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Behind the Brand  December 21, 2017

“That’s What She Said” Is the Slumber Party-Style Podcast You’ve Been Waiting For


by Larkin Clark

Welcome to the latest installment of Behind the Brand, an interview series that taps founders, influencers, entrepreneurs, and other humans doing cool things in the world. This time, I’m chatting with Therese Barbato and Tala Ashe, the best friends behind the podcast that’s what she said, which debuted its third season this week. 

I first met Therese Barbato and Tala Ashe ten years ago in one of the least likely places: a law firm in midtown Manhattan. Had we been law students or aspiring talent agents, this would have made sense. But we were all young creatives, hustling for auditions, taking workshops, and prepping for performances — our “day jobs” just happened to be as legal assistants.

Having just moved to New York City, I was eager to make friends. My new roommate, a professional dancer, hooked me up with a plum part-time job at the law firm where she and her artist boyfriend worked. As luck would have it, I was paired with Tala for my front desk training. She soon introduced me to her best friend and roommate, Therese, who worked another shift. It was love at first hangout.

They were masters of authentic, free-flowing conversation that was at turns hilarious, thought provoking, and heartfelt, punctuated by animated gestures born of longtime friendship and years of working in the theater. From our first encounter, they welcomed me into their friendship and made me feel included and heard. And at one point, when I found myself between apartments in the middle of winter, they welcomed me into their home, where slumber party chats about boys, work, and life ensued.

After a good friend brought to my attention that my love of love was extreme and unique, I started thinking I should do something with that curiosity.

Now, the duo’s ability to harness the intimate, powerful energy of woman-to-woman conversation is captured in that’s what she said, a podcast that Therese, a professional actress, launched last year. The main focus is love — what it is, what it means to women, and how it defines our relationships and lives.

“After a good friend brought to my attention that my love of love was extreme and unique, I started thinking I should do something with that curiosity,” Therese explains. “Simultaneously, I was voraciously listening to other podcasts and the idea crept in. And then I went through an apocalyptic break-up and my step-mom dared me to start the show — é viola!” that’s what she said was born.

She brought on Tala, also an actress, as a producer for season two, and the duo has been conducting interviews with women ever since — slumber-party style, primarily from the comfort of Therese’s bed in Brooklyn.

“For the last 15 years, I have had a front row seat to watching Therese connect and empathize with people in a way that never ceases to amaze me,” Tala says. “She has taught me so much about love and the possible depth of a friendship. Honestly, I could go on, but suffice to say, I believe in her deeply as a human and I’m honored to be a small part of the that’s what she said enterprise.” (Talk about work wife goals.)

Once again, they welcomed me into their sacred space, this time to talk about their process and season three of twss, which launched this week and features a series of all-star interviews, including Becky Ann Baker of Girls.

Cozy up and put on your headphones — you’re going to fall in love.

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But first…
Hop in bed with Tala and Therese
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Since we were literally in your bed for this shoot, I have to ask: Do you prefer the left side of the bed, or right?

Therese: All I want to be is furthest from the door for an arbitrary sense of protection.

Tala: Closest to the door for an arbitrary (or not so arbitrary?) ability to escape. Hmm, telling…

When you think of the word “love,” what first comes to your mind?

Therese: [That] it’s everything!
Tala: Yes, the thing that matters most in this crazy life.

If I opened your personal podcast playlist, what would I find?

Therese: “Off-Camera” with Sam Jones; “Fresh Air” with the queen herself; “The Turnaround” with Jesse Thorn; “Here’s the Thing” with Alec Baldwin; “On Being” with Krista Tippet.

Tala: My list is almost identical. Unsurprisingly, we are very podcast-sympatico. Just add “Hidden Brain” with Shankar Vedantam and “How I Built This” with Guy Raz.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a twss guest so far?

Therese: To go on dates in your overalls! Always be yourself and always be comfortable.

Tala: To take on your partner’s culture — upbringing, ethnicity, language, etcetera — with care and enthusiasm.

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Something you recently read or saw that you can’t stop thinking about?

Denise Gough in People, Places & Things at St. Ann’s Warehouse. In addition to being an astonishing performance, you could feel palpably in the room all the years of struggle that had led her to this moment. It was profoundly moving.

Tala: This isn’t super recent, but since I read Elizabeth Alexander’s, The Light of the World, it has stuck with me. Her language about love, commitment, and grief is unlike anything I have ever read.

Remember that time we saw Ira Glass and I came over to “save you” from gushing over him, only to get all awkward and word vomit-y myself?

I do remember. It haunts me everyday. That was not my first time embarrassing myself in front of Ira and something tells me it won’t be the last…

 

 

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Part 2:
Pillow Talk
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Now that we’re cuddled up, let’s to delve into twss. Therese, what inspired you to launch a podcast? Did your background in the arts play a part?

Therese: These are the conversations I was having on the reg anyway. If I met someone at a party or a bar I would inevitably get to their romantic status and history within minutes.

I think my work as an actor and my interest in interviewing women for this show have the same root, which is deep empathy. I have always been deeply curious about other people, almost to a fault, and so I think imagining other people’s lives and being so invested in them that I almost tumble headlong into their story is the commonality between my background in theatre and twss.

You feature a wide range of women, of different ages and from different backgrounds. How do you choose who you’re going to interview for each episode? 

Therese: We look to include as diverse a population of women as possible across age, ethnicity, profession, sexual orientation, etcetera, but the main criteria we have found is that they have to be reflective and thoughtful about their own lives. If it’s only anecdotal, it doesn’t really work. We also pursue guests who have had wild experiences or posses unique perspectives about romance.

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Had you ever worked on a podcast before? How did you figure out how to put together your first season, in terms of production and equipment?

Therese: I got help from a fellow Juilliard alum, Leah Walsh — who had recently started her own podcast, The Compass — about equipment and hosting sites [for the podcast], and I spent an unreasonable amount of time testing equipment in B&H on 34th Street [in New York City], which is the greatest place on earth.

Was there a turning point that made you realize you wanted to bring on Tala as a producer?

Therese: We have long wanted to collaborate on something together, and when it became clear the show had legs, I knew I would need help. I trust Tala’s taste implicitly, so the impulse to include her was natural – I just had a lot of catholic guilt around asking her to work and not paying her anything…

Tala: And for the record, I felt nothing but joy at being asked to be part of something I was already such a big fan of. I wasn’t sure how actually helpful I could be, but I would collaborate with Therese on, literally, anything.

What’s been your favorite “work wife” moment so far?

Therese: Has to be when we stayed with a group of international nuns in Rome and hung out with them and did interviews. It was an experience I will never forget and to share it with my work wife was the greatest gift.

Therese: Yes, I concur. The entire trip was incredibly nourishing and joyful (for the stomach and the heart).

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You hit on some really personal and emotional points in many episodes. How do you encourage guests to open up to you?

Therese: One of the biggest challenges has been around people’s willingness to share these intimate details on the record. We’ve had a lot of back and forth about the best way to respect people’s privacy given that the underlying principle of the show is how essential it is that we share these stories with each other in an effort to understand what connects us. We let guests listen back to a rough cut of the episode before it airs, in case they want anything taken out — which I have been told is very far from the journalistic norm, but it’s the best way so far that we’ve found to protect ourselves.

Before guests come on the show, we ask that they meditate on three major life events that have been formative to their sense of love. These can be early memories, events large or small; whatever is closest to their heart. I find that starting the conversation there helps lead me to the heart (ha) of their story.

I heard on “The Turnaround” [with Jesse Thorn] recently that guests instinctually match the host’s energy, because if they don’t there is a feeling of dissonance or not being on the same page. I think the way I get people to open up is by being relaxed and forthcoming myself. I’m not even really conscious of what I am doing but more often than not a guest will say halfway through, “I didn’t think I was going to talk about that!”

I’ve always had that feeling around you, too. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I overshared the last two years of my love life during our shoot.) Speaking of interviews, if you could invite a dream guest, dead or alive, to chat on twss, who would it be?

Therese: Frances McDormand or Fiona Apple.

Tala: Esther Perel and Oprah.

I’d definitely tune into all of those. Finally, what advice do you have for anyone interested in launching his or her own podcast?

Therese: Know that your first few episodes will always make you cringe but you have to make them anyway — push through your fear and make the show!

Listen to the that’s what she said season three trailer here, or jump right in and stream all three seasons. To get a taste of the series, start with Therese and Tala’s favorite episodes so far: nathlie m n, anna g, and boo k. 

 

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Words, interview, and photography: Larkin Clark
Shot in New York City, 2017

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