An interview with the Dinner Party Download’s hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam

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A few weeks ago, BlogDailyHerald got the chance to interview the hosts on our favorite Rhode Island Public Radio program: The Dinner Party Download. Hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam structure their radio show like a dinner party, with segments that emulate etiquette lessons and a cocktail hour. In recent episodes, Rico and Brendan have interviewed the likes of Elisabeth Moss, Daniel Radcliffe, Mel Brooks, Greta Gerwig, and Bill Hader. In one hour of airtime, the hosts aspire to catch busy people up with what the hell is going on in culture each week… and the show was even endorsed by Queen Gwyneth on goop, which is pretty much a Michelin Star for groovy public radio shows. Read on after the jump for our conversation about Dutch currency and horse-sized ducks:

BlogDH: Have you guys ever been to Rhode Island?

Brendan: Of course!

Rico: I have not been to Rhode Island.

Brendan: But we both know, Rico, and we’re both excited, that your state bird is a chicken.

Rico: That was the first thing we noted when we were picked up by Rhode Island radio. And our voices are in Rhode Island.

Brendan: I used to work with an old, former editor of the Brown Daily Herald, Josh Albertson and Lockhart Steele…they went on to start Eater and Curbed and they sold Curbed Network for $20 million dollars to Vox.

Rico: Can we quit our jobs and work for them, Brendan?

Brendan: I quit the job working for them to work for us. I don’t know if that was such a good idea now that I think about it.

Rico: Actually, my very first radio interview was with someone who taught at RISD–is he still there?–Ootje Oxenaar. He was a graphic designer for the Dutch guilder bank note which is no longer in existence.

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Brendan: I stopped in Rhode Island a couple years ago, coming back from Cape Cod (I know that’s not the right thing to say to people in RI). Anyway, I was really comforted…around 10 or 11 a.m., everyone was hungover and there were just a lot of donuts and bagels and unhealthy breakfast foods, which you don’t see so much of now in L.A. or Brooklyn anymore. A lot of schlubbiness and fat and butter. And I love an unhealthy breakfast with salty, fatty meats and stuff like that, and as I was wondering, “Why am I standing in line for a 7,000 calorie breakfast?” I felt comforted because it reminded me of growing up in Philadelphia and and I felt like I hadn’t seen America in a while, ever since our coasts had become Europe.

Rico: By the way, shortly after we were on the air on Rhode Island Public Radio, we coincidentally did our history lesson segment based in Rhode Island. It was about the longest baseball game ever, have you heard about it? It was a minor league Rhode Island team…

BlogDH: The Pawtucket Sox?

Brendan: Yes! It was the Pawtucket Sox.

Rico: The game lasted all night long, basically 18 hours. And it was super cold out so the players started burning their bats.

Brendan: They stopped short of cannibalism.

BlogDH: And the players were all fueled by the Dunkin’ Donuts they had bought that morning.

Brendan: I think at the end they were just sitting in a big claw-foot tub of coffee with sugar and cream.

Rico: It was pretty amazing, and we spoke to a bartender there in Pawtucket who made a drink based on this history and she was awesome, she was representative of the type of folks you have in Rhode Island.

BlogDH: How do you decide on which bartenders to interview on your show?

Brendan: We select an area based on where the history happens, and we have a producer, Jackson Musker, who helps us with this part of show at this point, but we pitch it sometimes. We go back and forth between cocktail cathedrals in various cities, but the woman Rico was talking about was the bartender who worked at the local bar near in the baseball field. She was fantastic and full of anecdotes. We’ve been doing it for so long so we can quickly dial in through food blogs now to see what’s going on with the cocktail scene in specific cities. Sometimes we go for proximity, like this bar is exactly where the history happened, or sometimes we go for this person who will give us an interesting drink and they’re sort of in the neighborhood.

Rico: We have regulars now in certain cities where lots of history seems to happen, like in Washington D.C., San Francisco and New York City. We have some go-to folks. But it’s actually one of the things I like about our shows, how regional this gets. When we came up with this idea, it seemed funny to have a history-based cocktail, but very often these bartenders know their stuff! I pretty exhaustively research these histories to make sure that I’m getting them right, and then these bartenders will know more about it, and it’s not because they research it, it’s because they live there and they know what’s going on in their area.

BlogDH: They’re kind of the unsung public historians.

Brendan: Yeah! We have to live bi-coastally in LA or NY because we’re interviewing celebrities and we’re able to get guests this way, but Dinner Party Download is broadcasted all over the country, and we’ve both lived in different parts of the country and love those places as well. This history segment in particular allows us to check in to that world, even in a very small way, and although I don’t drink those crazy cocktails all the time, the segment adds a different texture or warmth to the show.

BlogDH: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?

Rico: The video gamer in me says you want to just fight the one horse sized duck, because those little horses are going to be able to do formations and storm you.

Brendan: We’re both in public radio so clearly we didn’t fight our way here. We don’t speak with our fists: we’re fleet of tongue, and that’s the one skill we have to not get beat up…and so I think you could probably reason with one horse-sized duck rather than 100 duck-sized horses. You could probably get a read on his personality and say, hey, can we talk this over? But if you have hundreds–that’s a mob scene. With just one, there’s a good chance you become friends and maybe you can write a children’s book series about that experience. It would be called The Horse-Sized Duck, and Other Stories for the Young at Heart.

BlogDH: Thank you for entertaining that question as silly as it is. Have you had any big blunders on air, or while you were recording?

Rico: We edit the show, we don’t do it live, which is why you’ll never hear anything embarrassing.

Brendan: I said Thomas Jefferson was on the twenty dollar bill, and suddenly I’m in my studio in New York and I look out the window to see people with pitchforks and torches…what’s going on? All of the grad students are here to kill me for saying the wrong person is on the twenty dollar bill! We both missed it when we were editing, because we had had this Thomas Jefferson impersonator on air to answer etiquette questions, and then we ended up having to air a correction on the next show.

BlogDH: If you could interview anyone, dead or living, for Dinner Party Download, who would you choose?

Rico: I think about this often: many of my living heroes have actually been on the show and I’ve gotten a chance to interview them, which is unbelievable to me. I’m trying to think of someone from history…

BlogDH: You could apologize to Thomas Jefferson for your one blunder.

Brendan: When people ask me who I would invite to a dinner party, two names come to mind and they’re very obvious, but I also know from doing this that they wouldn’t be very good interviews. That’s Bob Dylan and Joan Didion: they are two living people who would be dream guests, but in a way I don’t want to interview them because Didion is an amazing writer and Bob Dylan does his communicating via his music. I don’t think it would be a rewarding conversation, but they are also the kind of people I’d like to be within 3 feet of just to take in the whole aura.

Rico: Someone we often try to get on the show and haven’t yet is David Lynch. That would be a similar kind of thing.

Brendan: I think Winston Churchill would be a pretty rad guy at a dinner party.

Rico: That’s a great call.

Brendan: Also, Winston Churchill had a standing desk so he was way ahead of his time.

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Rico: Actually, I do know! Robert Capa, the war photographer…

Brendan: You want to talk about photography on the radio?

Rico: That’s what slideshows are for… Capa wrote a book called Slightly Out of Focus about his life. It’s pretty universally understood as heavily embellished, but if a fraction of what he says in his autobiography is true, it’s just an amazing life… he hung out with Hemingway and had front row seats for every major event for maybe the most important period of time in American history. He led a pretty exciting life.

Brendan: You tried to get us to say Tupac and we didn’t!

Keep an eye out for the book that Rico and Brendan have in the works: they plan to write about how they think Americans could be using their leisure time better. In the meantime, you can listen to Rico and Brendan’s dulcet tones here!

Images via and via and via.

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