For the love of podcasts: Episode 07

Armchair Expert-ise with Podcast Creator and Host Monica Padman

As we wrap up our For the Love of Podcasts series (insert sad face), Jen’s sitting down with the one and only Monica Padman, co-creator and co-host with Dax Shepard of Armchair Expert—aka THE most-downloaded new podcast of 2018. Monica is a creative powerhouse, and today she and Jen go down memory lane to trace Monica’s path from theater major to LA-babysitter-trying-to-land-an-acting-gig to getting a text from Kristen Bell asking if she wanted to watch her five-month-old baby—which, by the way, was a job Monica almost didn’t take (!). Monica’s relationship with Kristen and Dax gradually developed into a creative partnership that’s spawned multiple projects, including the always-insightful Armchair Expert where some of the most creative and smart people spill their guts for two hours. Monica shares that finding a north star and following it, even if it doesn’t take you where you planned to go, is always worth the risk.

Transcript from the show

Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen:   Hey, guys. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Really glad you're at the show today.

I am super pumped to share my next guest with you. We've gotten to know her in the last couple of years on one of the most popular podcasts in rotation right now. That's zero exaggeration. It's top of the charts in every category. But today, we get to dive a little bit deeper and hear some of her back story and behind the scenes work that led her to this amazing show.

She is sharp. She is funny. She is all around wonderful. [I’m] thrilled to have on today Monica Padman. Monica is a creative powerhouse in every way. She's an actress, and then you probably know her as the co-creator and producer and editor and co-host of Armchair Expert, which if you know podcasting, you know Armchair Expert. It is this fabulous show hosted by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman.

We'll talk about this, but Monica's from Georgia. She moved to L.A. a decade ago, and she talks about that transition. She also trained, by the way, at Upright Citizens Brigade, so all the comedy nerds are freaking out about that one right now. That's an improv theater group founded by truly some of the greats, including Amy Poehler, our queen.

You have seen Monica on The Good Place, on Bless This Mess, on House of Lies, among tons of other on-screen projects. We hear a lot from Monica on Armchair Expert, but I have always wanted more. I have always wanted more from her. I've wanted to know more about her. I would love to just give her this long runway and let me hear all of her thoughts, which you are getting today.

You're going to hear how she went from babysitting, randomly, for Kristen Bell  and Dax Shepard, all the way to co-creating Armchair Expert with him [Dax] and everything in between. We talk about all sorts of stuff. We dig into topics big and small. We talk about the state of the world right now. We talk about career paths, and what to hold tightly, and what to hold loosely. It's all in here, including behind the scenes of one of the world's most favorite podcasts.

So delighted to bring to you today my sparkling conversation with the oh-so-delightful, Monica Padman.
Jen: I'm like way too excited. I'm really, really too excited to welcome Monica Padman to the show today. I'm so happy that you're here.

Monica: Thank you. I am so flattered to be here. It's so nice.

Jen: It's so funny because I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I listen to one without ever missing a week, and it is yours.

Monica: Wow.

Jen: I think I've heard almost  all of your podcasts.

Monica: Oh, man.

Jen: I feel like I just know you. You know? Them's the breaks, kids. You put it out there and now it's too late. We all love you.

Monica: That's so sweet to hear.

Jen: My listeners know you, of course, and I filled them in with a little bit about your background, and every time we get to hear a little bit more about your story on Armchair Expert, it feels like a treat. You sort of drip it out to us.

Where Dax is more a constant tsunami of information and words, you drip it to us and all the sudden we're like, “Whoa, tell us more. And then what happened?” So we would be delighted to hear a little bit more about your story, in your own words. We know that you grew up in Georgia, but tell us a little bit more. I'd love to hear what was young Monica like and what she enjoyed doing. What kind of a kid were you? And tell us just a little bit more, too, about your family and your path kind of all the way up to college.

Monica: Okay, great. Yes. I was born in Georgia to my mom, who is a computer programmer, and my dad, who's an engineer. My mom's parents moved from India when my mom was six, so she grew up in Savannah, Georgia. She has a very thick Southern accent, which is really funny. And by the way, this just proves how unobservant I am, I had no idea that she had a Southern accent. I never heard it. Never.

Jen: Of course.

Monica: Until, of course, enter Dax. The first time he meets her he was like, "Oh my god, your mom has such a strong southern accent." And I was like, "She does?"

Jen: She does? Yeah.

Monica: What? Yes. But she does. He's absolutely right. She does.

But anyway, yeah, so my mom grew up in Savannah. My dad came for college, for graduate school. And then they had me. I was a really—I would say—shy kid. Really shy, which is sort of ironic, but not really. I tend to think that a lot of performers and people who end up going into these more artistic industries tend to have a layer of shyness.

Jen: It's true.

Monica: But anyway, I was really shy and I always felt really different, physically, obviously. I was like, Huh, so everyone else looks like this and I look like me. And I, like any and every kid, finds a way to find themselves as the other. Everyone feels it. It's a total universal feeling. Mine I think just happened to be so obvious, because it was things I felt like I had no control over.

Jen: Right.

Monica: I feel like I spent a lot of my childhood getting really good at—how do I say it? Getting really good at almost playing beta to everyone around me.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: So that I could make friends really easily.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: You know? I was going to be on everyone's team. And I think that sort of carried on into adult life. I, at a young age, found it to be incredibly important to be invaluable.

Jen: Oh yeah. Of course. Like efficient and smart and useful.

Monica: Useful. Exactly. And to be somebody's chess piece that they would never let go, because I was always afraid of that, of abandonment, because it was like, Oh, clearly they're going to figure out I'm not like them and then they're going to leave me. So I was always looking for the angle in relationships, friendships and stuff, of, Okay, how do I be the person to them that they need? You know?

Jen: Oh yeah. So did that mean in high school, were you pretty popular? Like a lot of friends? You really hit your groove there?

Monica: Yes. I had a lot of friends across a lot of different groups, I would say, because I was a cheerleader. I was in theater. I was in the AP classes. I hit a lot of groups and I always found friends in all of those areas. I was very practiced in that. I think it was, to be honest, a little bit conscious. I remember, specifically, my freshman year of college, my first theater class, walking in the room and looking around and deciding basically like, Who's going to be my friend here?

Jen: Totally.

Monica: Who's going to be the best friend for me? I'm picking right now and I'm sticking with it. And by the way, she [the one I picked] is still one of my closest friends.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Monica: So it worked out.

Jen: That's crazy.

Monica: It all worked out. It's funny. I definitely felt like I always needed some sort of ally or buddy, and I was going to make that a point no matter what the circumstances [were]. So yes, I would say I was well-liked. I don't know that I would say I was popular, in the standard sense.

Jen: Mm-hmm, yeah, I know what you mean.

Monica: I wasn't prom queen. Boys were definitely not banging down my door at all, and that's the stereotype, in my head, of the popular girl.

Jen: Right.

Monica: I was definitely well-liked. That is true.

Jen: So you're in Georgia for college and you are immediately in the theater space. Was that your track? Is that where you kept your foot on the gas during those years? I know you loved college. I did, too.

Monica: Oh, the best.

Jen: How were you beginning to flourish in that environment in ways that were ultimately going to inform your career path?

Monica: That's really fascinating. I double majored. I did theater as my main major and then I did public relations as a second major, mainly to placate my parents a little bit.

Jen: Of course. Yes.

Monica: Give them some sense of safety.

Jen: Yes.

Monica: Which ended up being also ironic, because I've used a lot of those skills now.

Jen: Yeah, that's true. That's a good point.

Monica: It's very interesting how it all worked out. I did theater. I loved it. I loved it so much. I [had already done] theater in high school, which I loved, and I definitely got bitten by the bug there, I would say. It's funny, because when I was in eighth grade, I made my decision that, I want to be an actress, because I started watching Friends, my lifelong obsession.

Jen: Right. Yes.

Monica: I think it was around the same time that I saw Good Will Hunting, so those things coincided.

Jen: Oh yeah, totally.

Monica: [They] changed my world in such a dramatic way. But it was funny because I would watch those things and I was like, Oh my gosh, I want to be a part of something that makes other people feel like this is making me feel. But then I just assumed that to be acting, when really, in retrospect, I'm like, That has nothing to do with acting.

Jen: That's a good point.

Monica: It has nothing to do with it, but I thought it did, so then my freshman year of high school I started theater and then that all got confirmed. It was like, Oh yeah, I like it. I actually really do like it, specifically comedy. I just loved making people laugh. I felt so powerful in those moments and in control, you know?

In college—it was actually kind of interesting— I felt probably the most insecure about acting.

Jen: Really? Why?

Monica: Because there were so many people to compare myself to in that program.

Jen: Oh, sure. Who was also good at it, who was at the head of their class in high school.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: Then it's such a concentration of talent in college.

Monica: Exactly right. Yeah. And then you're auditioning for plays, everything feels super heightened, and you're not getting roles and you're like, Oh boy. At UGA, we had to audition to get into the higher level classes, and there was always a conversation [happening] that a lot of people had to [audition] multiple times. And I did, I had to do it twice.

Jen: Okay.

Monica: After the first one, I was like, Oh no. It was so demoralizing.

Jen: Oh, I bet.

Monica: You know? It's like, Oh my gosh, I already decided I'm committed to this thing for life, but I'm clearly not very good at it. I mean, I thought that.

But anyway, it's funny, because even through that process and by the end when I left college, I had found that confidence in a few different ways. We had to do a one person show. That was a class we had—for a whole semester—and at the end of it, we had to do this one person show and it was the most terrifying thing.

Jen: I bet.

Monica: And scary and also just like, Oh my God. The chance for failure felt so high on that.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: But it went so well. I felt so confident at the end of that, because it went really well and it was all me. I couldn't really put it on anyone else. We wrote the [plays]. So yeah, I felt really confident by the end of that program, and all of the other little blips, ultimately, were so helpful to me. Not getting into the higher level classes immediately, not getting the lead in Midsummer Night's Dream, all of those things really taught me about rejection.

Jen: Great point.

Monica: Which ended up being the most crucial element in coming out to L.A.

Jen: Oh my gosh. Totally. And resiliency. If you don't have it, you're doomed.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: Really in every sector, but definitely in your world.

Monica: Oh yeah.

Jen: I cannot imagine coming into an L.A. scene with incredibly thin skin and any sort of expectation that every single thing is going to be a win. That's just such a recipe for the saddest life in the world.

Monica: Totally. But if that's all you're used to…

Jen: That's true.

Monica: If you're always getting that affirmation, then you are going to feel like, Well, wait a minute. Why didn't I book that commercial? I'm good at acting. You start blaming yourself for things that are totally out of your control.

Jen: That's a great point. I mean, there's a million factors, and I know this seems like a mean thing to say, but we have five kids and four of them are teenagers, two of them are in college. We've said since the time they were little, “I hope for some really manageable all the way to epic failures for these kids.”

Monica: Yes.

Jen: It's the best teacher. It's terrible, but there's no other way. I always have learned more from failure than from success.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: [Failures] are the only way to flex those muscles and figure out that you have them. You know? That, [rejection] isn’t going to kill me. I’m going to get a no, or I’m going to bomb and I am not going to die over it. I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and life goes on and I can keep carrying forward. And you’re right—it’s so useful ultimately, even though it feels terrible in the moment, because I love success, and failure is hard for me.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: But now, at this point, I've learned so much from so many [failures] that now it's a friend.

Monica: Exactly. You have to learn to embrace those moments because they really do end up getting you so much farther than you think.

Jen: That's a great point.

Monica: Yeah. I totally agree.
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All right, guys, back to our show.
Jen:   So when did you move to L.A., was it eight years ago?

Monica: It was ten.

Jen: Was it ten? Golly.

Monica: Yes, which is crazy. It's crazy.

Jen: A decade there.

Monica: I know.

Jen: Talk a little bit about those first few years in L.A., just kind of right out of the gate. How did you find your footing? How did you find your people? L.A.'s just an overwhelming place, period. Much less when you're going there to really go for it, to go for your career. I would love to hear about that. Because now we see you in this really successful place which is so fun to watch, but what about the beginning?

Monica: Yeah, oh yeah. L.A. is a hard place to be at the beginning of your career, for sure. It takes a long time to get fully acclimated, to find your people. I was really lucky in that I moved out there with a friend, and he and I lived together. We lived together for four years. And I also had another friend, the girl that I met on the first day of college.

Jen: Oh yeah.

Monica: She had moved out maybe a month before me, so she was out here, too. I already, luckily—and I feel so grateful for this—had sort of a built in [friend circle]. And it was tiny. It was her and it was him.

Jen: Still, that's enough in a big old city.

Monica: It was enough. And it was exciting.

Jen: Of course.

Monica: It's like, “Oh my gosh, we're at the beginning of this chapter,” but it was so scary. The job situation was looming over my head, of course.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: How do I make money? How am I going to do this? This is an expensive place. I mean, compared to Georgia, L.A. is astronomically expensive.

Jen: Did you just piece it together? Were you just scrapping it all together, bits and pieces?

Monica: Yes.

Jen: Yeah.

Monica: Yes. I was babysitting everyone in Los Angeles's kids. I was doing so much babysitting. My friend, my roommate at the time, was working as a PA on Modern Family.

Jen: Okay.

Monica: When it was just season two, I think.

Jen: Wow.

Monica: It was so fun, because we got to go to someone's birthday party, and we saw Matthew Morrison from Glee there and we were like, "Oh my god, we're here! We did it!"

Jen: We made it.

Monica: You know? We made it. The proximity to success was just out of our grasp, but we could see it.

Jen: Yeah, you were adjacent, success adjacent.

Monica: Exactly. We were totally adjacent to it. And my friend who moved out here a month before me, we would basically just spend our days, when we weren't babysitting, just going on walks to kill time, basically. We were like, “Let's just go on a walk.” We would take like hour long walks every day.

Jen: Okay. That's cute.

Monica: It was so fun and cute and we just talked about everything, but now I'm like, Oh, that's also part of why I didn't feel totally bogged down by this city, I was getting so much exercise.

Jen: Yeah.

Monica: And I didn't even know it. I wasn't paying attention, but exercise, in my opinion, fixes everything.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: So I didn't realize I was balancing all of this fear and uncertainty with a real endorphin boost, every day.

Jen: You accidentally had soul care because you were bored.

Monica: Yes. I feel very lucky that I had those two, and then she introduced me to some people that she knew and then that has blossomed into knowing all my close friends.

Jen: Right. Okay. So let's talk about that. Is that how you met Kristen and Dax? Can you [elaborate], because this is a pretty surprising path.

Monica: Oh yeah.

Jen: From being a sporadic babysitter to being a co-creator and co-host of this enormous, successful podcast. I mean, that really escalated.

Monica: It did.

Jen: Can you talk about how you met and then how that friendship, and ultimately partnership, developed?

Monica: Absolutely. Yes, it's the most bizarre [story]. We talked about it on our show a lot. If you could go back and talk to your thirteen-year-old self and tell them where you are, what would they say? Of course, I'm like, Oh my God, what? I wouldn't even know how to wrap my head around all of what's happened.

Jen: Totally. First of all, what is a podcast?

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: Second of all, right?

Monica: Exactly. And wait, and that's something that people can make money doing? What?

Jen: Exactly.

Monica: [Kristen and Dax] were mutual friends within this friend group. They were a part of that group, but it's a really large friend group, so it's not like I saw them all the time. There were parties and stuff and I'd see them and we'd just say hi briefly, but we were just acquaintances. Nothing more than that.

And then I did an episode of House of Lies, Kristen's show. I just happened to book that show, totally randomly. I played her assistant, ironically.

Jen: Right, totally.

Monica: So life-arty. I played her assistant, I showed up that day, and she was like, "Oh, hi. You! I know you.” And we just chatted that whole day, and she had had Lincoln maybe five months before or something. I said, “I babysit if you ever need a babysitter.” And then a couple weeks later she texted me and was like, "Hey, do you want to come babysit?" [That was] the first babysitting I did for them, was date night babysitting. They would go out, and Lincoln would already be asleep, and I would just sit in their nice house and watch TV and do my nails.

Jen: Right. And get paid.

Monica: With her gel machine, and get paid. I was like, Whoa. This is the best.

Jen: Right? Yay L.A.

Monica: Yeah, exactly. I was like, Oh my God. I did that for a while. At the same time I was also working at SoulCycle.

Jen: Oh yeah.

Monica: I think SoulCycle's everywhere now, but at the time it was just in New York and L.A., and they had opened up a studio in Beverly Hills, and I was working there at the front desk.

Jen: Okay.

Monica: I really, really liked it. I thought it was a really fun part-time job. But I did not feel like I was making enough money to sustain myself for much longer.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: I knew that, eventually, I was going to have to get out of that job, and it just coincided where [Kristen and Dax] needed a more full-time person, so they asked me if I wanted to come. Oh, and it was really funny, because before they invited me to come work full time, it just so happened that I was going to be in Atlanta visiting my family during a time when Kristen was shooting in Atlanta, and she was like, "Oh, do you want to come help us when you're in Atlanta?" Like, “Do you want to stay past your vacation and then come help us?” And I was like, "Oh, sure."

But this was all so new to me. I did normal babysitting, and this was a little bit more intense than that.

Jen: Yeah, this is in a nanny realm.

Monica: Exactly. So I said, “Sure,” and then I got there and I was like, Whoa.

Jen: What am I doing?

Monica: Yeah. I don't know if I know how to do this.

Jen: Right.

Monica: They had just had Delta at that point, my soulmate. She was about three months old when we were shooting that.

Jen: Oh yeah, well that's no joke. I mean, caring for two littles like that. Are you kidding me? That'd take anybody out.

Monica: Yeah. And then there was this added layer of, Oh my god, these are Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard's kids.

Jen: Right. These little famous toddlers. What am I doing?

Monica: I know. What have I stumbled into? I remember we had to fly back. Dax, Lincoln, Delta, and I flew back to L.A. and Kristen had to stay a little longer. I sat with Delta in coach because of the way the seats worked out. Dax was with Lincoln in first class. It was like, Oh, you know, we'll be back and forth, great. But I was with Delta on the plane and I was like, Oh my God. I do not know how to do this.

Jen: Totally. I mean, that is a pressure cooker. Plane experience with a toddler or a baby. Get out of here, man.

Monica: Oh my god. I was terrified, but like most things, it was a really good lesson that you just have to say, “Yes, I can do it and I'll figure it out,” and then you do.

Jen: Yeah. That's really what motherhood is, too.

Monica: Yeah. Oh I bet. Oh, God.

Jen: Same.

Monica: I'm sure. Times a million.

Jen: I don't know. We don't know. We'll just figure it out. It'll work out.

Monica: Yeah. It will all work out. Anyway, so we had that experience and we got back to L.A. and they were like, "Do you want to come on full time?" And I said, "Sure, as long as I'm still able to leave for auditions and those things." And they were like, "Sure, of course." They've always been the most supportive two [people] I could ever be around. I mean, Dax wrote me into CHiPs.

Jen: I love that.

Monica: I started that, did nannying, and then just slowly started taking on assistant duties for Kristen, and it just evolved so naturally. She would get sent an interview or something, and I was like, "Do you want me to take a pass at this first so you don't have to spend all your energy?" And she was like, "Oh, sure, if you want to."

Jen: Right. “Look what the babysitter knows how to do.”

Monica: Yeah. Exactly. Then it just sort of morphed and then kept morphing and morphing and morphing. Now we're at this stage where we're partners and we do projects together and work together, and I sort of manage the whole umbrella of everything. Then the podcast happened because Dax and I spent hours and hours on the back porch arguing with each other and debating each other nonstop.

Jen: I can see this.

Monica: Oh my God. You know, it's funny now, because we do this on such a public platform now and everyone gets to hear it, but I miss that a little bit. I miss when it was just us two on the back porch.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: A little bit. I mean, of course, I'm so grateful and I'm so glad that everyone gets to[hear it] and also I apologize that everyone has to listen to our back and forth nonsense all the time. But there was something really special about learning about each other in those moments that felt like, Oh, he's a contrarian and that's fun. It was a really interesting way to learn about each other.

At some point, he was like, "I don't know. It'd be kind of fun to do a podcast." And I was like, "Great. Let's do it."

Jen: Oh my gosh. Right. And of course, you have no concept of how big or far that's going to go at that point. It's like, “Well, let's just hook up to a microphone and see what happens.”

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: You know, you have such great chemistry, and of course like you mentioned, you had developed it organically over time, which is the best way because it feels genuine. You're not just putting two interesting people in a room and hoping for the best, but you had really created this interesting space between you by then. But still, even then, with that you're not having any sort of concept of what a deal this is going to become, right?

Monica: Oh my God, no. Couldn't even in our wildest dreams imagine.

Jen: Right.

Monica: We had no expectation, and I think that was a gift that we went in doing this for pure fun, and truly the goal was to talk to interesting people and listen to interesting people and have these deep conversations that we have on the back porch, but we get to have them with all these folks that have all this life experience and whatever.

So we just found it to be a hack of “How do we talk to more interesting people?” We had no, no, no expectation of any financial or public success at all.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: It just happened very organically. I mean, I will say after it started appearing to be a little bit more successful than we anticipated, there were two moments. One was when we got an email from Katie Couric's manager or agent or something saying, “Hey, do you want to have Katie on the show? And I was just like staring at the email. I was like, “Wait, wait. You're coming to us asking if we'll have Katie Couric on?”

Jen: Totally.

Monica: We both had this big moment in the kitchen of like, This just happened. What?

Jen: Yeah, you're at Katie Couric level. That just happened.

Monica: Yes. And we didn't even have to reach out to her. They came to us. That was a huge moment for us.

Jen: That's amazing.

Monica: That felt like, “Oh wow, we're doing something that people are interested in being a part of.” That's so fun.

Jen: Right.

Monica: And then [Dax], having so much more life experience and experience in entertainment, obviously, said to me at one point, "You know, this is a lightning strike." He's like, "I know you're young and this is early in your career, but this is a lightning strike situation."

Jen: Totally.

Monica: So I really took that to heart and was just like, “Yeah, that's true.” These things don't happen.

Jen: No. I mean, he's right. Armchair was the most downloaded podcast of 2018. I mean, that's pretty bananas. Everybody has a podcast. There's ten billion of them out there. So taking that top slot and then continually upticking. Your trajectory just continues to go. He's right. It's really, really special.

It is fun, as a listener, to have watched it, because I listened to your very first show way back in the day when it came out. And you edit it, by the way. You're the editor.

Monica: I do.

Jen: And obviously, that first episode is with Kristen and Dax, and in the first forty minutes they're bickering because they're human, like the rest of us.

Monica: Yes. Oh yeah.

Jen: What were you thinking? Because you are now a co-creator, you're a co-producer, you're an editor, and this is the audio that you get. So at what point are you thinking, Okay, I'm just going to put it on the air. Let's just roll the dice and see what happens. [During the] first few episodes, any podcaster is just kind of getting their feet under them. What have you learned and what has shifted as you and Dax have progressed and the show's gotten older and wiser and more mature and deeper and all that?

Monica: That first episode, it's so funny. None of us knew what we were doing. I mean, at all.

Jen: Totally. Which button do I press?

Monica: Oh my God.

Jen: The technology, everything.

Monica: Truly. We are just in the dark. I'm sitting there in that episode, and I say zero words. I am completely silent.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: I'm not even laughing, because I don't know what to do. We don't know what we're doing.

Jen: Of course.

Monica: It's so funny and I edit the show, but I didn't start editing [at first]. I wish I had the exact episode. I'll have to, at some point, go back and find out which episode is the one I started editing on. That didn't happen for the first couple episodes.

Jen: Okay.

Monica: So that Kristen episode is just…

Jen: It's just what it is.

Monica: That is exactly what it is. There is no editing. There's no nothing. I think the first couple, like [the one with] Ashton [Kutcher] and Joy [Bryant], is the same thing. I think. Those first couple episodes are just pure. Very pure.

Jen: Okay. Got it.

Monica: But I will say there was a conversation after that Kristen and Dax episode from him. He was like, “Ugh, I don't know about this. I don't know if we should put this out.” He was really hesitant.

Jen: Sure.

Monica: I felt very strongly that we should, because we have a lot of evidence that people like them.

Jen: Yes, I think that's pretty established.

Monica: Yeah. It seems pretty clear that people like them and they like them because of their honesty.

Jen: Right. 100% right. Your instincts are right.

Monica: Yeah, their candor about everything and [the fact that] they're showing their real relationship, this is a little bit deeper than all the other things that people have been exposed to with them, but it's in the same vein that we are not perfect.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: We are not perfect. We are not telling anyone we're perfect. This is a struggle. We have fights. So I was very adamant about, “No, this is exactly what we need to put out because this is you guys and this is us. This is us as a team. This is us as the Armchair Expert brand. We're going to be honest and we're not afraid. We're not going to sugar coat things and we want it to be raw and vulnerable, and I think that's the only way people learn anything about themselves is if you see vulnerability in others.”

So yeah, we decided to put all that out there and then it was confirmed that people liked it. It's so funny because he was like, “We're arguing,”  and I was like, “Were you?” Because I'm around them so much that I'm like Oh, well some of it's just the way we all talk to each other.

Jen: Sure. Well and I think they argue well.

Monica: They do.

Jen: I've noticed this about Dax and the way he talks about Kristen. The way [he responds] always feels healthy. There's disagreement in the middle or there's different opinions or the ideologies clash a little bit, and yet it never goes off the rails. It's not angry. It doesn't feel demonstrative or performative at all. It always just to me feels like this is how real people talk.

Monica: Totally.

Jen: You're putting a normal, real conversation in front of us, which is actually generous and it makes the rest of us feel normal in that it isn't some idealized version of this celebrity team that you guys are that, while fun to watch, would be so weirdly inaccessible.

Monica: Yeah.

Jen: It's the opposite of that. It's all this low hanging fruit of normal talking, normal disagreements, and I think you've modeled pretty well how to disagree. Do you feel proud of the way that you disagree on air? Because I'm always impressed by it.

Monica: Oh, thank you. That's a really high compliment that I will take, because I am proud, but I also have to credit him so much. I think part of it is[it’s] all three of us, in all the different iterations of these relationships: me and her, her and him, him and me, in this three way situation we've created. There's so much respect for one another.

Jen: Yeah, that's obvious.

Monica: There's so much respect and there's so much real, real love to brace all of it that no one's willing to throw everything out because of a difference of opinion, you know? And because of the respect, I want to know what you think about this, because I trust your opinions and I'm curious. And look, I don't think the same way. Here's what I think, but I respect that your goal is positive, because I like you. You know what I mean?

Jen: Yeah, that comes through loud and clear. That's exactly how I experience your conversations, and I think that I've learned something from you in terms of being a good listener, because I am a person with humongous opinions and very strong ideologies and convictions, so I tend to be reloading in my head. While that person is talking, I'm really just preparing my next paragraph.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: So one thing that I have learned from you, as you discuss complicated issues from various angles on air, is what it means to be a good listener. I've noticed, lots of times, one of you will be saying something, and the other one will stop the trajectory the way it was going and go, “Hey, you know what? When you say it like that, I hear what you're saying. I think I get what you mean now and I agree with this, this and this.” That's great modeling. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's weird out there right now, and we've lost the art. We really have. I rarely see it in the wild anymore, people who learn how to talk with respect. To me, I think that's a cornerstone of your show.

Monica: Thank you.

Jen: That's this kind of interesting ancillary advantage that the rest of us sort of pick up along the way, like this added value that I didn't know to come to you for.
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Okay, back to our show!
Jen:   Whose idea was it to add the fact check? For anybody who hasn't heard your show, you can explain what fact check is, but I think that is a really creative and innovative addition.

Monica: So fact check was Dax's idea, because since the concept of the show is that he's an armchair expert and he's going to be saying random facts about random things all day long when he's not an actual expert in any of these things, that we would need a balance to that. It was totally his idea. I think it was a brilliant idea. The fact checked has morphed. Tt's still the fact check. We still give all the facts, but it's also our time to debrief on the episode and just chat.

Jen: Banter.

Monica: And have our own fun. Yeah.

Jen: Yeah. I love that, because that's where we get more of you.

Monica: Yeah.

Jen: That's where you really stand up and do a lot more of the discussing and the talking, so I never miss that part.

Monica: Thank you.

Jen: I didn't listen to that at the very beginning, because I thought, Well, whatever misinformation I got, oh well. I'll probably forget it.

Monica: Right.

Jen: But then, when I finally started listening to fact check, I'm like, Oh this is fun. Oh, this is banter.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: Between the two of you. Now I never turn it off.

Monica: Yeah. It's almost like its own show. It's like a posed show, me and him, and we just have so much fun doing that. The fact check is our favorite part. And I will say, I feel like I've learned so much about listening through doing the podcast, because when I first started, I didn't know what to do as a co-host in our very specific environment, which is an intimate interview.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: It's not just rag tag, we're not going to chat about just anything. It's intimate and it gets vulnerable and you have to know when to come in, when not to. When is it important to come in or when is it you want your voice heard?

Jen: Great point.

Monica: I have really learned to balance that and to read people's energy. Like, Oh, this person wants a little bit more fun and a little bit more bounciness, then I'll come in a little more. If I can tell that somebody's shy or it's getting very, very deep, I will sit back a little bit so that they can feel safe. It's a lot of listening and reading the room and reading energy, and I think I've gotten much better about that. I'm really appreciative of that skill for the world and it's been such a lesson. You do not have to say everything that comes in your head.

Jen: That's great.

Monica: It is okay if you have the thought. You can have that thought and it be yours and it does not have to be shared. I think we all feel like we have to tell everybody exactly what we're thinking at all time, so it's been a nice lesson. No, I can think it and it can be an interesting thought and it's okay that they're not going to hear it.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: That's okay.

Jen: Plus, you kind of want to impress some of these people. I mean, you have sat in a room with some really high quality people.

Monica: Oh yeah.

Jen: [People] who are at the top of their fields in all kinds of fields, especially when you add in all the Experts on Expert.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: So yeah, I can understand the instinct to want to weigh in intelligently and score a mark.

Monica: Yes. Exactly.

Jen: But I do appreciate the restraint. I feel like you're right, you've got this beautiful format to do it because you're in the room together, in a live setting, and you can read body language and you can read energy. I feel like you're really nailing the rhythms there.

Monica: Thank you.

Jen: When to step in and when to step out and let your guests sort of shine, which so many of them do. I love comedy, too. I'm a longtime fan, so obviously, your rotation of comedians and comics and comic actors is just like a roll call of all-stars. This is a terrible question, but do you have a favorite interview or two that you just went, God, this is the greatest job?

Monica: I've had a couple moments of that. One was when we interviewed Norah Jones.

Jen: Oh yeah.

Monica: She played for us. I was just sitting on the couch, and Norah Jones was sitting next to me with her guitar and singing, and I was one foot from her. I love her. I have been a fan of hers since I was young. I mean, I just think she's one of the most talented people on earth.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: So I am just staring at this real person, in front of me, playing with an angel voice.

Jen: Yeah, it's too much.

Monica: And I'm just like, How? It's too much. It's moments like that where you're like, Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Jen: Yeah, that's too much.

Monica: Wow. How is this my life? But in the best way. We're definitely living in the matrix, because there's no other way. That moment was really, really big. We just released this episode, and we had Monica Lewinsky on.

Jen: I saw that!

Monica: She was unbelievable. That's definitely in my very, very, very top interviews we've had. Her openness and willingness to talk about her past in order to help other people learn and have a better future is so admirable and generous and she's very special. That was another moment that's like, Whoa, we're having this conversation.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: I never thought in a million years I'd be able to do that. So there's been a few moments like that for sure. The experts are my favorite, always.

Jen: Are they?

Monica: Oh yeah, because I always end up having hour-long conversations afterward about something they've said.

Jen: Ahh, lucky.

Monica: And learning. I just feel like we get to learn so much through them. Everyone's been great. The main takeaway that I've noticed, which is so funny, is [every guest] leaves and I think, Man, everyone's nice.

Jen: Aww, that's a great observation.

Monica: I mean, even globally. I could really take it outside of our attic and say we have all these ideas of people, and especially when you talk about celebrities, based on the tabloids and the pictures you see, you create a whole narrative about a person.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: And they come in and I'm like, “Oh, you're just so nice. You're just a nice person. And I have felt that about everybody. And it's like, “We're just all people.”

Jen: It's really true. They got in a car and they drove there like a person.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: Yeah. To me, I think that's one advantage of your really super long podcast format. It's rare in the industry to have a two-hour podcast.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: But what it does, at least for the listener, and probably for you as interviewers, is it just affords you this runway to get there with these people.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: I mean, obviously, in your show, you press in. You guys do a lot of heavy lifting with your guests, even the most famous people in the world, about the hardest or the most shameful periods of their entire lives and somehow you do this without prying. It feels like, Oh, this is just a human person and you grease the machine with such skill that all the sudden, they are just telling us about third grade and they are telling us about what it was like when their parents got divorced and how they felt when they had their first baby. That, to me, is a needle that you are able to thread both with your skill and your format that absolutely levels up your show so much.

Do your guests ever talk about what it feels like to them to come into your podcast and then, all the sudden, find themselves in a really vulnerable spot or being more authentic than they expected to be? What do your guests say to you about that environment?

Monica: We've had a couple, two guests, come in and leave and [they] felt like, I said too much. But we tell everybody when they come in, “We'll cut anything out that you want.”

Jen: Sure.

Monica: Which gives them the rope to say whatever they need to say.

Jen: That's right.

Monica: Because they know they can be, “I don't want any of that in there.”

Jen: That's true.

Monica: It's a small space, there's not ten people around. They feel in the moment that they can say whatever they want, because it feels safe.

Jen: It does.

Monica: It's extra safe, because it's like, “Yeah, I'll just cut whatever I want out.” But most of the time, people will be vulnerable and they might even say, “I might have you cut this out,” and then they'll say [what they’re going to say], and then most of the time they all say, “It's fine. You can keep it in.”

Jen: Interesting.

Monica: Yeah. The idea of sharing it was so scary, but once they did it it was, I think, a relief. It didn't feel scary, it felt like, “Oh, that's an interesting or a fun thing about me,” or, “This could help somebody else.” I think part of this is Dax's specialness, where he leads with so much honesty and vulnerability.

Jen: He does.

Monica: I mean, there's just nothing off the table.

Jen: That's true.

Monica: He starts out talking about his trauma, and then, of course, people are like, “Well, then I'm going to feel comfortable meeting him there.” It's not manipulation, that's just the way he is.

Jen: Oh, that's clear. He's very, very self aware, and he doesn't have pretenses about him at all. Yeah, I have sometimes sat in my car and my jaw would go a little slack like, Well, he just said that. He's just going to say that right here on his show. He doesn't have a lot of self-preservation in him, even though he always talks about how much he wants success and for everybody to like him. He still doesn't do a lot of those behaviors that self-preserve.

Monica: No, you're absolutely right.

Jen: It draws me to him. It doesn't push me away.

Monica: I know. I think he's sort of figured it out. He's figured out the magic trick.

Jen: That's what it is.

Monica: The way to get people to like you is to just be you.

Jen: Right. That's what Brené {Brown] taught us.
 
Monica: Yes. And don’t try to adjust and be who they want you to be. You just have to be you, and [Dax] has really figured that out. Also, obviously, he's had many years of practice at AA where all they do is share.

Jen: That's a good point.

Monica: They're learning from each other's mistakes, not each other's triumphs. So he's brought that to the table, and I think it's so lovely and it definitely makes people feel free to talk.

Jen: Oh, yeah. That sort of authenticity is very contagious in a room, and I respect him for doing that. And thus we've had these amazing responses from so many of your guests. I'm curious, as we get down here to the bottom of this fun conversation, how has this show, the success of it, the audience love, this amazing community you've built, this amazing cast of guests, how has it made you think about the trajectory of your life and career? How has this wobbled the scales for you? Are you now looking forward thinking this is the same thing that I had in mind going in, but this is something that's different?

Monica: Totally. I've said this before I think on our show, but the best piece of advice I ever, ever heard and I also give is, “Love the thing that loves you back.”

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Monica: It's very, very easy, especially in pursuit of a career in the entertainment industry, to be very tunnel-visioned. I think that's universal about any job. In any goal-oriented person, you have your sights set on something and it becomes glowy and you have a tunnel to that goal. That is it, I'm getting that, that's the end of it. In my opinion, in my experience, it's better to have a little bit of a looser grip on that.

Jen: Yes.

Monica: So that [if] you are able to see other things coming into your path and you’re able to say, “Huh, maybe I’ll just follow this for a little bit.” And it doesn’t have to replace the goal, it can just be what I’m following for now because I don’t know where it’s going to take me and it could take me to that goal. It could take me to a place that’s even better than what I could have ever imagined the original goal to be.”

I think it's really important to be aware that you have to allow for spontaneity, and allow for taking on adventures that you didn't anticipate happening.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: I feel like that's what all this has been, even working so closely with Kristen. I write stuff for her and we produce projects together and we work together so closely. I never would have thought that I would have wanted to do any of that.

Jen: Yeah.

Monica: So I let myself do it and not feel like, Well, I could have said [no]. And, by the way, I thought about it. When they asked me to come on full-time, I struggled for a little bit, because I was like, Full time, I can't do full time. I’d never had a full-time job before that, because you had to have leeway for auditions.

Jen: Of course.

Monica: So I was like, I can't really go full time, because how will I leave if I need to leave? And even though I made it very clear to them like, “I need to leave for auditions,” and they're like, “Great, you can,” I knew it was going to be harder. They can say, “Yes you can,” but if I have an audition and I'm with the kids, what do I do?

Jen: Right. Logistically, that's a thing.

Monica: Exactly. But I took a leap of faith, because I was like, You know what? I'm just going to say yes to this. This is a good opportunity for me right now. This is going to be earning me more money than SoulCycle and these are people that are very cool and interesting and I like being around. So sure, I will do this. That doesn't mean I'm stuck doing it.

Jen: That's right.

Monica: And then that has led to all of this.

Jen: So good.

Monica: You have to let things come to you, just see the things that are coming to you. Because Kristen is the master juggler of the world, she has so many projects and so many things at once that we both work on together for her, but using her as a north star, I'm also I feel like, Okay, well I can do all of it.

Jen: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Monica: Because she does all of it, you know?

Jen: Totally.

Monica: I can do the podcast and we can add on other podcasts and yeah, it’s going to get busier, but I can still do a show. Dax is doing a show and does our podcast. The example around me is that you can do a lot.

Jen: That's great.

Monica: If you put your mind to that, you can.

Jen: Absolutely. You just discover capacity that you never had to access.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: But there it is when you need it. I love that example.

My second kid is a sophomore in college and she feels confused about which direction to go right now. She's got some really interesting gifts that seem to be sort of in competition with each other. I told her recently, it reminds me of what you just said, I was like, "Honey, where do you feel that wind at your back?"

Monica: Yeah.

Jen: Let's pay attention to that. Where do you feel like you're coming alive? Where do you feel like I'm loving the thing that loves me back? You know?

Monica: Yes.

Jen: Where do you feel like this momentum is carrying on its own? Those are really interesting signals to us, because I'm achievement oriented. I am so fixated on the thing that I thought or the thing that I set way down at the end of the finish line.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: I forget to notice where the wind is weirdly at my back on this little side hustle.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: I think that's a great way to live. Have our dreams, have our goals, yes. Also, hold it loosely. Let's be paying attention to these little detours and these interesting opportunities, because you're right, sometimes a really well-placed yes turns into a completely different road. I mean, one hundred steps down and you're in a new zip code.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: Which is so exciting.

Monica: I'm so goal oriented, as well. All this sort of happened by accident, and it's easy for me to look in the rear view mirror and say, Oh, I did all this. But I'm very goal oriented too, and I can see the trap of getting stuck. I've also gotten some of those things. That's all we talk about on the podcast. The goal oriented life is tricky, because once you get those goals, you think that you're going to feel whole.

Jen: Totally.

Monica: And you don't. So some of these side hustles and this letting yourself go, those things make you full. They can, anyway.

Jen: That's true.

Monica:   At the end of your life on your deathbed, you’re not going to be thinking about that goal. You’re going to be thinking about all the adventures along the way and thinking about your life in total. So it's important to let, and to remember that nothing is permanent.

Jen: Yeah.

Monica: Like for your daughter, if she's giving up an opportunity, it can feel like, Well, I'll never have that ever again and I'm saying bye to it, and that is not true.

Jen: Great point.

Monica: It could come back around. It could come back around at a time when you're more suited for it. You may decide that you didn't even want it in the first place. You know, it's important to remember these things, nothing is permanent.

Jen: That's so good. We're just handed a different narrative, which is like everything is crucial. Every decision is hit or miss. It's a very boxed in, very formulaic way to think about life except that that's not really how it bears out, to your exact point. There is a lot more flexibility in our path forward than we sort of hand to the next generation. We want them to know what they want to do with their life when they're a sophomore in high school. It's just silly, you know?

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: You need to know your exact path and you need to be picking your classes to support your craft. Well my God, they're fifteen.

Monica: Exactly.

Jen: I really like this approach to life in general, which is to have your north stars. I've always had those too, and know that we may meander as we head in that general direction. Those meanderings have been my favorite parts of life for sure.

Monica: Yeah.
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Okay, back to our show.
Jen: We're going to wrap it up here. We do our podcasts in series, obviously, so this series is on other people's podcasts. We're asking all of our guests in this series these questions, [answer] off the top of your head. Here's the first one.

Monica: Okay.

Jen: Who is your dream guest? Either somebody that you haven't had on yet or maybe you have had them on, and if so, who was it?

Monica: My dream guest is Mindy Kaling.

Jen: Oh, ugh. Yes.

Monica: I am trying, I want her to come on so bad. There was a chance for a while, but she's obviously so busy. I think she's brilliant and so funny and so interesting and has lived a life that I admire in such a strong way. I feel like I connect to her in a lot of ways. I'd just love to have her in our space.

Jen: She's a queen.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: Yes. Okay. I'm going to manifest that into the universe.

Monica: Thank you.

Jen: Mindy Kaling. Mindy, you have heard it here. Oh, wouldn't she be fun in a room?

Monica: I mean, the most fun, I think. Yeah.

Jen: Yeah. You had on one of my favorite people in the world, [and it was] probably the only interview I listened to twice. It was with Jason Bateman. He is so funny.

Monica: Oh my God.

Jen: Why is he so funny?

Monica: He is such a dreamboat. He's so funny and sarcastic, but smart.

Jen: Oh my gosh.

Monica: Oh, yeah.

Jen: But smart, that's always the character he plays, and I wanted to believe that he was that sparkling in real life and he was.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: He was. I enjoyed him so much. And Ike Barinholtz, speaking of Mindy.

Monica: Oh my God.

Jen: I loved Ike's interview. He's darling.

Monica: Agreed.

Jen: Big, open hearted.

Here's the last question. We ask all the guests in every series this question. It's from an author that I love, but your answer can be whatever you want it to be. We've received every manner of answer. Some of them are really serious and sweet and some are just absolutely absurd. But the question that she asks, her name is Barbara Brown Taylor, is this. What is saving your life right now?

Monica: Ooh. Wow. What is saving my life right now?

Jen: I know.

Monica: Community.

Jen: Mmm. Same.

Monica: Yeah. It's everything. It is everything. We had Dr. Sanjay Gupta on.

Jen: I know. It was a fabulous episode.

Monica: Oh my gosh. I was so sad, because we did not get him for nearly long enough and we had to have him back, but he gave real stats to the thing that I feel all the time which is, “Places, countries that are more community-based, they live longer.”

Jen: Yes.

Monica: There's like literally that statistic. It correlates. It is so important and I feel so unbelievably lucky with the community that I have here, with Kristen and Dax and all of our friends. We really lean into community a lot. We go on trips together all the time, and we try to get together a lot. I'm currently trying to move in, honestly, I'm trying to buy a house.

Jen: I heard.

Monica: [A house] that's like forty feet from their new house. We're trying to make it as communal living as we can do it.

Jen: Yes.

Monica: Because it's life-saving. It really is.

Jen: I literally couldn't agree more. I live within forty-five seconds of my best friends in the world. My entire family lives here in Austin, both sides. Both sets of our parents, all of our siblings, all their families. And my dad's goal, his long term goal, is to live in a commune.

Monica: Yes.

Jen: It's so real, Brené has taught us that loneliness is more detrimental to our health than smoking and obesity and alcoholism combined.

Monica: Absolutely.

Jen: There is such real, interesting data to support that and I am completely with you. Okay. Here's what I want to say to you before I let you go.

Monica: Okay.

Jen: I so very much enjoy what you are putting out to the world right now. It is such a delight to me. I have learned so much from your podcast and you have introduced me to some really amazing experts that I did not know before, that I have since learned from and read more of their work. Sometimes it's just been entirely entertaining, which counts too. That is a value.

Monica: Yeah.

Jen: I think that the work that you are doing and the way that you are doing it is so great right now and you should be proud of it and you deserve every accolade that you are getting right now. All this adoration from your listeners and from the podcast community is well earned and well deserved. I just want to say bravo to you. I just love it. I hope it goes on forever. I don't know what the next medium is, but I hope it's podcasting until I'm dead. I'm just cheering you on.

So thank you for being so vulnerable with your listeners, with your show, for being creative and innovating, for putting good and hard and important conversations in front of us and trusting the community to handle that with maturity and depth, which they do.

I'm just a big fan here. Big fan. So happy to have you on the show today. Thank you so much for your time and your energy and all of it. So Monica Padman, you are the greatest.

Monica: Thank you so much. I appreciate all of that so much. Thank you.

Jen: You're welcome.
And there you have it. She's as great as I thought. Loved that conversation and hearing from her and the beautiful creativity she's bringing out into the world right now. I wasn't kidding when I told her that I've barely missed an episode of Armchair since it launched and as you heard me say, I also went to the live show. So big fan here. I so appreciate her time and energy toward our show as well.

Speaking of our show, big love to you listeners. Big love. You are just the greatest community. We're up and over sixteen million downloads on this show. That's because you listen every week. I'd love to meet you out in the wild when you're like, "Jen, I love the show. This is a guest I loved. This was a thing I learned. I'm always doing this, I'm listening in the car.” I just love it. I love meeting you and hearing from you and I want to thank you for your amazing loyalty to this podcast.

I was telling Sydney this. Sometimes you end up moving in a direction because that's where the wind is at your back. That is what this podcast was. I mean, I didn't have plans for a podcast. I didn't even know what that was a few years ago. And yet, this is one of the most delightful things that I do and I have so much good energy toward it and from it and that is because of you and all these fascinating guests that we have on every single week. We are so lucky here. I am grateful, grateful, grateful to you.

I hope you enjoyed this series on For the Love of Podcasts. If you missed any of them, go back, because we chose podcast hosts from some of the coolest shows out there right now. I was absolutely dazzled talking to them and listening to the things that they care about and what they bring to the podcast world. So go back and pick them up if you missed them.

By the way, don't forget to subscribe. That's how you find all these so easily. They'll just be right there on your phone and you can do a quick scroll and see what you missed.

Okay, guys, next week we’re onto a new series and turning the corner into a lot of great, fun content. You're not going to want to miss it. See you then.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

From the show:

Where To Find Monica
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Where To Find Armchair Expert
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Quotes from this Episode