overwhelm me and I like having this. It feels like a luxury, that his brilliant thoughts are just served to me on a platter. I almost see it as the opposite of having an attention span. This to me feels easier than multiple links.

ERIC: Yeah, kind of the happy medium between those two extremes... So I get the New Yorker, I subscribe to their email newsletters. Sometimes I'll get an email from them with a headline that sounds really interesting to me. I'll click through and then I'll realize, "Oh no, this is a proper New Yorker article. I do not have the time for this right now."

AVERY: Exactly! So I feel like this is perfect. It's like, you can read three paragraphs of really smart, distilled stuff. It's actually kind of … I don't have very good attention either, but this is exactly my speed.

ERIC: We're going to take a quick break now. Now we'll be back in a minute with Avery Trufelman from The Cut.

[ad]

ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Avery Trufelman, I asked you for someone who inspires you, and you said Emma Kohlmann, who's on Instagram at @meiow_mix. And you know Emma in real life, right?

AVERY: Yeah! We haven't talked in a long while, but we run into each other every now and then. We were family friends, and we went to summer camp together. We were kids together and it's just so cool. I don't think she's necessarily a novel pick, I think a lot of people on Instagram know how cool she is, but I think I'm particularly tickled by how cool she is, because I know she's always been that cool.

And I think sometimes you run into old people you used to know on the internet and they've kind of like concocted these dreamy lives that don't resemble anything about who they are or anything you've known them to be.

ERIC: The performance.

AVERY: Yeah, it's a performance, but it's really — I just love the way Emma uses Instagram, because I know for a fact she is that cool, has always been that cool and creative since she was a child.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: And I think her Instagram really gets … Whenever I look at her Instagram, I'm like, oh, maybe I should get on Instagram because it's devoted to the art she makes, the things she's thinking about and the way she lives, and the way she dresses, all these things we're interested in when we look through someone's pictures, and she doesn't make it feel superficial at all. It all feels like a very pure and true expression of herself.

You know, I love looking at the photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz. And I've always enjoyed looking at the pictures of the way an artist lives or dresses or, whatever, the Architectural Digest tour of their home. And sometimes it feels frivolous and sometimes it really feels like part and parcel with their art and the way they live. And I think it feels that way with Emma. She has a very cohesive world, and it's really cool. It's really inspiring to watch.

ERIC: So when I look at an Instagram page, I tend to gravitate towards whatever stands out in the grid of thumbnail images.

AVERY: Yeah.

ERIC: So I was looking at Emma's page, and she has this amazing, colorful, provocative art, but my eyes were drawn to a still frame of a video she posted several months ago, I think after her grandmother passed away. It's a still frame from a video of her grandmother talking to a friend about pasta. And so I clicked through to that. I look at the caption, and she wrote this one thing in the caption that really moved me. I just wanted to read an excerpt here. She says, "I always loved how she would cut fruit. She would climb three flights of stairs with a pushcart. She was so strong, taking care of everyone, making sure we were all okay."

So just like, three sentences. That's such a lovely thing to say about someone. It reflects really well on Emma. And when I hear someone saying this sort of thing, it makes me think, oh, this is a good person who's paying attention to the nice things we do for each other.

AVERY: You know, it's so funny, hearing you say that. Huh. Ooh, this is such an interesting, weird moment. Like, hearing you say that about her grandmother, I'm like, "Whoa, that's a little personal." I don't know if I want us to like, talk about this on the podcast. That's kind of weird for me. But I'm like, "Oh right, you don't know her."

ERIC: Right.

AVERY: And that information is just out there on the internet anyway … I don't know. It's one of these strange, strange things where, um ... Right. Her Instagram helps you feel like you really do know her and you're led into her world in an interesting way … Sorry, I just wanted to …

ERIC: Well, I feel like I trust her and I like her more, as someone who doesn't know her in real life, these little glimpses into the artist's real life, it helps me connect with them? But I also hear what you're saying. I think in a vacuum, a lot of us would not want to have this level of detail posted about our families without our say-so, but if we're the ones posting it, I guess it's okay? I can relate to your conflicted-ness here!

AVERY and ERIC: [both laugh]

AVERY: You know, now I'm like, oh my God, what if her or her parents hear me talking about her grandmother and we haven't spoken ... you know what I mean? It's interesting because the intimacy that you have with strangers on the internet feels normal now. Whereas, if you were talking about a childhood friend's family matters ... I don't know! It creates this weird sort of cognitive dissonance. That's … That is fascinating. I'm not telling you how to ... Run your show.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: I think this is an interesting conversation, but it is fascinating how personal her account is and how it lets people into that fold. And maybe it makes me feel like I know her more than I do because she's so good at Instagram, which is interesting.

ERIC: Maybe. Yeah. All right. We have time for one more pick today. Avery, I asked you for "someone who is super-talented, but still under the radar." You wanted to bend the rules just a little bit to get this person in. Tell us about Sasami Ashworth.

AVERY: OK, I don't think Sasami Ashworth is underrated. I think she's like very rated. One of the last live shows I went to before lockdown was at The Chapel in San Francisco, and it was a show Sasami did, and it was packed. Like, she's got her loyal following. But I still think she needs more! More people need to know how great Sasami Ashworth is.

She's just this incredibly hardworking, super-talented musician who I got to know because she was referred to me to do the theme song for the limited series I made, Articles of Interest, and she did such an amazing, bang-up job — totally made this classic song that I adore, and I can't believe we got to use for, uh, the series, for Articles of Interest.

ERIC: This is "The pocket, the piece of paper," that song?

AVERY: Yeah! And so many people have written to me and they've been like, "I've heard this song before! I know this song." I'm like, "No, you haven't!"

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: It's a totally original song, but it just hits something in your heart where it feels so familiar to you. And a lot of Sasami's music feels like that, where it just feels like it's strange and it's new and it's innovative and it has still has this sort of nostalgic je ne sais quoi that makes you feel really comfortable right away.

And she had this single called "Mess" that just reminds me of classic, old Sheryl Crow. And there was this period, especially when I was in lockdown in Oakland, when I was just listening to that song over and over and over again. It was just about being messy, being high, figuring things out, not knowing what was going on.

Her songs are so good. They're so visceral. And they're really helpful. I think they're like medicinal. She definitely has a following, but more people should join the following.

ERIC: You told me over email that she writes "future karaoke classics." And I didn't totally understand what you meant until you said, "It's like classic Sheryl Crow. It's like, oh, now I get it."

AVERY: Yeah. Like, when I heard her album, I was like, "Oh man, I wish I could go to my local dive bar and they would have Sasami songs." They just make you want to emote and sing along in a very public way.

ERIC: So in the absence of Sasami's songs, what is your go-to karaoke song?

AVERY: "Oh! Darling" by The Beatles.

ERIC: Good pick!

AVERY: Which is my least favorite Beatles song, but it is the most dramatic karaoke song.

ERIC: Good for karaoke.

AVERY: Definitely. And I'm so practiced at it now. Like, you can really yell. You can kind of croon the first part, you can yell the second part, you can get down on your knees. Like, that's my song. What's your song?

ERIC: So I've only done karaoke twice in my life.

AVERY: What?!

ERIC: I know, I know. And my friends had to drag me to do it. The one I remember singing was "Sister Golden Hair" by America and I forget what the other one was, but I don't have the confidence to belt "Oh! Darling." I go for soft rock, easy to sing, I can talk-sing my way through this if I have to.

AVERY: Oh, see, I rely on the performance to distract from the lack of skill. That to me is my favorite part of karaoke, is watching other people like …

ERIC: You're like Batman: Theatricality and deception. [laughs]

AVERY: Yes! Yes, yes, yes, exactly. Which is, I think why we, I don't know — It's why I go to karaoke. Like, if I wanted to hear someone actually sing well, I would pay a professional, but I want to see, you know … It's almost like interviewing. The old trope in interviewing is if you give a story, you'll get a story. And I feel like if you give a good performance in karaoke, you can help encourage other people to give a good performance. I genuinely liked to watch other people ham it up.

ERIC: Well, I was once in Las Vegas for a friend's birthday party, and we went to a bar where they had karaoke, and it was sort of like the train wreck that you pray will not happen to you. I saw a guy get up and do "Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon.

AVERY: Oh, no.

ERIC: And oh no, I still remember the whole body cringe of watching him get through this song. And I mean, I know that if I were to get up in front of my friends, even if I were really bad, it probably wouldn't be that bad, but just experiencing the worst-case scenario from the audience perspective, that scarred me a little bit.

AVERY: I, that terrifies me. I don't know. I feel like the only time I've done karaoke has been in like tiny bars, tiny grungy bars with friends.

ERIC: That's the place to do it.

AVERY: And I feel like ... Once upon a time, I was in Nashville and I was like, "oh, let me go to this karaoke bar and see what's up there." But no, that was like a real — everyone in Nashville can sing really well.

ERIC: [laughs]

AVERY: And that was not my jam. So I like to, I don't know. We'll see. I mean, I haven't had a chance to go to karaoke bars in New York. It might be the same situation here, where everyone in New York is low-key an amazing professional singer. And I'm just out of my league.

ERIC: All right, Avery, before we go, let's make sure the listeners know where to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?

AVERY: I'm only on Twitter. I am @Trufelman. It's not spelled like the chocolate, unfortunately. That would make everyone's life a whole lot easier. But it's just not!

ERIC: Thank you, Avery. You can find me on Twitter at @HeyHeyESJ. You can find a transcript of this episode, links, pictures and more at followfridaypodcast.com.

You can follow us on Twitter or Instagram at @followfridaypod. Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie. And our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan. Special thanks to Katherine Chang.

Today's show was produced by BumbleCast. You can hire us to help you start a podcast, or make your existing podcast better. We work with creators of all backgrounds and experience levels. Learn more at BumbleCast.fm.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs. And when you do, say something nice.

See you next Friday!

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