In Lieu of Happy Hour

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S1: The following program may contain explicit language and.

S2: It’s Tuesday, August 25th, 20 20 from Slate. It’s the gist. I’m Kate Clinic, sitting in for Mike Pesca. So by way of introduction, I’m a law professor. I research and write about online speech content, moderation in law, in tech. And I’m excited to talk to you about some of that tomorrow. But today I’m going to talk to you about something a little different, something that I like to call in lieu of fun.

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S3: So on March 20th, 2020, in the height of the pandemic on the East Coast, I saw that Bennewitz, who’s editor in chief of Lawfare, had tagged me in a tweet. OK, I have an idea for a highly experimental thing, not a law thing, a withus thing. It said a live streaming show during a coronavirus shutdown on YouTube live same time every day with interesting people from around the world thoughts. And then he had replied to that announcement with for some inchoate reason, I want at clinic to host it with me. So clinic at clinic is me, obviously. And on that particular day that Ben asked me to do this, I was on the third of what would be roughly four straight nights of three hours of sleep, rushing to finish an 82 page law review article that I’ve been working on for the last year. And the editors had relentlessly refused to extend my deadline for my partner. And I had left New York City ten days before as the pandemic numbers first started to tick up and driven five hours away to an unwinnable house with no water, only to awaken the next morning to find her dog had suddenly stopped being able to walk, resulting in multiple emergency vet trips. The dog is now fine, but on top of all of that, I had to continue teaching and transition all my law classes online. Sued students being evicted from housing. I’m a property professor, so they saw me as their closest thing to a property lawyer, tried to convince my older parents to take covid seriously. And yet, never mind, it kind of felt like the entire world was just ending. So I wasn’t paying any attention to Twitter at the time. And so a few hours later, I guess Ben texted me and said, So are your Ewin. I kind of feel like I just asked someone to the prom on Twitter and I quickly tweeted back, I accept and honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into on the show today. I spiel about how the show, in lieu of fun has developed, why I think it’s a pretty remarkable new genre and the way that it’s really changed my entire pandemic and not just mine, a lot of other peoples that I would never anticipated. But first I talked to Ben about how he saw the start of the show.

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S4: Here’s that.

S5: I am interviewing Bennewitz for the gist, that is my co-host on his show, that was Ben’s brainchild at the start of the pandemic. The show is called In Lieu of Fun. We have been doing this every day and it has been an hour, five o’clock Eastern Time with a guest and a drink. And then I just kind of want to talk about that because we actually kind of jumped into doing this whole thing together. And I don’t know why I, like, ever got the full back story behind your motivations for starting the show.

S6: I’m not sure it was that considered, to be honest. So you and I had met a couple of years ago at a conference at the Hoover Institution that I put together with Jack Goldsmith. And I thought your comments in the sessions at that conference were really compelling and interesting. And if memory serves, I pulled you aside at one of the dinners and said, hey, you know, we really should do a project together sometime. And you sputtered something polite.

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S7: I think you know me well. And I think I was just like, sure, why would this kind of very fancy senior fellow editor in chief of Lawfare, like, want to do a project with me? Like what could I possibly bring to the table? But I just remember that being the very distinct impression because like, oh, it’s really nice, you know, years went by.

S6: We got to know each other. You know, we’ve talked about a lot of things substantive and not so substantive in a couple of years since. And then lockdown happened in March. And I was on one of those Zoome happy hours with some friends. We were having this really great conversation. Jonathan Roush was there and Corey Shaoqi was there. His wife was there was a bunch of cool people. And we were talking and I said, you know, the only problem with this conversation is that we’re not streaming it live to YouTube because I think, like, lots of people would be like interested in having this kind of sit in on a kind of interactive zoom happy hour in real time. And we should do it every day as long as lockdown continues. And I was kind of jazzed about this and thought it was like the best idea I’d had in a long time. So, you know, I thought about it and who do I want to do it with? And so I was like, I’d like to have a drink with Kate and another friend and have a shoot the shit every day for an hour as long as this goes on. And so I tweeted at you that we should do it, which is kind of like asking somebody to the prom in public because, you know, you do you know, there are so many ways for that question to not work well, and there aren’t very many ways for it to work well. And you were like, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. You know, when you invite people to come on and have fun, you actually find out who has a sense of adventure and who doesn’t. Because there are no producers. There’s no you know, there’s no process for it. Like we send you a zoom link or now we use crowd cast. So we send you a crowd casting and you show up. And there we have this rule that there is no planning for the show that doesn’t take place on the show because the idea is it’s supposed to take up no more than an hour of Kate in my time per day. And so we kind of just do it. Kate, you described it the best. It’s like some combination of a live radio talk show, a Wikipedia, and that we you know, if we hit on a subject, we just link to it and go to it. It’s like, you know, like Wikipedia that way and improv. And a lot of it is improv. You know, none of it is planned. There are no segments that are mapped out in advance. There’s no we don’t know what we’re going to talk about except in the broadest high altitude sort of terms until we get on. And the coolest thing about it is that the audience is extremely participatory. And because of the nature of the technology, you can zap people into the conversation. And we have this incredible group of people that regularly participates in the show, ranging from these lovely people whose names you’ve never heard but that you and I know and our friends with and think are great. It also includes people like, you know, the former president of Estonia. And Thomas was so great. Yeah. I mean, but he shows up in the audience sometimes and just asks questions and so do a number of very prominent constitutional scholars, from Leah Littman to Marty Lederman.

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S1: You know, and so the audience is this fab. This combination of prominent famous people with exquisite expertise and things and just really smart, engaged individuals, and there’s this really cool community in the crowd cast audience in the chat of people who’ve really gotten to know each other and have now kind of relationships offline. And so it’s been a really cool experience.

S8: It’s fun to listen to you summarize it.

S1: Part of what makes in lieu of fun work is intimacy. And so I’ve found that the thing works best when there’s one guest and you really have time to engage with that guest or when there’s two guests and they have a real chance to engage with each other.

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S7: I think that the idea of intimacy is exactly right. It has become a really tight knit little community.

S8: And it’s interesting is we kind of like brainstorm on Saturdays with the audience, like who to ask on the show. It is really interesting to me. I have this process that I now understand and in lieu of fun, has developed its own culture and its own kind of vibe that like I now feel like I know exactly the type of people that will be able to handle this and the people that are going to kind of fall flat. Do you have that sense and have you been proven wrong yet?

S6: Yes. So, I mean, first of all, when I book people, I have confidence that they’re going to be interesting, rightly or wrongly. But when you book somebody and tell me, oh, you know, this friend of mine is a cool science fiction writer and Renaissance historian, and that’s somebody that I’ve never heard of. I’m like, OK, well, this will be one of Kate’s shows. And then ADA Palmer is like one of the most impressive people I’ve ever spoken to in a live setting like that. And then all of a sudden I find myself talking to them and they kind of, you know, knock my socks off.

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S8: Yeah, it’s been really fun to I was also thinking there is that time that I just invited the guy on with all of his BS.

S6: So that was well, that was a very special show. I mean, it’s not every day that you do a live show and you think you’re going to have a live human guest, but then you turn also out also to have hundreds of thousands of live bees on the show.

S8: We’ve had some just insanely good ones. I mean, everything from like Bill Kristol, who, like, is a practiced public speaker. You’re not super surprised, but it’s nice to kind of be in the intimate setting with him. We had someone come on and do a live ceramics demonstration.

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S7: There have been children’s book authors, former NY prosecutor.

S8: It’s been kind of raucous and fun. And we always joke that we’re not allowed to say that. But it truly has like been turned into one of these things that every day at five o’clock, whether I’m in a terrible mood or a completely stressed out or everything’s going wrong or something, and I don’t want to do the show because I’m just that cranky. All of a sudden I come in seeing you say hello, Kate Clonic in the chat room, and then like seeing all of the people kind of come in that we now know or kind of our audience, it’s just always cheers me up. So that’s kind of where I wanted to kind of wrap for today. I was just kind of to talk a little bit about the community, because I think that this is probably one of the only shows like it that I know of. Like, I don’t think there’s anyone that’s kind of doing something quite this way with audience participation, planning on the spot, quite so improvisational, quite so live, quite so kind of human interest in every way. Quite some intellectual, frankly. It’s goofy and fun, but it is also very, very smart and not in a superficial way. So all of those things make the show unique. But I have to say, like, hands down, someone asked us on the last Saturday the thing we were most surprised about. And we both kind of said the community of people. Can you describe what that’s like for you?

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S1: So one thing that you don’t tend to do during a quarantine is meet a lot of new people. And, you know, I mean, you don’t notice that you’re not doing it, but in the course of your day to day life, you actually meet a lot of people, you know, whether it’s the barista, wherever you get your coffee or professionally all the time. And, you know, one in every very large number of them is somebody you develop a real relationship with. Unless you’re Joe Biden, of course, in which case you seem to develop a deep relationship with all of them. But that’s a different story. So one thing that I had not noticed until it sort of jumped out of the wall at me and shouted, Boo was the. The group of people around in lieu of fun was with a very few exceptions, basically the only people I’ve met since quarantine began. There are a few other exceptions, but there aren’t very many, and they have all met each other. I don’t think they mostly knew each other before then. And we have also met people as a result of kind of tweeting at random people and saying, hey, I heard you’re coming on in lieu of fun tonight.

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S6: And, you know, they say I am. And you see if you’re willing, you know, and there’s also the level of the audience.

S1: There’s this group of people who’s there every day. And if one of them doesn’t show up, the others check in, oh, where’s so-and-so today? And we have relationships with them and they have relationships with each other. That’s a neat thing. And it’s something that I really didn’t expect. It does not develop in the same way around any of the podcasts. I do, because although podcasting people develop a real relationship with me and the sound of my voice and the things that I say, it’s not bilateral in the same way. And that as I am doing the Lawfare podcast or the National Security Podcast or the gist for that matter, when Mike has me on, you know, I’m not interacting with the audience of these things, but in lieu of fun is different because, you know, the audience is right there. You’re often bringing them in to talk to your guests and to talk to you. And they are in the chat engaging with each other even as it goes on. And they’re sending you questions. And so it is an interactive medium in a to a degree that I’ve just never seen anything like.

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S7: I completely agree. I think that one of the things that is so remarkable to me is like but then it kind of got to be this thing that someone would show up and be like, hey, everyone, how are you doing today? And like, everyone would be like Alice and there would be this Alice. I was like all caps. It felt like kind of like Norm walking into the bar at Cheers or something. And there was such like a feeling of like kind of camaraderie around that, that I was kind of like, wow, you know? And so Alice comes in, she goes, Hey, everybody, like, what are you drinking today? And people like report what they’re drinking, what’s going on with their day, like how things are going. You know, Alice has got a new job so and so has gotten permission for breast cancer. It just is like a pretty remarkable evolution to happen. And as you said, I think it’s particularly remarkable in that you don’t meet people that are new people when you’re in when you’re in quarantine. It’s just kind of makes me feel amazing to see that to be perfect. Then it’s like that is the part that I think I am the most proud of and the most happy that you asked me to do this project that really serves people in a way and gives them some some joy.

S1: It’s just an interesting experimental body of work that, you know, I’m really pleased to have done and have had a really good time doing specifically with you.

S8: Yeah, I have to. It’s just been great. So when are we going to stop?

S1: I think as long as we’re both stuck at home at five o’clock every day. And right now a lot of people are stuck at home at five, you know, and as long as people aren’t allowed to have fun anymore, you know, in lieu of fun, they should come hang out with us.

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S8: Ben, thank you so much.

S6: Thanks so much for having me.

S3: Here’s the speal spiel, speal spiel, whatever. Like Ben, I really have no idea how exactly to monolog, how Mike does or how Ben does for that matter. So I guess I’ll just spiel exactly how I would. So what is in lieu of fun you listening. You kind of, you’re probably like why is she going on and on. Why is this entire episode about this. But it’s pretty actually remarkable. So Ben mentioned one example, which was that we’ve compared it to like a cocktail party meets Wikipedia meets improv, and the improv definitely remains a key component of it. But the show is a lot more than that now. And it’s not clear it was even that at the beginning. So at its most boring definition, in lieu of fun is a live streamed video show every day and I mean every day, Saturday, Sunday, July 4th, my birthday all of these days at five p.m. Eastern Time with me and Ben and a guest having a drink and talking to them about their expertise. But that doesn’t really capture how completely unproduced it is. The show is really just me and Ben. We do our normal day jobs and we rarely text or chat. About the show outside of the show itself, we just don’t have the time, so all of the planning for the show happens on the show. And a lot of times in the moment that someone suggests a guest in kind of the chat for the show, we will just message that person and ask them if they want to come on. As we’re hosting the show, the tech goes wrong. Guests can figure out how to get their mike work or suddenly, halfway through their mike, stop working dogs bark cats walk back and forth across keyboard’s wine glasses are broken, wine glasses spill, baby cannons ricochet in being set off and break computers. Young children occasionally make an appearance. We’re never going to do edits because we don’t have the time or energy or expertise to do the edits. The show will start at five no matter what. We’ll just start going, even if that means that Ben covers with a monologue while I call a guest to try to talk them through tech issues or when a guest shares their screen for the show itself. The entire view for everyone in the audience and everyone on Livestream suddenly becomes a recursive infinity loop of the in lieu of fun screen. So all of that being said, that doesn’t quite capture the wartime camaraderie that’s shared on it. So for the first month of the show, an episode almost never went by. It’s actually fascinating to go back and look at them or wasn’t totally about the coronavirus and the related pandemic. There’s this sense of people sharing their experiences, their fear, and embracing the new digital way of life, the new social distancing way of life. You can see Zoom and then just video chatting in general become more normalized if the show goes on and the numbers as the numbers around the pandemic increase and then decrease and the way of talking about the virus and the lockdown changes over time, all of this is just on display and just the very nature of having a daily kind of political affairs news show, it just happens and is folded into the very nature of, you know, talking about the things that happen over time. And so in that way, the show is kind of this incredible hour long snapshot over the last 150 episodes. Relatedly, Ben convinced me not to bother with cutting my hair. As soon as the show started, I had a pixie cut and it was roughly the same length as Ben’s and now a hundred and fifty episodes. And my hair is curly in the summer humidity and its chin length. And it gets in my way and it’s frequently I’m frequently fluffing and messing with it because it’s like such a terrible cut. But we’re kind of going with it. And that’s part of kind of the entire idea of just coming as you are to the show. And so speaking of wartime, there’s also almost USO quality. That’s not to say that I’m Bob Hope and Ben is Marilyn Monroe, but rather that our guests are wide ranging, fascinating, brilliant celebrity and thoughtful, to name a few. We’ve had Bill Kristol, Preet Bharara, Whit Stillman, Kara Swisher, Josh Marshall, Tim Miller, Rick Wilson, Dahlia Lithwick, Virginia Heffernan and Milgrom and Matt Yglesias. There’s tons more I could keep naming them just as impressive. But to put them kind of in a less namedropping capacity, we’ve had doctors, writers, epidemiologists, clinical trial specialists, election experts, voting rights scholars, beekeeper’s ceramicist, crossword puzzle makers, children, book authors, children, geniuses, former FCC chairman, criminologists, national security experts and lawyers of every stripe, journalists from every kind of publication, conservatives, liberals, people in between and lots and lots and lots of law professors. But most of all, the thing that surprised me isn’t the content, though that has been amazing and wonderful to watch guests interact with. The thing that surprises me is really mostly the way a solid group of people shows up every day and crowd cast, which is the application we use to run the show and take guest questions. So it’s like a rotating group of around 50 core people. And then they didn’t know each other before and have fun. They’ve started to know each other well. Now they say hello. They ask what each other is drinking. They share good news. They cheer on the people who get raptured in by Ben I to ask their question on screen with us. They talk about their days, their cancer diagnosis and recovery is their new jobs, their lost jobs like a classic sitcom. I have found that even in the worst of days, what I’m cranky and miserable and sick of work and Zoome and feeling like a whole depression around the election or pandemic that in lieu of fun at five o’clock, will be a place where everybody knows my name and that bends and we’re live as the show begins is going to be like a comforting Cronkite’s and that’s the way it is. So when we wrap every day, the signoff is different. We don’t have fun anymore. So in lieu of fun, we have and then we’re supposed to make something up and it usually relates to. Is that the day or an inside joke that’s happened in the course of the hour that has gone by, we have murder hornets or saber toothed anchovies or Boris Johnson out of the hospital or Steve Bannon arrested on the up by the Postal Service. So here we go for the gist. We don’t have fun anymore. So in lieu of fun, we have Paru de Peru de Peru. That’s it for today’s show, the gist was produced by Daniel Shrader and Margaret Kelly, the gist guest hosting for Mike Pesca. I’m Kate Clinic in Peru, de Peru, du Peru. And thanks for listening.