By Meredith McBride, Managing Editor, April 2020
Actress Ilana Levine, known for her role as Lucy Van Pelt in the Broadway revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and her work on Seinfeld, joined several young journalists for an interview this week to discuss her life as a podcast host to the stars.
Her show, “Little Known Facts,” derives its name from a song that she sang as Lucy, which is her favorite role she’s had to date. She loved reading Peanuts growing up and being with that cast at that time in her life was incredibly special.
One reason Levine started the podcast was to stay connected to her acting community (theatre professionals in addition to movie stars and TV actors) and share it with others who might enjoy or be inspired by the triumphs and the struggles that her guests share about their lives in the arts. However, it also became an opportunity to create a place for others that she could have gone to when starting out. “It has become a really great way to spend time, in-person, with people I love,” Levine said.
For anyone who is thinking about starting a podcast, she has plenty of advice. She initially felt like she constantly had to give vocal responses to her guests to make it clear that she was listening, but learned quickly how to stop interjecting with words such as “right” or “uh huh” during conversations. This is a skill that translates outside of podcasts as well; she recommends being succinct when possible, both in casual and professional conversations. “Don’t be afraid of the silence,” Levine said. She has often found that when given a moment to think, people will come up with something else additive to say.
Although her episodes typically range from about a half-hour to an hour and a half in length, the preparation takes her much longer. She is able to use her acting background to aid in her research process for the podcast. “When researching [a role], you want to find out everything you can about a character,” Levine said. She uses a similar approach with her podcast guests, by trying to watch previous interviews to avoid asking repetitive questions; not pitching or promoting one specific project, but promoting their lives in the arts; and consuming any artistic content they may have (such as listening to their music). Even with guests she knows personally, she still does plenty of research.
Even if her research does not end up being as relevant to the final product as anticipated, she feels more confident as a host going in prepared. One of the aspects she enjoys most about having her own podcast is that she has almost total control over the show. To those interested in starting a podcast with a co-host or a group, her biggest piece of advice is to “make sure everyone is equally committed,” so that everything runs as smoothly as possible with time commitments and scheduling.
Levine considers herself lucky to know actor John Slattery quite well and had him as her first guest back in 2016. By having someone well-known start off her show with a positive experience, it was easier for her to reach out to other well-known performers and gain traction in the industry. To ensure that her guests enjoy the interview, Levine stresses the importance of keeping them comfortable when talking on the record. She is “never looking to have any ‘Gotcha!’ moments,” and offers her guests a 48-hour grace period after recording to cut anything they said. She also makes notes on what she might need to edit as soon as possible after the interview.
For amateur podcasters, Levine suggests investing in a decent microphone and plugging it into a laptop with GarageBand to record and edit. If access to a real recording studio isn’t realistic, recording in a small room such as a closet can help prevent an echoing effect on the sound. The platform Anchor.fm can be used to get podcasts on Spotify and Apple Podcasts free of charge, with the condition that the website does own the original content produced.
Levine recommends that young people looking to start podcasts utilize social media, which she hails as “a great equalizer”; anyone can reach out to anyone else, and kids have nothing to lose by sending a quick DM with an interview request or question. “People love young journalists with fresh ideas and perspectives; find the people who inspire you and tell them,” Levine said.
Now that it’s been almost three years since starting a podcast, Levine is “more confident now that what I have to offer is appreciated; I knew that I was interested in these people, but it's good to know that things I care about have resonated,” she said. Especially with the current state of the world, to see “this little podcast” continue to bring people pleasure gives her great encouragement.
Her final tip for aspiring young podcasters? Practice what you might be saying out loud a few times to yourself before recording. And don’t worry too much about how it sounds played back: “Even podcast hosts hate their voices!”