Petrified of Making Small Talk? Here’s the Answer

Dinner Party

You’ve done it. You made it through another Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/Festivus/New-Year’s entertainment season. The excruciating time of year when you are forced to make small talk with people you only socialize with once a year and have absolutely nothing in common with except, perhaps, some strands of DNA, a property line, or war stories around the water cooler. Some of you, no doubt, are fairly adroit at making conversation and enjoy seething crowds day in and day out. For the rest of us, help is here! For the mere price of 50 minutes of your attention per episode, the brilliantly entertaining American Public Media podcast, “The Dinner Party Download,” will make you the life of any party and even (dare we hope?) cause you to enjoy social intercourse again.

“The Dinner Party Download”, hosted by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam, is structured like, you guessed it, a dinner party. It begins with an Ice Breaker, in the form of a quirky joke from an unexpected guest, like acclaimed author Mia Alvar (“What’s a nosy pepper? Jalopenabusiness!”) and Ian McKellen (“Where does Gandolf get his clothes? At the Gap of Rohan“). Then comes the time we all dread, Small Talk, but our hosts make it fun and engaging with discussion of cool and odd recent events sure to get a conversation started.

The mood remains smart and funny during Cocktail Hour, when an obscure but true tale from history is told, like about the 1855 US Camel Corp or the Great London Beer Flood, and a guest bartender captures its essence in the form of a cocktail, in these cases, the “Davis’ Dromedary” and “Last Call to Porter.” The Soundtrack segment offers the evening’s entertainment with interviews and performances from cutting edge artists from Nick Lowe to Shamir to Thundercat.

Now that the guests are warm and toasty, conversation shifts to the Guest of Honor, an interview with a mixed bag of talents ranging from Al Pacino and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”), to Gael Garcia Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and musician and artist Devendra Banhart. The weekly Etiquette Lesson follows with a “cast of advisors,” featuring such doyens of decorum as Oscar the Grouch, Alice Cooper, and Fran Drescher, who answer listener questions with all the finesse of an intrusive mother-in-law. Then, the Main Course – an exploration of emerging food trends with notables in the field. As the party’s wrapping up, you might get lucky and get One For the Road, a track from a new or new-to-you hot album chosen by our hosts.

Witty and well-paced, “The Dinner Party Download” gives you what it takes to escape from social obscurity onto the guest lists of all the hot parties. It’s like a personal trainer for socializing, enabling wallflowers and party animals alike to, as the podcast’s tagline brags, “win your dinner parties.”

While we’re on the subject, you might also enjoy other CultureSonar posts on cool podcasts: Radio At Its Mesmerizing Best;  A Guy Who Loves Cats? WTF?!? and A Talk Show Where People Actually, Well, Talk.

Cate Harty

Photo Credit: Image of dinner party courtesy of Pixabay.

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