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WBEZ's Podcast Passport goes queer with 'Nancy'
by Liz Baudler
2017-11-29

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Nancy, the LGBTQ-focused podcast from WNYC that debuted earlier this year, isn't just operating with only one community in mind. Co-hosts Kathy Tu and Tobin Low, both Asian-American, wanted to create space for voices that don't always get heard.

"I really wanted to signal to the world that we weren't just going to be a stereotypical public radio show, where everyone sort of sounds the same," said Tu. "And I think we also wanted to signal that we are a place where people of color will be able to find a home. It's not just the queer community. We want to make sure that all of our identities get some sort of home in the show."

Nancy's first on-the-road-live show, at the Athenaeum Theater on Dec. 2, showcases this desire for exploring and elevating identity. The evening's slate of guests include intersex activist Pidgeon Pagonis and Brown Girls creators Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey.

Low is particularly excited about the latter. "When I saw Brown Girls for the first time, I had this flash of relief like, oh my god, I have been waiting for a show like this in terms of something that was really smart and funny that centered queer people, but not in a way that felt like it was a show about them. It felt like it was a show for us," he said.

"I'm so thankful to Tobin, Kathy and the Nancy team for accepting our invitation to put on their first major live show in Chicago. The evening we're curating is exactly the kind of celebration we're trying to create with this series and I can't for Chicago meet Nancy," said Tyler Greene, WBEZ's Live Event Producer and curator of the Podcast Passport series, which aims to introduce Chicago audiences to a diversity of opinions and voices.

Newcomers to Nancy might be astonished by the breath of topics the show has covered in less than a year. After sharing their coming out stories in the very first episode, Tu and Low visited Orlando a year after the Pulse shooting, conducted a listener survey about being out in the workplace, and debated whether Harry Potter's Dumbledore was really gay.

"There's an idea that if a show nails itself down too early, that you kind of put yourself in a box of what you can cover and what you can talk about, the ways you can cover it," said Low. "To a listener it might sound like that Nancy goes to a lot of different places. And that's what we really wanted, you tune in, the promise is that Kathy and I will be there, but then also we might go in a totally different direction or do something in a different way, and hopefully you'll be surprised."

The hosts often like to take a back seat when it becomes clear that a guest or colleague is more closely connected to an episode's topic, sometimes giving the show a queer "This American Life" feel.

"I think for any episode of Nancy we're looking for the right person who can make an issue feel personal," said Low. "Anyone who can take something and make it feel not like a textbook, or not like something sort of abstract."

Yet the podcast wouldn't exist without the very real chemistry between Tu and Low, who met at an audio boot camp a few years ago. Low describes their studio process as "trying to set up the circumstances for controlled chaos."

"I don't know if this comes across, but I cannot act," laughed Tu. "I think that the origin point, the nugget of the things that show up on the show, are all very real. And they can be weird and they can be silly, but that's how our friendship works. Friends are weird together a lot."

"A lot of hard conversations are never 100-percent serious or 100-percent laughter," said Low. "With your closest friends, you move between joking and talking about something serious and finding the humor in it, or laughing about something and then getting emotional. I think is something that we try really hard to take from our real friendship and put in the show."

And while Nancy helps its audience explore questions and perspectives about identity, it's had a similar effect on its creators.

"For me, the show's been really personal in helping me develop my identity," said Tu. "And the other thing that I've learned is that there's so many people in the queer community that feel like they don't have a voice. They come on to this show as a way to hear people like themselves and to hear people who aren't like themselves, and to learn more about those different identities. I guess I didn't realize that, there are so many very specific voices that just really want to be heard."

"I think I had a notion that most queer people were very, 100% confident in their identities," said Low. "Didn't have doubt the way that I did. What we learned doing these stories is that everyone feels, to a certain degree, like they're always questioning, they're always reidentifying themselves. Yes, queer folks are confident and know who they are, but also with that, there's a lot of getting to know yourself, and everyone has questions."

To find out more about the Nancy podcast, visit WNYC.org/shows/nancy. More info about the show is at WNYC.org/events/wnyc-events/2017/dec/02/nancy-live-presented-wbezs-podcast-passport/ .


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