Formats Unpacked: Normal Gossip
How a format about gossip become the podcast everyone is talking about
Before we jump into this week’s unpacking, would you be able to help us out? Our Audience Insights Team would love to speak to anyone who is interested in astronomy. We also want to hear from people who are pretty indifferent too. If you fancy a chat, just answer a few quick questions here and we’ll be in touch.
OK. Back the unpacking. Everyone loves a bit of gossip. Even my most saintly friends find themselves bursting with excitement when they have something juicy to get off their chest. So it’s no surprise that the podcast everyone was talking about at the end of the year had gossip at its heart.
Spilling the tea is Grace Dobush. Grace is a freelance writer and editor. You can find her on Twitter or see her brilliant work as editor of the ReThink Quarterly, a publication we make for ADP. Grace previously unpacked The Classifieds and Kroll Show.
Over to Grace…
What is it?
Normal Gossip is a podcast hosted by Kelsey McKinney and produced by Alex Sujong Laughlin that launched in January 2022.
What’s the format?
Each episode tells a story based on third-hand gossip about normal people — it’s friends of friends of friends being messy. A guest (often a podcaster or journalist) joins to react to the story as Kelsey tells it.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
Each episode begins with Kelsey asking the guest about their relationship with gossip, which scratches an itch much like reading money diaries: It’s very personal but everybody has their own quirks, and it’s always fascinating. And it makes you think about your own relationship with gossip.
And then Kelsey begins telling the story, which often takes more than an hour. She provides the backstory and context needed to understand the players and the setting, anonymized to protect the innocent and the guilty. Kelsey gives the play by play of what went down, asking the guest how they’re feeling along the way, like a nosey “Choose Your Own Adventure.” It’s the audio equivalent of sitting on your friend’s couch.
After less than a year, Normal Gossip was named podcasters’ favorite podcast of 2022 by Vulture. I think a big part of its success is how accessible and unpretentious the subject matter is. Normal Gossip is fueled by tips via email and its voicemail hotline at 26-79-GOSSIP. (I would love to know more about the process of screening the gossip tips and how they get all the incredible details they reveal in an episode — email us, Kelsey and Alex!)
The first episode I was introduced to is my fave: “Leave ‘em a Little Bit Broke, a Little Bit Mad” with Laci Mosley, the host of another great podcast, Scam Goddess. It’s the story of 15 sorority sister frenemies from a university in the Southern U.S., and how things get messy when the last two singletons get engaged. Amanda and Meredith commiserated with each other after being bridesmaids in the 13 other weddings, but when Amanda gets engaged to a rich dreamboat just before Meredith’s wedding to a very mediocre guy, Meredith takes it very personally. It’s an incredibly juicy story, and Laci and Kelsey squeeze out every last drop, closing with Laci’s delicious idea for how Amanda could take revenge.
If you haven’t already, check out our findings from the research we did last year - Scroll Stoppers: six ways hybrid work is changing our attention. Part four is all about how the pandemic changed who we wanted to spend our time with online.
Thanks for giving your attention to another Formats Unpacked. Being a format nerd is a niche interest so we welcome all of you into our world. Please like and share with anyone you think will enjoy it. And leave your gossip in the comments.
See you all next week.