A trio of Chicago friends doles out relationship advice with an improv-inspired, sex-positive podcast.
“We’re starting with ex-bfs, then unwelcome boners, and then the cuddler? Is that right?”
It’s Monday night and I’m about to watch a live recording of The Guy Friends, a relationship advice podcast founded by Josh Nalven, Aaron Horton, and Kate Dries. The gentlemen are sprawled on the couch in Dries’ Chicago apartment, eating sour patch kids and debating the segment order, while their host fiddles with her recording equipment on the living room floor.
I met Dries, Nalven and Horton in college at the University of Chicago, where they all participated in arts and theater organizations and I watched from the audience. Every week, the trio tackles a new series of questions and issues posed by friends and strangers alike. While the issues are never new—who pays for first dates? Socks or no socks during sex?—they aim to deliver their product with a scrappy blend of Chicago-style comedy and progressive sex-positive messaging.
Horton and Nalven are both improv sketch comedians bopping around Chicago’s renowned comedy scene, and their improve training fundamentally informs their approach to advice-giving. One of the basic rules of improv is the notion of “yes, and”; you always accept the premise of your partner’s idea in order to further the conversation. In that spirit, Nalven and Horton spur each other on through each topic, prompting the other to expound on, for example, why Nalven likes socks (“some of us have very poor circulation!”) for comic effect. Like improv, he explains, “There’s no filter between what you think and say. I go for genuity…is that a word? Genuineness? Anyway, you have to have the balls to say, for example, ‘I think my dick’s kind of okay’.”
It’s that, and other blunt and honest admissions about sex and dating, that make The Guy Friends fun to listen to. They don’t tackle political hot topics, preferring, as Nalven explains, “to help somebody get a date, or make somebody feel better about something, or make them laugh.” When a lady wants the male perspective on her relationship quandary, who does she turn to? Her guy friends, of course.
In this day and age, publicly sharing your romantic foibles is as easy as posting a sad face and some melodramatic lyrics on Facebook, but advice givers of yore have traditionally maintained a certain distance. Says Dries, “In modern advice columns, you know the columnist. You know Sugar [of The Rumpus’ Dear Sugar], you know about Dan Savage’s personal life. The internet has revolutionized this industry so that your message actually loses weight if you’re anonymous. The Dear Abby, Ann Landers model, sitting on a high hill looking down, just doesn’t exist anymore.”
The advice column is an ancient medium, but when I ask about their influences, Savage is first and foremost. “Our advice has been colored by him, of course, but we do deviate and disagree with him,” explains Horton. Nalven rushes to clarify what Savage Love added to the canon, “He calls bullshit on a question asker, when you wouldn’t think he would. He says, ‘You’re the dick, and here’s a good reason why.’ He’s not swayed by sob stories and he knows where responsibility lies.” Dries seconds that, “He’s really good at drawing attention to hypocrisy, to pointing out the gray areas in relationships.” And gray area is really where The Guy Friends thrive. Their most memorable segments are polarizing questions where they can play up the nuances in their respective stances. Socks or No Socks became a Twitter debate, with followers hashtagging #TeamSocks.
Though the list of influences began with Savage Love, it doesn’t end there. Horton grew up on syndicated honey-voiced radio host Delilah, of whom he does an excellent impression. All three are public radio buffs, adding storytelling components to their podcasts a la The Moth and This American Life. Dries is even a web producer for Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, and her professional experience and technical skill form the backbone of the program. Her creative additions include a brilliant sound clip emphasizing the difference between ribbed and unribbed condoms (achieved by stretching the former over a shampoo bottle), a fifteen second segment at the end of every show called “It’s Never Too Kate,” and the crucial selection of introductory mood music.
“We use Creative Commons, mostly remixes found on SoundCloud. There’s a lot of 90s R&B. I want it to be a little bit like you were listening to Z100 after dark, for those of you from the Tristate area.” That’s the beauty of creative endeavors in this era, it doesn’t take a lot of capital, or really any at all, to launch your own content into the world. According to Dries, “People have always been creative, it’s just easier to see all the people doing it now then it was when da Vinci was rocking out.” Horton points out that their only cost incurred is the nominal fee for domain hosting.
So here we are in the living room, still tweaking equipment and batting around potential taglines. Each week, the guys pick a typical guy-friend one-liner to kick off the show, something like, “How about I acknowledge your strength and power as an independent woman, and then you let me open the jar?”
When they’re ready to go, Dries gives them the signal and in one take, they volley through each of this week’s topics, lively and jocular one minute, delivering tough truths the next. On the subject of unwanted erections, they make sure to distinguish between traumatic and merely inconvenient boners, a segment that includes both the phrases, “It’s a game of angles,” and “the risk of tip peek-age.” When discussing friendship with exes, things get real when Nalven declares, “Love is defined as best friend who f***s and cuddles you.” The group pauses to acknowledge that profound idea, before cackling and moving on to the last segment.
A girl calls in wondering why a guy she slept with in the past keeps inviting her over, only to cuddle. Nalven and Horton debate potential scenarios, before berating the caller:
Nalven: What are you doing such that you’re allowing this guy to cuddle? Your ass wants to get freaky, and you’re not doing shit about it, pretending to watch Dr. Who or whatever the f***…
Horton: Here at The Guy Friends podcast, we’re of the firm belief that a necessary condition of getting something is being willing to ask for it.
Nalven: I’m going to go even more hardcore… if you’re not willing to actually pursue the things that you want, you don’t deserve happiness.
Horton: Yo damn.
Straight talk from The Guy Friends, right there.
For more information on The Guy Friends, visit their website, Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter. You can also listen to excerpts on Vocalo.org’s MixTape. To submit a question, email [email protected], or leave them a message at (773) 234-BROS.
Image courtesy of The Guy Friends SoundCloud