An Interview with Monica Padman


“It’s fine if people don’t think I’m knowledgeable about everything. I’m not. And, by the way, nobody is.”

Jobs Monica Padman had with Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell before starting Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard: 
Personal assistant
Listicle ghostwriter


An Interview with Monica Padman


“It’s fine if people don’t think I’m knowledgeable about everything. I’m not. And, by the way, nobody is.”

Jobs Monica Padman had with Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell before starting Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard: 
Personal assistant
Listicle ghostwriter

An Interview with Monica Padman

Rachel Khong
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To interview Monica Padman is to interview an interviewer. Padman is the cohost of the astronomically popular podcast Armchair Expert, cohosted by actor Dax Shepard, of the television shows Parenthood and Punk’d. In 2019, Forbes listed Armchair Expert second on its inaugural list of top-earning podcasts; in 2020, Forbes estimated its monthly audience to be twenty million listeners. In 2021, Padman and Shepard signed a deal with Spotify that was rumored to be eight figures. Their guests have ranged from public figures (Barack Obama, Monica Lewinsky) to Hollywood stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington) to “experts” (Ronan Farrow, Atul Gawande), to Shepard’s mom, in a refreshingly surprising mix, all guided by Shepard’s wide-ranging intellectual interests. Since the show premiered, in February 2018, the team has released over five hundred episodes. Now, in addition to Armchair Expert, Padman and Shepard produce eleven shows under their “Armchair Umbrella.” 

When I first learned about Armchair Expert, the concept did not appeal to me. A celebrity talking to other celebrities? I’d been listening to hyperproduced podcasts like This American Life and Serial, and conversational podcasts like the madcap Mike and Tom Eat Snacks or Marc Maron’s WTF. What I loved about those shows was their specificity. Their hosts weren’t massively famous, and that resulted in more interesting conversations. Celebrities spoke through the neutered filter of PR, or so I thought. But Armchair Expert surprised me. Shepard and Padman’s guests—celebrity or otherwise—were strangely willing to just… speak. They were vulnerable, and compelling in their vulnerability. Often these conversations were a far cry from other, more carefully polished interviews. The cohost combination was unique: as an actor, Shepard could draw guests from his rarefied world. But Padman interested me too. She didn’t speak much during the conversations between Shepard and the guests. But her voice was heard prominently on every episode’s “fact-check,” when she verified details that had been stated on the show. The fact-checks were not particularly rigorous: she did not adjudicate every fact. Instead, the segments were an opportunity for Padman and Shepard to catch up on each other’s lives, with equal parts vulnerability and transparency—to an audience of millions.

It’s a formula that has, of course, won them many devoted listeners. But it’s also led to detractors. Online, there is no shortage of criticism and judgment of both Padman and Shepard, especially since their immense success. 

I’m guilty of harboring my own judgments. Padman is an Indian American woman in a white-dominated space who has spoken openly about her struggles with self-esteem and self-acceptance. I have wished for a different arc for her: a liberation from—and rejection of—Western beauty standards, a promotion from sidekick status. But in speaking with her, it occurred to me that my thinking was its own racist catch-22: wanting someone in the spotlight to represent the universal person-of-color experience, which doesn’t actually exist. Padman reminded me that we often bring preconceived notions to our encounters. But we need to shed those assumptions in order to fully be present with another person, in order to listen exactly to what they are saying.

I am a novelist, and in that medium, there is the opportunity to revise and revise again. Appearing as a guest on podcasts has never come naturally to me; in fact, it’s frightened me. With verbal communication, there is an ingrained imperfection, an inability to fix one’s mistakes. But speaking with Padman, I was struck that imperfection could be a feature—instead of a bug—and could lead to greater intimacy and connection. Making mistakes in conversation: it’s human, and it’s what we have in common. 

The interview was pushed several times because of Padman’s busy recording schedule. We met at one of her favorite spots, a neighborhood restaurant in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. She already felt familiar: I had heard so many hours of her speaking. The first thing I asked was if she was nervous about being the interviewee instead of the interviewer. “It’s always a little nerve-racking to not know what you’re entering,” she told me. “But it’s also fun. Somewhere in between.”

—Rachel Khong


THE BELIEVER: So you came to Los Angeles for acting.

MONICA PADMAN: It’s funny, because the reason I pivoted into this other realm is because I could not get work as an actor. Now, since I’ve been podcasting, more opportunities have come up within acting, but I have to turn a lot of those down because priorities have shifted. The idea that I would turn down an audition… it was impossible. That would never, ever have happened. But here we are.

When I came out here, I didn’t have an agent or anything. I’d send my headshot and résumé. On IMDb, I’d search all the managers and agents and send my stuff out. Brutal, just brutal. I was babysitting to get by. Then an assistant at Odenkirk Provissiero responded and said, “Hey, you’re a little green, but keep in touch with me.” So I did. I just kept sending her things like I’m at Upright Citizens Brigade [UCB]. Now I’m doing this. I did this. She started sending me on auditions, and then I started booking small things here and there. But it was hard. It’s exactly what you know it to be—full of rejection. I did have a really, really lucky streak in commercials, which was such a lifesaver. It was fun and paid well. And, of course, once I started nannying for Kristen [Bell] and Dax [Shepard], I started working a lot more in commercials and as an actor, because the desperation had faded. I had this other stable thing. That’s such a common piece of advice for actors: Leave the desperation at the door. Go in as if you don’t need it, and have fun. And you can’t. It’s so much easier said than done. The only way you can do it is by having an actual sense of safety in other parts of your life. 

BLVR: What were you doing between auditions? 

MP: Babysitting. I had multiple families I was juggling. And writing spec scripts. I also started doing improv with UCB. I took tons of classes, and I was on multiple teams, multiple practices a week. I was just trying to fill the day and stay busy. I would go on daily walks with one of my other actor friends, for an hour around the neighborhood. It’s a real struggle to keep your head above water. But I had heard early on—and this was such good advice—to have other eggs in your basket, to fill out the rest of your life and not be so singularly focused on acting. And I really did that. I had a great group of friends. I do look back on that time with such fondness. We bounced around and had fun and dreamt together. It was a very special time. 

BLVR: Do you think there’s something about you that made you not quit? We’ve all heard the stories of people giving up.

MP: It’s a tale as old as time. That’s fully my friendships. That’s the only reason. I had a community, and that was the saving grace—not just other actors. My roommate Anthony was a writer—is a writer. At that point, he was a writer’s assistant. I have a friend who is our producer and he was a PA. Everyone was at the nascent stage of their journey. And that’s so critical. We’d pick up more and more friends along the way. I don’t think I would be here if I hadn’t had that. It was just too demoralizing. Unless you have someone to come home to, and commiserate with. 


BLVR: How did you go from being a nanny for Dax and Kristen to cohosting a podcast? 

MP: At first it was date-night babysitting. Lincoln would probably have been six or seven months old. I mean, the first handful of times I didn’t even see her. I got there, they had put her down, and they were out to a date night. And I would just watch TV and do my nails. Kristen would say, “I have this gel nail kit if you want to use it.” And I’d think, What is this place? It’s so amazing. When Delta was born, they asked if I could come on full-time. I said yes.

I would come every morning. And it was really all hands on deck, whoever was there. Kristen was in and out; Dax was in and out. He was working on Chips at the time, and Kristen is one of the busiest people I’ve ever met. You would just look around and see what was needed, whether it was doing laundry for the baby or dishes or taking Delta on a walk or to the swings. It was a village mentality. Which was nice because it didn’t feel stressful. It wasn’t like You have to do this and then this—it was very loose. 

I would be there all day. And at night, sometimes I would go home, but sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes I would stay and the adults would play games or watch TV—we had so many shows we would watch. And I just became a part of that family. They let me be a part of that family. It was really special. 

When Delta went to school, they said, “We love you. We really want to keep you here. But obviously we don’t need a nanny every day while she’s at school. We’re just letting you know where our heads are at.” And I got so anxious: I’m going to have to leave this job, but I love it. I love this place and these people. I thought, Oh my god, that’s it. How sad. And then Kristen asked, “Would you want to transition to an assistant role—for me?” And I said, “Sure, great. I’ll do whatever.” And she hadn’t had one at that point, so I got to create that role. 

Her publicist would send things: Hey, do you want to do this article, ten things you love about blah, blah, blah? And I would receive the emails as her assistant. And at one point, I thought, Oh, she’s so busy, she won’t be able to do this. Maybe I could do it. Then I just asked her, “Do you want me to write this?” And she said, “Is that something you do?” And I was like, “Yeah, I do. I write.” I just started taking on more and more and more. So we became creative partners, me and her, even before the podcast stuff happened. 

And at one point Dax said, “I want to do a podcast!” He was just saying it. And I said, “I could probably figure out how to do that.” So I started reaching out to people I knew who had podcasts, just poking around. Then he was like, “I think you should be on it.” And then we started it.

BLVR: What did you know about podcasting at the time?

MP: It was still the early days, of course, compared to now. But there were still a lot of them back then. The joke was that at first Dax said, “I think we should call it The Millionth Podcast.” But it still felt sort of niche. Totally Laime was a podcast I loved. It’s a couple and they interview comedians. And they had another show where they just talked, and another show, after they had kids, about motherhood. I reached out to Elizabeth Laime, one of the hosts of that show, and I was like, “Can I talk to you?”

And she said sure. I just asked her all the questions, like “Technically, how does it work? And what do you think makes a good one?” At that point, I realized I didn’t necessarily want to do the soundboard. So we brought in Rob [Holysz]. Dax had done a few podcasts as a guest. And that’s why he wanted to do it. He really loved the long-form conversation. But we had no idea what we were doing. We had Kristen on as the first guest. And I didn’t talk at all; I just sat there. We were figuring out what we were doing. Dax was admittedly very controlling. 

But it was fun. We thought, Let’s do it again. It took a while for us to find our footing. But for better or worse, we put all those episodes out, whether they were ready to go or not. A few episodes in, we decided to start editing. And I was like, “OK, I’ll do that.”


BLVR: People often talk about how comfortable they feel on the podcast, and how open you both are. How do you approach interviewing? And how do you sort of set the stage for this intimate, vulnerable space? 

MP: Dax and I are doing different things. He is a master at making people feel comfortable, in life in general. I do sometimes try to remember when I first met him. He can have an intimidating presence. He’s a big dude. A very smart one. And a very funny one, and a gregarious one. So that can be a little intimidating. But he asks a lot of questions, and cares to know. It doesn’t seem obligatory. That’s a superpower of his. And he brings that to the room. He also leads with all his own issues and vulnerabilities and insecurities. It’s pretty hard, when someone is doing that, to keep your door fully closed. I think because he leads with vulnerability, people just follow. I said really early on, “Oh god, I don’t know if I want to be so open about all this stuff.” And he said, “Well, you don’t have to be. But it is the compelling part of being human.” 

I couldn’t be more open at this point. After he said that, I had to make that decision. Especially on the fact-checks. On the fact-checks it’s just me and him. And we’re best friends, so we talk about everything. And I think that was when I first thought, Oh god, we just talked about that. I don’t know if I want that out there. And that’s when he said, “You can take that out if you want. But I do think these are the things that actually connect us as people.” And so I thought, Sure, why not? I had this weird hang-up, though. I was like, “What about when I meet my husband? Is it unfair to him that everyone else gets to know these intimate parts? Like, shouldn’t some of it be saved for him?” I had this bizarre idea about that. And Dax said, “There will always be things between you and your husband that don’t get shared. The details of life.” And so I just fully jumped in. Ever since, I’ve just been very open. People feel it. It’s a very intimate space that I think lends itself to that. There are pictures of us all over the wall. There’s a painting of me as a baby. It’s a bit disarming. Which lends itself to people just wanting to chat. We say, “You can cut stuff if you want,” and that frees people up a lot. We both have the goal of coming in fully open with our own stories.

BLVR: How is it working with someone you’re so close to? Where do you draw boundaries, if any? How do you manage all that, having a creative partner who is also a friend?

MP: It’s hard. And we’ve gotten better over time at boundaries. Not only are we such good friends, but I’m in the family in some ways. It’s a big old entanglement. And we’re both really opinionated people. And we are comfortable with each other. So we have big fights, and we have not-great moments. But we’ve gotten better about understanding each other’s needs, especially in conflict. It’s like any relationship. You understand how to communicate with that person in conflict. We’ve gotten better about that, and at boundaries in general. When we’re here, we’re here. This has to be somewhat professional. It’s hard because the crux of the show is intimacy and friendship. Talking about, you know, your poop… it’s so ridiculous. And then to also say, But it has to be professional! is a very weird thing. We don’t always hit the mark. But I think we do a pretty good job. And we’ve gotten better and better—out of respect for each other. We don’t want to be fighting. It’s not helpful, and it’s not fun for us if we’re fighting over something with the show. But then we come in to interview and we have to be all smiley. I think the audience can also feel it. We’re not that good at hiding it. To our credit, sometimes we’ll just say it. We’ll just talk about it—“Well, we’re in this fight”—or it’ll come up. And we’ll have it sort of aired out there. But it’s complex. I think anytime you work with friends, it’s hard. And now I work with Liz [Plank] on Synced. It’s a similar thing. You have to know when to take the friendship hat on and off. But it’s learned over time. I don’t think anyone is perfect at it. 


BLVR: Is it satisfying to you to hear the hard stories of people who are really successful?

MP: For sure. I mean, it’s the most relatable thing. We can’t be at the top of the mountain all the time. And they’re not. We as a society do a very strange thing with celebrities, and to them. We dehumanize them. In a lot of ways that are good for that celebrity’s ego, but then also not. The ability to attack them. Showing that everyone’s a real person is important to me, and it gives me a lot of empathy and compassion: I don’t know you. I can think I do, based on what you’re presenting. But I don’t. I think it’s helpful to remember that. 

BLVR: It’s interesting to hear you talk about dehumanization and what we think of celebrities. And now you’re sort of sucked into this, right? People can be so dehumanizing to hosts of podcasts. I wonder what your experience of this fame has been like. People really feel like they know you, because it’s such an intimate form. 

MP: They do. And to an extent they do. They know a lot about me. I think my relationship to being adjacent to the public eye has been fairly positive. Because if they listen, and they continue to listen, for the most part they like us, and they like what we’re doing, and so when they run into us on the street, they’re nice. The issue I find, mainly, is people who don’t listen. And who just want to be on social media and comment and have their opinion heard, but haven’t heard the show and don’t know us. They just want to be loud. I think it’s very toxic and a problem. But I do a good job of really recognizing that it’s so not about us or me. And also I just don’t look at it. I have a rule: I don’t look at comments.

BLVR: Was that always in place? Or did you look at them in the beginning? 

MP: Pretty early on I saw one I hated. And I thought, This is not good for me. You feel the negative ones ten times more than a positive one. At some point not that long ago, I said, “No, I’m not doing it.” Dax was like, “Oh, we need to go through the comments,” and I was like, “No. Me and you are not going to do that. We can have somebody else do that for us, but we should not be doing it.” And I really stand by that. I really don’t think it’s healthy at all. Especially right now. It’s a really toxic space. 

BLVR: When you started the show, Dax was already famous. Something we have in common is that I also worked for a very famous man. I was an editor at Lucky Peach, which is a food magazine that Dave Chang started. When you’re working for someone so famous, you’re automatically part of something cool. And you get the credit for the cool stuff, and you are doing a lot of work on it, so of course you should get the credit. But I’m just wondering how that was for you, to be working with this really famous man who takes up a lot of space, for better and worse.

MP: I think it was mainly for the better. Because he’d already done it. He already knew what that path looked like. And so this wasn’t divergent. For me it was new. So it was kind of nice to have someone who’d already walked the walk. With him and Kristen, having those examples was very helpful. He’s also extremely protective. So it’s helpful to have someone in your orbit who knows the world, who’s protective not only of the business but of me personally. Early on, I was saying to him, “I don’t know, I’m just sitting here. I don’t think I’m contributing enough. And I feel really insecure when we have these people on who are my idols. And I don’t know that there’s a place for me to say anything. Who am I? And they’re going to think I’m stupid, because I’m just sitting there.” And he was like, “I do understand all that. And we can work on that together. But also, I want you to know that we hit the jackpot. And I know—only because I’ve been doing this for so long—that this does not happen. You maybe get one lottery moment. Most people never get any, and at most you get one or two. And you’re in one. So I want you to also be able to feel that and, like, acknowledge and be happy about that. Don’t give all your energy to what is not happening instead of to what is happening.” And that was really helpful to me, seeing the overall picture of: Oh yeah, we are talking with the most interesting people. And not just talking—listening to their stories. Also, me and him get to shoot the shit all day long as a job. We’re getting money for it. Who would have ever thought? So it really did put things in perspective. It didn’t mean I was like, OK, I’m happy to just be silent now. That wasn’t the case. It was like, I need to figure out exactly my lane here, which I do think I did. So his having been in this business for a long time has been very helpful to me.


BLVR: How did you make that shift into a role that is more proactive?

MP: One way was truly just logistical. We had Jake Johnson on the show early on. And the way our seats were arranged, Dax sat across from the guest. Every time I would talk, the guest would have to pivot their whole body to address me. And it was uncomfortable. It always felt like I was interrupting. And at one point, Jake Johnson said something like, “I can’t see her. Is there any way we can adjust this?” So we brought over a chair and sat in more of a triangle. And from then on we changed the seating arrangement completely. It changed a ton! I no longer felt like I had to be like, Excuse me. I want to say something now! I still have to balance when to interrupt the flow and when not to. But it’s so much better when the guest can see both our faces. And my confidence has grown. I used to think, Oh my gosh, we have this person coming in. It’s so exciting. I’ve seen all their movies. I can still get excited, but I don’t feel I have to prove myself anymore. Which is such a burden off my shoulders, and has led to so many more interesting thoughts from me. 

BLVR: How do you think that shift to more confidence happens? 

MP: I think it’s just time. It’s being around so many people I’ve had on pedestals that I could see were really just people. Also I edit the show. So cleaning up everyone has given me a ton of confidence. Cleaning up Dax, cleaning up myself, cleaning up the guests. Everyone’s fallible; we’re all making mistakes. And it has given me a lot of control, making these edits. Being the overall decision-maker about what gets put out and what gets cut. That’s another piece: I edit the show, I produce, I make a lot of creative decisions. A lot of confidence is produced there. 

BLVR: Did you ever feel nervous about having more of your voice heard? Or was it always just something you were comfortable with? Because that’s something I’ve really struggled with: being in the public eye as a writer. 

MP: Yes and no. I love deep-diving into any sort of conversation. With friends, with anyone. I’m just so uninterested in surface-level anything, so in some ways this format is definitely up my alley. It’s much easier than having a three-minute sound bite—that scares me. But this, no, because I can clarify things if I need to. You have the space to be. I feel comfortable there. And, again, doing it with my best friend feels easy and natural. It’s funny, because we have all these shows at this point, different iterations. We have Flightless Bird and Synced, and I’m on all these shows. And they’re all so fun and wonderful and very special. And they each have their own fingerprint and dynamic, but nothing is going to compare with that original one. It’s very—for lack of a better word—celestial. You get lucky sometimes, and that’s just the truth. People will ask, “How do you do it?” You can’t tell people how to have chemistry. So there’s some luck in there for sure. 


BLVR: When I listened to you guys for the first time, I just assumed that you were a small, Terry Gross–looking white lady with a pixie cut and glasses. 

MP: Oh, that’s funny. 

BLVR: In part because when you think of podcasts, you think of two white guys talking—at least that’s the image I had from podcasts of several years ago. And Dax, he’s definitely his own person. But he’s also very much this type: He’s a knowledgeable man. He’s very charming. And as a listener, you know that type immediately. People are just familiar with it. And they know it and are amenable and open to that type. There’s less of a model for what you’re doing and who you are. I’m wondering how that has been for you. Did you go into it thinking, There aren’t any models of what I’m doing on the radio? Or did you already have the confidence to just be who you were?

MP: That’s a very interesting question. I haven’t thought about that, actually. I definitely didn’t have any models. I think because of the nature of how this all started… In retrospect, it sounds like we’re being humble-braggy. We did not know what it was going to be at all. So I wasn’t thinking, Oh gosh, I’m entering this foray and don’t have anyone to look to. It was just us doing what we already did in the backyard. Bringing it onto microphones. 

I have to give Dax credit for that. He said, “We need your voice here, a voice that’s not like mine, that brings something to the table—a background to the table—that I don’t have and can’t ever have.” He is a tall, white, charismatic, muscular alpha male. With a ton of privilege, but because of his upbringing, growing up with a single mom and a lot of trauma, he has a through line of always wanting to be better. If he doesn’t understand something, he’ll say, “OK, I’m confused about that.”He is not so cemented in his beliefs, which is why we can do what we do. I would not be interested in doing this with somebody who was closed off to hearing a different opinion. I’m not interested in that at all. So I do give him a lot of credit for saying, “I think we need another voice here.” I do think some people, when they hear us, they’re like, “Well, why don’t you talk as much as him?” And, first of all, it’s a little flattering that people want to hear more. But also, that’s not the setup. That’s not the show. The show isn’t The View. It’s not me and him equally interviewing. It’s him, and that was always the case. 

BLVR: I find it so interesting that you are often willing to just not know something. Dax has a lot of convictions. He knows a lot of stuff. And you’re just a lot more open about not knowing stuff and being OK with that. I think that’s something I hadn’t really seen before, or heard on the radio. We’re so used to experts talking to one another. Was that something you cultivated? Or did it come more naturally for you? 

MP: It was natural. I think it’s probably more natural for women—again, for better or worse—to enter any conversation saying, I’m not so sure. Even when we are sure. So sometimes it can be a detriment. But I would say it’s my role there that allows it. If I were in charge of directing the whole interview, I might be less likely to not know, because then where does the interview go? There is some function to having a point of view and directing the conversation. It’s easy for me to add in something a little bit more ambiguous. It’s nice that we can have both things happening. 

BLVR: Not to just tell you criticism after you said you don’t look at it, but often the criticism of the show is that you’re not speaking up or that you don’t seem as knowledgeable. It strikes me as ingrained misogyny. They almost want this masculine-expert energy to be there that doesn’t necessarily need to be there, or benefit the show.

MP: We’re not doing a book review. We’re trying to have a conversation with people about their lives. When we have experts on, of course, it is a little bit of a different thing. And I don’t know as much. I often don’t read the books. It’s by design. It’s fine if people don’t think I’m knowledgeable about everything. I’m not. And, by the way, nobody is. I’m not going to pretend I am for the benefit of other people. And, again, my role on those episodes is to act as the audience, to fill in gaps. And also to add some flavor, for lack of a better word. It doesn’t bother me, because I do know what I’m doing, and I know it’s critical to the show, whether they think so or not. If it wasn’t there, they would feel it. 

BLVR: To me, it seems horrifying to have everything you say be so scrutinized. Especially when it feels very conversational for you in the moment, just talking with a friend. 

MP: I just don’t look at the comments. If it’s not in my orbit, I don’t have to feel it. And I just keep it out. Because, I don’t know, my life is so privileged and happy and good on a day-to-day basis, and I get to do something I love with people I love. I can’t let other people ruin that. 

BLVR: Dax has said stuff like Oh, Monica’s here so that I don’t say something racist or sexist. How do you feel about that?

MP: I actually appreciate it. I think it’s honest. To say, There’s this person here who keeps me in line. Because, like you said, on a lot of other shows, they don’t have that. They have people with big egos talking at or to each other without anyone bringing it back. I will say, even just my presence in the room as a minority makes people think differently. It makes people think a little bit more before they speak, and that’s great. I want people to practice thinking before they speak. It does take practice if you’re a certain kind of person who’s grown up never having had to check yourself. You can go through your whole life without ever thinking before you speak, and there are really no repercussions. 

BLVR: Did you feel equipped to be that person, or did you think: I also have internalized misogyny or racism? 

MP: We talk about that all the time. It’s ubiquitous; it’s everywhere. It’s actually why we can have those types of conversations: because I am not saying I’m perfect at it. No one is. And Dax doesn’t feel attacked, because I’m just a person too. But I do feel equipped. I know my experience on earth. And that’s all I can share. As a brown kid growing up in Georgia, and being a woman, and all those things. But I also don’t think everything’s so black-and-white. I’m not trying to put hard lines of us-against-them. I’m there to share my thoughts and opinions based on my experience. Which is a very different experience from his. And his experience is very different from mine. I’ve learned a ton about addiction that I would never have been exposed to before. It’s taught me so much. It’s given me so much compassion and understanding. And so I think it goes both ways. 


BLVR: How do you feel you have grown since doing the podcast? How have you changed as a person? 

MP: I think mainly that, since doing this with Dax, I’m much less judgmental. Also, we’ve never had a person on the show who leaves and we think, They’re awful. Even when they come in and we think, This is going to be hard—or, I have preconceived notions about this person. Everyone leaves the show as a real person with multiple dimensions. I might not like everything about them, but I probably like at least one thing about them. And it has helped me so much to see the world in full shades of gray. And I’m grateful for that. When I first started out, I had a lot of opinions about right and wrong, and good and bad, and what you should do or shouldn’t do, and now that’s all gone. Behind every person there’s complexity.

BLVR: I recently listened to the episode when you were hypnotized. I loved what you asked for: to look in the mirror and like what you see. And I wondered if you could talk about that desire. 

MP: It’s so old. And I think it comes from growing up as a minority in a pretty white state. It’s hard because I hated that about myself. I hated that I was different: I was visibly different. That was something I just couldn’t change. There was so much self-loathing. And the mirror is the physical image of me. I know it’s outdated. I know I’ve outgrown that, or should have outgrown that by now. But some of these things are just so deep. And the hypnosis was an attempt to get rid of it. I don’t know if it worked. I think it maybe helped? Again, my confidence has grown. We said recently on a fact-check that he and I both are going to try to stop that narrative, because we do talk about it a lot, across the board. “Oh, we don’t like the way we look.” It’s kind of boring at this point. And I’m over it. I’m sure people listening are definitely over it. I think I’m done saying that. Which hopefully is also just good for me: to not have that narrative always running.

BLVR: That’s something I think about a lot: how boring it is to have the same narrative. The thing that you’re constantly playing on repeat, the story you’re telling yourself about yourself and how that crowds out the space for more interesting thoughts. I definitely relate to that, and more recently I’ve realized it’s not actually a problem with me. It’s a problem with the culture. The indoctrination of Western, American culture saying it’s better to be similar to one another than to be different. You’ve mentioned the confidence of being on the show itself, and how that gave you more empowerment. Do you think you’ve also learned things through the guests on the show? 

MP: Oh my goodness, so many. The true gift is hearing people’s stories. Everyone has a nugget of wisdom, whether they know it or not. And it normally comes out at some point in these interviews. I don’t know if that really gives confidence so much as context to the world, which is helpful. As we’re sitting here and I’m thinking about it a little more, I think if I wasn’t doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff, I wouldn’t feel very good at that job, necessarily. I might feel excited to be there. But I don’t think I would feel secure. I feel good and proud because of what we’ve built, and what we’ve built is not the conversations; it’s a space that people come to and feel vulnerable in. That’s what I’m proud of. And that gives me confidence. We made this. This was nothing and now it’s a thing! And that’s really emboldening. 

BLVR: It sounds very enriching for you personally. Did you feel hesitant to work out some of the things you work out publicly on the podcast—for example, about your struggles growing up Indian American in Georgia? I mentioned that I found it refreshing that you just don’t have the answers. You’re struggling through these things on the air. Was it a decision to share what you’ve been through, or did you feel nervous that you were going to say the wrong thing? Because identity stuff can be fraught. I’m working it out privately, but working it out publicly is so exposing. 

MP: It is exposing. But I’ve never felt like, Am I going to say this wrong? Because I can’t say the wrong thing about my own life. People can say I’m saying the wrong thing, but they’re wrong. I’m talking about me, and me only, and my experience, and hopefully whatever I’m saying helps someone else. Maybe? Or maybe not. Maybe it turns a light on that they weren’t thinking about before. Or maybe not. I’m not here to say, This is how you fix a thing. This is me on the other side of struggle. We’re all struggling every day. And to act like we have answers is a lie. And I don’t think that’s helpful. That just makes other people feel like, Well, why don’t I have the answers? You shouldn’t. Because life is about figuring it out today and tomorrow and the next day—evolving. You don’t just figure it out and you’re done. So I don’t think too hard about how it’s coming across. Because it’s just my story. They can be mad about how I’m telling my story, but they didn’t live it.

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