A Q&A with Gina Delvac, Producer of Call Your Girlfriend
Gina is the founding producer of Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast about friendship, politics, pop culture and much more that has been going strong since 2014. She's well known by the fans of the show because she's so often mentioned by the hosts as an integral part of the show's success. We asked Gina what it's like to be a part of a show that she's seen grow for the past 6 years.
Pocket Casts: How did Call Your Girlfriend start, and how did you get involved?
Gina: I'm the founding producer of Call Your Girlfriend. I had been friends with Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow for a couple of years, and they had always joked/not joked about having a podcast because they had this incredible chemistry, very witty banter and are super informed and engaged on all kinds of things from politics to fashion to pop culture. Amina used to joke to me, 'Gina when we can afford you, we'll pay you to start the podcast.'
I had been working as a public radio producer at the time and kept pestering them, and we all got a little more excited about it.
Amina bought the domain Call Your Girlfriend and a podcast was born.
PC: Did you guys always know what the podcast was going to be?
Gina: We did some piloting, which was sort of rudimentary at the time. This idea came about in late 2013 early 2014, and then we launched the show in May of 2014. One of the things I did when we were first thinking about starting was to put together a podcast mixtape for Aminatou and Ann to decide is it this style? Is this the format? Are we going to do interviews? Is it gonna be more scripted? Is it going to be looser?
We were all pretty quickly in agreement that it had to sound like us. It had to sound like women talking to each other in the way that we talk to each other. Not necessarily the more disguised vernacular that's used for the office or conversations with parents or family members, but really getting into that texture of women's friendship. I think the core of it was Ann and Aminatou's relationship. So we knew that that chemistry, that energy that they had with each other was definitely going to be at the center.
Also, none of us is a trained actor or writer. So, the stuff that we tried that was like, read the script, follow this prompt, felt so unnatural and counter to the point of the project. It's a medium that really thrives on intimacy and authenticity. If you forget that you're talking to an actual person on the other side of it, it just feels like a phony stage performance. We have the advantage of each of the hosts really talking to the other one, someone that they already had an intimate connection with. That's one of the things the audience loves about it.
PC: Some podcasts fall into the trap of people thinking that their conversations are interesting, but they're not really talking about anything. Call Your Girlfriend has conversations about things that people care about. How do you approach that? Is that something that just comes naturally, or is there a list of ideas for the episode that you follow?
Gina: There are a couple of things. Definitely from my perspective as the producer, I knew that Aminatou and Ann were both incredible talents. Spending time with them in a more off-the-cuff personal context, you notice they're just the kind of people who always have a witty thing to say, who always have a great take on something. So that's definitely a huge piece of it. You can't reverse engineer that.
And then we really try and focus on stuff that we're actually interested in and care about. There are things that I'll pitch for the show that if there's even sort of a passing sense of 'meh' it's like, nope. Let's move on. It has to be piquing their genuine curiosity at the time that we're recording.
And especially in the early days, I did a shit load of editing, not to remove the naturalness of the language or flow of the shows, but our earliest episodes even if they ran 40 minutes we were often recording for 70 or 80 minutes. I would just cut whole segments that I didn't think were working.
I often talked with Eleanor Kagan, who is the original producer of Another Round about how sometimes shows like ours, the a-couple-of-women-talking shows get cast as really straightforward to make. I think that undersells the quiet but pervasive editing that goes on and just the caliber of talent that we're working with.
PC: You all do a really good job of being transparent about how stuff gets made and just generally how the business of podcasting works. I find it really interesting when a podcast talks about the making of their show. That seems to serve a niche section of the audience. So what made you choose to do that?
Gina: I think transparency and ethics are a big deal to us, so some of it was born of conversations that were happening offline in our inbox. Listeners who would write in and ask questions about things like how we chose to take on advertising or who we work with as advertisers. They were asking about ethical choices that made us think maybe there's an opportunity to have a broader conversation about how we think about the business of the podcast.
l think many of our listeners have started their own podcasts. So there's always been a sub-strain of audience interaction or engagement questions that we get that are about the making of the show and how we do it. It fits into a bigger strain of conversation that we often have on the show about workplaces, finding your power, how you use your voice and interacting with the intense capitalistic framework in which we all live.
I think it made sense to be more transparent ourselves. The first time, our first Businesswoman Special, when we decided to talk about the business behind the show, was born in part because we do an annual retreat. We were having some conversations that we thought would be a show topic too. And the response to it particularly from other podcasters and other folks who follow the inside baseball more closely was so strong, I think, because there is so much of a culture of not talking about your numbers, not talking about how much money you're making, not talking about how the show fits into the marketplace. We advise people to have allies at work who you can talk to about how much you're getting paid, so that you know what kind of pay transparency and equity there is. It just made sense for us to live our values in that way too.
PC: I feel like the podcast has grown almost simultaneously with each of your careers. Has the podcast helped get you name recognition?
Gina: Definitely. I think Ann and Aminatou each had their own corners of the internet locked down and different things that they were involved in, but the podcast has definitely grown visibility for all of us. I think for me in particular because in podcast production, those of us who are producers or know a lot of producers, we know who the people are behind the scenes, but I think for the broader listening public, it's really opaque. Having the strong-voiced and strong-willed support of my two hosts has opened up so many doors for me. I think other producers have gone quietly unnoticed. Many shows don't even have credits for who the producers are.
There are things I listened to that I think, 'Oh that has James Kim [the producer of MOONFACE] written all over it' for example. Even when he was working in radio, I'd hear a segment that he made and recognize them. That's a common experience among producers. But, I am lucky enough to work with people who cared about me getting that recognition, and that's opened so many doors.
PC: How do you think fans should approach credits and being aware of who makes the things they like? How do you think the industry as a whole is doing with giving credit to the people behind the scenes?
Gina: I think fans should approach it kind of however it fits into their organic curiosity. I do think that following a producer may lead you towards more cool discoveries, but also fans have a lot on their plate to watch and listen to. It's hard to listen to the credits and then find it and Google it. So, I get it, but I don't really put it on the fans.
On the industry level, I think giving producers credit is important, and I think as the industry grows and professionalizes and we see more interest from film and television, some of that is becoming a bit more standardized. I would just hope that the folks who are the sound designers, the audio editors, the people coordinating and pulling the strings always get mentioned in the same way that we're used to seeing that long list of credits at the end of a movie. I just think that's a good standard to hold.
PC: I agree. I feel like a lot of podcasts now have long end credits, and I tend to try to listen to the whole long list.
Gina: I know. I love listening to The Daily. People are like, 'Let's make a podcast like The Daily,' and I say, 'Okay, here's your listening assignment: Go listen to how many people work on the show, and you'll know why it's so good every day.
PC: Another thing that I'm always interested in with podcasts that have been going on as long as you all have, what are some of the challenges that you still face and some that you've overcome?
Gina: I think a challenge that we still face is we're still making a show every week. There are times that we have hundreds of ideas and there's other times that we're sort of like, 'Oh my gosh what are we going to talk about?' And particularly what makes sense for our Call Your Girlfriend lens because when we started out there were fewer ways to get information in audio form.
I think a great example is the episode that we did on the Women's March that came early last year, a couple of weeks before a bunch of coverage, that really unpacked all of the different stakeholders and the complexity of this really exciting event. Someone might've expected a feminist show like ours to be uniformly rah-rah, but we like to complicate things a little bit and kind of investigate how challenging intersectional feminism can be. What are the limitations of communities and lots of different activists' goals? We acknowledge that what people sometimes call 'insiding' or disagreements within activism is a signal of a strong movement, not a weak one. That episode is an example of knowing what's really ours. My thought [on that episode] was a story that we could make our own, and we knew we could discuss in a way that was going to be different than Today Explained for example.
On the other hand, we have to remember fans come to us because we talk about our periods and weird weed stories, so when Ann saw Cats on an edible, we're talking about that.
PC: When the fans are commenting or emailing about an episode like the Women's March episode, do you take into consideration that the well-educated opinion of the hosts might conflict with an audience that's looking for a specific take? Is there a line that you're toeing or are you solely resting on the voices and opinions of the hosts?
Gina: We're interested in what serves the audience, but I do think at the end of the day it comes from what is true to the hosts. I use that broadly. It's something that they're passionate about, something that they're interested in, or something that they feel knowledgeable about. We definitely get lots of fan requests that we follow up on and are super excited about. We love fan submissions especially on the more affective side of the show around bestie relationships and what the power of friendship has meant in their own lives, but there's also lots of suggestions that we get, we consider and don't take up.
It's an awesome dialogue to have, but we know that the only way that we stay excited about doing the show is if it feels like our own. I think if we were just making a request line only show it would lose some of the things that make it special and exciting for us to do, which is to follow our own curiosity.
PC: How much have you evolved on an issue, either based on feedback or just time? Maybe you didn't have the wrong opinion on something, but new information came out or the world changed in some respect. I feel like a lot of podcasts don't necessarily have to look back yet, but you have six years of content.
Gina: Yeah that's a great point. I think we've evolved along with society around understanding how to be more inclusive to trans people out of how we define the idea of a woman or femme much more broadly than we had when we started in 2014. You can hear some early episodes where we talk about menstruation in a more inclusive way; that it's not only women who get periods. There may be trans men who menstruate. I think we've been learning in real-time and that has been interesting to try to incorporate. I say interesting as three cis women doing what we can to evolve our own beliefs, recognize our blind spots and think more critically about what it means to be making a show that centers feminism in 2020 that is different than it was in 2014.
PC: I know that it was a running bit on the show that we never heard your voice, but we knew of you because of the hosts. Then we heard an episode from you. What made you jump on the mic?
Gina: You know it seemed like it was fun to do. I think in this evolving sense of wanting to talk more specifically about queer love, queer relationships and queer friendship, as the queer person on the team it made sense for me to do some of that reporting. It started from a personal interest which was at the time I was in a monogamous relationship with a man, and I identify as bi. I was having some feelings about that or some feelings about what's my space to take up or not. I think lots of good first-person journalism, essays or exploration starts with an issue that's actually yours rather than just going and researching out into the ether. So it just made sense for me to do. It's something I'd been wanting to do for a long time, but in some ways I had been holding myself back from taking on the talent role. It was a great exercise, and I hope to do more of it.
PC: So now that you have some years under your belt, what is exciting you? What do you see changing in the podcast?
Gina: What are we excited about, that's a good question. I think everything old is new again. It does not stop being delightful to get to have our own show where we get to talk about whatever we want. So an example from 2019 is an episode that Ann and Amina did where they basically just talked about a new feminist translation of the Odyssey. The space and room to truly go in whatever nerdy direction our hearts desire is such a gift especially in a consolidating media landscape. We don't take that for granted that people continue to tune in wherever our weird curiosity may take us.
Some stuff that we have on the horizon. I mean we're always talking about books. We're going to keep talking about reproductive rights. I think we're interested in trying to pull a little more international focus this year. As much of a cluster fuck as the political situation has been in the US, that's taken a lot of our attention. But I think that there are lots of intriguing stories especially about reproductive rights around the world. We're going to keep talking about menstruation.
I think a major area that we want to talk more about is climate change and climate activism. I think that's been something that we've been pursuing for a long time but haven't fully coalesced into a show.
A big ongoing focus to your point about shows that haven't been around long enough to see their beliefs evolve, we want to continue to follow what the 2017 wave of women candidates and women elected officials has meant at the local level and at the congressional level. So I think that's going to be a big focus as we get closer to the election: looking at what is the longer tail of more women in office going to mean and how's that playing out.
PC: What are you listening to now? What are your favorite podcasts?
Gina: I loved MOONFACE, and I'm just so excited for James to have made that show. I am a big fan of The Dream the Jane Marie show about multilevel marketing that's now gone into the wellness industry. I love her gonzo mode of inquiry. That was one of my favorite shows, the first season of The Dream. I'm excited for the new season of Bodies, Alison Beringer's show from KCRW. And I am trying to listen to more audio fiction. I think that's such a cool growing area. That's the thing I'm on the lookout for. So if people have recommendations please send them my way.
Oh and Alexis Coe's show for The Wing No Man's Land. There is some really incredible and beautifully done reporting about women artists and women historical figures. If you like Call Your Girlfriend, that's going to be so up your alley.
PC: Then my last question is just is there something that you think our readers should know that I haven't asked?
Gina: I think there's not much else I was keen to talk about. Ann and Amina are writing a book if people want to check it out: Big friendship coming July of 2020.
To your point about where the podcast has taken us, that's an opportunity to work together and deepen their collaboration that Ann and Amina might've pursued at some point, but was certainly accelerated by being publicly associated through the podcast. That's been really cool for them.