To hear Rebecca Delgado Smith tell it, her podcasting abilities are borne of a kind of superpower. She opens each episode of The Alarmist podcast informing listeners of her “special gift: the ability to mentally transform any situation into the worst-case scenario, in my own brain.” The writer and comedian is putting that tendency to work on the new Earios show, a podcast that shares the facts of a historical tragedy before working with a guest to determine “who’s to blame?”
The requisite “we should start a podcast!” conversation took place on the way to a Halloween party, where Rebecca shared what she called “fun facts” about the sinking of the Titanic with friends during the ride. Well, “fun facts” that could probably more likely be called “death stats.” “My friends were like, ‘Can you stop calling them fun facts?’” she laughed as she shared the story with me. One of the friends in the car was Amanda Lund, co-founder of the Earios podcast network. “Their whole thing is podcasts produced by and hosted by women,” Rebecca shared, which makes not only her approach – analyzing historical events by assigning fault – unique, but also her identity.
“In my experience, listening to these more dry historical podcasts, I do find that a lot of them are hosted by men! It’s a pretty male-dominated field,” she noted. Adding to that that she is not a historian by any stretch, her foray into the form could have been intimidating. Instead, she chooses to see it as empowering – and wants her audience to feel the same. A recent example: the logo for the podcast is a stylized version of the Hindenberg disaster…something she later revealed she knew nothing about even as she chose the artwork! “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of not knowing about these. With this Internet culture where everyone thinks they’re an expert or a specialist, or that they have to be […] I’m not claiming to be. It’s just an encouragement to learn more and it’s a way for me to learn more.” Put another way, “It’s just taking that taboo off of ‘I should know.’ Okay, we should know a lot of things. But sometimes we don’t. How about we take a peek and just start dabbling in what it was?”
So far in its inaugural season, the series has covered disasters like the sinking of the Titanic, the loss of the Donner Party, and the Black Plague, as well as lesser discussed tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and less deadly disasters like the breakup of the Beatles. For each, Delgado Smith shares the death stats, works with a host to “assign blame,” and concludes by sharing the lasting impact of the tragedies. For example, some factory safety laws were altered as a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and building standards for ships were changed following the sinking of the Titanic. Through it all, Delgado Smith and her guests aim to find the lightness in what can truly be gruesome events.
As our conversation continued, I had two burning questions that I needed to ask in succession. The first centered around her premise and approach, and if she found it inherently feminine. After all, the kind of anxiety that leads to catastrophizing is incredibly common in women, as is a way to make things “better” for the people around them. Is being an alarmist a womanly trait? Delgado Smith doesn’t think so. Speaking for herself, she offered, “when your brain works this way, you can catastrophize and spiral out of control. Or, you can kind of take the power back a little bit. Maybe laugh about it. Maybe use it to ask questions.” And when it comes to any perceived gendered traits, she pointed to some nuanced differences in conversation:
I actually have found that the more I talk to men about it openly, the more some of them are relating to it as well. I don’t think it’s something that men [don’t] feel. I think us as women, we talk about it more. Maybe they don’t talk about it as much, I don’t know? But the more I put it out there, the more men say “I do the same thing.”
And my second question: for an admittedly anxious person, even as one who’s done the work in therapy to be okay with this catastrophizing tendency…how do you take care of yourself when you make sad, hard things your job? Delgado Smith’s key: boundaries. “I try to only research these topics for an hour a day, because I find that after that it can feel heavy, and it’s already so heavy. But you have to function as a person and it’s not helpful for me.” Friends, exercise, and a day job as a comedy writer do help her keep things light, but she does acknowledge “it’s something that can be draining, having to focus on tragedies all the time.” With that said, once the research is done, she trusts her gut, her humor, and the curiosity of her guests to make the final product fun to listen to. Perhaps she should count that among her superpowers!
New episodes of The Alarmist are available each Wednesday on all major podcast platforms. You can follow the show on Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to look at all the offerings of the Earios podcast network.