Catching Up With: Anne T. Donahue

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Every week, we catch up with a Canadian podcaster and their podcast to talk about what’s new, their favourite podcast moments, and what’s still to come. This week, host of Nobody Cares (Except for Me), Anne T. Donahue.

Something happens in my time on the phone with Anne that I think gets at the exact spirit of her podcast. After a handful of questions and answers, we come across our mutual love of One Direction. Which is an inexhaustible topic for two fans! We dissect inter-band relationships, assess solo projects, rank band members (her favourite is Harry, mine is Louis) — and eventually get back to my question sheet. But the tangent doesn’t seem off-topic at all. We were just talking about how great it is to have, as Anne puts it, “unwavering enthusiasm” for something.

Unless you’re my dad, you have a Thing. Likely something your friends don’t want to hear about anymore. They’ve probably made you a shirt that says “Please don’t get me started about _____!” But screw ‘em. You love it. It’s your Thing.

On Nobody Cares (Except for Me), Anne gets her guests started on their Things. The “Nobody Cares” part of the concept came out of Anne’s “favourite thing to say” (Office meme included) and was already the title of her then-forthcoming book before she was approached to host the podcast.

The initial idea was to start an advice show. It didn’t stick. “Dear Sugars already does it so well,” Anne says. “And thirty minutes is too much of just me talking!” She instead gave the idea of “Nobody Cares” a positive spin, and made the show about the myriad loves of others, from Napoleon to Garfield fan art.  

It’s impossible to ignore how our culture is turning into a bleaker and bleaker backdrop for these kinds of conversations. Podcasting seems to be reflecting the hellscape. Glancing at the Apple Podcast charts as I write this, most of the content is pretty dark and serious. But Anne maintains that the fun things have their place.

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“It’s been interesting to watch people kind of turn to comfort-watching, and their sources of comfort, and their sources of joy, as a type of security blanket,” she tells me. Fittingly, she has The Food Network on in the background. “Why did we stop? Why did we stop watching things that are comforting, or joyful? You have to have a little joy or a little bit of escape, otherwise you’ll just want to walk into the ocean — more than you already do!

“It’s not like you talk about S Club 7 and it’s like ‘Actually, the world is good!’ It’s not!” But comfort food helps us find resilience. “When you get to revel in something that isn’t sad and shitty, even just for five minutes, it can be that jumpstart, like filling a pool back up when you’re starting to feel a little empty. And then that can keep gas in the tank to keep going.”

Over the past year, Anne’s fuel has been Mad Men. “A lot happened in the world, but a lot was happening personally that was pretty difficult and pretty awful. And watching a show where you’re like ‘Oh, all adults are sad in some way, shape or form!’ was very comforting. It’s helpful to remember that everyone’s battling...Sure, they might seem like they’re thriving, but you don’t know, they could be crying in their car to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’!

“Basically, we’re all so sad.”

I jokingly ask if We’re All So Sad! will be her next book.

“You know what? Probably.”

Sadness notwithstanding, speaking to Anne reminds me how much I care about caring itself. I like being someone who deeply enjoys the things that make me happy, even if it can be vulnerable. No matter how normalized nerdiness becomes, having an all-consuming passion can get tough! Some will turn up their noses, or roll their eyes, or leave you on read when you dare to expose your die-hard obsessions. In my experience, the scrutiny is worse for women and girls — or anyone whose Thing is seen as too girly.

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Anne agrees, and sees another level of judgement in there too. “We know that women uphold the music industry in a lot of ways, but we still use ‘fangirls’ as a pejorative, as if liking something is weak or soft, and unabashed enthusiasm is childish. You hear it in ‘fanboys’ too. Grown men will say ‘I’m such a fanboy about this!’ It just means you’re a fan! It doesn’t make you a child. I think we equate not liking things, or distance, to being an adult. I know I equated being an island to being an adult for a very long time, and it fucked me up.”

So maybe the solution is more conversations about loving things? They don’t have to be lighthearted all the way through. Enthusiasm has segued into some heavier or more personal topics on Nobody Cares a few times, Anne says. Nor does the fandom have to be mutual. Anne admits she’s rarely been “converted” by a guest. She approaches their passions with more of an “I can see why you love that!” attitude. “Though [making the podcast] has made me want to start watching Vanderpump Rules and The Bachelor.”

I ask Anne about ideal future guests. If all goes well, Beyoncé will make her first podcast appearance on Nobody Cares. Ruth Bader Ginsburg will come on to be convinced not to die. Anne’s a huge fan of CBC’s Connie Walker and her work on the incredible Missing and Murdered series. She has a standing invitation “if she ever has time off from being an amazing investigative journalist!”

Inevitably, as we’re building the perfect guest lineup, we get back to One Direction. Can you blame us? Any chance you get to chat with someone who cares, about something that’ll make you feel a little less interested in walking into the ocean, I think, is worth seizing.