Podcasts are in tune with the democratized spirit of Internet media; anyone with a microphone and a computer can offer listeners unlimited hours of recordings, usually for free. Limited only by their imaginations, podcasters have a freedom of expression unrestricted by commerce, censorship or geography. Several great podcasts have blossomed in Denver's flourishing arts community; here to celebrate them is Podcast Profiles, a series documenting the efforts of local podcasters and spotlighting the peculiar personalities behind them.
Discussing mental health and sexuality offers profound insight into a person's private life, which is typically why such conversations happen with close intimates or licensed professionals. Losing It: The Sex and Sanity Podcast is dedicated to exploring these deeply personal topics, broadcasting cathartic stories of struggle and triumph most people would be reluctant to share. Luckily, host James Pate and the vast majority of his guests are comedians who, in addition to having flexible boundaries and a penchant for oversharing, can find the humor in some of the darkest experiences. Westword caught up with Pate via email to discuss asking personal questions, working with Sexpot Comedy and the lessons learned from failure.
Westword: Could you just give us a quick summary of the premise and origins of Losing It for any potential new listeners who might be reading this?
James Pate: Losing It was started in an attempt to normalize conversations about sex and mental health. It's a one-on-one conversation between myself and the guest — so far, exclusively comedians, but not on purpose — about the first time they had sex and/or the first time they went to therapy. Those questions come up in the first few minutes of every episode, and then we go from there.
Which episodes would you recommend to someone who's just getting into the show? Any favorite guests you'd like to have back?
I don't like to say it because I have shitty self-esteem issues, but they're all pretty good interviews. Two of the more recent interviews I've had were with Cody Spyker and Ben Kronberg. We talk about some heavy stuff, but some of it is also pretty damn funny. Sometimes the humor gets very dark. Ben had a gut-wrenchingly solid line about dead dads. I can't make that sound funny here, so you'll just have to listen to it.
Why did you decide to focus specifically on people's sex lives and experiences with mental health?
I believe that sex/sexuality and mental health are two aspects of everyone's personality that have the largest impact on how individuals view themselves and how they interact with other people. These two topics are also often deemed inappropriate subjects of conversation, which seems silly to me. I have struggled with depression and anxiety off and on for some time, and while it's not always a great topic to bring up at a party, there is no need to feel shame or judgment around talking about this stuff. This is what makes us tick. Let's talk about it. Why the hell wouldn't we?
By design, your interviews delve into some very personal territory for you and your guests. Have you heard anything that surprised or troubled you during a recording?
Yeah, it kind of comes with the territory. At the same time, I'm trying to keep a level head, because that's kind of the whole point. I want people (myself included) to be able to feel more comfortable talking about this stuff. Some topics like psychiatric diagnosis or sexual assault are tough to discuss, but they almost always come up as a result of a guest's personal experience with whatever it is that we're talking about.
Have you ever had a guest regret revealing too much? Would you edit something out of the episode if they asked you to?
No, not really. I've taken out a couple names, but that's it. I try to not edit at all if I can help it. I like to have a conversation and let it flow. Of course, if someone asked me to remove a part of their interview (or all of it), I almost certainly would. Making someone feel exposed is not the goal. I'm hoping that the people I interview and the things we talk about might help give someone listening the words they couldn't put to a phrase or a name for a feeling they couldn't place.
This is a bit unrelated, but whatever happened to that show at Mozart's? Did you take away any lessons from that experience you'd want to pass along to other showrunners?
Haha. It had a good run, but after a year, the venue and I decided to put our respective energy elsewhere. I had run and hosted mics before, but that was the first showcase I produced, so it was kind of a crash course for me. As to advice, I can only repeat advice that I was given and found helpful. Find a dark room with low ceilings and a bar that's willing to turn off the TV. Book people who get laughs and pay ’em. Test the sound system. Oh! This one is really important: Only get good crowds that think you're funny who also buy a shitload of expensive drinks but not so many that they start to be a problem. That one is key. If you only do one of those things, make it that last one.
What sort of recording setup/equipment do you use?
Ha, I'm ashamed to say I don't know as much as I should. The gear is all pretty standard for a podcast studio: a digital recorder, mixing board, some mics and cables. Wally [Wallace, of Sexpot Comedy] has graciously allowed me to use the studio, which has resulted in me knowing how to use the equipment but not knowing exactly which equipment I'm using. I know I use a Zoom recorder, but that probably doesn't narrow it down much.
Do you have any "white whale" guests you'd love to interview if you could?
Yeah, but I'm relatively new to this, so the list is too long to share. Mike Birbiglia is probably near the top of that list, though, so there's that.
What are the advantages of recording and distributing the podcast through Sexpot instead of doing it solo?
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Having a dedicated studio to use for this project has been a serious edge. I think it would be more difficult to have some of the sorts of discussions I've had if the recording setting were more transient (like an apartment or coffee shop). I feel the studio has an instant familiarity to it simply for being a studio, if that makes sense. Plus all the equipment is there.
Do you have any plugs or upcoming projects you want to bring up before we wrap up the interview?
I don't have any plugs, per se, but I definitely want to give a shout-out to Wally Wallace and all the amazing shit going down at Sexpot Comedy. Wally has been working to make Sexpot a multi-faceted media machine. TV. Radio. Your beloved pet cat. They're coming for all of it. Watch out.