Jonathan Goldstein’s WireTap goes live

AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN at Winter Garden Theatre, Tuesday, March 29. Get tickets here.

Much like his persona on the CBC Radio show Wiretap, which ended last summer, Jonathan Goldstein is a master of the dry humour phone conversation.

“In Toronto, do they call them all-dressed bagels?” he asks me on the phone. Nope. They’re called everything bagels.

“That’s what they call it in New York, and I refer to it as all-dressed, which might be a Montreal thing or might just be a me being stupid thing. I actually use it as a safety net for a lot of the dumb things I say. I just chalk it up to being Canadian.”

It’s the kind of self-deprecating humour he was famous for on WireTap, the often hilarious, sometimes poignant mix of monologues – some fictional and modern fable-like, others more earnest – stitched together with phone conversations between Goldstein and his friends and parents.

WireTap ran on CBC Radio for 11 seasons, but ended last summer. On March 29, he’s bringing it back for a live storytelling event, featuring some its more popular stories. Some will have accompanying visuals or audio: his story about dating Lois Lane on the rebound from her breakup with Superman, for example, gets enhanced by slides of Arthur Jones’s illustrations, drawn on Post-It notes.

WireTap brought the kind of low-key comedy and emotionally honest storytelling Goldstein has contributed to NPR’s This American Life, and made a darkly funny contrast to CBC Radio shows that at the time “felt like they were in a public broadcaster-y voice.”

Goldstein says he resisted addressing the listener for several seasons, preferring instead to allow audiences a feeling of walking in on something already in progress.

“I just wasn’t good at saying, ‘Howdy folks, welcome to the show, my name is Jonathan Goldstein,’“ he says.

Instead, “[I tried] to find a community of people who find the same things funny … things in a more low-key register. It was about that feeling of when you’re not feeling so great, that feeling of being able to find a place where it’s okay to not feel so great,” he says. “It’s like that special kind of crappiness you feel when all of a sudden spring comes on and you weren’t prepared for it, and everybody’s out in their shorts and convertibles, you know, drinking juleps, and you just don’t feel ready for it. You don’t feel like spring has arrived, not for you. And so spring on the outside can actually make you feel worse about the lack of spring inside you.”

For Goldstein, broadcasting was all about connecting. He’d receive emails from older listeners who said they didn’t get it at first, then decided they liked it. The show was a departure from Radio One’s often staid tone, and it became a cult hit.

Goldstein was born in Brooklyn, but his family moved to Montreal when he was four. He returned to New York after tying the knot last June, and says he misses his hometown less than he’d anticipated. “The way I put it is that coming here felt like finding a pair of pants that fit right. You realize, ‘You know, I guess those other pants didn’t fit great.’'”

It’s classic Goldstein: his humour points the darts at himself while he makes observations that feel immediately true.

He’s calling from the New York Public Library, where he’s “staving off the evil eye” from security. He’s using an artist residency there to work on a new podcast for Gimlet Media coming out this summer.

The podcast, Goldstein says, will probably feel like part of the WireTap project, but more akin to the reportorial feel he’s known for on This American Life. He says the stories will dive into the past – his own and others, with an emphasis on formative events that make people who they are.

One episode has Goldstein and his father, Buzz (a Wiretap standout), taking a road trip to Florida to reunite with his estranged uncle, Sheldon.

“I was kind of driving them crazy, in a way I think will be funny, but also trying to get to the bottom of why they had fallen out,” he says. “When you get into their childhoods, you feel like …they were just destined to drift apart. There was something nice about bringing them back together again, and trying to unpack exactly what went wrong way back when.”

Find out more about the live Winter Garden event here.

The ever-quotable Jonathan Goldstein

On pranking his friends while making WireTap:

“When I was recording with my friend Josh, sometimes when he was really getting under my skin I would tell him that we had a really bad connection and the only way to improve the phone line was for him to drape a blanket over his head to create greater acoustics. And this would be in the middle of July and he’s living in this apartment that doesn’t have air conditioning. And he would do it and I’d be like ’Oh yeah, that makes the sound way better,’ but in reality it just really pleased me to imagine him, you know, almost giving himself a stroke under the blankets. And I don’t know if I ever told him that, but if he’s reading this, I guess he’ll find out.”

On WireTap’s special appeal:

“I don’t know that there is a lot of entertainment that is able to toggle not only between fiction and nonfiction but also between comedy and seriousness. I feel like it was kind of an odd beast in that way. “

On his new podcast:

“I want to try to do something that is honest in a different way, and I’m not exactly sure even what I mean by that. I think I want to risk… I think sometimes the hard thing for me… is sometimes kind of forgoing the safety net of joke-telling, you know, and kind of see what I can get at if I don’t go for the joke, and see what comes. I think there will be a certain kind of comedy that emerges out of these stories, but I don’t know if they’re going to be predicated on the same kind of joke-telling.”

On the possibility of Donald Trump winning the American election:

“Move back to Canada. Immediately. … I did a story a couple of years ago on This American Life where the joke was about time travel … there’s a joke about going into the future, into like this desolate, post-apocalyptic future where the only remaining element of civilization is this statue of President Donald Trump made out of Eternium. And at that time, when the story came out about a year ago, the idea of Trump becoming president was just, like, an absurd punchline. And when they re-aired it a couple of months ago, we had to swap it out, because it’s no longer funny, because now it’s become, you know, a possibility.” | @jrtoque

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