For five years now, writer and podcaster Ira Madison III has been presenting us with piping-hot takes on “Keep It,” along with longtime guest and now co-host Louis Virtel. Together, Virtel and Madison III celebrate the pop culture moments that galvanize us, and tear apart the scandals that tend to shock and delight an extremely online audience. But “Keep It” is so much more than Twitter highlights: it’s a fun hang with your most pop-culture savvy friends who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.
INTO spoke to Madison III and Virtel about VHS tapes, plane movies, and everyone’s favorite shifty bitch, playwright Lillian Hellman.
INTO: So how do y’all figure out what you’re going to talk about from week to week?
IRA MADISON III: I feel like we’ve sort of gotten to the point where our audience just sort of taps into the things that we’re interested in. I don’t think really since the first year we started the podcast that we do a topic just because it’s in the news that we don’t really care about anymore. So it really seems to be just our own interests. And we of course have a great team. We have our producer Chris, and then our other producer, Malcolm, who will gather topics and send us an email for the weeks when the news is dead.
LOUIS VIRTEL: I find that certain topics cry out to be talked about, like the Gwyneth Paltrow ski trial. I would describe the podcast as a combination of what we are specifically interested in and the unavoidable conversations we have to have. We’ll find a way to just talk about old movies or old songs or stuff we’re into if the conversation isn’t that interesting on Twitter that week.
IRA MADISON III: For instance, we never really dove into the George Santos stuff, aside from making the jokes that I feel like everyone’s already making online. It’s not like we knew the intricacies of the government. We also want to stay away from things where we’re making uninformed jokes.
Do you ever get resentful of certain topics? Like “oh God, this again.”
LOUIS VIRTEL: Ira has this covered on my behalf, but for instance, I am not obsessed with horror. I had a horror phase in middle school where I saw all the big classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th and all that, but it’s not really a language I speak. So when someone’s telling me “oh, you have to go see Dream Warriors because it has a queer twist you’re gonna really care about” I’m like, do I f*cking have to? Please just let me watch my lady movies, please.
IRA MADISON III: On the flip side, when an old white woman dies, we gauge if it’s an interesting person for us to discuss and if we’d have insight on it. We’ve also we’ve known each other for over a decade at this point. So I know when someone dies, I know if it’s an actress that Louis really cares about.
LOUIS VIRTEL: One time years ago now, I was on the phone with my mom and, I just said I was like, “Valerie Harper died” and she goes, “oh, I knew that was one of your people.” Like there are certain people who like belong in my head.
Yes. I get that. Like the minute Mel Brooks dies, I’m going to be crying on the floor for a straight month.
LOUIS VIRTEL: And that’s a Cicely Tyson situation where he just put out the definitive book about his life, too. So it feels like we have all the information we need now.
IRA MADISON III: I mean, but to be fair, we’ve had Norman Lear put out like, 50 definitive books about his life.
“I swear to God, this is the last one!”
LOUIS VIRTEL: He’s still winning Emmys!
IRA MADISON III: They’re going to hold the next one at his house.
LOUIS VIRTEL: A full Judy Garland A Star is Born bedside shift.
And a Judy Garland hologram will be in attendance as well.
IRA MADISON III: We also have the benefit of our fan base who is on the same wavelength as us for the most part. If we do miss something, it’s helpful to even just look at our mentions online or like on our Instagram comments where someone will be like, “Well, I hope you discuss this,” and about 40% of the time they’re right.
I feel like I really enjoyed the spicy Robyn critique a few episodes ago. You were talking about “Dancing on My Own” being about lame, shitty people.
LOUIS VIRTEL: People who lost! Losers of love!
Isn’t that everyone though?
But no, that’s just it. I don’t I don’t do relatability as “we’re all big losers secretly.” I don’t do that. I just don’t think that’s true. I am not a loser. I’m just gonna put that out there. I hate awkwardness as content, too.
It is sort of like that Morrissey song like “now I’m outside your house.” And some people are like, “Oh, romantic!” and others are like, wow what a horror movie setup.
LOUIS VIRTEL: There are several songs I can think of where it’s basically just stalker content, and I actually just like them better. Like “Are You There With Another Girl” By Dionne Warwick where she is a loser in love and she can hear her ex-boyfriend playing on the radio in his house, a song for the new girl. It’s fully “The Telltale Heart.”
IRA MADISON III: I feel like that goes to something that we’ve talked about on the show for years. There’s been this movement lately for celebrities to be relatable. And I feel like we love to discuss and sort of admire the people who aren’t. Because I feel like relatability in culture sucks.
LOUIS VIRTEL: It’s a poison. Like people who are obsessed with being relatable, they end up messing it up one way or another. I think that’s why I’m still so attached to talking about someone like Madonna or why I’m interested in someone like Nicki Minaj, who is just like, “well, I woke up today and chose repulsion.”
IRA MADISON III: I feel like the reason people listen to “Keep It” is because they relate to us and our pop culture opinions in some way. But what I feel like separates us from other pop culture podcasts is that there is still an air of like, we know what we’re talking about. There are plenty of relatable podcasts with people just shooting the breeze, and it’s not like they either work in the entertainment business or have even a curiosity beyond trending topics. If you have nothing else to add, why am I listening to you?
Yeah there’s a lot of like, “Just Jared: The Podcast.”
LOUIS VIRTEL: I think what I like most about our podcast is that we’re already having a conversation, regardless of whether it’s being recorded. So the podcast is about what we can add to the conversation, right? And I think that’s what makes it fun, you get to feel like you’re overhearing two people who just can’t shut up about pop culture in a bar.
And you can often disagree with each other without it becoming a whole thing.
LOUIS VIRTEL: I really would compare it to Siskel and Ebert. After a while, those two became so aware of what the other knew and each other’s interests and what bugged the other. You could even sense on certain weeks they’re a little bit little madder at each other than they usually are. You’re picking up on two people who are very aware of each other’s vibe.
That was such an iconic on-air feud.
LOUIS VIRTEL: I mean, the greatest feuds come from the past. Of course Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. I’m also obsessed with Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy in the 70s. Mary McCarthy was an author who basically just sat around calling Lillian Hellman a liar. I hosted this climate-themed event and Q&A with Jane Fonda in San Francisco at the end of last year, and she played Lillian Hellman in a movie, and I asked her “Do you think Lillian Hellman was a big liar?” And she goes, “of course, she was! Look at how Dashiell Hammett was obsessed with her. Look at all the women in his books. That’s why he was obsessed with her like he loves shifty females.” And this is just another reason Jane Fonda is an advanced species that we’re all aspiring to.
I love the older feuds are fun because they feel less manufactured even though they clearly still were, like, the Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine drama.
IRA MADISON III: Newer feuds are really just sort of difficult to discuss on the show. I don’t think we’ve made jokes about Haley and Selena before on the show, but I just think that no one’s ever looking to us to dissect or get into why these two are fighting with each other. It’s everywhere. You know, it’s Us Weekly, it’s Pop Sugar. If I were super tied into Selena vs. Haley, I’m sure we would discuss it. We said we sort of tended to have like, moratoriums on people. Like, I’m very happy to not discuss Kanye anymore.
LOUIS VIRTEL: I think also a key part of it, too, is that somebody involved in it has to be really funny. Like when Mariah Carey has yet another soundbite about somebody who’s bothering her. It says something about her. You can guarantee there’s at least like an iota of sauciness in there. And that makes it more fun.
She delivers truly memorable insults.
IRA MADISON III: She was angry at something that we had said about her on the show once before, and she was like “podcasts are the brokest form of media.” And that I think, is the best insult.
That’s brilliant. Also, amazing to be getting celebrity subtweets.
IRA MADISON III: Oh, that was a direct message. And you know what? I deserved it. Yeah, I deserved it. Because I was talking shit and I’m a fan. The flipside is that sometimes we will interview someone and—to bring up Lillian Hellman again, woman of the hour—we know they’re lying sometimes because people will be like, “Oh, I love the show.” And I’m like, I can’t picture that. Like, Kerry Washington was like “I think you guys are really funny.” And I’m like, ok, someone sent her an edited version of our show. Whatever celebrity says that, I’m like, “ok what version of the show? Are they listening to? Are they just seeing the Snapchat clip? Are they seeing it on TikTok or something?
I get a surprise sometimes when someone in the wild tells us that they listen to it, and sometimes it’s a person you’d expect, but sometimes I’ll be like at a sandwich shop and like this older woman will be like “Are you Ira? I love the podcast!”
She’s like “this is the best Lillian Hellman podcast I have ever heard. I tune in to find out the latest Lillian Hellman gossip every week.”
LOUIS VIRTEL: I mean, you say that, but literally somebody came up to me and said “Oh, I love your podcast because you’re interested in the era where I’m from.” I think of us as time travelers in a way. Like we can bring in the old stuff, you know, which I think is something that is missing from a lot of pop culture.
IRA MADISON III: A lot of podcasts and websites now traffic in nostalgia. And I think that, for the most part, our nostalgia comes from a genuine interest in the past. We’re curious about different things. I feel like a lot of the internet’s nostalgia sticks to the same, like, early 2000s stuff. We care about the pop culture that happened before we were born.
Are you fans of Matt Baume?
LOUIS VIRTEL: Oh, I haven’t seen him in person in ages. But I love how he’ll really unpack some strange story arc on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
IRA MADISON III: I did “Sewers of Paris” way back in the olden days. I love his work too. There was just some clip circulating about how Nathan Lane was doing interviews for The Birdcage and how Robin Williams had sort of saved him from having to out himself. My friend Danny Pellegrino does the same thing. I really respect other people who have these weird pop culture moments in their brains. When something happens in the present, it’s almost sort of like, ok you’ve done your research, and now you can present it to the class.
I feel like another reason Louis and I have so much music knowledge is because everyone from our specific age group grew up with VH1 and MTV. You would hear the new Britney song, but then the next song might be like, Chaka Khan. Yeah. We were constantly introduced to culture that was at random and not being given to us via an algorithm which is specifically feeding you more of what you already want.
Speaker 1 33:56
And I think also, it’s just you basically just alluded to this, but, you know, we come from a time where you were really obligated to possess the media, you know, you were like, like, I remember specifically a time where you only had a couple of CDs and so you knew those CDs down and like that’s like something of the past. You know, like, you have Spotify, you have all the music right at your fingertips. But, you know, because of that, I think that really, I gained a knowledge base really quickly because I was spending all my allowance and babysitting money buying this shit and learning this stuff. You know? And additionally, watching every list show on VHS one, I still know the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll down number one, Erykah Badu
LOUIS VIRTEL: We were also really obligated to possess physical media. I spent all my babysitting money buying this shit.
IRA MADISON III: There were some weekends too where I was the only one at home, and I’m just going through the VHS or DVDs that my mom owns, like Excalibur and Jagged Edge. There’s no way I would have watched Glenn Close in Jagged Edge in the cover wasn’t just staring at me.
I was at a birthday party recently having a conversation with Pedro Pascal about first sexual experiences with movies. And mine was Excalibur because of the sex scene. His was The Big Easy with Ellen Barkin.
It sounds like your mom has an incredible physical media collection.
IRA MADISON III: It was my grandmother, too. It was a lot of thrillers and action movies.
We all miss Blockbuster.
IRA MADISON III: The only thing that feels like Blockbuster now, honestly, is being on a plane. I love sitting next to someone and seeing them scroll. Looking at different covers, learning what it’s about. What are they gonna watch? And I feel like you do that even more than you do on streaming because there’s endless streaming options available.
LOUIS VIRTEL: Yes. There are so many things you’ll only watch when you’re on a plane. So you think to yourself, “alright, here’s my time to finally watch Cocoon.”♦