Best Episode of Dax Shepard’s Podcast6 min read
Dax Shepard and Anna Faris.
Photo: Rob Holysz
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The last five years have been kind to Dax Shepard and Monica Padman’s celebrity-interview podcast, Armchair Expert. Barely ten months after its launch in 2018, Vulture called it one of the year’s best podcasts; soon after, Forbes named Shepard on its list of the highest-earning podcasters of all time; and within two more years, the hosts had signed a lucrative streaming deal with Spotify, been profiled in the New York Times, and booked former president Barack Obama as a guest.
Given Shepard’s tabloid-fodder fame, Armchair Expert’s instant ubiquity was all but guaranteed. But, at least at first, that worked against its reputation. With its often two-hour-plus-long episodes, it quickly became one of those shows that comedy-podcast fans heard regular raves about while secretly knowing they might never find the time to listen. Those curious enough to actually head to its website were greeted with the kind of corporate polish typically reserved for hedge-fund advice shows. This is no slight to Armchair Expert itself: The reality is, in podcast-land, a dinky little website makes you feel like you’ve found a gem.
But thanks to the simple, digestible format in which Shepard introduces his guest in segment one, speaks with them about living in the public eye in segment two, and gets corrected on his mistakes by Padman in segment three — as well as several rich and rare conversations over the years with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Jennette McCurdy, and Anna Kendrick — Armchair Expert continues to beat those early odds. It has a secret weapon in Padman: As co-host, producer, and real-life best friend to Shepard and his wife, Kristen Bell, she never speaks down to or belittles Shepard, even while cutting in to keep him from bloviating. It’s their dynamic — scolding but fair, affectionate yet stern — that so distinguishes Armchair Expert from similar podcasts like WTF and You Made It Weird. Here, when the titular self-proclaimed expert accidentally disperses misinformation, his partner immediately curtails it with research and corrects the record before the episode is ever released. Such radical accountability helps an audience build trust, and with trust comes loyalty.
Hence Armchair Expert’s unassailable popularity: If Shepard and a guest don’t gel (and we won’t name names), the episode fails out of the gate. But when the opposite occurs, as it did on the tenth and best episode, “Anna Faris,” the show sparkles to precious life. Released on March 26, 2018, it serves as an unofficial crossover between Armchair Expert and Anna Faris Is Unqualified, Faris’s own sweet and shaggy amateur interview show, on which Shepard guested two months later. “I just really like Anna,” Shepard says during the opening segment. “I think she’s so supremely talented as a comedian and an actor. But eclipsing all that is her willingness to be vulnerable and honest.”
Shepard’s adulation makes Faris’s opening words in segment two — “What? Fuck you!” — even funnier. She’s just commenting on the decor in his and Padman’s converted studio, but it immediately sets the tone: bawdy, familiar, buzzing, always joyful. But that isn’t purely to do with her fondness for Shepard; as we learn, they’re both hopped up on energy drinks. “Thank you for my Red Bull,” Faris sings teasingly. “You’ve given me permission to have one,” responds Shepard. “But can I text you tonight at 1 a.m. when I’m regretting this decision?”
In truth, he confesses, he struggles to sleep with or without “drinking the equivalent of a 9-volt battery.” He tries to ask Faris if she has trouble sleeping too, but she’s already hijacking the interview: “Is it because your brain feels like it’s on a hamster wheel? Because you’re constantly worried about being out of a job? Or the sense of creation?” Just as Faris gets on a roll, she catches herself, sighs, and drops her voice into troll mode: “‘Oh, people who are super-creative artists have trouble sleeping.’ It’s so gross. if I were listening to myself right now, I’d be like, ‘Fuck you, bitch!’”
Undeterred by Faris’s self-abasement, Shepard digs further into his guest’s true artistic ambitions. When he asks about Mom, the Chuck Lorre series she starred in for eight years, Faris acknowledges that the gig was somewhat restrictive: “The reason I started a podcast was for an independent creative expression. I’m willing to do the jobs that the other actors won’t.” Like what, he inquires? “After I got the first Scary Movie, I found out that 80 name actresses passed on the lead because they didn’t want to be sprayed to the ceiling with sperm.”
That prompts Shepard and Padman to gently interrogate Faris about the pros and cons of starring in the Scary Movie franchise for the next 20 minutes. She sounds surprisingly gloomy about the whole endeavor, having originally moved to L.A. from Washington to be a dramatic actress. Though it made her famous, getting a big Hollywood come shot didn’t please her intellectual parents or give her job stability. “It was definitely impressed upon me that I was replaceable” on Scary Movie 5, she says. “That’s fucking bullshit! You were such a huge part of the success of it that it’s preposterous that you would have been replaceable. In fact, I wish they’d tried to replace you,” Shepard responds. Faris takes a beat:
Faris: … They did.
Shepard: Just because you didn’t want to do it?
Faris: Nope! Because I was too old.
Shepard: Oh. Well, yeah, you’re very old. I’m glad they made that decision.
Then the topic turns to famous relationships. This is the hosts’ sweet spot, with Shepard and Bell’s a recurring source of laughs over the years, but Faris is surprisingly uninhibited about hers too. When Shepard asks if it was hard to end her first marriage, for example, she giggles: “No! You know what was hard? Calling my parents to tell them I’d gotten engaged.” He also touches on her then-recent split from Chris Pratt, but perhaps expectedly, that topic is still a little too raw for Faris. (Shepard: “Were you very different from one another?” Faris, muttering: “Um, no.”) More exciting is the ten-minute detour it leads to on the difficulty of both monogamous and open relationships, when the room explodes at the discovery of a certain regional proclivity Faris and Shepard share:
Shepard: I’ve never really enjoyed strip clubs, even though I’ve been to them. In a pinch, if I’m bored in a town, sure, I’d probably go again.
Shepard: HOW DID YOU FUCKING KNOW THAT?
Faris: I’ve been to that one downtown.
Shepard: Well, there’s two.
After a raucous hour and 25 minutes, Shepard concludes that they should “end on a high note.” (“Before I dig us down into a ditch?” Faris jokes.) But it’s a shock when their last words to each other are cross-promotional after such an intimate conversation: “You’re amazing, and I’m so glad you’re doing this!” says Faris. “And I’m gonna come on yours again!” yells Shepard.
When Faris leaves, it’s Padman’s opportunity to offer her corrections. Among them:
• Scary Movie was not “directed by ‘you name it,’” as Shepard said, but by Keenen Ivory Wayans.
• The main character of Furious 7 is Dominic Toretto, which she points out with the scorn of someone who can’t believe her co-host forgot that.
• “You said Scary Movie wasn’t written by Lawrence Kasdan. Do you know any of the movies Lawrence Kasdan wrote?” she says. “Jaws,” Shepard declares. She scoffs back. “I don’t think he wrote Jaws.” (He didn’t.)
• “You claim that you guys were shit-faced on Red Bull, and I just want everyone to know: You can’t do that. You weren’t.”
All in all, compared to other instances, it’s a gentle list of fixes befitting a gentle episode. And when, after it ends, Padman and Shepard tell each other “I love you,” it really feels true. Fact-check: Podcasts can feel like a warm hug.