Kathy Tu and Tobin Low, the hosts and managing editors of WNYC Studios’ stellar LGBT-centered podcast Nancy, are really, really good friends. They went to Disneyland after finishing Season 1. They also send each other clips from their favorite queer rom-coms. (Tobin’s is ‘90s Ang Lee flick The Wedding Banquet; Kathy’s is queer-gal rom-com Imagine Me and You.)
That's not to say that Nancy's just a back-and-forth between the two. There’s a heft to each Nancy episode that underscores their mutual background in traditional radio journalism. Tu and Low have produced for the likes of Radiolab and Marketplace, and that expertise shines in their reporting -- especially in their coverage of the Pulse massacre and the population's views on gender identity. But it’s also worth tuning in just to hear Tu and Low’s repartee talking about the queer subtext of The Golden Girls and Harry Potter.Nancy often feels like a giggly brunch date with two pals who dole out killer compliments and jokes on a whim.
I got to speak to Tu and Low right as Nancy was rolling out its Out at Work project, a series on the endless process of coming out in the workplace. Though we covered plenty of ground, I was left wanting to spend a whole day with them.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What sorts of stories are you two most interested in covering on Nancy?
Kathy: Moments of transition are interesting, and so is thinking about your own identity as you're coming into it or as it changes. A lot of people think that once you figured out who you are that's the end of it. But maybe their road's not done yet, and I truly enjoy sharing stories about people figuring out that moment, because it's a hard thing to do alone.
Tobin: We also want Nancy to be about queer joy, so we try to make sure that we're also celebrating happiness and love and being exuberant in some way. It's where you can go and look to people living full, vibrant lives.
How do you ensure that Nancy treads as much ground on a variety of queer and trans issues?
Tobin: When we were developing Nancy, we wanted to avoid playing the role of the experts. One way to avoid it is to have a lot of stories come through the door and let the show be a pastiche of many stories so that you feel like any one person you're hearing can talk very personally, and that they don't have to talk about the total queer experience.
It's a wonderful challenge because there are so many people who are waiting to have their stories told. We're constantly checking ourselves by asking "who is still an important story that we need to get to put on the docket and push and think about?" And we need to find the right story, too. We want to avoid interviews that feel like they're just defining a thing.
This season, you’re starting a project titled 'Out at Work.' Can you tell me more about it, and where the idea came from?
Tobin: We were talking about what were some big things we wanted to tackle for Season 2. The thing about work is that it touches so many people's lives in how you try to become an adult and how you take care of yourself and how you live your life in the day-to-day.
There are stories here about how we are in the situation that we are with the rights that we have at the federal and state level. There's also everyday stories where it comes up a billion times a day at work. If you're not out, do you avoid avoid pronouns or who your partner is? For us, that's a really interesting storytelling opportunity, so what we're really interested in is our listener base. We want to have them on the show so that they can talk about the whole range of stories that they have about being out at work.
Kathy: It's a chance for us to hear from people from across the nation and not just from the coastal cities, where we think that we have all the protections that we need or want. We want to hear from the people who don't, and how they deal with what they have.
Did you have experiences where you couldn’t be fully out at work? If so, how did you cope?
Kathy: In one of my previous lives, I worked as an emergency medical technician in L.A.. At that time, I did not feel comfortable at all being out. It wasn't a matter of whether I had rights or not, but the environment made it feel as if I couldn't come out. I only lasted a year. After I quit, I said to myself I would never work jobs where I had to hide that part of myself.
On the subject of working, can you speak about the challenges of balancing full-time jobs while working on the Nancy pilot on separate coasts?
Tobin: At the time, I worked an overnight shift. When we were doing the pilot, I would do that shift for a radio program, then I would take the train to WNYC and record from the afternoon until normal end of business day. We're both very driven people, and we're both interested in working really hard in a finite amount of time.
Kathy: Even more than that, we're both the type of people to not let each other down. In my head, I’d be like, “I have to do this because Tobin believes in me!” But finding time and balancing your energy between a side project and a full-time job is tough. I did not go outside for weeks.
Kathy, you’re still based in L.A. even though Nancy is a largely New York-based operation. Do you still record Nancy in California?
Kathy: When we did our pilot, that's how it was for the first few months. WNYC sent me equipment, and I decked out this tiny, tiny closet and made it into my own little studio. It was nice and dark. That was fun. And then I came to New York, and recorded in a real studio.
Right now, I've decided that I will be in New York when the show is releasing episodes. During the off-season, I go back to L.A. and get some alone time so we have stories to tell each other. Then, I come back maybe a month before the season starts gearing up again. It's a true bi-coastal year.
Tobin, when was the last time you made it out to California?
Tobin: At the end of Season 1! We were literally on the same flight to L.A., and we hung out for a week. We went to Disneyland, and we hung out. It's a funny thing being friends who co-host a podcast, because people seem genuinely surprised when we do things as friends in real life. More than once, people have been like "Oh, you're really friends?"
It seems like you two have got the whole “friends who host a podcast” thing figured out. How do you work on making sure that your friendship and your work relationship don’t get tangled up?
Tobin: To be totally candid, it's a thing we're still figuring out. We're still in the early days of working on this, and the thing that we are figuring out now that's working for us is learning that there's a work version of us that draws on real-life version of us. It's important for us to foster and communicate our relationship as real-life friends, and make sure that we know which hat we're wearing with each other.
Kathy: We keep trying to plan for our great big fight. I don't know when that's happening, but we've planned for it.
Tobin: We're gonna put out a tell-all book.
Kathy: Maybe in a year or two.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.