Molly Fischer and Kimmie Regler are the host and senior producer, respectively, behind The Cut on Tuesdays, the site’s wide-ranging podcast that launched in October, produced in collaboration with Gimlet Media. In its first two months, the podcast has tackled everything from pubic hair to the migrant crisis at the border, and hosted Robin Roberts, Amy Sherald, and Jill Kargman in a mini spin-off “How I Get It Done” series. The Cut on Tuesdays was recently named one of the New York Times’ five great podcasts of 2018, with Amanda Hess calling it “a rare thing: a pure pleasure, not at all a guilty one.” Molly and Kimmie spoke with Press Room about launching a podcast, dream guests, listener voice-mails, their signature sign-off, and more.
You launched The Cut on Tuesdays about two months ago — can you talk a little about your vision for the podcast?
Molly Fischer: I think the guiding principle for us all along has been wanting to capture the spirit of conversation at the Cut, and the kinds of conversations that happen in the rooms that we’re in. That translates really well to a website, but it also translates reeeeaaaallllly well to a podcast where you are literally listening to people talk. And I think what’s been fun is just seeing how many different kinds of conversations and women’s voices we can tap into. You can have something that’s as heavy as [the episode about domestic violence] but that does really feel like you’re having an intimate one-on-one experience with this woman. Or something as fun and almost sitting-around-at-a-bar-feeling-boozy-sounding as the pubes episode. But it all feels like this intimate, honest dialogue.
Kimmie Regler: And I think also that it’s still really sharp and highly edited. So I feel like in the audio space there’s been this sort of derision of talk podcasts that last for like an hour and 25 minutes, and you just have to really commit to them. Or it’s like these stories that take months and months to produce. And what’s great about this show is that there’s this proof that you can have this really great energy and elastic conversation, but also have it tightly packaged in a way that I don’t think exists anywhere else.
MF: Well, yeah, what’s fun to me is hearing it, being like, Oh, hahaha, we’ve only kept just the choicest morsels of the fun conversation that you would get in a chat podcast. Like, it’s just the funniest and most insightful moments that normally you’d get out of like 50 minutes of rambling friends talking.
How long were you working on the podcast leading up to the launch?
MF: I was first in a room where we were talking about the podcast probably in May or June. But that was before I was onboard as a host. I was not officially onboard as a host until August.
KR: And that was when we had our first kickoff conversation at Gimlet.
So that was a pretty quick turnaround?
KR: It was really fast. It’s actually the fastest we’ve ever launched a podcast at Gimlet.
Have there been any big surprises since the launch?
MF: One of the things that’s been surprising and interesting to me is hearing people who work in the audio world describe it as really, really different from any other podcasts that are out there. I don’t know that we were necessarily thinking about formal innovation as we began working on it. But I think — just by virtue of bringing a kind of magaziny, bloggy sensibility to this different medium — that the way we were generating ideas and in the habit of approaching ideas and stories shaped the product differently.
The episode about domestic violence was really intense to listen to. Can you talk a little about what it was like recording with Kate Ranta, and how the episode came together?
MF: The genesis of the story was that our producer Sarah McVeigh had seen the hashtag #thisismylane, which was from doctors responding to this NRA statement telling them to “stay in their lane” with regard to gun violence. So a bunch of doctors were responding, and in the midst of that, Sarah had seen this photo that this woman who was not a doctor had tweeted of her own crime scene and was like, “I’m going to reach out to this woman to see how she is.” And she turned out to be a very good storyteller, which is an important thing in this medium and has been an interesting new thing for me to be thinking about.
KR: Also, in audio we can easily create the illusion that two people are in the same room, and so initially there had been talk of this being just that—Molly and Kate on the phone. And then Sarah pushed to have us go to Kate, which I think created how vivid it felt and how you really felt like she could be sitting across the couch from you telling her story.
MF: In terms of how we thought through the framing of the story, one thing that was really present in my mind was this piece that Rebecca Traister wrote in the wake of … horrifyingly, I forget what mass killing, but the headline of the piece was “What Mass Killers Really Have in Common” and it was domestic violence and abuse. So looking at this woman’s story, we thought it was an interesting, Cut-specific way into the broader question of gun violence in America and the kinds of attacks that tend to receive a lot of media attention, and that it would be a specific personal counterpoint that we could offer to the narrative that it’s easy to feel just washing over you.
KR: I think that audio does this really well. One of the things we’ve talked about with the “How I Get It Done” series — you can read the Robin Roberts interview that Stella did with her, and then you hear Robin break down and cry, and it’s such a more vivid experience. This story in particular is an audio producer’s dream because you really just feel like the cliché of “it’s the most intimate medium.”
MF: Yes, this person is inside my ear.
KR: And I can see everything that she’s saying. I can visualize it.
Are there other stories you know you want to tell on the podcast down the road?
MF: Well, we’re about to execute a pretty sharp pivot after this very heavy domestic-violence story and the story that Sarah reported at the border about immigration. Our last episode of the year before we take a break for two weeks is going to be a cooking extravaganza with our “Over Easy” columnist Madeleine Aggeler, who set out on her career as the Cut’s cooking columnist saying that she didn’t know how to boil an egg but wanted to be able to serve a three-course dinner to her friends. So we have provided her with the groceries and the expert chefs and the studio space to serve a three-course dinner to her friends, and we’re going to be recording her adventures. We’ll have Samin Nosrat and Angela Dimayuga and Carla Lalli Music, and I think it’s going to be just a really fun, warm, and funny way to round out the year that’s still ambitious but definitely very different from the intensely emotional personal narratives we’ve had for a few weeks.
KR: We’re doing an episode on apologies that I’m really excited about, with listener voice-mails, and I think just having a broader engagement with really sound-rich, voice-rich episodes like “The Biggest Lie You Ever Told” — those kinds of episodes I’m looking forward to.
MF: Yeah, it’s been surprising and fun to see how many people will call in.
Like how many calls do you get?
MF: I think we had like 35 voice-mails with apologies now, and some of them are really intense.
KR: Yeah, they range a lot; there are just people sobbing and really using it as a confessional space, and people calling Molly and asking for absolution. And then there are people just calling and being like …
MF: “Sorry I called you a bitch on our dry-erase board.”
KR: Listeners are really funny. And the pubes episode, too, people were just so hungry to call in and have a space for it.
That’s funny because you think now everyone hates leaving voice-mails.
MF: I think maybe people are just estranged enough from voice-mail as an actual communication tool that it’s novel — it’s like a confessional booth that feels weird and alien.
KR: We had one woman who called to confess to cheating on her girlfriend and then call back the next morning and be like, “Please don’t air that. I called you when I was really drunk, and I don’t want her to find out.” So people are really taking it very seriously, which is great.
Do you have any dream guests, either for a “How I Get It Done” episode or the weekly show?
MF: Before she came onto our show, Sarah was piloting a show at Gimlet about Nashville and country musicians, and she and I have spoken longingly about how much fun it would be to have an extremely long conversation and/or possibly private concert with Lucinda Williams. That would be a real dream.
KR: Also weren’t we talking about Sally Rooney, too?
Okay, so I have a question about your sign-off, “See you next Tuesday.” How much did wanting to have that sign-off dictate the actual schedule and the name of the podcast?
MF: 100 percent.
KR: 100 percent.
MF: It was the first thing we settled.
KR: When Molly was workshopping possible taglines for the show, she said that, and everyone in the room erupted laughing, except for [Gimlet Media CEO] Alex Blumberg, who just looked around searchingly and didn’t get it. And he was like, “I’m not sure why everyone’s laughing,” and Stella had to explain. And then we were like, “Okay, great, done, we’re publishing on Tuesdays.”
MF: That’s when we knew that we had hit upon a female conversational shibboleth that would convey exactly what we wanted it to.
Molly, you previously had a more behind-the-scenes role as an editor. How have you liked the transition to front-and-center host role?
MF: I mean, mortifyingly for me, in one of these early meetings I do remember Alex Blumberg specifically mentioning that radio was a good medium for former theater kids, and I regret to say that indeed there’s a high-school-theater-kid part of my brain that has been reactivated. For better or worse.
So to talk about working between two worlds — New York Media and Gimlet — how do you divide your time?
KR: Now we’re getting into the week-to-week rhythm of the show, but for me, the way I’ve divided it up in my mind is that the editorial, creative shape and vision and sensibility is housed within New York and the production and finessing is done at Gimlet. So in the literal way, idea generation and conversations should happen on-site here and then other edits and tracking—
MF: Shaping and polishing—
KR: Exactly, that happens at Gimlet.
Molly what’s one thing that would surprise people about podcast sausage-making?
MF: The experience of doing interviews for audio as opposed to for a print or web piece that you’re writing yourself is so different, just in terms of how much you have to be paying attention to the way that you’re phrasing questions, how you comport yourself such that you are present in the conversation and generating useful material is so different. And I think I’m definitely still learning the ropes there. It’s also been a fascinating experience to work with a producer as closely as you get to do for podcast interviews, you now have someone who’s in your ear (not literally in your ear; usually it’s in a Google doc that you’re looking at while you’re conducting an interview or something) but who’s helping you guide the conversation and figure out what material you need to cover. So there are challenges, but there are also safety nets.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
KR: This one. No, right now, Heavyweight is one of my favorite ones; it’s a Gimlet podcast, but I would like it regardless.
MF: Not necessarily in the category of favorites, but most useful to pay attention to: The Daily has been one that we come back to all the time just in terms of thinking about how a magazine or a newspaper can translate its sensibility to this medium and translate what it does in a way that’s interesting and useful and brings something new to the stories it’s publishing. So I think that’s been instructive.
KR: I think formally and also in a production sense of reverse-engineering how they created that.
What do you do for fun when you’re not podcasting?
KR: I don’t know, I work every weekend.
MF: We’re trying to stop Kimmie from working every weekend.
KR: But I love Gimlet.
MF: I only don’t feel bad about it when I remember that you were in a Ph.D. program and I’m like, “Oh, she’s a masochist.”
KR: My husband’s a professor, so he’s the same way. You get your best work done on Saturdays and Sundays. No one can find you! What do we do? Like … drink at a bar.
MF: I like to cook. I’m excited about the cooking episode for that reason. I like to bake. I don’t believe in hobbies; I just like to have nice conversations.
KR: I like to have a beer by myself at the bar underneath my house and do the New York Magazine crossword.