While many people have been holed up in their houses, trying to keep their distance from people other than their family members, Christian Carrion has been talking to strangers.
A lot of strangers.
There’s Lindsey, a former teacher and mayor’s daughter from Indiana who experiences waking nightmares.
There’s Darren, an English tutor in the Philippines; Alice, a flight attendant and former child actor from Los Angeles; Kevin, a fire-breathing paralegal in Virginia; and David, a supermarket employee in Scotland.
Carrion didn’t know any of these people when he asked for volunteers online, called them via Zoom and interviewed them for his podcast, “Stranger Than Christian.”
He broadcasts from a soundproof closet in the Lancaster apartment he shares with his wife, Cat.
Carrion, 31, didn’t come to podcasting out of the blue.
He majored in broadcast journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.
A fan of TV game shows, both old and new, since childhood, he has appeared on six game shows, including in June 2019 on ABC’s Alec Baldwin-hosted “Match Game,” on which he won $5,000.
Carrion’s day job is in customer service, but he’s also a writer and editor for BuzzerBlog.com. His dream is to host a game show someday.
And, just like one of the strangers he got along especially well with on the podcast — Morten, of Norway — Carrion has been a hotel employee and a pub-quiz host.
Last month, Carrion spoke by phone, from his Lancaster home, about why he talks to strangers, how he finds them and why he feels his podcast has special value now, with people isolated during the pandemic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How and when did the podcast start?
I had the initial idea for the podcast in 2019. I was between jobs, I was feeling sort of creatively unfulfilled. And I was listening to a lot of podcasts around that time.
And in a lot of what I heard, there was always an effort to coax some kind of narrative out of whatever conversation was going on and make it sort of dramatic and “life changing.”
I feel like the lot that has been drawn for me in life is of a person who people can open up to. And I wondered if there was a way to turn that into some form of entertainment.
I knew that I wanted to capture that feeling of meeting somebody for the first time.
I joined a website called Reddit and all the podcasting-related subreddits. And I made a form on Google Docs, and I said, “If anybody wants to talk to me, give me your name, your age, what you do, anything about yourself that you want to tell me.”
I’ve had hundreds of people reach out to me through this form.
And I think, part of the entertainment value of the podcast is that we’re getting to know each other. I hesitate to call them interviews, because while I’m asking questions of these people, they’re also as free to ask questions of me as I am of them.
The pandemic this year really kicked off the second season of (the podcast).
I was laid off from the hotel where I was working because hospitality just took such an enormous hit in the wake of everything going on in the world. And I loved being home, but as a recovering extrovert, I missed talking to people. I missed conversation.
So that inspired me to get started again, and I figured that now is as good a time as any, with all the social distancing in place and a lot of the isolation and depression and anxiety people are feeling about being home and away from other people — that it would resonate a little more, and it has.
How do you decide who to interview among those who’ve reached out to you?
I look for an ability to be open. I feel like at this point I can tell from an application whether somebody will be forthcoming in a conversation, of whether they will be not so forthcoming.
I guess I look for that genuine sort of human quality. I look for people who will be honest with me, and also ask questions of me.
How do you prepare for the podcast?
I don’t really prepare too much. And I think that that’s what makes what I’m doing different from a lot of the other conversation-based podcasts that are out there.
The questions that I ask on the podcast are of genuine curiosity, so I don’t write anything in advance. So, anything I ask, I ask in that moment.
How often do you put out a podcast?
Right now it’s once a week. The podcasts are about an hour and change.
Do you have any concern that your subjects don’t really do for a living what they said they did on the questionnaire?
It is just trust. And I also think that, because of the nature of our conversations and because they have the ability to go for as long as we want them to go, at some point in that conversation I would catch on that, OK, maybe this isn’t as true as you say it is.
But you think that if a person were to completely lie on the application, I think it would be fascinating to hear somebody lie like that for an hour.
And I think the point of the podcast is not to gain an education on this person, but just to experience that spark between two people who don’t know each other and find that common ground and that sort of social dance that’s hard to capture in other media.
I think that there’s magic that happens between two people who meet and find they have something in common.
Do you have any particular influences as a podcaster?
In terms of podcasting, there's a man named Chris Gethard who's a comedian and he has a podcast called “Beautiful Anonymous.” And he does something that's similar to what I do, which is talk to people he doesn't know. But, I think the difference between his show and my show is that ... he's looking for a narrative. There's some sort of thread you can follow throughout, and it's usually some sort of harrowing story or something kind of sad or something of that nature.
When I was working overnight at a hotel … and while would fold towels or file paperwork, I would listen to old talk shows on YouTube. So there are people like Tom Snyder, who had the "Tomorrow" show back in the '80s, and he was a huge influence on me because that was the type of honesty that would never exist on TV today without being scripted and processed and edited. His ability to inject his world view into the conversations he would have with his guests inspired the thought in me that it would be great if the person I'm talking to could also ask me questions. I just thought he was an incredibly compelling figure on TV.
On radio, there are people like Howard Stern, who, despite anything you could say about his content, and about his world view, the idea that the concept behind his show is just honesty in radio really spoke to me. He's a person I've been listening to for 20 years.
And then also my history in game shows. I think game shows have always been a celebration of what the common person can do. What the everyday American can do; what they know; what they can win.
So, your podcast is part of a network now?
There’s a network called Apocalypse Podcast Network, and they are based in New York City. It’s a lot of improv comedians and podcasters in the New York area. And, essentially, it’s a bunch of content creators gathering together, promoting each other’s podcasts, and just trying to uplift each other and get that support system.
Do you have some favorite moments from the podcast so far?
A guy had just moved to Florida from California, and he was battling a drug addiction.
We both realized we were going through the same thing at the same time. We lost my father-in-law eight months ago to cancer, and he lost his mother relatively recently as well.
And it felt like at the same time we were going through the same type of stress and sadness and looking to the same sources of happiness at the same time.
We were talking about going to thrift stores.
There was a moment when he saw a book with pictures of white butterflies in it. And somehow, before his mother passed away, she told him whenever he saw a white butterfly that was her saying “Hi.”
And my wife and I had the same experience. My father-in-law’s favorite band was Tears for Fears, and we saw a Tears for Fears concert T-shirt when we were looking through all the stuff in the bins at Goodwill.
And just the fact that we had this same realization at the same time that we were experiencing the same things. That just endeared me to him
And there was Rebekah, who lived in Montana. She was a bee researcher. And she told me all about her life. And I had so many questions I wanted to ask. But 80% of that episode ended up being bee questions. It was a really cool conversation.
Where do you hope this podcast will go?
Well, I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t want to monetize this somehow. I’ve wanted to be a broadcaster my entire life.
And right now I’m doing it on my own terms, which I love. But to be able to pay the bills doing this thing that I love would be phenomenal. So, I would love to gain sponsors.
Why do you feel your podcast is valuable?
People, at the end of the day, just want to be listened to. I’ve learned that in hospitality, as much as I’ve learned anything else, that people want to be validated.
We are all people who want recognition for what we consider to be our achievements. We are all people who are trying not to make the mistakes our parents made.
We’re all people who want attention and love and respect. And so I think that the podcast that succeeds in giving attention and love and respect and acknowledgement to people that I would never be able to meet otherwise. I hope people who listen to it would agree that it has value in that way.