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How Long Gone is the podcast that broke the mould by telling the truth

Jul 12, 2023Jul 12, 2023

By Olivia Pym

“People feel like if they are going to consume anything it has to be for self-improvement,” says Chris Black, sitting beside his friend and co-host Jason Stewart in an ominously sexy room of the Standard hotel in London. “They can’t just read a book, it’s got to be biohacking and how to understand my diet and succeed at work. I think there’s power in just being like, ‘Nah, I’m good.'”

The pleasure of the brain-smoothing offering of Black and Stewart's podcast, How Long Gone, lies in the avoidance of ever trying to make you a better person. On the show, the comfortingly dull dispatches they rattle through range from smoothies to parking logistics to a vaguely formed thought about a cultural event that doesn't leave you feeling any more informed about the Super Bowl or Met Gala. It's not homework, and in a landscape of podcasts which ask you to forensically analyse a crime scene or consider your BMI, it feels liberating to accept the invitation to switch off your mind.

“Guests get on Zoom and they’re like, ‘Oh these guys just want to shoot the shit with me,'" says Black, dressed in a slightly open blue shirt that he might coyly refer to as gay-baiting on the podcast. Stewart, wearing a Culinary Institute of America baseball cap and drinking a beer from a plastic cup that took 20 minutes to procure from the bar downstairs, adds: “'They’re like, 'We just talked about burritos for twenty minutes, when does the interview start?'”.

The podcast started life as a lockdown project between the two friends, working in fashion and music, and three years later has over 500,000 monthly listeners. Still, the appeal of How Long Gone is hard to articulate. When I tried to sell it to a colleague as two guys talking about nothing the response was a sarcastic “sounds great”, but like reality TV it has a pleasing pattern that feels soothing to sink into. I listen to it while running or doing laundry, something they both hear a lot. “It would be silly for us to deny that’s what podcasts are. Nobody is sitting at their speakers listening [while] staring at the wall, and that's fine,” says Black. But the free-flowing conversations do lead to unexpected places. In one episode the singer Cat Power talks with weary sadness about having to move because of a stalker; another sees the drummer of The Pixies explain how he spends his days hunting for buried treasure with a metal detector.

Both practising Anglophiles, How Long Gone shares in the cynical and sarcastic sense of humour of England despite the pair living between New York and Los Angeles. We are speaking in late January and they are in London for a sold-out run of live shows, speaking on stage with guests Alexa Chung and the artist Issy Wood. A Noughties fashion it-girl and an ascendant figurative painter sums up the strange, sprawling mix of creatives that appear on the show, the 456 episodes of which have had guests from Phoebe Bridgers to Lee Pace. The guests, though, are often beside the point; they're really in it for each other. “It's like a threesome," Stewart says, deadpan. "If one of them is a dud at least I’ve got Chris."

The almost-obnoxious sensibility of the show has seen it branded as a bro-cast, something they both willingly accept to mean that they are two straight white dudes who won't shut up. But the genuine camaraderie between the pair of long-term friends, both in their forties, is what fans come back for, often tuning in for the intro sketch between them or the one-on-one shows they regularly do without a guest. “A lot of things feel very professional and transactional and I think you can tell that we’re being honest with you,” says Black. “We can make fun of each other and be supportive at the same time. I think with male relationships there’s not a lot of representation in that way.”

Last month at the Golden Globes, a speech in which Colin Farrell paid heartfelt tribute to his costar Brendan Gleeson was singled out as a refreshing moment between friends; this week it was Stanley Tucci praising his friend Harry Styles at the Brit awards. Both felt like relics of a more innocent time, and while How Long Gone is not so pure of heart, it is similarly refreshing in reflecting male friendship in a way that isn't regressively masculine nor a progressive performance.

“On a podcast the way that you absorb someone’s personality is different,” Stewart says. “You can really tell if you listen to a lot of episodes when someone is being fake or giving a courtesy laugh. Honestly, most podcasts feel like people are just going through the motions. We won a contest that was quite easy, like, I beat a five-year-old at a game of basketball.”