Radiolab's Jad Abumrad -- who was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 2011 -- is just as affable and eloquent on the phone as he sounds on the radio, with a dash of vulnerability revealed when he worries about fucking up the answer to a question. Yes, he actually said that -- with a measure of anxiety in his voice -- but he nailed it.
That's the level of intimacy you could get from Abumrad when he brings his live-performance show, "Embracing the Gut Churn," to Colorado. He'll be at Colorado College in Colorado Springs on Monday, October 13; at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins on Tuesday, October 14; and at the Boulder Theater in Boulder on Wednesday, October 15. In advance of his Colorado run, we talked to Abumrad about the genesis of "Embracing the Gut Churn" and what audience members can expect from the show.
Westword: Can you talk about the origins of "Embracing the Gut Churn?" Where did it come from?
If you talk to anyone here at Radiolab, any of the folks on staff will tell you that half the time, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I have very strong intuitions about things, but the stories come with a lot of trial and error and a lot of feeling around in the dark. When the MacArthur thing was announced, I was assaulted with all these questions, like, "How did it happen? How did Radiolab come to be?"
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It was super-flattering, but I was also super-spun around by that thing. So originally I was asked to give a short talk about that -- how did Radiolab happen -- and I started to write it and think about it. And I looked at it about three-quarters of the way through and thought, "This is total bullshit, this isn't how it happened." So I grabbed the dude who had been there with me from the beginning, recorded the phone call and asked him what he remembered about the very start of things, and he said, after a really long pause, "Gut churn." And I thought, "Oh, right, not only is that the real story, but that's what I should be talking about."
So I began, in typical Radiolab fashion, thinking what is it, what are the different ways of thinking about it. Because it was important for me to figure out if this was normal -- how the creative process takes you to these really high highs and low lows. And neurochemically, philosophically, are these feelings useful? Do they have purpose? That seems like a fussy academic question to ask, but it got me thinking about navigating these periods of gut churn. It has a sort of dread embedded in the words, but it's actually a very fun and lively talk, and I got kind of delighted in the idea of it and started thinking about it for about three years. And somewhere around four months ago I thought, you know what, I actually want to talk about this, and that started the whole process.
How would you describe the show? What would you tell your audience to expect?
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I always fuck this question up! I think what I would say is, you're going to sit down and plant your butt in your seat, and a slightly awkward dude is going to get on stage and talk personally about a whole bunch of different things. The actual story of how the show happened, which is a series of interesting stumbles out of which I can draw certain lessons. You'll be seeing some slightly funny, slightly bizarre original video and graphics; you'll hear Jad dropping in music the way it happens in the show; but you'll also be sitting through a wide-ranging meditation about the dark parts of creativity that mashes up psychology, Cherokee dream-hunting, Wagnerian mythology, Texas Hold 'Em poker techniques -- all kinds of weird things that I've somehow bumped into over the past years that all figure into how one might think about the process in making something new in the world. And doing it without a template, where implicit in the process are really crappy, queasy feelings. It'll be a really wide-ranging meditation that I hope will be really fun for people. That's the intent. Showtimes and ticket prices for Abumrad's Colorado appearances vary; find information on the October 13 appearance in Colorado Springs here, on the October 14 Fort Collins show here, and the Boulder show on October 15 here. Read more about Radiolab here.