Podcasting dangerously … veteran host Norman Lear with America Ferrera, one of the guests on his chatshow. Photograph: Greg Doherty/Getty Images
Norman Lear has done many things in his 94 years: he served in the second world war, created US sitcoms such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons and won four Emmys. Now he’s adding podcasting to the list, proving that it’s not only a young person’s game as he chews the fat with guests on All of the Above With Norman Lear (iTunes).
Lear’s comfortingly soporific drawl is so natural that his podcast feels more like a conversation between friends than an interview. Amy Poehler and Jerrod Carmichael have guested and Julia-Louis Dreyfus and America Ferrera are coming up. Lear has already caused controversy in a discussion of race with standup comic Carmichael, thrashing out the downside of using “the N-word” instead of the full racial slur. “People think it’s stopping hatred. What it does is preserve a word and make it more dangerous,” argues Carmichael. “If we free the word, perhaps it’ll be less dangerous.” Lear decides to take the power away with both men (and co-host Paul Hipp) provocatively chanting the forbidden word in full. “I think we’ve done so much for race relations in that moment,” says Carmichael.
It’s obvious that Lear lives by his own podcasting rules. He tells people to “call in”. He forgets Sigourney Weaver’s name. And he bursts into song whenever he feels like it, carrying on so long you can hear the sheer joy he’s getting from the moment. Amy Poehler screechingly chimes in, as the guests often do.
Lear’s questions are direct and off the cuff. “In your life, how difficult was it being black?” he asks Carmichael, who’s taken aback at first. It’s hard to know who’s interviewing whom at times, which is what elevates the podcast from the usual format. Stories and wisdom drip out and the chat wanders to universally moving subjects: race, family and politics. His take on single-minded religion “where we get into serious trouble” temporarily brings the conversation to a standstill. “Now someone say something funny,” he prompts. Some of the most engaging podcasters are those who throw away the script and let the conversation wander and Lear is fearless enough to do just that. Well, he’s 94. Maybe he’s earned the right to do what the hell he wants.