There is nothing quite like the unconsummated agony of meet-cuting with another straight man. For Rob Casimir and I, it all started with a story I was writing about the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, which required a downtown trip to the concrete government mausoleum where he works. Within minutes, it became apparent that we both had plenty in common — two men in Brooklyn who like Twitter and video games, could it be anymore obvious?
After the interview, we loitered around like lovers savoring the ambiance prior to signing the dinner check, before finally bidding each other farewell in a grim municipal corridor ensconced by thick legal volumes and fluorescent lights. The anxiety of a missed connection was already flickering in my brain. I haven’t brokered many organic friendships with other straight men since college. All the potential concords I’ve encountered since those protean scholastic years always flared out the same way — two dudes who enjoy each other’s company passing like ships in the night, because neither one is capable of making the leap of faith into that elliptical negative-space we know as platonic guy-love.
Now, here again, it felt too fraught for Casimir and I to overcome those intransigent civil mores — he was seemingly destined to be added to my litany of failures; another of those many, many, many promising bros that I never grabbed beers with.
But thankfully, a week later, Casimir rescued our relationship. He slid into my DMs and said the eight words that have singlehandedly rehabilitated the lost art of male bonding: “Do you want to be on my podcast?” All of the nebulous tension surrounding our unsteady chemistry was immediately mollified by a quasi-professional veneer. Finally, I had the chance to hang out with a Brand New Guy — so long as we were both in front of microphones and uploading the results to the internet.
By and large, men lack the emotional availability, social contract and the freedom of spirit to establish new friendships in the wild. Podcasts have saved us from our wretched, hopeless selves.
“It feels impossible to just say, ‘Hey man, I think you’re really smart and funny, and I respect the hell out of your creative work — and when we do talk, I always enjoy it. So if you’re free, do you want to talk on the phone for three hours?’ That’s fucking weird. But add a task and purpose to the same question and it’s fine,” says Casimir. “Having a weekly show gives each party permission to meet up and hang out for half a day — not because you enjoy the dude’s company, of course, but because Barry or whoever is really knowledgeable about campaign finance. Suddenly, you can just be like, ‘Hey dude, you know how the audience thinks you’re really smart and thoughtful and know so much about campaign finance?’ Boom, a healthy male hangout achieved.”
Casimir and I have gotten together a number of times, both online and off, since I appeared on Episode 79 of his show, titled, fittingly, “A Treatise on Dudes,” which makes me the latest of the many relationships he’s consecrated in the molten fires of GarageBand. Casimir says that he has significantly more male friends since he fired up his podcast, and it didn’t take long for me to find a slew of other men who swear by the efficient interpersonal lubrication of the guest-to-friend pipeline.
There was an era, long ago, when podcast hosting was restricted to the most inveterate Beltway politicos; career wonks who jumped at the chance to wax rhapsodically on the muted congressional blather that powers the most aureate tiers of the media. But this is 2021, the height of the audio bubble, where everyone — friends, enemies, pickled former quarterbacks, hardline anarcho-communists and psychotic reactionaries — is crowding around a microphone every week as hobbyists rather than broadcasters. The stakes have never been lower, and there is a certain freedom in that communal anonymity. I don’t know how many people listened to me and Casimir because the metrics are irrelevant. Two men lock themselves in a room and break bread; the resulting podcast is an accidental byproduct.
“The content of the excuse is secondary to the existence of an excuse,” says Casimir. “Having a comedy news show might be a truly sad, pathetic excuse for forming new male friendships — but it is an excuse. And apparently, that’s all you really need.”
There are decades of sitcoms and beer commercials that portray male friendships as effortlessly simple, or at least much more simple than the complex emotional diagnostics of femininity. This is, without a doubt, total bullshit. Men possess all the orthodox heuristics to interact with superiors, colleagues and romantic partners — but they are absolutely lost when they attempt to navigate the murky waters of a loose bar appointment with someone they only kinda, sorta know. Dating can be stressful and frustrating, but at least it has structure.
Ryan Broderick, a journalist who proudly uses his podcast as a relationship maintenance tool, believes there’s a latent distrust of intimacy lurking within the dark id of so many stunted straight men. That fundamental, generational unease begat a whole system of subconscious conversational buffers designed to soften the eldritch mysteries of a pretense-free hangout — the horrors of admitting that you want to see another straight man purely because you miss them.
“I’ve always thought that straight men need some kind of campfire in between them to feel comfortable talking to each other. You find a group of guys talking, and they’re either staring at a TV or standing in a weird awkward circle looking at their drinks,” Broderick tells me. “There seems to be this real fear with American men that if they’re just alone with each other talking, something could happen. So podcasting — which is fairly cheap to start doing and pretty easy to do poorly — is like the urban millennial campfire.”
He started his podcast during the pandemic simply because he knew that he wouldn’t be capable of casually Zooming with his friend and co-host Luke Bailey otherwise. “I suspect we were both too uncomfortable to tell the other one that we just wanted to talk to each other,” he says. “He lives in London so it wasn’t like we could go hang out in a park or something.”
Broderick sheepishly concedes that the show has brought the two men closer together, which is a fact that is both heartwarming and emblematic of the exhausting hurdles cis dudes must negotiate in order to engage in what should be a convivial act of human vulnerability. “We’ve built enough of an audience to do a live show in November, which is going to be really weird because now it’s like we’re using the podcast as an excuse to hang out in real life,” he continues. “Being a man is so fucked up.”
He’s right, but honestly, this trend is a net positive. Straight men have lost eons of pathological development to the caustic tenets of masculinity, and while it’s deeply embarrassing and eminently typical that podcasts are being wielded as a nouveau detox regimen, the alternative is so much worse. We’re living in an era of wild, psychedelic radicalization, leaving the internet booby-trapped with countless lures encouraging men to double-down on their anger, isolation and paranoia. Meanwhile, a biweekly baseball card podcast, hosted by a pair of dudes who are unable to hold eye contact, but love each other very much, emphasizes all of the qualities that are sorely missing from cyberspace — or at least the parts of cyberspace where men tend to congregate.
“I don’t think most regular dudes are in control of the various systems that create so much loneliness in our daily lives, so it’s nice to see these odd workarounds to make friends,” says Brett, who serves as Casimir’s co-host. “It makes me hopeful that masculinity, as broken as it is currently, might develop into something coherent and decent, instead of the monstrously toxic gorilla mindset, red pill, incel stuff that’s popped up.”
I’ll keep that in mind the next time I come across one of those novice podcasts — circled around some niche material obsession or hackneyed cultural premise — beaming out every week to literally dozens of listeners. After all, they’re my people — a vast patchwork of men, talking about the things we like with people we adore, using the only language we have. We’re huddled around the computer after another long day of alienation, firing up Restream to let loose on F1, poker, sneakers or Warhammer 40,000. They’re all essentially messages in a bottle, newly washed up on the shore.
Hopefully, they, too, will save a life.