Arts & Culture

‘Edge of Fame’ – not your typical celebrity interview podcast – takes documentary approach

David Letterman, left, interviewed by Washington Post reporter Geoff Edgers.
David Letterman, left, interviewed by Washington Post reporter Geoff Edgers. Photo by Jesse Dittmar

Even the most devoted podcast junkies might question whether the world needs another celebrity interview podcast.

And Geoff Edgers, The Washington Post national arts writer and creator of the new “Edge of Fame” podcast, might agree with you. But he’d also be quick to point out that “Edge of Fame” – with episodes to feature names like David Letterman, Ava DuVernay and Jimmy Kimmel – isn’t your typical interview podcast.

In fact, while a comparison to the wildly popular “S-Town” podcast might seem gratuitous, it’s not far off.

“I’m trying to do this in more of a documentary style,” Edgers said, calling from his home outside Boston. “It’s supposed to be an audio movie almost, with scenes and outside interviews and storytelling that goes beyond being on the telephone with Terry Gross (NPR’s “Fresh Air”) or sitting in Marc Maron’s (“WTF with Marc Maron”) garage.

“I just don’t think I’m as interesting as (Gross and Maron), so I need the movement and the action. And the places I end up are amazing.”

#tfw Oprah hugs you

For Edgers’ debut episode on DuVernay, which lands Feb. 15, the “amazing” places he ended up include the Disney studios, where DuVernay worked on her upcoming $100-million-budget film “A Wrinkle in Time;” at a dinner in her honor at Harvard; at the BET Awards; and in the arms of Oprah Winfrey (Oprah hugged him, you guys).

“I’m always in situations that are unreal to me, and I pause for a second and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m hanging out here with Ava DuVernay and Oprah just gave me a hug,’ ” Edgers said. “And I think, ‘These stories are pretty amazing and these conversations are amazing – and there’s got to be an additional way to tell them.’ 

All that hanging out Edgers did with DuVernay – probably eight times, he estimated – was for a Washington Post profile of the acclaimed director posted in conjunction with the podcast debut. In fact, all of his first season episodes stem from Post profiles either already published or soon to publish.

And that “additional way” for Edgers to tell these stories turned out to be the podcast, produced by The Washington Post in partnership with WBUR, the public radio station in Boston.

Taking the listener along

Edgers, a News & Observer arts writer from 1996 to 2002, made a documentary in 2010 in which he tried to reunite The Kinks and he has dabbled in documentary-style TV shows. He’s a gifted storyteller and a podcast natural.

For these Post interviews, Edgers wears a recorder around his neck and carries microphones for interviews. He captures everything – the conversations, the jokes, the arguments – and then weaves it all into a story with extra interviews, movie (or television or music) clips, and his own narration.

And with “Edge of Fame,” the listener is along for all of it – in the room when DuVernay is editing her movie and listening in when Oprah describes the “come to Jesus talk” she had with DuVernay after her post-“Selma” professional lull.

“When I’m doing a podcast on Ava DuVernay, I want (the listener) not to be sitting in a press conference,” Edgers said. “I want them to be at Disney as we walk around the studio and watch her in action.”

‘I push really hard’

For an upcoming profile (story and podcast) on Jimmy Kimmel, host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and of the 2018 Academy Awards in March, Edgers spent about 11 hours with Kimmel at work. For last year’s profile on comedian Norm Macdonald, Edgers can’t even tell you exactly how many hours he’s spent talking to him. It was a lot. He used the Macdonald material for a sort of pilot “Edge of Fame” episode, which is already available (and highly recommended).

For his profile and podcast on comedian Miss Pat, whose real name is Patricia Williams, Edgers ended up confronting the father of Williams’ first two children – the first child conceived when Miss Pat was 13 and the father 21. That call got a little ugly.

“I’m a reporter at heart and I think that one of the strengths of the podcast is I’m going to drill for material that you wouldn’t normally get when you’ve got sort of a back-and-forth with a celebrity,” Edgers said. “I’m going to really press them to answer questions that maybe they don’t always want to answer, but more importantly, I’m going to press to be in places that you normally don’t get to go.

“I just don’t let them say ‘You can’t bring that in here’ or ‘You can’t do that.’ I push really hard. For me, it’s like, what’s the point if I can’t share something special?”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain

Edge of Fame

“Edge of Fame” debuts Feb. 15 with an episode on Ava DuVernay. A new episode is released each Thursday. A preview episode about Norm Macdonald is already available.

Other episodes in Season 1 will feature David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Hanson, Billy Joe Shaver and Miss Pat.

You can find “Edge of Fame” through your favorite podcast delivery system or at washingtonpost.com/edgerspodcast.

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