Why the Extra Hot Great Podcast Kept Me American

When you join Peace Corps in the new millennium, they don’t tell you how much TV you’re going to watch.

John F. Kennedy didn’t intend this when he signed the Peace Corps bill in 1961. He thought you would spend all waking hours drafting plans for school houses and/or digging toilets. He thought you would spend your remaining time talking to villagers. But, guys, villagers are just like everyone else, and you can only talk for so long. (Besides, in this context, ‘villagers’ is demeaning, and thinking they want to talk to you all the time is narcissistic. Also, in most cases they already have toilets.)

I’ve been back from Peace Corps Armenia for a good while now. When I think of my services, I picture a lot of things. Sometimes those are memories of Armenian villages, of canning summer fruit with my host mom, of dancing the kochari. Sometimes those memories are memories of connection, of promise, of championing world peace. But sometimes those memories are me, tripped out on Percoset alone in a hotel room gorging on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I blame those memories on Joe Reid and Tara Ariano.

Not directly, of course, and only the RuPaul’s Drag Race part. Mostly.

The truth is you will do a hell of a lot of good in the Peace Corps if you want. Even if you don’t want, most definitely you will need to kill time. Because making friends takes a while, you will find yourself alone on many evenings with your laptop and the hard drive you brought loaded with every season of every show you ever wanted to see.

I was lucky. About the time I started watching everything ever, David T. Cole, Tara Ariano and Joe Reid started making the Extra Hot Great Podcast. In it they talked about everything ever: Friends, Breaking Bad, Jeopardy, Adventures in Babysitiing… all of it. After a nice visit with the host family, I could retire to make bean burritos and listen to Tara talk about how Pierce was ruining Community. I could play along and see if I could beat them all to naming the theme song from Big Love. It was like my very own Cheers except the only topic was always American pop-culture and the name-knowing was one way.

Here’s the thing. When you’re traveling and working in other countries you spend a lot of time trying to learn and appreciate other cultures. But you also learn to appreciate yours. And America is a lot of things, including pop culture podcasts and gobs of television. America is a blend of story referencing story referencing story and celebrating this human thing where we laugh and sigh and wonder why the heck we’re doing all of it.

So, I actually really loved those times where I was listening to podcasts, riding through the Armenian countryside packed into a marshutka shoulder to sholder with bundled up old ladies, those times where I gazed from that tiny bus out onto a foreign landscape and thought, “Maybe I should start watching Archer.”

It was times like those that I remembered what I loved about home.

________

Extra Hot Great will be starting up their podcast again soon, and you should probably listen to it.

And if you’re curious as to why I blame Tara and Joe for my Percocet laced RuPaul’s Drag Race binge, it’s because without their chatting it up on EHG, I wouldn’t have heard of the show right before being medically evacuated for knee surgery in D.C. where I watched every episode available in between popping pain meds. Their fault.

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