Various musings and miscellany

WJRH podcast covers a wide range of subjects

Benjamin R. Cohen said Various Breads and Butters, a show he cohosts, is the top rated podcast on iTunes. His cohost, Simon Tonev, quickly corrected him.

It’s likely tied with tends of thousands of podcasts that were also rated with five stars, he said.

Cohen is an assistant professor of engineering studies and Tonev is the associate director of the office of institutional research.

They host the WJRH podcast in their spare time, and, while they may not be the sole holders of the number one title, their witty banter and instinctive sarcasm are natural in their interactions—so much so that Tonev asked if there was a sarcasm font for the newspaper.

“The few people who have listened to the show—I think we’re in the dozens now— at least several have said that a lot of appeal of the show is just listening to Ben and I talk to each other,” Tonev said. “It’s like they’re there in the conversation with us, which apparently is appealing to some people.”

A large part of that appeal comes from the wide range of topics discussed on each show. Most shows begin with Cohen’sand Tonev’s witty banter before the show’s guest is introduced. These guests tend to be Lafayette professors and faculty members. However, the focus is rarely on the professional work of those professors.

“I think that by trying to stay away from the particular guest’s area of expertise, we’re trying to get a part of the guest that listener’s may not know about,”Tonev said.

According to Tonev, this aspect of their job is easy, considering the wide range of fascinating people in such a small community.

“They research what they [the guests] have done and sometimes in such incredible detail that the guests are so surprised,” producer Renan Dincer’16 said.

While the guests tend to be professionals, Dincer and Michelle Polton-Simon ’19, the show’s intern, bring student involvement to the show.  Although they may have formal titles, Dincer and Polton-Simon see a lack of formality in their positions.

Dincer and Polton-Simon do more behind the scenes work.They listen in from the room with the control board while Cohen and Tonev are in the studio. Most of the time, they find themselves muting their microphones to avoid having their laughter heard on air, according to Dincer.

“It’s fun because it’s a not-serious way to get to know some of the people who work here,” Polton-Simonsaid. “There’s office hours and then there’s this, which is just goofing around and learning a little bit more about before they came to Lafayette or less serious academic things.”

Cohen and Tonev are considering adding a segment that incorporates students, particularly Dincer and Polton-Simon.

According to Tonev, this segment would require Dincer and Polton-Simon to justify why students do certain things, regardless of whether or not the two actually do it.

In their current podcasts, the focus is depicting the culture of academia and college life without actually talking to the experts about what they do, according to Cohen. This aspect of the show coincides with Cohen’s interest in a range of miscellaneous topics, as exemplified by the show’s title.

Various Breads and Butters comes from a fragment of dialogue in the Woody Allen film “What’s Up, Tiger Lily.” For Cohen, this title represents his fascination with miscellany.

“I think Ben’s interests in miscellany, as he put it, is probably more than mine, and I’m always interested when he does talk about something miscellaneous,” Tonev said. “Either I will causally dismiss it as non-important or I will ask him to explain so that we’re able to sort of dive deep into certain things.”

Instead of giving off any kind of tension, the incessant teasing between the two shows how familiar they are with one another’s senses of humor.

“We both have PHDs, we’re both working at a college, so I think my role is more of the one who is correct, and Simon often needs things explained to him,” joked Cohen.

Cohen and Tonev also joked about their jobs being at stake when they interview President Alison Byerly this Sunday. The shows are typically filmed on Sundays and published two weeks later on Monday mornings.

In the future, Tonev and Cohen are looking to expand their guests beyond Lafayette faculty and interview both professors from other colleges and Lafayette students. Regardless of their guests, Cohen and Tonev see their podcast as an opportunity to cover any topics that come to mind.

“It’s a fine line to explain it or to have people listen to it, because part of the allure that I’ve heard from friends of mine who have heard it is that they really just have no idea what it is and they’re just humoring me,” Cohensaid. “They always enjoy it, but they don’t know what they were listening to.”

 

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