: Oh my God. This week has moved so slowly. I think it feels that way because I spent so much time last weekend doing my taxes, like a boring old adult, so I will be making up for that this weekend.
But first, we have a really fun podcast to share with you. The guest, T.J. Raphael, is the host of BioHacked: Family Secrets. You should definitely go check out BioHacked, it is one of my favorite new podcasts of the year. TJ talks about this in the opening of the show, but she has been working on this for 5 years, so you can definitely spare an hour to listen to the first couple episodes.
Before we get to that, I also want to tell you about another podcast that I'm doing a little promo swap with. On Ready to Be Petty, your host Torry will dive into the ins and outs of pop culture, celebrity scandals and the juiciest reality TV. Even though the show is mostly fun and games, Torry also talks about all this stuff through an intersectional feminist lens. Ready to Be Petty has covered racism/colourism, body image and diet culture, misogyny and sexism, LGBTQ representation, harmful stereotypes, and toxic relationships in media. If you're looking for a petty friend to talk s**t with, look no further - you can search Ready to Be Petty on all podcast platforms and follow along on the socials @rtbppodcast.
One more thing, thank you to all of our patrons at Patreon.com/followfriday
. Your support helps to make this show possible, but it's not a one-way street. Patreon backers get access to Follow Friday XL, our exclusive podcast feed with extended versions of each week's interview. And "extended" doesn't mean we just leave in the ums and uhs. In fact, patrons get a whole bonus follow recommendation from our guests! So please consider making a donation of any amount at patreon.com/followfriday
And now, here's the show.
: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, the podcast about who you should follow online.
Every week, I talk to creative people about who they follow, and why. This is a guided tour to the best people on the internet, led by your favorite writers, podcasters, comedians, and more. If this is your first episode of the show, take a moment now and please follow or subscribe in your podcast app.
Today on the show is journalist TJ Raphael, who previously worked at WNYC and Slate, and is now a senior producer at Sony Music Entertainment. That's where she hosts one of my favorite new podcasts of the year, BioHacked: Family Secrets. Season one is all about the children of anonymous sperm and egg donors, and what happens when they start pulling at the threads of their biological parentage. You can find BioHacked: Family Secrets on all the podcasting apps, and you can find T.J. on Twitter @tjraphael
. T.J., welcome to Follow Friday.TJ
: Great to be here, thanks for having me.ERIC
: Thanks so much for being here. I was curious about this podcast when I first saw it announced, but I have to say it's one of those shows that I started listening to it, and I was hooked from the first episode. So to start off, why don't you tell folks where the idea for BioHacked started? How did you start reporting on the baby business?TJ
: Yeah, so the story really fell into my lap, I was at the beach with my friend Amber and her husband. Amber and I went to college together, we were never super close. We were in the same journalism classes and would see each other after class, things like that.
We graduated from school, we went our separate ways. I really hadn't seen her in almost a decade. Then I bumped into her in New York where we both were living at the time. I'm still here, she's now relocated to upstate New York. But I bumped into her and she said "We should hang out, I'm going to the beach this weekend with my husband." She had a car, and if you know anything about New York, getting to the beach without a car is a pain, so I said sure, I'll go.
It was a little awkward because we weren't super close friends, but we were catching up and she said to me, "I have this crazy story to tell you." And she told me that she had done a 23andMe kit for fun and found out that her father was not her biological father and that she was actually conceived through an anonymous sperm donor. And at this time, she still hadn't tracked down her donor father — as she calls him her "bio-dad" — and being a nosy journalist, I said "This is wild, can I record you? I'd love to tell this story."
And so as I got out into Amber's personal story, I started asking questions to help me suss out her story. I said "Well what about the clinic where you were conceived, have you tried to get records there?" It turns out the clinic no longer exists and there's no law in the United States that says those records need to be maintained in any way for donor-conceived people to access in the future. Or, if you're a parent with a donor-conceived child and, say, your kid is 15 or 20 and they wanna get health information, and the clinic you conceive them at 20 years ago closes, there's no way for you to potentially reach out to the clinic and ask them to talk to the donor to get more health information, or things like that.
I was like, well that seems kind of alarming. And so essentially, as I kept reporting on Amber's story and fact-checking the things that she was up against in her own sort of journey to track down her bio-dad, I started realizing how vastly unregulated the fertility industry in the United States really is.
A Harvard business professor, Debora Spar, she wrote a book called The Baby Business, which I read and she told the New York Times "there are more rules that go into buying a used car than there are with donor sperm." Which was completely shocking to me. I'm like wait, aren't we creating people?
So that's really how my interest developed with this story, it just felt too bizarre to be true. And as I continued to kind of dive deep, I found more stories of donor-conceived people. Some people who had been conceived through selective breeding experiments, and I found more shocking tales that were wrapped up in the baby business. And I thought, well this is definitely a podcast.
So I had been, for the last five years, doing reporting, I had pitched it all over, I'd pitched it at WNYC, I had pitched it at Slate, I pitched it a couple times here, even at Sony. And the timing has finally kind of been right now for us to make this show. So yeah, that's how I kind of got interested in this.ERIC
: Yeah, I mean, it really goes to some shocking places. I'm not the sort of person who listens to a lot of what I would call shocking podcasts, like I'm not a true crime person, but this has really gone to some places that are just truly jaw-dropping, so I highly recommend it.
After Amber — the first two episodes are about her and her family ... after that, how did you find other people who were the subjects of later episodes? Were you going online, in these Facebook groups where people are the children of sperm donors? Were you just hanging out there and saying like "hey, anyone want to talk?" What was your process there?TJ
: So Amber was really helpful in connecting me with other people. So once she made this discovery about herself, she joined a Facebook community called We Are Donor Conceived. I think three-quarters of the people in that group, there are almost 3000 of them now, and three-quarters of them, according to a group survey that the moderator did, are just like Amber, who found out accidentally because of an at-home DNA kit. Others have known their entire lives, and others sort of learned in their teen years.
It's also a private group and as a journalist, I was not allowed access to it because it's this private community, and so I would ask Amber, I'm looking for more people to talk to, can you post up a request? And she did, and the emails I got from people just started flowing in. Then I would start doing initial interviews with them to suss out their stories, and that's kind of how I was able to build my source list. Some other folks in the series were names that I found through academic journals, law journals.
In a recent episode we did on a woman named Brittany Johnson, her family wound up having to sue the California Cryobank, which is still one of the largest sperm banks in the world today. And through that trial, it was discovered that the Cryobank knowingly sold Brittany's parents genetic material that was tainted with a rare genetic condition.
So I spent two or three months trying to track down Brittany Johnson. I didn't know if she was still alive, given the seriousness of the genetic condition she had inherited. There's a very high chance that at some point she will need a kidney transplant in order to survive, so I didn't even know if she was out there. And the name Brittany Johnson is a pretty common one, I didn't know where she lived.
So in my reporting process, I've used a lot of different avenues of searching public records, searching through Facebook to find people. The same goes with one of our episodes, we spoke with Dr. Jerome Sherman, who literally invented the technique for cell-cryopreservation. So the ability to freeze sperm, to freeze eggs, and to freeze other kinds of genetic material that may be used in medical settings or in scientific context for experimentation.
And Jerome Sherman is 96 years old, so I figured there's no way this guy's still alive, so I called up his son and said "Do you have any memories of your dad you could share with me about his pioneering research." And he's like, "Well dad's actually still alive, and he does water aerobics a couple times a week and likes to go fishing." I said "no way, he's still alive, would he talk to me?" And so that's how I found him.
But yeah, it was kind of a multitude of different ways in terms of building my source list through Amber, connecting with other donor-conceived people that she knew were willing to talk. Then just going through the literature in academic journals. And academic journals are boring, for the most part, they're really dry, and so finding the real human story at the center of these writings, to tell the story.ERIC
: Yeah, and so you've been reporting this for five years, is that what you said?TJ
: Yeah, I've been working on it on and off for the last five years. It's actually really interesting, when our final episode publishes in May, it will be almost five years to the day that Amber got that message from Caitlin, her half-sister, on 23andMe, that wound up revealing the truth. So it's kind of coming full circle, when our last episode published, it was just a few days off from when she first made that discovery five years ago.ERIC
: Well, when you are not busy chasing down sources or searching through boring scientific journals, you are like the rest of us, spending some time online. So let's find out who T.J. Raphael follows. You can follow along with us today, every person she recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at followfridaypodcast.com/biohacked.
T.J., before the show, I gave you a list of categories, and I 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," and you said Sydney Battle, who is Twitter @Sydneybattle
. She's also on Instagram @sydbattle
. Sydney is a writer, a comedian and actor. Do you remember how you first started following her?TJ
: Yeah, I believe it was during the bad times of the pandemic, March 2020, April 2020, when we were all at home, locked up in our houses, not really going anywhere and spending a lot of time on the internet. And I thought that her videos, specifically the "Brooklyn mom" skit that she does, she sort of invented this character. And as somebody who lives in New York, I lived in Brooklyn for many years, I live in Queens now, I just thought it was so funny and I would watch it again and again.
She did an unofficial series with that character and every time a new one would come out, I would watch it right away, I would send it to all of my friends and just say this is hilarious. It's too true to life. And so that's when I started following her, and she's developed a couple other characters that she does.
And it seems like in the last few years, and I think because of you know, that, that Brooklyn mom character, she's really taken off. I think she had less than 10,000 followers when I first started following her, now she's up to 30,000 or more. So yeah, she's just hilarious, and I especially loved that Brooklyn mom character because it kind of makes fun of the ritzy kind of Park Slope moms who live in $2.5 million brown stones.
And I think in her skit, she goes out to her Hamptons house — the character does — and it's like "oh, there's no space!" While I was in my small apartment in Brooklyn with two roommates trying to weather the pandemic and you just kind of hear from these people, it was so true to life. So that's when I started following her and I just love her.ERIC
: It's one of those characters where it's a very specific parody of a person who is by definition bound to this geographic area. And yet, as someone who has never lived in Brooklyn, I can watch this and be like oh, clearly, every word she is saying in every intonation is specifically chosen that if you know this person in real life, you are dying of laughter.TJ
: Yeah, I don't actually know people ... I mean, I'm not close friends with people that are that pretentious, but I definitely have crossed paths with them and it was great to kind of get a laugh.ERIC
: So I'm going to cut in a clip here from a video you sent me called "To Atticus with Love: A Brooklyn Mom's Story."
[clip from Sydney Battle video]SYDNEY BATTLE
: I was so upset! Because the kids are missing so much culture! Because of COVID, and the subway. And so, you know, every day, I sit the kids down and they watch 10 minutes of The Wire. Y'know, just so they can get some ... just that, you know, and ... yeah, ebonic accent, is so ... beautiful. Beautiful. But strong! I don't even think the kids can recognize the vulgarity.
: So yeah, you're not friends with people like this character, but are there other folks who Sydney has either parodied or something about the way that she approaches comedy that really rings true with your life? Is there a specific reason why you chose her here as someone who makes you laugh, something that connects with you in a way that other comedians don't?TJ
: Yeah, I really love her dryness. I feel like I have a very dry sense of humor and I really connected with her in that sense. She's also done other kinds of characters that I feel like are equally as dry and sort of ridiculous, and parodying real people who you kind of know in the world, and it just feels so spot on. And that's one of the reasons I've really liked her comedy, it's just super dry, and it just makes me laugh a lot.ERIC
: I also wanna call it something that I noticed when I was scrolling through Sydney's tweets, and as far as I can tell, this is not a bit, this is not a character, this is an earnest thing she does, which is that she has adopted a murder of crows near where she lives. Have you seen this?TJ
: (laughs) Yes, it's so funny. She's just got this real absurdist nature to her, which I feel like, especially nowadays, we need some absurdity in life because I don't know how you could get through it without that.ERIC
: So, here is a quote from one of her tweets: "Every Sunday, the crow outside my window screeches at six caws to let my loud-ass neighbors know that my night of television is beginning. If they cause noise during this time, the murder will be there to shut it down. Yes, I had an edible, but this is all true."TJ
: (laughs) Yeah, that's just so funny and also absurd, and crows are creepy animals in a lot of ways, even though they're super smart as well. So I think it's like playing on both of those things and just the idea of you're at home, you're trying to watch your TV and your neighbors better be ready to hear your TV blasting. I don't know, it really makes me laugh.ERIC
: I think what you were saying earlier, how the fact that you discovered her right, as we were all entering lockdown, it really seems like this was a pivotal moment for comedians, right? Especially online comedians, the fact that we were all at once sharing this experience of not being able to go anywhere, it was a constraint that forced them to think about, what are the new relatable forms of comedy? Well, it's the birds I see outside my window or it's the vague impression of that obnoxious Brooklyn mom I met back in the before times, you know?TJ
: Yeah, exactly. I do think that especially early in the pandemic, the first half of 2020 from March 2020 through the fall, so many of us were inside. We had a little reprieve over the summer where we could go back out a bit more, but the online comedians then really took off in a way that was excellent to see.
I'm a very big fan of standup comedy. I mean, pre-pandemic, that was my hobby, I was going to a standup comedy show once a week in my neighborhood in Brooklyn where I lived. And the ones for 10 bucks or free shows and you could kind of just pop in and see people. And a lot of those comedians, before the pandemic, of course they were making online content and doing skits, but they really got attention in a way that because we were all online so much more, so many hours of the day, that they may not have otherwise gotten and it may potentially would've been harder for them to break through.
So that is a one tiny silver lining of the pandemic is we've got all these wonderful voices who maybe would've taken a couple more years to gain this sort of following, gain the notoriety they have. But because this light was shown on them during this specific time, they've really been able to build great followings and I'm excited to see — you know, Sydney is also acting, so seeing what she might be in down the line as well.ERIC
: Well, that was Sydney Battle who is on Twitter @SydneyBattle
and on Instagram @Sydbattle
T.J., let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for "someone you don't know, but want to be friends with," and you said Dan Savage, who was on Instagram
@DanSavage and on Twitter @fakedansavage
Dan is a writer and LBGT rights advocate. And he first got famous for writing a newspaper column called Savage Love, which I think started in The Stranger, which is like an alternative newspaper in Seattle. But you told me in your email that you are especially into the companion podcast to Savage Love, right?TJ
: Yeah, absolutely. The Savage Lovecast is one of the longest-running podcasts. I think it started back when podcasts were still uploaded to iPods, and I think I started listening to Dan almost 10 years ago. I've been really into podcasting for a very long time. How I got into audio journalism was, I was 20 years old and my friend had an iPod and was like "There's this thing called This American Life, do you want to listen?" And that was over 15 years ago now, almost, and so yeah, I started listening to Dan really early on.
He does great relationship, sex, love advice in the Savage Lovecast. It's a call-in based show, so people call with their questions and ask him for advice. And some of the questions that he gets are just bizarre, they're funny, they're sad, some of them are shocking, and I just find it entertaining and really fascinating. And as somebody who also is really interested in questions around sexuality, around gender, around feminism, the advice he gives kind of touches all of that, and how we think about people and relationships as we move through the world.
So I've been a big fan of the podcast, and then he also does a lot of political commentary, both at the top of the show and on Twitter as well. He's still at The Stranger, I believe he's the editorial director of it now. Alt-weekly magazines and publications are a dying breed, unfortunately, but The Stranger is still going strong. I've never even been to Seattle, but I've donated to The Stranger just because I love his podcast.
So yeah, he's just really funny. I also listen to lots of political podcasts, so I like Dan's political commentary online that he does through Twitter. And as somebody hosting a podcast about sperm and egg donors, I have a definite interest in sort of reproductive medicine, and history, and he kind of tweets a lot about that kind of thing, given his focus in his show. So yeah, that's one of the reasons I love following him and he makes me laugh, too. He kind of doesn't take himself too seriously.ERIC
: Yeah, speaking of both political commentary and making us laugh, I was looking at Dan's Wikipedia page, which reminded me that he was responsible for this iconic moment in online political activism, you might say. You may know where I'm going with this.TJ
: (laughs) Yeah.ERIC
: He and his fans of Savage Love decided to basically redefine the word "santorum," which was the last name of this homophobic Republican senator, who had said some not-acceptable, nasty stuff about gay people. And this is a vaguely family-friendly podcast, I will not get too specific, but for the adults listening, it's a brilliant bit of internet activism. I strongly encourage you, if you are an adult, to go read up about what they rebranded santorum to mean.TJ
: Yeah, it's a gross definition, for sure. But yeah, it's really funny that he was able to do that when Rick Santorum was sort of crusading against the LGBTQ community in the United States. And this was way before gay marriage had even become law in the United States.
And Dan, interestingly enough, invented a couple other words that we now use as part of dating culture. I think he invented the word "monogamish" and I know like some people that are in quasi-open relationships, they use that term to just describe themselves. And I learned that from listening to his show the other day, he's like yeah, we invented this term eight years ago, and I was like oh wow, I didn't even know that. So he's actually had some influence on the broader culture that I don't even think some of us probably even realize. So yeah, he seems like a cool person that I would like to hang out with and pick his brain all day long. So that's why he's definitely on my list.ERIC
: That's my next question, which is hypothetically, let's say Dan calls you up and says "T.J., I just heard you on my favorite podcast Follow Friday, you seem cool, let's be friends." Do you wanna go somewhere with him, do you wanna just get coffee and talk about something? What's on your mind?TJ
: Yeah, I would just wanna get dinner and talk to him probably about politics, probably about reproductive healthcare. He's a huge champion for access to safe, legal abortion. So I've spent a lot of the last few years looking into reproductive healthcare for the podcast. And then in addition to that, when I was at WNYC and I was a producer, I was making sure that we were doing a series on reproductive healthcare. And I helped book the head of the UN Women's organization to come talk on our show on International Women's Day. So I would just talk to him about a bunch of reproductive health issues and politics, and probably just have a great dinner, share a bottle of wine, and catch up as friends if he would be my friend.ERIC
: Well, in your email to me, you also specifically mentioned his tweets. Is there something specific about the way that he uses Twitter that really clicks with you?TJ
: Yeah, he has a little bit of of a troll-y sense to him, not where he's actually trolling people, but he kind of has a wink and a nod to him, in what he will tweet. Here's one tweet that he sent the other day that I just find funny and it's politically related. I don't know the political makeup of your audience, but it was in regards to the senate hearings for judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
And Dan tweets, "Did Cory Booker fail Kentanji Brown Jackson by not slapping the s**t out of Ted Cruz?" And then he replies, "Or did he fail us all?" So he's just sort of a little bit tongue in cheek. I find him funny, but also insightful when he tries to actually be serious. So that's one of the reasons I really enjoy his tweets.
I'm a bit of a news junkie myself being a journalist, and so I'm constantly on Twitter looking at the political commentary from all various aspects and following the news in Washington and in New York where I live, very closely. And it's nice to be able to break and have a chuckle when the news is so grim all the time, so that's one of the reasons I also like to follow him on Twitter specifically.ERIC
: Well that was Dan Savage, who is on Instagram
@DanSavage and on Twitter @fakedansavage
. We are going to take a quick break right now, but we'll be back in a minute with T.J. Raphael from BioHacked: Family Secrets.
: Welcome back to Follow Friday. TJ, I asked you to tell me about "someone you just started following," and you said Kenzo Mizumoto. He is on TikTok
Kenzo was born in Brazil, lives in London, and his parents are Japanese. And I love this video he made called Living in the UK as a foreigner. I'm going to put a clip of that in here. He's interviewing himself about all of the confusing weights and metrics systems that he has had to learn.
[clip from video]KENZO MIZUMOTO #1
: OK, hold on. So you're telling me that in the U.K., depending on what you're doing, people will use different measurements for everything?KENZO MIZUMOTO #2
: Yes.KENZO 1
: So, speed?KENZO 2
: Miles per hour.KENZO 1
: And for distance?KENZO 2
: Is it a long distance?KENZO 1
: No.KENZO 2
: Metres, feet, and inches.KENZO 1
: OK, but what if it's a long distance?KENZO 2
: Are you jogging?KENZO 1
: Yes.KENZO 2
: Kilometres.KENZO 1
: But what if I'm not jogging?KENZO 2
: Then miles.KENZO 1
: Oh my God. OK, last one, how do British people measure volume?KENZO 2
: (deep breath) All right. If it's beer, pints. Everything else is litres.KENZO 1
: OK. That's —KENZO 2
: However, if it's dairy milk, it's pints, but if it's plant-based milk, it's litres.KENZO 1
: Nah man, screw this, I'm going to Canada.
: You said you just started following Kenzo. Is this a sort of video that drew you to his channel or was there a specific one that you found that really just cracked you up?TJ
: Yeah, so I have seen that one and it's really funny, but I think what really got me to follow him versus maybe just watching one, liking it and moving on was he does a lot of really funny videos that I think do a really good job of capturing what it feels like to be an older millennial.
I don't know how old you are, I'm 34, but ...ERIC
: I'm 32.TJ
: Yeah, so there's this time in the early 2000s that I think a lot of older millennials, we have a lot of nostalgia for, and he does a really good job of kind of poking fun at how basically lame we all were back then. And then how we've all gotten older and kind of complained about things. So that's one of the reasons I started following him.
My friends that I have from high school, I still kind of have like an Instagram little chat with them and we'll send them to each other. One is about going to a Blockbuster and copying CDs onto your iTunes account. And I think one video he's like "Yeah, I'm gonna go to a Linkin Park concert and bring my digital camera and then upload it to YouTube." And somebody's like, "What's YouTube?" And they're like, "I don't really know!"
It's hard to think of the world ever being like that, but that's definitely how it was when I was in high school and early in college. So he just kind of makes me have that little bit of nostalgia factor that makes me feel good and laugh and remember how silly everything was back then.ERIC
: Well yes, since we're about the same age, the first question is, what's your Hogwarts house?TJ
: I definitely think I'm a Gryffindor, I haven't actually seen all of the Harry Potter movies or read all the books, but I know that's a good one, right?ERIC
: My experience talking with other millennials about our age is that everyone thinks they were Gryffindor or Ravenclaw when they were younger. And then as we all get older, we're all turning into Hufflepuffs. That's just some Hogwarts wisdom.
But I was watching Kenzo's videos and there's one that he did that was really funny, but just would not translate to an audio podcast where he's talking about cell phones then versus cell phones now. And so it starts off with the cell phones now, where it's like okay, "I just ordered from Amazon and bought your airplane tickets and signed these contracts" and all these different things. Then it's cell phones then, and it's like "OK, tap this 4, 4, 4, 4, 4," and then it's the other person receiving a text that says "hi."TJ
: Yeah, and it's like, "oh my God, I got a text." So yeah, the T9, I used to be really fast on that back in the day.ERIC
: I got lucky with the timing where I just never had to get very good at T9. I guess before the smartphones there was ... what was that sideways phone, the one that had the keyboard that would flip out?TJ
: Yeah, the Sidekick.ERIC
: The Blackberries, the Sidekick and the iPhone basically like phones with full keyboards came around just close enough to when I needed a cell phone. I never had to get very good at T9, but there's some people who were, and it's very impressive.TJ
: Yeah I really wanted a sidekick, but I didn't get one, and so I was stuck with T9. But yeah, those were the days, and I was so fast and my mother was like "How do you do that so fast?" And I'm like, "That's just what we do, mom." So yeah, Kenzo gives me some nice nostalgic throwbacks, in a world where we're emerging from a pandemic and everything seems to be not so good, to just take a moment, and be like oh yeah, remember when we texted like that? It's a nice little palate cleanser on the feed.ERIC
: Agreed. So yeah, he's more popular on TikTok than on Instagram, but you specifically told me that you follow him on Instagram. Are you in the same boat as I am where you just avoid TikTok for the fear of getting addicted, or is there a reason behind that?TJ
: Yes, I don't really use TikTok. I do have a TikTok just to, but I have never posted anything there. I actually have been using it for research, for reporting. For the podcast series, we're doing an episode on egg donation and these egg influencers — which are a thing — will post on TikTok with the hashtag #eggdonor. And so I've been using it for research to find young women who are in the process of donating their eggs and to talk to them about how much they're being, things like that.
Which is probably, now I'm saying this out loud, like the most boring way to use TikTok. I mean, for me to just use it as a research tool. But yeah, I don't use TikTok as a sort of content consumption platform, I use Instagram, Twitter, and then I have Facebook because my grandma likes to write on my wall and say happy birthday, so I have it for that reason. But Twitter and Instagram are the main places I where consume my content.ERIC
: Is there anything else that you love about his videos, the way he uses the internet and social media that we should talk about?TJ
: Yeah, I just think he's kind of wholesome, or at least the videos that I've seen him upload, they just seem really positive. They seem sweet and fun and kind of uncomplicated, not that they're a low quality production but uncomplicated in a way, it's like here's just a nice moment for you to enjoy. And I think nowadays our feeds can become overwhelmed with negativity in a lot of senses. So that's just why I gravitate towards him because it's just a nice little pure spot of joy in my day when I come across his posts.ERIC
: Yeah, and then similar to Sydney Battle, it seems like most of his videos are just him in his house or apartment in London, just sort of coming up with weird premises or funny ideas and acting them out, playing all these different characters. I'm so amazed by this whole generation of TikTok comedians, you know, folks like Kenzo who are finding that levity, who are finding just a seemingly endless well of things they can do without very much budget or complicated editing or anything.TJ
: Absolutely, yeah, I wish I had that skill. I'm not really good at making funny videos.ERIC
: You and me both. Well that was Kenzo Mizumoto who is on TikTok
We have time for one more follow today. I asked you for "someone who makes the internet a better place," and you said Christi Steyn, who is on TikTok
@Christi.Steyn. Christi is a spoken word poet, which is not a type of person we hear about a lot in this podcast, so I love this. I want to hear about this. What do you like about Christi and about her poems, specifically?TJ
: Yeah, I just find her poetry to be beautiful; it's gorgeous. I think her delivery in how she reads her poems and presents them to her followers and to her audience. It feels really different from what I've seen everyone else kind of doing on the internet. And that's one of the reasons I love her. And I find her work to just be heartfelt, emotional, deeply touching, and I've fallen down rabbit holes where I've watched so many of her videos and I'm like wow, this is just beautiful.
And spoken word poetry as a medium, whether it's on the internet or even in person, is, I don't wanna call it a dying art form, but I don't feel like there are many super-popular spoken-word poets, and so I just think it's beautiful. It feels to me sometimes that it hearkens back to something simpler where I'm just going to deliver these powerful words to you. Rupi Kaur is another poet that I love, she has several books, but she does spoken word poetry during her book readings. And I also follow her on Instagram and love her work.
But Christi is sort of a lesser-known poet than Rupi is, and is up and coming, and that's why I wanted to give her a shout out. Rupi Kaur really got me back into poetry and the idea of spoken word poetry. So I just definitely wanna give her credence. But Christi is sort of another one, who I think has less of a following and is up and coming. And I also just find her words wonderfully beautiful.ERIC
: Yeah, you were saying earlier that pre-pandemic, you were a big standup comedy fan, just going out to all these shows, constantly seeing new standup comics. Spoken-word poetry is ... I assume in a big city like New York, there are venues where you can go and you can regularly find talented poets. But I also feel like there's just not as much of a guaranteed future for live poetry as there is for comedy. Some people are intimidated by the idea of poetry or they're not as willing, I think, to show up and maybe pay up to see a poet who might challenge them, who might unsettle them as they would be for someone who's going to make them laugh, give them an escape.TJ
: Right, even in New York, there are definitely venues to see spoken word poetry, but the shows even pre-pandemic were fewer and far between, because I just don't think it's a medium that lots of young people or artists who wanna get famous on the internet consider for themselves.
And also, spoken-word poetry is a difficult medium to consume. It's very thought-heavy, it's not just like "oh, here's a joke and here's the punchline," you have to be very attentive in your listening. You know, as somebody who likes podcasts, who works in podcasting, I like listening to things and hearing people talk very much. But yeah, I think it's not as common as a medium.
I'm hoping that spoken word poetry will become more popular. Especially if you look at someone like Amanda Gorman, who was I think the inaugural youth poet for President Biden last year when he was inaugurated and she read that beautiful poem and received such acclaim. I actually went out and bought her book after that because I loved watching her deliver that poem.
Maybe we're on the precipice of a revival of spoken word poetry and sort of beatnik poets who are out there. I would love to go see people deliver beautiful messaging in this creative and artistic way. So that's one of the reasons I follow Christi because it feels like a breath of fresh air when I see her posts come across my feed.ERIC
: That's what I was gonna say, if we are going to be on the precipice of a revival here that it might happen more on Instagram and TikTok, right? Because in Christi's videos, when she's performing one of her poems, the words are fading in over her, as she's talking. So you are both listening and whether you have the sound on or not, you are seeing the poem as it unfolds. And I think that's maybe kind of a perfect on-ramp for someone who doesn't read or wouldn't attend a live poetry show. Like if they're able to get a poem that way, I feel like there's a lot of potential there for Christi and for other poets to connect with people who maybe never would have experienced their work before.TJ
: I completely agree. I think maybe somebody who would never sit down and read a book of poetry or a blog or something like that with posts of poems, would watch a video, like something from Christi or something from Amanda Gorman or from Rupi Kaur and share it and say wow, isn't this beautiful. So yeah, I hope any of the spoken word poets out there listening, do your thing, I want more.ERIC
: Well, before we wrap up, I wanted to edit in one of Christi's poems. Do you have a favorite that we should put in here?TJ
: Yeah, this poem by Christi, I think it's called "there's nothing wrong with you." And I really love this poem because one of the things she says in the poem is "I don't wanna hate myself for not being happy, some days are for sadness." And especially in our very online world, in a world where we are living our best life and presenting ourselves in a way where we're always happy, we're always thriving, I think there's something very real and honest, and sometimes I am sad or sometimes things are not going my way and I can still love my life and be happy even if that's the case. I think she brings a real softness to that idea. And I just appreciate it and I appreciate the depth and complexity of the idea that she's putting forward.ERIC
: Beautifully said.
[clip from video]CHRISTI STEYN
: I am learning to love myself on unlovable days. I allow myself to go slow, choosing kindness instead of judgment. I won't hate myself for not being happy. Some days are for sadness, and when sadness comes, I expose my heart and ask her to talk: What can I do for you? You are safe here. You are safe here. I know how exhausting joy can seem. She will appear again, soon, without trying. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you.
That was Christi Steyn who is on TikTok
TJ, thank you so much for sharing these follows with us today. Before we go, let's make sure that listeners know how to find you online, where do you want them to follow you?TJ
: Yeah, you can follow me on Twitter @tjraphael
, like the Ninja Turtle or like the painter depending on what you're into. You can follow me there. I tweet about podcasts, I tweet pictures of food that I've made, and cute dog pictures.ERIC
: Sold. I'm there.TJ
: So if that's your jam, you can come follow me there.ERIC
: Podcasts and cute dogs, I'm completely sold.TJ
: And you can follow me on Twitter @heyheyesj
, and don't forget to follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app. If you like this episode, then check out the past Follow Friday interviews with Justin Myers
a.k.a. the Guyliner, comedian Alasdair Beckett-King
and Planet Money co-host Amanda Aronczyk
Follow Friday is a production of LightningPod.fm. Our theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie, our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan, and our social media producer is Sydney Grodin.
Special thanks to our Big Fri Patreon backers Jon and Justin. Visit patreon.com/followfriday
for an extra-long version of this interview, featuring a bonus follow recommendation from T.J. Raphael.
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. I'll see you next Friday!