Podcasts, Yo! XO, by Keith McNally

XO, by Keith McNally


Most podcasts (not all, but most) center around a specific successful dynamic; the relationship between host and cohost, host and guest, or host and interview subject, following a looser model of a traditional radio-show format.

We grow accustomed to the hosts–we get in on long-standing inside jokes, we understand every callback, and there can be something viscerally satisfying in hearing a show find its ultimate footing, its ideal, practiced tone. Marc Maron’s WTF is a great example–we follow Maron from the early episodes of the podcast, hearing his barely-contained frustration and savage self-deprecation, his deeply-rooted feelings of inadequacy and a career on its shaky nadir. Marc’s insecurities are as important to WTF as his interview subjects, and over the course of the show, we watch our neurotic, brutally funny (yet serenely compassionate) protagonist grow and succeed.

All of these neuroses are mitigated by (and the success of the show demonstrated by) his guests, from fellow stand-ups to celebrities and eventually President Obama. WTF succeeds because of its double-pronged approach: the interviews, often fascinating and grim and hilarious, keep Maron from drowning in his own introspection. But Keith McNally’s excellent “XO” takes an approach that would be impossible on the radio, on any format other than podcasting–XO is 100 percent, bare-bones, teeth-gritting introspection at its most exhilarating and honest, its most embarrassing and its most uplifting.

XO is sort of like a meticulously-curated diary–a well-edited series of journal entries that range greatly in topic, unified mostly by the fact that Keith is thinking about them. Some episodes are meandering treatises on pop culture, or excursions into nostalgia, or Keith’s own interpretations of his behaviors or relationships. Sometimes an episode will exclude Keith entirely, focusing on pieces of media or news items or fascinating people, but my favorite episodes are the ones where he gives an update on himself.

As the episodes go by, the minutia of Keith’s life becomes fascinating, and the show feels like a phone call from a distant friend more than a “show.” XO has no celebrity guests, save for interview snippets Keith has included from outside sources, and Keith himself is not, by any general definition, “famous”–he worked briefly as a standup comedian and was a guest star on “Keith and the Girl,” a hugely-successful podcast in NYC, but mostly the episodes center around one person’s quiet, frustrating, exhilaratingly genuine life experiences.

Some favorite episodes, like “Toronto vs. New York” and “Drunk Songs,” are two-hour-plus rambles, booze-fueled jeremiads and celebrations–clips of Keith talking to friends at a bar, followed by wind-blasted recordings of Keith, drunk as a skunk, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at 3 a.m., ecstatically yelling about how much New York sucks.

While more intimate episodes, like “Dirt” and “Recordings about My Brother,” are deeply-felt explorations into Keith’s past, his most deeply-held fears–there are moments of XO that feel exactly like reading someone’s diary feels, with all the discomfort and voyeurism that entails. Raw, funny, interesting, and brutal, Keith’s aim in the show is to make a “love letter to your life,” as its title hints at. XO is a document of life, an authentic portrait of a person in all of his anxieties, triumphs, and lonely, quiet moments.

Episode Recommendation: Limerance


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