Podcast Picks

Podcast Pick: PEN PALS


Dear Rory and Daniel, Daniel and Rory:

When I was in elementary school we had a mandatory pen pal activity in which we would have letter correspondence with a class of students our age in a different country. The details of this activity mostly elude me, but if memory serves correct, the most the interaction ever went was an introductory letter from me, and an introductory letter from my supposed pen pal. I suspect the logistics of having a class of Arizona third graders frequently mail letters to another country was exciting and interesting but ultimately too much work, and it quickly faded from our teacher’s curriculum.

I certainly WISH the person I had brief correspondence with in Mrs. Hayden’s class was one of you two, although you both would’ve been significantly older in the year 2000, so perhaps on second thought, my lack of communication with you was probably for the best. Nonetheless, I find myself listening to PEN PALS weekly and considering what a brilliant, funny, and empathetic format it is, making me wish in many ways that the pen pal experiment of my youth had actually worked.

While many podcasts have featured a mailbag portion that allows fans to interact with hosts, that PEN PALS is nothing but that accentuates the notion that we are all co-hosting this discussion with you. Both of you are hilarious comedians in your own rights, and admittedly when I began listening to the pod, it was based on your strength of comedy alone—I’ve long been a fan of Dan’s appearances on DOUG LOVES MOVIES and I’m an occasional visitor to DUMB PEOPLE TOWN, and I consider Rory’s DILATION to be one of, if not the, best comedy album(s) of this decade. But what I didn’t expect was the genuine thoughtfulness to which you both analyze and consider each letter that comes to you. Yes, sometimes topics are meant for laughs—questions about time travel and calling dibs are perfect Trojan horses for comedy. But frequently I’m taken aback by how earnestly you tackle each letter, acknowledging that not only do you not have the entire picture, but also that people’s lives are nuanced. Take for example a letter regarding a man wanting to propose using a very specific song at karaoke. While it would be easy to joke about the man’s plan to use Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married (Remix) feat. Reverend Run)” as the song to ask his girlfriend to spend the rest of his life with, you both took the opportunity to explore how personal the act of proposing should be, and how admittedly not knowing either the boyfriend or girlfriend personally means it’s not for you to decide if it’s a good idea.

While you both have fantastic and natural rapport with one another, I think the nature of the letters serves as the most exciting dynamic of the show. From the jump you can tell that your fans find this interaction not just entertaining, but actually meaningful—if getting honest feedback on your proposal plans didn’t exemplify this idea enough, other notable letters have dealt with death, family traditions, and political discourse in ways that are affirming and not derogatory. The fact that you take as much consideration with each letter as you do, and give stories and answers that are filled with fellowship and empathy, makes PEN PALS a somewhat rare listen in a time when the online discourse tends to move in the opposite direction. And while not every question is one that requires thoughtfulness and sensitivity (a recent letter about mysterious dead pigeons is a great reminder that this IS still a pod hosted by two accomplished comedians), I appreciate that it can serve as a source of friendliness nonetheless. Thanks for actually seeming like friends and not hosts. It’s for that reason alone PEN PALS deserves more people’s time.


Part-Time Podcast Writer

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's Editor-in-Chief and representative for all things Arizona. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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