So Meta: Adult ISH & ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ Hosts Get Self-Referential
In their Season 4 opener, Adult ISH podcast co-hosts Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner eat cucumber sandwiches and get meta over Prosecco! This episode features Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman of the “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast and vintage Adult ISH deep cuts. The hosts take a step outside themselves to help them acknowledge the under-appreciated moments in their #adulting journeys. Plus, a freestyle rap from Merk (aka Smirky Merky). Be sure to follow all our socials at @yrAdultISH!
(audio clip plays)
JoJo: What’s up! It’s JoJo, and you are listening to Adult ISH brought to you by YR Media and Radiotopia.
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Nyge: MERK! It is season four! Can you believe it?
Merk: I kinda can’t! Oh my gosh! So much has happened! Why don’t we tell everyone about what’s been going on in our lives in the four months we’ve been off air? You start. You take the hot seat. You’ve got some exciting news.
Nyge: I mean, I don’t know. I’ve just been chillin…
Merk: No. Yeah right. That’s a lie.
Nyge: And, I don’t know. You want me to tell them the story?
Merk: Well, yes, because all I have is the Zoom perspective, because some lucky people (I’m so honored to be one of them) got an invite to that moment! Yeah, set the scene for us.
Nyge: Alright. So this is what I did. So … I told her that she was gonna be, you know, going to like a friend’s house, you know, for a little small thing. They were gonna do like a little dinner at her friend’s house. But, before she went, since it was my parents’ anniversary on that same day, I was like, “Could you just drop off some desserts or whatever?” So, she dropped off some desserts and she came in the house, and then I walked her over in front of the TV and I played her this thing on the TV. It was this poem that I had recorded…
Merk: Which we have a clip of! Gonna insert it here, because that’s what we do on our show. Play the most intimate moments of our lives. Boom. Here we go.
(clip from Nyge’s poem)
Nyge: And all of a sudden, music with notes home plays. And I see a face I know. I see black skin that was told lies because they were scared to let you know how much it really shines. I see my future when those kind eyes like a new beginning, like a sunrise that’s here to stay. I see brown hair and blond hair and red hair. Honestly, with Brandi, it depend on the day. But whatever style, whatever color, you be killing it babe. Flash back. I’m on a stage and I’m staring your way. I see, babe. I know we don’t got it this month…
(audio clip ends)
Nyge: Alright. So then after I finish the poem, you know, she’s sobbing, she’s crying and everything and I was like, “Alright, you ready?” She’s like, “Ready for what?” And I’m like, “You know what’s going down!” I like, you know, stand her up and I walk her to the back door. And then Seth, who is our guest co-host from season two…
Merk: Season two Black ISH episode. Yeah.
Nyge: Black ISH, yup! Yes. Yeah. Black ISH. Yup. So Seth starts playing the saxophone. He’s a beast on it. We worked on it forever. You know, emailing back and forth like, “No, I want you to go higher here or lower here,” and blah, blah, blah. I don’t really know about saxophones like that, but I was giving him notes… everyday.
Merk: Ahhh, the notes!
Nyge: Aye, you see what I did there? But, he starts playing…
Merk: Wait, I did that! What?
Nyge: He starts playing the sax live. And then everybody is standing out there with, like, these LED branches with cherry blossoms hot glued on them, which I stayed up all night gluing. Then the backyard had all these lights hanging up all across everything, and everybody formed two parallel lines like an aisle.
Merk: A gauntlet kind of thing.
Nyge: Yup! Leading right to a big heart that I made in candles and then filled with rose petals. Three thousand rose petals, all for ten dollars on Amazon. Then I had a big “Marry Me” sign and, like, I walked in, gave my dad a handshake, he gave me a ring. I turned around and boom, planted that knee!
Merk: Joyous love. It was quite a beautiful moment. And all that stuff compared to me. I have been… I flew back to see my family for the first time since I moved to L.A. They’re good. My boo thing, Samuel and I, are good. We are celebrating our four year anniversary soon, so that’s exciting.
Nyge: (air horn sounds) Four years!
Merk: And, oh! This is exciting. I went back to therapy!
Nyge: Th, th, th, therapy!
Merk: I’ve gone to one session, was able to snaggle a very good deal for the session. And so I’m back … here ready to attack … this season with all of y’all! See what I did there?
Nyge: (laugh) I see.
Merk: Yeah. Why don’t we just get right into it? Let people know where we’re driving them today.
Nyge: Alright. So real quick, before we get into it, I got something I gotta get off my chest, to be honest. Me and today’s episode theme kind of got a dark history.
Merk: Uh-oh. What happened?
Nyge: Alright. So growing up, I kind of had, like, two friend groups, right? I had my people from the Bay that I grew up with, like the homies. And then I also had, like, some friends who kind of lived in Silicon Valley techie area, right?
Merk: Bougie folks?
Nyge: Yeah. The bougie homies. But they were still the homies too. Like we get still lit. It was cool. But I always remember being around them and they would always say this word like when they’d be talking. They’d be like, “Oh, it’s so meta.” Or “Oh, how meta!” And like me, you know, through using context clues, I would be like, you know, as I munched on my cucumber sandwiches and drank my Prosecco, I’d be like (gentleman’s laugh).
Merk: Wait, you said you were growing up. When were you drinking Prosecco?
Nyge: I was a lit kid! Anyway … And then one of my friends, my friend Mike, actually, he pulled me to the side finally and was like, “Hey, bro, you don’t know what that word means do you?” (laugh) And just like that, my cover was blown.
Merk: But you get what meta means now, right?
Nyge: No, I still don’t know what meta means, and now you guys made a whole episode theme dedicated to the word. I don’t think anybody really knows what meta means.
Merk: Well, you agreed to do this episode, and I’m going to prove you wrong, because some people do know what it means. But before I do that, welcome everyone to Adult ISH, a podcast where we uncover obscure themes and reminisce on the food that Nyge … I don’t know why you don’t just make cucumber sandwiches for yourself if you’re crying so much about it.
Nyge: And I’m Nyge. I still do drink Prosecco, actually. Sometimes. (stutters) It is an amazing, refreshing drink.
Merk: Did you drink Prosecco before this?
Nyge: (gentleman’s laugh) But, you know, that’s not what this episode is about. Today, we’re getting into Meta ISH. Go ahead, Merk. Prove me wrong and explain what Meta means.
Merk: Alright but not gonna lie, I didn’t always grasp what this word meant because I heard the word thrown around growing up too … without the Prosecco. But I’ve understood the word as being self-referential. So it’s in the same ballpark of being self-reflective, which is when you’re asking yourself questions like “Why didn’t I get the recipe for the bougie sandwiches?” Reflection more so analyzes the past whereas meta analyzes the present, specifically, you, referring to your present self in that moment. For example, I’d ask myself, “What is it that I’m currently doing?” And right now, I’d say I’m on a podcast explaining the meaning of a word that makes me think of myself on the podcast which is kinda of a mind trip … But yeah, that’s what meta is.
Nyge: Oh, boom. So it’s as simple as you know, in movies when the character breaks the fourth wall, like, “Yup, I know I’m a character in here and I know that the audience is watching me.”
Merk: Exactly. “Fleabag” does it all the time.
Nyge: (whisper) Hey listener, I know you hear me.
Merk: There you go, Nyge. I think you understand now. And now that we’re on the same page, in today’s episode, you and I are going to be taking a step outside of ourselves with our guests and with you, our listener, to look at who we are as podcast co-hosts.
Nyge: Yeah, and even if you don’t host a show, you do host your life! You see what I’m doing? So, the whole concept of taking a step outside of yourself still applies.
Merk: Yes. So first, we’re going to have the hosts of the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” to get into the dynamics of private and professional work relationships, especially when you work with one of your good friends. (coughs) That’s Nyge for me.
Nyge: And later, Merk and I are going to put ourselves on blast by listening to clips of our old segments and how we can be low key trash. Let’s get into this!
Merk: Before we introduce our featured guests for this episode, I just wanna say that I’ve been thinking about when was it that you and I first ZINGed?
Merk: Dude, did you not read the book our guest’s publicists sent us? Chapter one…
Nyge: Yeah, I read it. I read it. I’m just kidding.
Merk: Okay. So for those of y’all who haven’t read this book — because we haven’t even told you the title yet — a Zing is that feeling, that mutual spark you feel when you know someone’s gotta be your friend. If you’ve seen “Hotel Transylvania”, one of my fave movies of all time, you already know what’s up … So Nyge, when did we zing?
Nyge: I would actually say the Netflix and subtitles recording. Like, our first ever recording. The first time we ever got in the studio. That’s when I really was like, “Oh, this is something special.”
Merk: So it wasn’t when you first met me over the phone is what you’re saying? Our zing stories are different? Does that mean we actually didn’t zing?!
Nyge: I think we definitely did zing. It just was like… I was like, “Oh yeah. She’s, like, really cool.” But then when we got on, like, the mic together is when I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be really cool.” Yeah!
Merk: Well, to help unpack how we’ve been zinging and to better make sense of friendships in adulthood — we have Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman from the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend!” It’s a show for long distance friends everywhere, like Nyge and I, who’ve only seen each other five times in real life — one of those times in which I cried.
Nyge: This isn’t even true. You lived in the Bay Area for, like, a period of time. I don’t know.
Merk: Okay, three months went by in a flash.
Nyge: Yeah. Anyway, Aminatou and Ann have been an inspiration for our show and they recently came out with a fabulous book — “Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close.” It’s a New York Times bestseller and we’re gonna talk about it. Welcome you two!
Aminatou: Hi! Thanks for having us.
Nyge and Merk: Thanks for being here.
Nyge: So first off, to anyone who knows your background, they know that you met through a mutual friend at a “Gossip Girl” watch party. Both of you had heard about each other through this mutual friend before and after that first link up the rest was “herstory,” as Merk says. And that’s always my biggest fear, is that my friends will meet each other and they will become closer than they are to me and they’ll live happily ever after together writing books and making hit podcasts. So, I’m curious, is that mutual friend salty about how well y’all hit it off?
Aminatou: No, we are still very, very close friends. The three of us are very close friends together and our individual friendships are still really close. So I will say that, you know, that worked out really well for us.
Ann: I’m just gonna say, “Hi Dayo. We love you!” We also love to talk about how much we love her at any opportunity.
Aminatou: She really is the best because it takes like a really cool and special person to really identify that people that you know would get along. And then just like, you know, you push them together and you don’t feel insecure about it. I love that.
Merk: So our origin story is different from yours in that Nyge and I became friends because of our podcast, whereas you two made a podcast because you are friends. Even still we can relate to you because we bonded over our teen dramas in our beginnings. For us, it was “Riverdale.” But also because for us, on our respective shows listeners have what you said is an “idealized version” of what your dynamic together is. But do you think you’re reaching that idealized version whether it’s on the show or off mic?
Ann: I actually think we’re just getting better at talking about the ways it is not ideal. You know, I don’t know if it’s a goal to reach an idealized version, which I think we consider to be like a “no conflict, everything is fine all the time.” We’ve never once misunderstood each other, especially after undergoing this, like, whole research and writing process together. I just don’t even think it’s a goal.
Aminatou: I mean, you will not be surprised to learn that I agree with you, Ann. (laughs) You know, I think I don’t want like, you know … It’s like, in some ways we have all lived that version already, because it’s those first heady days of when you’re friends. Like, you don’t actually know each other. And everything is like some sort of like, you know… It’s like a montage from a movie and you’re just … Like, everything is fun and you’re going from fun peak to fun peak to fun peak. So I’m like, “I’ve already lived that.” But I think that the really cool part about, you know, both growing up and also knowing someone for a long time as an adult is that you watch each other change in these like really, really, really profound ways. And it takes you a long time to, like, catch up to the fact that the changes happened. But being able to, like, accept all of that, to me, in some ways, is so much headier even than those first days of just like, “Oh my God. I don’t know you, but I like you a lot,” and going off of feeling. Yeah, you know? Like, the zing is really important, you know, but I will say, like, I have really close friends today that we did not have a zing.
Merk: I’m interested to know, like, as far your personalities on and off the mic, do you feel like it’s any different? Nyge and I are actually going to get into a segment in the later half of this episode where we analyze ourselves, and I highkey feel that I am very low … more so low energy off mic. But, do you notice any major differences about each other?
Aminatou: You know, I think that there is something about, like, whenever we say like, “bring your full self to work,” people think that it means “tell me every single thing about you.”
Ann: “Tell me your trauma.”
Aminatou: Yeah, I’m like, “I’m not interested in trauma bonding with anyone.” So, you know, that’s not what it means. It just means, like, “Can you be yourself at work?” And I very much feel that Ann and I and Gina have created an environment in our work where we can 100 percent be ourselves, right? But, also, we can be ourselves with each other. It doesn’t mean that we’re ourselves with the audience, right? And when I have context for what’s going on in your life, like, “Oh, today is really hard,” or this other, you know … There’s these other external pressures on your time and your emotions or your whatever. Then I see just what kind of consummate, amazing professional you are, and you just show up to record our podcast and never drop the ball. I was like, that is a … you know, that’s like going really deep with someone. And I think that, to me, just adds like one more facet of our friendship. Like, I have other like very close big friends, but I don’t work with them. So I don’t know what it’s like to be like a copilot in the work seat next to them. And sometimes I really wish that I could have that too.
Nyge: Yeah. So for this episode, we’ve invited you as experts, even though I know you don’t like that term. But hey, if you have a New York Times bestseller, that’s good enough for us. Anyway, we were hoping that y’all would answer a couple real life situations that arise in different kinds of relationships. Some of these are based off of mine and Merk’s, and others may feel a little closer to our listeners or yourselves even. We want y’all to let us know the best, mess-free ways, if possible, that these situations can be handled. So are y’all ready?
Aminatou: Let’s do it!
Ann: We’ll do our best.
Merk: We believe in you.
Nyge: Alright, this first scenario. So Merk and I are obviously friends, but sometimes we have to put on our professional coworker hat and we just happen to have different working styles. Merk’s the type who wants everything that she’s going to say, totally written down in a specific font, indented in a very specific way. (laughs) And that process trips me up and it makes me feel like I sound less natural. So I prefer, like, bullet points to let my mind kind of fill in the blanks off the cusp. That’s just where I feel more comfortable. And it’s been a point where it was driving a wedge between us because neither of us wanted to bring it up, and we had to agree on one style for our, you know, show copy or for our interviews. So how do you work through that?
Aminatou: I mean, I think that part of, you know, the truth of working with someone else is that if you just really understand that you are not going to get your way, you will go so much further. You know, it’s like the whole point of collaborating with someone is that you are incorporating both of your styles into one thing that you can both live with. I know that like, in our collaboration, Ann is the person who brings, like, a lot of structure and a lot of logistics. But I actually appreciate it. I’m just like, “I don’t know how to do this for myself,” so I like that she does it. And sometimes I’m like, “Oh, this exact way that you work is the best way for us to work together.” And then there are other times where you’re like, “Oh, actually, you really needing this spreadsheet is really cramping my style of not needing a spreadsheet, so here is the middle ground. Here is the middle ground of how we’re going to do it.” You know, I think that you just have to be able to talk about it, because if it’s like a thing where you’re just being, like, uptight and controlling, and you’re like, “This is what I want,” It’s like, “Well, you know, you should probably just work alone.” If you are going to work with other people, you need to figure out, like, how do we get the best work out of both of us at the same time. But you’re going to be really bored by all of these answers. All of them are just communication and understanding that you need to meet someone halfway. Otherwise, it’s just not going to, like … No one is gonna be happy.
Merk: How do you … I mean, even though you’re good at being able to be professional about things and knowing that, “Okay, we’re going to separate our personal life with our professional.” How do you not take things personally, especially if that kind of dynamic is newer for you?
Ann: That’s interesting. I think, for us, or rather for myself, it has never felt personal in the sense that, like, if Aminantou wants to do something differently or if we don’t exactly see eye to eye on how we want to tackle a certain topic, it is not … In the vast, vast majority of cases, it’s not felt like a personal affront. Like, it’s not a referendum on how I do my job or, like, how good my beliefs are or my expression is or how well I made that spreadsheet or whatever. Fill it in with whatever self-judgment you might apply. So that’s one benefit, I think, of being friends before you work together, is this foundation of goodwill between each other.
Aminatou: I don’t know. I am fully in my mid-thirties and I think that every day I am shocked constantly at how little I understand about other people. I’m an individual and I have all my quirks. I’m like, everyone has that. And it’s very rare that two people actually share a lot of things in common, you know? And so they’re “not taking things personally,” just comes from that. I was like, “Oh, they’re just expressing themselves.” Like, everyone is just trying to be fully self expressed. And so, unless you know that you have done something, you know … Like on this, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I really sabotaged that episode on purpose. It was preplanned,” has literally never happened. And also, it’s just work. I was like, “If you’re taking work personally, my God. Life is gonna throw some real dump trucks at you.”
Nyge: Now, moving on to scenario two, that might sound a little more personal. You show up for a dinner party that your friend is hosting. When you get there, you take a quick look around and see that you’re the only person of color at this party, which makes you feel a tiny bit uncomfortable and a little off about your friendship with them now. How do you work through this situation?
Aminatou: I have personally never experienced this scenario, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Merk: (sarcastic) Did not write a chapter on that.
Aminatou: I can’t honestly help with this, because this seems foreign and weird to me.
Nyge: Way off-base here.
Aminatou: I mean, hypothetically, I think that of the two of us, I’m maybe the only one who can answer this question.
Ann: I didn’t want to be the one to say it.
Aminatou: So I feel this pressure. I mean, I will tell you this. It really depends. Like, even the example of just going to a dinner party and seeing that you’re the only person of color there, I think is kind of a misnomer, because it depends. It’s, like, I … Like, you can’t go to a dinner party that’s representative of America. It depends how many people are at dinner. You know, it depends, like, who didn’t come, who didn’t show up or whatever. But I will say this. If you find yourself with someone that you, you know, think that you know very well, and you are a person of color and this person is white, and you find that you are not trusting that they know other people of color or that they just, like, live this very segregated life, you will either have to bring it to them … because in our book we talk to Wesley Morris, the cultural critic, who very astutely noted in an interview that we did on our podcast, that if someone is talking about race in an interracial friendship, most likely the racialized person is who is bringing it up. White friends tend to be very, like, weaselly and lazy. And honestly, like, cowardly about this. So it’s, you know … that’s just one discomfort that you’re going to have to deal with. But I think that, like all things in friendship, if a situation makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter what it is, you have to bring it up, because, if you don’t, that is the thing that is going to eat at your friendship. But again, communication, communication, communication. You have to bring it up. And usually how they react to you bringing it up is what’s most instructive for how your friendship will continue.
Merk: Yeah. What’s interesting about what you said is I feel like even between mine and Nyge’s dynamic, I tend to be the one who makes it … who brings up race. And I bring it up and I make it a big deal, but I feel like that kind of does us a disservice sometimes.
Aminatou: Can you say more about that?
Merk: Yeah. Like, sometimes, with everything that’s going on this year , I think that I tend to overcompensate for you, Nyge, and like trying to be like, “Hey, I’m going to be here and be your friend and support you,” instead of just doing it, you know?
Nyge: Uh-huh. I don’t feel that way. I mean, yeah, I think you definitely do, like, over overthink it, because it’s not…
Merk: Exhibit A!
Nyge: That’s not where I’m at. Like, when you do things like that, I know how you feel. I know who you are. And I like the fact that you don’t, like, bring … that you don’t act like it’s not happening. As long as we acknowledge and as long as we talk about it, then you are definitely always an ally. And we can relate, because we are both people of color as well, too. So…
Ann: Aww! Look at this understanding between friends. I love it.
Merk: Thank you. Brought to you by Ann and Aminatou! And on the note of healthy communication, chapter five of your book, titled “The Stretch,” gets into how keeping a healthy friendship is a lot like stretching. You gotta do it a lot over time and be committed to see your bond take on new shapes. And one way you both stretch is by going to couples therapy together, a stretch we haven’t heard any other friends take. So what was off about your friendship that made you do that?
Ann: Over the period, a period of like … I mean, it was like a year, two years. We watched the number of things that we felt comfortable sharing with each other just shrink and shrink. And as that happened, we got more and more awkward around each other. We, like, were inadvertently hurting each other’s feelings when one of us thought that she was making a kind of grand gesture or an overture to try to, you know, repair things. The other person didn’t receive it that way, and they were just like, “What is she doing?” And, you know, after some time, we were able to acknowledge the fact that we were both feeling hurt and estranged from each other. But even that acknowledgment did not allow us to just, like, magically snap our fingers and start sharing again. You know, we just, like, didn’t feel safe in the friendship anymore. And so I think for us, therapy was an important way of trying to get another adult in the room, someone who could maybe help us figure out what was happening between us. Because, I know for me, I had this idea of like, “Oh, if we both say we really care about each other and we both really want things to be better, why are they not just better?” And it wasn’t necessarily, like, we showed up and said, “Hey, fix our friendship.” I think we really showed up and said, “We both want to understand what’s happening for us and for the other person here and move on from there.”
Merk: To be more meta about your friendship.
Merk: Well thank you both for sharing your stories coming onto Adult ISH. Be sure you all purchase Aminatou and Ann’s book directly from their bigfriendship.com website, and follow them @aminatou on Twitter and @annfriedman.
Nyge: Thank you, again, for coming on the show.
Aminatou: Thank you both so much.
Ann: Thanks so much.
Nyge: So this segment is a little bit inspired by a segment we did in season two during our Cuffed ISH episode, where our exes evaluated us as romantic partners. But, because today, we’re getting all “meta,” we’re gonna be evaluating ourselves — and essentially embarrassing ourselves for your ultimate pleasure, as always. Even though you guys love to say, “Oh, we love you!” Really, you just enjoy putting us in uncomfortable situations. And that’s fine. So Merk, tell ‘em how we’re gonna be humiliating ourselves today.
Merk: Alright, so Nyge and I have pulled clips from our Adult ISH past, and these are all interviews we’ve had with guests. These are clips you’ve already heard before. But, what you don’t know, is that when Nyge and I listened back to these moments, we’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m really bothered by that.” And, you know, as hosts, we just … when we go through interviews, you gotta get through the interview. But then when you hear something you said in hindsight, you’re like, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”
Nyge: Basically, what we’re gonna do is I’m gonna play one of Merk’s awko taco clips first, then I’m going to ask some questions that I have for her to reflect on what she was thinking when she said what she said or didn’t say what she was supposed to say at all.
Merk: Hey, we didn’t even start yet!
Nyge: Alright, Merk will do the same for me and my moment as well.
Merk: Yes, yes I will. I’m ready to roll right into this.
Nyge: First up, we have season one, “Best of Race ISH” episode. And on that episode, we had Marcus Scribner from “Black-ish.” We had Ronnie Chang from “Crazy Rich Asians” and everywhere else on TV also.
Merk: “The Daily Show.”
Nyge: Exactly. And we had an amazing poet named Ashlee Haze.
Merk: Yeah, she was. I remember you found her and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, she’s so cool,” because you’re the poet guy on our show. And this was the first time we ever had a poet on Adult ISH.
Nyge: Yeah. I knew Merk would really like Ashlee Haze as a poet. But let’s just say, before we hear this, that uhh … didn’t know she would like her this much.
Merk: And for context, this is a poem she wrote called “Hymn,” for Black women and women of color.
(audio clip plays)
Ashlee: I think of the girl I used to be trying so hard to be one of the boys. I’m still forgiving myself, but all the times I saw a wound or a mirror instead of a sister. But here I say, I’m sorry. I say glory to the women who thought I was worth saving. Glory to the women who think I’m enough. Even on days when I fall short to every woman listening to this, I say, come through eyebrows. I say, yes, highlight. I say, I see you. You be visible and you be worthy of all this praise.
Nyge: That was crazy. You got me here about to start crying.
Nyge: Oh my God! I never want to say one of my poems ever again.
Ashlee: You gotta keep writing. You gotta keep going!
Nyge: Every time you’re like “Come through” I was like “Come through, Ashlee!” You’re killing it!
Merk: Well, I just want to say, real quick, thank you for that because … (sniffle) You just spoke to my soul right there. Especially toward the end, you know, this is something that … I know you said you wake up every day and you’re, like, doing your little things with self love and all this stuff and, like, putting your words out there for me, like … I’m doing the same thing in my own way. And I just appreciate you for really being able to capture that, because that’s…
(audio clip ends)
Nyge: So that’s the clip that you just heard. This is 2020 Nygel speaking. We are back. I remember … That’s the final version that all you guys just heard on the episode. But how it actually went down was there was this — How long would you say, Merk? How long would you say there was a pause for?
Merk: I think it was … It had to have been at least like a minute.
Nyge: It was like a minute long pause. And this is, you know, live in the interview. I’m talking to Ashlee. I’m gassing her up like you guys have heard. I’m like, “Yo, I never wanna do one of my poems again! That was crazy! Come through, Ashlee!” And Merk, just, was silent for…
Merk: I mean, I could feel it. It’s like you were, you know … you had the jump rope ready to go, but I wasn’t coming in. And it’s because when she was talking, you know, her message was so powerful. And what really got me was the line about the highlight, because to me, as someone who wears makeup, it’s part of my armor, you know? It gives me confidence. I don’t wear it much. I know I look good without it, but it accentuates my features. And I remember we recorded this a little after I moved to New York and before I left for New York, my sister was like, “Okay, you have to learn how to do your makeup.” I’m like, “I don’t want to!” She’s like, “No. You need to know what highlight is.” And so, like, as Ashlee was talking, I had all these boom boom flashes of, like, my sister showing me makeup and then being with my mom and then just missing everyone from back home. But also, I think her message definitely still rings true to today.
Nyge: I remember Davey coming over in the headphones like, “Hey, I think Merk got disconnected. We’re tryna find Merk right now.” We really thought you got disconnected because we couldn’t — we didn’t know what was going down. And then you came in crying and I was like, “Oh, she’s been crying the whole time.” I mean, you kind of already touched on it. I was gonna ask you what really got you about the poem, but you already said it was the Kilawatt and the Trophy Wife. Yeah, you didn’t know I knew highlights like that. Yeah!
Nyge: Shoutouts to my fiancé, Brandi! Would you react differently if a similar situation happened like this season?
Merk: I mean, I probably would still cry, but I’ve gotten better at strength crying. You know what I mean? Like, when you’re crying, but you still look beautiful and you talk with conviction.
Nyge: I don’t even … you’ve transcended my levels of cry.
Merk: You don’t do that?
Nyge: I’ve never strength cried in my life. Can you break down for all of us how you strength cry, because I’m tryna … I’m actually tryna boss up my crying game.
Nyge: I have a wedding coming up. I’m not trying to be up there…
Nyge: “Say I do, Nyge,” and I’m quiet for a minute. (laughs)
Merk: (sarcastic) “Is he about to run out of this place?”
Nyge: People think I got disconnected! (laugh) How do you strength cry?
Merk: You got to … I mean, you even see me do this in, like, work meetings that we have. Like, I’ll just speak slowly, and there’s no rush to get everything out, but you kind of got to hold on to each word as if you’re like doing a curl up, but like a slow curl up. So each word that you say is like, “I am crying. But I am strong.”
Nyge: So you’re doing bicep curls for everybody. Okay.
Nyge: I’ma work that in. I’ma work that in.
Merk: Yeah. I believe in you. You can strength cry. You’ll still get married, it’ll be fine. But hopefully this next clip doesn’t make you cry. Might make you laugh. This next clip comes from season two in our Black ISH episode where Nyge is talking to comedian W. Kamau Bell about an interview that Kamau filmed for his show “United Shades of America.” He’s talking to members of the KKK on his first day on set. Just to clarify, Nyge was not there, but him and Kamau were doing this interview in person together, which is pretty rare for the interviews that we do.
(audio clip plays)
WKB: We were filming, then we took a break, and this guy, who didn’t talk to me during the thing, but during the break walked up and handed me, like, a plastic bag from a bodega. Corner store, as we say in the Bay Area. I reach into it, and it was Skittles and Arizona iced tea … to reference Trayvon Martin. And so he was clearly trying to bait me. And I was like, “Oh, you got jokes?” And I handed it back to him and was like, “You should have done that on camera, because we’ve got … that would’ve been a good.” He was like he was trying to get me, but then I was like, “Clearly his friends were standing on the side, like, “Watch this!!!” Like, they’d been planning this moment. Once I knew there would be those moments, I prepared for them, you know? Like, if the dean of that school had handed you Arizona iced tea and Skittles. (slapping sound) You know, but it’s probably years before [the killing]. But, like for me, it was like, “What?”
Nyge: I probably would’ve been hype.
WKB: It could’ve been like a time travel thing.
Nyge: “Aye, watermelon?!” (laughs)
WKB: Are you guys going to leave watermelon in? Are you gonna leave that in? Okay, okay. Just making sure.
(audio clip ends)
Merk: Alright. So I see you silent laughing over here.
Nyge: It’s a strength laugh.
Nyge: That’s what I was doing. Oh man.
Merk: Great technique. What makes that moment so embarrassing for you?
Nyge: Just to break it down for everybody, what I said was … what Kamau said was, “How would I feel if the dean at my school had handed me a bag of Skittles and Arizona?” I had said I would probably be juiced, because it was before the killing, and so I wouldn’t know what it was referencing. I made a joke to the Arizona being watermelon flavor, which is a stereotype that is known for Black people as loving watermelon, which I know some Black people who are allergic to watermelon.
Merk: Did anyone ever say anything to you?
Nyge: No, no, no. Nobody ever said anything to me. But just kind of as I’ve grown and as my voice has grown on the show, I started reflecting differently on it, because I’m on a platform as a young Black man in a space where there’s not a lot of other Black people. And I didn’t like the way that I had positioned myself. I almost said it like I was like I was in a space with all Black people, which if I was, I feel like that joke is perfectly fine. But I said that in a space that’s not predominantly Black, which felt uncomfortable to me listening back. And I was like, “Why did you do that, dude?” Like, that’s not the joke to make.
Merk: Knowing your audience.
Nyge: Yeah, exactly. And in that moment, I for sure didn’t know my audience. And so … but, we all take Ls.
Merk: We all do take Ls, and it’s pretty hard to be funny on the spot, especially when you’re with a high profile guests like W. Kamau Bell, because, you know, you want to be impressive to them, but you also want to be yourself. But then you also know that you have our audience who are listening. So, it’s a lot.
Nyge: Facts. I was gonna break down that. First, I was going to talk about why was I so, like, excited? Like, everything Kamau was saying, I’m “Yeah! Yeah!” I was like “Why am I responding like that, first off.” But yeah, it probably was, like, “I just met Kamau. We’re sitting down face to face. We got tons of cameras on us” and it’s literally just us in two chairs against a, like, green screen.
Merk: Technically it was orange. I remember the color.
Nyge: (sarcastic) An orange screen. Because green screen doesn’t refer to the color of the screen. And…
Merk: (sarcastic) Okay…
Nyge: And it was … Kamau is a comedian. And so he’s saying funny stuff and then he’s hyping me up, so I’m saying funny stuff. And a couple of the jokes that I hit before that, like, I’m hitting. I got Kamau laughing or whatever. And even that one hit too! Like, Kamau laughed too if you hear it. And it threw him off.
Merk: But he had his self-aware blinkers on. He was like, “Ah!”
Nyge: But it was funny, that’s why it threw him off because he said, “Yo. That’s what’s happening.” But if you hear before, he really started dying laughing, because it’s a funny joke, but you can tell it went through his head the exact same way it goes through my head now. He said, “That was funny!” And then he went, “Oh, wait, where are we at?” And that’s what I needed to do in that moment. I needed to go, “Wait, where am I?”
Merk: That makes me think of the time for our Asian ISH episode in season two, where I talked to Disney star Peyton Elizabeth Lee from “Andi Mack.” Basically my twin, because, you know, we get mistaken for each other in life. For the episode art, I was holding a peace sign and I remember Davey, our boss, being like, “Hey, that’s kind of a stereotypical, like, pose for Asians. I don’t know if I really want that.” I didn’t really even think about that. But I was like, “But it’s just me holding up a peace sign. I’m not like…” You know, I was just being me.
Nyge: Yeah. I remember I was in the same photo shoot and I was throwing up the same awkward default peace sign too, in every picture.
Merk: It’s just like an instant reaction. Like, “Oh, throw up the peace signs.”
Nyge: I have this picture with Steve Kerr of me, like, holding up the peace sign with Steve Kerr like, “Why am I doing a peace like that?”
Merk: Wait, who is Steve Kerr?
Nyge: Uh, the coach of the Warriors.
Merk: See? And that’s how much I know about sports! Basketball in particular. Baseball is awesome. Speaking of Asian stuff… (laughs)
Nyge: Know your platform … nah, I’m playing! We have one final moment. This is my personal favorites, actually. Our “Comedians in Quarantine” episode in season three of the show, we talked to Taylor Tomlinson, we talked to Joel Kim Booster.
Nyge: Merk’s favorite. JKB is what she likes to call him. This moment actually happened at the end of our interview with him, but we cut it off and we put it at the end of our episode for people who listen to the whole episode.
Merk: The ones who stick to the end.
Nyge: Yeah, it was a treat for everybody who stayed till the end. And it was probably one of my favorite moments in this show. So, yeah, let’s, uh, cue that up.
(audio clip plays)
Merk: One last thing. This is a present that I really, really wanted to give you before you left. It’s a musical style. Are you ready?
Joel: Yes, I am ready. Hit me.
Merk: Okay, I’m gonna go for my own beat.
Nyge: How are you you just gonna make your own beat? (laughs)
Merk: (Starts beatboxing) Five, six, seven, eight…
JKB, you know how it be
Don’t mistake him for our homeboy Bruce Lee
He says he’s the hottest Asian on the block
It’s because he got a really big
Whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do when Booster Boy come for you?
JK, he’s pretty selective
But enough with this nonsense
Let’s get into his life perspective
Joel: (laughs) I need that to play as soon as I come up to every stage.
Merk: Heck yeah!
(audio clip ends)
Merk: (laugh) Yes!
Nyge: I could see why you might find that a little cringe, but I … it was low-key fire to me. I actually really like it. What’s wrong with this … with this clip, Merk?
Merk: (sigh) It is fire. Thank you so much. It’s part of my soul now. What happened with this after was when my boyfriend Samuel listened to it, he’s like, “Wait a second. Did you just reference another man’s penis?” And I’m like, “I mean, he’s not even into women. So, like, it’s fine.” He’s like, “No, I don’t care. You’re referencing someone else’s genitalia.” Like, I was sad because I’m like, “Dude, you don’t understand my art.” But then I flipped the roles and I’m like, “Okay, well, if he was talking about a lady’s, you know, parts, I’d be like, ‘Excuse me. If you’re gonna be taking about any parts, talk about mine, sir.’ ” But, yeah … I’m still really proud of that. Again, when I was typing it into my phone, I’m like, “Oh, I’m spitting fire right now.”
Nyge: Okay, so let’s let’s take a second and dive into the psyche of Merk.
Nyge: When you’re doing prep, you’re at home, you’re in your room, you’re on your laptop, you’re looking up JKB, Joel Kim Booster. You’re going through all the research. You’re looking up. You’re getting all these different questions and things like that, because we do extensive research on our guests.
Merk: We do, we do.
Nyge: And you’re watching all these videos. At what moment did it pop into your head like, “Yo, I just gotta hit him with these bars?”
Merk: I think it was after watching his standup sets and, like, I was on a really good day where I was like, “Oh, I’m in New York. This is a place where I can just, like, be an artist like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who lives around here. Like, let me just channel these Freestyle Love Supreme vibes.” And so I did. And I remember Davey was kind of like, “Eh…”
Nyge: Yeah, I remember we were, like, all comparing our stuff for the interview. Like, “Yo, we got this question, we got this question.” And then, out of nowhere, you “I gotta hit him with this.” And then you rapped it for us and we were like, “Yo…” When you first said it, I was totally against it. I was like “Yo, nah, nah, nah,” because I was trying to be a little too cool back then. But then it was like “Okay.” When you said “I got this,” I remember being in there with my headphones on in the studio like…
Merk: Very supportive, all of you. Thank you for letting me be myself.
Nyge: That’s what we like … And, in hindsight, I actually really enjoy this moment. But, you know, I do understand why you feel like that kind of way about it.
Merk: I actually did write another freestyle after that. I have three lines right here that I can preview for you.
Nyge: Some unreleaseds?
Nyge: For who? For JKB?
Merk: For myself. But it’s not relevant to any of the themes we pitched.
Nyge: You need a beat?
Merk: Five, six, seven, eight.
Merk: Smirky Merky. She still can’t twerky. But she got bacon that tastes like beef jerky.
Nyge: Ohhhhhh! Why does the bacon taste like beef jerky?
Merk: Because it’s both meat.
Merk: See, that’s the reason why I’m like, “There’s no place for this in our show.” We’re not doing a show dedicated to meat.
Nyge: Well, I mean, you could argue that … nah, never mind.
Nyge: So today’s top takeaways are one: learn from your past mistakes. If you did something wrong or that you don’t agree with anymore, stop beating yourself up for it and grow. You are allowed to do that.
Merk: And takeaway number two, Smirky Merky still can’t twerky but she got bacon that tastes like beef jerky!
Nyge: Nuts! Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts!
Merk: Stop! Okay, we want to thank you, our loyal listener, for letting us get inside your head through the soundwaves that carry out voices into your eardrums (or eye sockets or fingers if you’re accessing our show in another way). Thank you for joining us on Adult ISH, produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.
Nyge: Special thanks to our new producer Georgia Wright, because she’s awesome, our Senior Producer Davey Kim, who hears us say this line a million times throughout production processes and is probably rolling his eyes. I can’t see him, but I can already imagine him. Our Executive Producer Rebecca Martin, who hired Davey who hired us for this job — still very appreciative of that! Shoutouts Rebecca! Our sound engineer Galnadgee Joe-Johnson, who levels our voices so that you don’t have to adjust your volume throughout the episode. Thank you very much.
Merk: Additional thanks to all the young people at YR and Rahman Ultra for the music in this episode. We’re also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most self-reflective shows in all of podcasting. Find them at radiotopia.fm.
Nyge: Next week, instead of taking a step outside of ourselves and getting meta, we’re gonna take a big step inside ourselves and get into our insecurities. I’m gonna tell you a story about one of mine that turned into one of the biggest purchases I’ve ever made in my life … plastic surgery.
Merk: Was that more expensive than your engagement ring?
Nyge: I mean, yeah … I mean, I’m not tryna put my girl’s business all out there like that. No, it wasn’t more expensive! But my pocket is definitely on “E” right now.
Nyge: But for now we’re gonna peace out. But for those still listening still make sure you listen to the very end because we’ve got a surprise for y’all!
Merk: (laughs) Yes! Enjoy friends!
(hip hop beat comes in)
Merk: Smirky Merky, she still can’t twerky cuz she got bacon that taste like beef jerky. Because grand adults, they like … bolts and nuts!
Merk: Nuts nuts nuts! I’m gonna stop talking about nuts and butts! (laughs)
(music fades out)