Nichole Perkins and Bim Adewunmi.
Nichole Perkins and Bim Adewunmi. Photo by Lisa Larson-Walker
Wide Angle

Thirsty Work

Fan-favorite podcast Thirst Aid Kit arrives at Slate today. We talked to the hosts about lust, consent, and admin.

Today, Slate launches a new-and-yet-not-new podcast. Across three seasons from BuzzFeed, Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins’ Thirst Aid Kit attracted legions of devoted fans known as “Thirst Buckets” and became a favorite among Slate staffers. It’s a funny, smart, and intensely intimate show about celebrity, pop culture, and lust, and it’s like nothing else in the podcast universe. We’re thrilled to bring all-new episodes to Slate Podcasts listeners.

For an introduction to the show, read Inkoo Kang’s review from 2018, which describes Adewunmi and Perkins as “disparate women who have come together through the irresistible force of horniness, and who willingly crack themselves open for each other (and the listeners) to partake in the pleasure of lusting out loud and sharing one’s desires.” To celebrate the relaunch, we’ve invited Slate Care and Feeding columnist and longtime Thirst Bucket Nicole Cliffe to talk to Perkins (who also appears on the Waves) and Adewunmi about consent in podcasting, which of them is the Bert in the relationship, and what it’s like to sit across a microphone from your thirst object.

Nicole Cliffe: First of all, I just want to say that I am so delighted that you are going to be my actual colleagues at Slate. I am of course a Thirst Bucket, which is why I’m here. You two are heroes and geniuses.

Nichole Perkins: Oh, keep it coming

Cliffe: And you are exceptionally thirsty.

Bim Adewunmi: That’s the most accurate thing you’ve said so far.

Cliffe: Which is what we’re here today to talk about. I cannot imagine that anyone in the world doesn’t know about Thirst Aid Kit—that would be upsetting for me—but could one of you give me the elevator pitch.

Perkins: Thirst Aid Kit is a podcast about pop culture and desire. We are not a sex podcast, but we like to talk about people of note and how they shape our desire. A lot of times women aren’t allowed to project thirst, project desire. We are often shamed about it. We are told that that’s girly and it’s immature or it’s something for teenage girls. But, you know, it’s perfectly fine and healthy, and we want to give our listeners space to explore that kind of thirst.

Adewunmi: There is a way of looking at the world where anything a woman likes is instantly frivolous or lacking in rigor. I think desire is important. A lot of us use the wider culture to determine what we want for ourselves, and if we can complicate that a bit by taking a critical look at why we like what we like, that’s something we get a lot of joy and fulfillment from.

Perkins: Like, is this person hot, or is he just tall? Does he just have blond hair and blue eyes? What is it about the physical stuff? And we also go beyond the physical, and we talk about how good people are at their jobs, how kind they are, things like that.

Adewunmi: It’s a very holistic approach to the thirst object. One of our earliest episodes from our first batch was about John Cho, who both Nichole and I have … my voice is about to go down an octave … we both have very strong feelings about John Cho. And the feedback was rapturous. Like, people were losing their shit. And so much of the commentary was people saying, I’m so glad you did this. I have fancied him for so long. I’d never seen a full-on session of just talking about what it is that makes John Cho so damn attractive. He’s a man who clearly has the quality of being a leading man. He has the looks, the talent, the smile, the voice. And yet the circumstances of Hollywood mean that he has been denied time. For some reason, he’s not at the top of everybody’s list for leading man. We’re basically saying to people, here’s what you could be looking at as well. Here’s what you could be thinking about as well. We’re not prescribing that you must fancy these people. But we apply the same criteria to everybody that is a thirst object on the show, and what we are trying to tell Thirst Buckets is, This is how you go about examining your thirst. It’s not the specific thirst object, it’s the process of thirsting that we’re interested in.

Cliffe: Tell me about prepping for an episode.

Perkins: OK, so Bim and I obviously are … I don’t want to say we’re very online, but we are on online enough.

Adewunmi: Obviously we’re looking at who’s getting talked about a lot. And then we talk about those people, over text message and DMs and things like that. And then, you know, obviously we’re gonna Google and find out, have they ever had any kind of run-in with the law? If so, what are those run-ins, because some we can overlook and others we cannot. There are tiers.

Perkins: There are different layers of trouble that we can deal with. But when it comes to something that is violence, abusive behavior… you know, we talk a lot about how thirst is a broad church. You can fancy who you fancy, however problematic, in your own private life. That’s literally the point of fantasy. It belongs to you. But [we have to think about] what we’re putting on a platform and celebrating.

From there we’ll look up their work. If we’re not familiar with certain things, we’ll try our best to watch. Obviously we also Google interviews and things like that, to refresh our memories and make sure that we’re talking about the proper things. We don’t talk about their private lives unless it is something that is factual—we don’t go into rumors, we don’t talk about anything that can’t be substantiated. We stay away from private lives just because it kind of ruins the fun. And we don’t want to say anything that is, I dunno, too out there and too, you know, explicit. Sometimes we interview these people—we work in media and, you know, we never know who we’re gonna meet.

Adewunmi: Right, like a basic respect thing. I definitely have a mental Rolodex of what I would like to do with many of the thirst objects, but that’s in a world in which I don’t have a podcast and in which we are equals in a room with no internet connection and no TV. And we are respectful of the fact that these are human people with human feelings. We already kind of skate very close to the sun by making drabbles [erotically charged fan fiction] about these people. Which, you know, we say this often and loudly: These are imagined projections. These are not based on anything whatsoever, except what our research has shown us. In the Chris Evans episode, I think my drabble involved a cabin somewhere because we had read about him going off grid and living in the wilderness or some such, you know, probably talking to wolves or something, so it made sense to kind of introduce this idea of “Chris Evans, rugged outdoorsman.” But I like to think we don’t go over the line. Like, we’re not talking about “And then he bent me over the [inaudible].” That’s not what we do.

Perkins: I may write something that can be a little steamy, but there is never any kind of penetrative anything. I’m very careful to always end things before things get too graphic.

Cliffe: I think it’s very bad generally to ask people, you know, who was your favorite guest or favorite thirst object. So instead I would like to ask who is your second favorite, because that allows everyone else to think that they might be in the first spot.

Adewunmi: The celebrities or just the friend guests?

Cliffe: We’re going to do both.

Adewunmi: Oh, OK. So, friend guests: Alanna Bennett. She came in on our episode about Tom Hiddleston. She came into studio and her eyes were twinkling and I thought, yeah, we’re going to get some good thirsting in. The key thing that Alanna has besides enthusiasm and smarts is deep knowledge. She’d obviously given this a lot of thought, nailing down his allure and thinking about how he had, quote unquote, fallen from grace and risen back and all this other stuff. I think at one point I caught Nichole’s eye and we both just nodded to one another. Like, yeah, she gets it.

Cliffe: If you had told me she came in with a packed three-ring binder it would not have shocked me. She was this fountain of Tom Hiddleston information.

Adewunmi: We do take that very seriously: We are trying to advance a conversation. It’s not just, like, getting your friends in and having a Kiki.

Cliffe: Now, I had the experience, on the Toast, of working very, very closely with one other person [Toast co-founder and Dear Prudence columnist Daniel Ortberg]. You know, everyone loves to talk shit about their co-workers from time to time. But Danny and I had an explicit rule that if one of us was annoyed by something the other person was doing, we could never talk about it to a third party, only to each other. It enhanced our lives so much, because it enabled us to fix minor issues very quickly. When you start to spiral off and complain to another person, you know, small things become huge. But I also find that when you’re working with one other person, you each take on a role. In the context of working together, do you think one of you is the Bert and the other is the Ernie?

Adewunmi: Oh, that’s a good question.

Perkins: I do more of, like, the admin, the emailing, and corresponding kind of stuff, because I freelance and so I work from home a lot and I’m able to get to those emails a little quicker—and also I am a little bit more anxious about emails falling off. I’m not great at email necessarily, but when I feel like there’s a chain of people waiting on me, I start to get nervous. This is why I’m not good at parallel parking, because if there’s people behind me, I’m just like, fuck it, I’ll find another spot, because I don’t want anybody to blame anything on me.

Adewunmi: I’m the direct opposite. I will happily ignore an email. And sometimes I do think to myself, Oh God, you’re making this difficult for Nichole. So I start the prep doc for every episode and begin to populate it, because while I don’t get anxious about emails, I do get anxious about being in the studio and having something to fall back on. So this feels like a very doable task for me that I can do and make sure that I’m somehow making up for letting Nichole do so much of the email stuff.

Cliffe: To return to our Bert and Ernie metaphor, you seem like a very self-aware Ernie who really wants to support Bert.

Adewunmi: Yes, I hope so.

Cliffe: OK. Now tell me your second favorite thirst object.

Perkins: [Imitating the voice of Daredevil actor Charlie Cox, who appeared on Episode 9 of Season 3] “So my name is Charlie Cox.”

Adewunmi: No! I was gonna say that!

Cliffe: He was so delightful!

Perkins: He was so delightful. And we could tell that when he first came in, he wasn’t really sure what to expect. You know, we never expect our guests to have listened to the show, ’cause we understand, this is PR for them. And he was just so … to see him warm up to us. He did not want to leave the studio. I think we can say that. We can say that.

Adewunmi: Yeah. His people were trying to, like, get him to get going. And he was like, “One more question!”

Perkins: And you know, of course, well, you know, Bim and I are charming.

Adewunmi: Very charming, Nicole. Very, very charming.

Perkins: And we ask questions that these people don’t normally get. And we also ask questions that our listeners want to know about. You know, we ask why their film selections—sometimes they’re very white—which is not always a question that they get, particularly the ones who are white men.

Cliffe: I’m sure there are times that you kind of have to sit on your hands a little because you’re very excited. How do you keep it together when someone that you have such thirst for is sitting across from you?

Adewunmi: The thing that Nichole and I will often say when people ask this question is, you know, how would I like it if somebody invited me to the studio and then had to roll up their tongue every time they tried to talk to me because they were proper slabbering over me. Before we get on the air, we do have a sort of pre-interview, where we lay out very clear rules from the get-go, because shoutout to consent, and we say, Hey, we’re not going to ask you about your personal life. We’re not going to ask you the size of your dick.

Perkins: Yeah. I will say that there are some people—like when we interviewed Rahul Kohli from iZombie, he was very game and he was very playful, but, you know, he was in a relationship, there’s boundaries there. But we also do recognize that our listeners want to hear a little, I don’t know, a little chemistry.

Adewunmi: Yeah, if we’re talking about this topic of desire and how it’s shaped and what it looks like, what it sounds like, we have to illustrate that. You know, audio is a very intimate medium. Once we have the green light about where we can go, we tend to go there. One of my other favorite conversations was when we were talking with Chris Evans and we mentioned fan fic that had the Hulk and Captain America [in sexual situations]. And I think he said something like, “Oh, that’s gotta hurt.”

Perkins: So a door opening just a crack …

Adewunmi: And then we responded with, like, “If it hurts, then it’s good,” or something along those lines.

Perkins: “Some people like that.”

Adewunmi: Right!

Perkins: And he had the naughtiest chuckle! And that was it. We didn’t have to push it, you know. That was that. And then we moved on.

And I will say: Wilson Bethel, boy howdy.

Adewunmi: Wilson was everything.

Perkins: Wilson was very charming. He came in and he was just so relaxed and he gave as good as he got. There was no flirting, there was nothing inappropriate, but he was on. And he knows that that’s what our audience is listening for. They want to hear a little bit of how well we are getting along in the studio. So he gave us that. But he yeah, he really charmed me.

Adewunmi: Yeah. I didn’t expect it. I knew he was a good actor and whatnot, but I didn’t understand what it looked like when the full glare of Wilson Bethel’s charm is focused on you. Toward the end of the interview, we had him do the voice of his most famous character, Wade Kinsella [from Hart of Dixie], and Nichole and I dissolved in front of him. And maybe that was the least professional moment, but it’s also the best tape from the whole interview. He knew what he was doing. When we fell out, he just burst out laughing and he did it again, and we were like, “You know what? That’s enough. Thank you.”

Cliffe: I really want you to talk about how you manage to talk about desire without being explicit, because I think that it’s far harder and more interesting than people appreciate.

Perkins: Obviously we’re going to talk about the physical presence of these people, but we do try to stay away from anything that’s going to elevate a thin body over a fat body or things like that. We try to focus on physical traits that you can have regardless of your shape or size. So hands, eyebrows, mouth, noses, those kinds of things. You know, we are human and we definitely like looking at beautiful things, and we recognize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like a very slim man, and when I say slim, I don’t just mean like, would you call Chris Hemsworth slim? You know, I like a french fry of a man. Like Grant Gustin who plays the Flash on CW. Hello, I am here for it. But we also do talk about the men who have a, I don’t know, what they call a dad bod, or someone who’s, you know, who’s not in the gym often, or whatever.

And then we also focus on their bodies of work, the quality of their work, how they’ve improved. In our Michael B. Jordan episode, we talked about some of the missteps that he made and how he corrected them. The same with the Tom Hiddleston episode. We change our minds. You know, thirst is fickle.

Adewunmi: When we did our literary baes episode with Danny [Ortberg], we spoke about my very specific interest in a stern man, whether in literature or in real life. And I stand by that. If there is a man who’s taciturn and who doesn’t speak all that much, I’m all the way in. Which is not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a loquacious man. We are trying to give you tools to examine your thirst and to help you understand your thoughts a little bit better. We did an episode about voices, for example, and how a voice can transport you to a place of real thirst. We spoke about my Britishness and Nichole’s Southernness, and where these accents have been placed on the hierarchy of desirability.

We are trying very hard to not just be two women in a room giggling. Because we are intelligent people. We do have quite a bit of knowledge. One of the things that always makes me smile is when people send us months-old stuff and they’re like, “Hey, did you see this?” And it’s like, “Yeah, you know, we’ve seen it.” Like, this is literally our day job. We appreciate people are trying to make sure that we’re in on it. But I want to say to people all the time, like, what do you think my job is?

Perkins: Right. And even though Bim and I are two cis hetero women, we get a lot of feedback from queer communities, from asexual communities, people telling us, you know, I’m not straight, but I loved the way that you talked about this person because that’s how I feel about whoever. We’ve had several messages from aces, asexual people, who are like, this isn’t really my language but I understand it and I can apply it where necessary. A lot of the most moving things for me are the emails from sexual assault survivors who are like, “I’m still trying to figure out how I can reconcile the desire that I have for men with the trauma that I’ve experienced, and you are helping me move through that.” And that’s very moving. Because, you know, that’s not something that we set out to do. We wanted to give people a safe space for their desire, but we didn’t think that far as to how it could help survivors.

Adewunmi: The community around Thirst Aid Kit is such an important thing. We have people, especially for our movie nights, who come every single time. The people who email us week in, week out, the people on Tumblr who send us asks all the time. Once we announced we’re coming back, people were like, “I knew it! I never unsubscribed! I knew it was going to come back if I just kept believing.”

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