Smartest Person in the Room

Laura Tremaine is not the smartest person in the room, but she knows who is.
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Smartest Person in the Room


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Mar 2, 2017

This is the second episode in the VIRAL series of Smartest Person in the Room.

My conversation is with actor and producer Shane Nickerson, who knows more than a little something about VIRAL content, as he’s spent years creating it through tv shows for MTV, CMT, and Nickelodeon.

Shane is co-president of the production company Super Jacket with Rob Dyrdek, and together they're responsible for shows like Rob & Big, Fantasy Factory, The Dude Perfect Show, Jagger Eaton's Mega Life, and Crashletes.  

Today we delve into the show Shane helped create with Rob Dyrdek: Ridiculousness, which features remarkable short clips culled from the vast sea of the internet. Ridiculousness is so popular that it was responsible for roughly 23% of MTV’s total programming last year. 

Shane has some really thoughtful insights about internet culture and viral content, but he tells a story at the end of this episode I didn't see coming. He shares a personal story of something going terribly viral in his own life, something that had the potential to wreck his marriage and his career. He fought back against this viral thing and WON. My mouth was hanging open as we recorded.

Complete show notes here.

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Feb 21, 2017

This is the VIRAL series, and we’re looking closely at something that permeates most of our internet culture: viral content. Videos, memes, tweets, graphics, these can take over our online experience and change our minds, culture, elections, or just make us collectively laugh. Things that go viral on the internet can have real power. 

Growing up in around the entertainment industry in Southern California and attending NYU Film School still didn't prepare Morgan Shanahan for the success she would find as a content creator. She wrote screenplays and commercials for years before turning to a more personal outlet. Her blog The 818 was a vulnerable look at marriage, motherhood, and mental health and drew her a large following. 

Morgan's platform and talent opened an opportunity at the media behemoth Buzzfeed, where she's been the parenting editor and now parenting video producer for several years. The creative content she's making at Buzzfeed get tens of millions of views.

In our conversation around the topic of VIRAL, Morgan and I discuss what it takes for something to get shared over and over, the types of content that work best, and what it means for the creator and for society. 

Whether you're totally internet savvy or completely non-techy, this episode will be more relevant to your life than you may think.

Read the full show notes here.

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Feb 17, 2017

A sneak-peek of Series 3 of Smartest Person in the Room!

Feb 14, 2017
Host Laura Tremaine and producer/editor Megan Tietz break down the six episodes of the RELIGION series. They talk download statistics, listener reaction, and the surprising things that came out of making this series. 
The six episodes of the RELIGION series are:
Ep. 10: The Mormon/Evangelical Divide
Ep. 11: Judaism as a cultural identity
Ep. 12: The Political Conversion to Islam
Ep. 13: Religion Reporting in the Time of Trump
Ep. 14: The Mystery of Hinduism
Ep. 15: When God Goes Silent
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Feb 7, 2017

We're closing out the religion series by talking about LOSING your faith. 

In the last five episodes, we’ve talked about growing up in a faith tradition and converting to a religion out of deep conviction. But what about when it all falls apart? What happens when you no longer believe the very thing you’ve built your life around?
My guest is Mike McHargue, who you might better know as “Science Mike,” the host of the Ask Science Mike podcast and the co-host of The Liturgists. He’s written a book about the two years he spent secretly an atheist, and Finding God in the Waves is the kind of faith story you don’t hear (truthfully) much about.
I finished his book in one day and couldn’t wait to get him on the show to talk about his experience. Don't let the title of this show fool you, Mike creates space and hope for others with doubts along their spiritual journey. (And isn’t that all thinking adults at some point?)
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Jan 31, 2017

This is the 5th episode in the RELIGION series. 

Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, with over 1 billion followers, about 15% of the global population. It is often called the world’s oldest religion, but without a savior, governing body, or binding holy book, it can be difficult to grasp exactly what Hindus believe. Many of the traditions and rituals passed down through the generations are family-specific or regional, but all fall under the umbrella of what Hindus call “the way of life.”   
Indian guests Vijay and Divya patiently explain the four Purusarthas - or 4 tenets - of Hinduism: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. We also discuss their arranged marriage, the rituals of their daily practice, and the Indian ideas that have become popular in the western world, including yoga and meditation. 
I've carried the wisdom of this conversation around since we recorded. Being Hindu is a vast topic, but interesting both historically and currently. You will be finish this episode refreshed by this couple's warmth and grace. 
Full show notes are here.
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Dec 20, 2016

So far in the RELIGION series we've heard from people from 4 different faiths. Today's episode is a bit of a departure, as we're instead talking to someone who writes nationally about religion as their job.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a religion reporter for the Washington Post. She’s the former online editor for Christianity Today Magazine and former national correspondent for Religion News Service.

In our conversation, we talk about what goes into religion reporting - both the in-depth coverage and the click-bait stories - and how Sarah's own faith affects how she covers religion for the Washington Post.

Sarah shares her opinion on the biggest religion stories happening in America right now, as well as what national religion coverage is getting right (and wrong).

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Thanks for listening!

Nov 30, 2016
Salah Abdul-Wahid was born Daniel Hewlitt. He converted to Islam as an adult, after growing up Catholic in a large Creole family living in Los Angeles. 
In the 1960s when Salah was in his early twenties, he found himself caught up in the political unrest within the black communities of Los Angeles. At the time, many people were seeking new answers to old questions about the history of white dominance in the United States and the various systems of oppression that affected people of color in this country. In seeking answers to these questions, Salah found himself open to a radical conversion, leaving behind the Catholic faith of his family and his youth and converting to Islam.
Salah talks about his intrigue with the Muslim intellectuals he observed as a student at the University of Southern California, while at the same time he was drawn to the writings of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. 
I was fascinated with Salah’s conversion story and why he changed his name and faith at such an important time in his personal life and in American history. I knew only vaguely about famous men who had taken a similar path - Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabar come to mind - but I was unsure of the meaning behind it. This was my chance to ask someone, and our conversation had my head spinning for weeks.
(It should be noted, based on several of the cultural references in this episode, that we recorded our conversation this summer, several months before the 2016 election results.)
Later in his life, Salah would travel the world and glean powerful wisdom about the role of religion in culture, and, as you’ll hear in my conversation with him, his comfort with asking hard questions and having tough conversations has been a consistent way in which he experiences the world.
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Thanks for listening!
Nov 21, 2016
This episode is about Reformed Judaism as a cultural identity as opposed to a religion focused on worshipping God. The Reformed movement began in 19th century Germany, and today this is the dominant denomination of Jewish people in America. 
My guest is Sarah Kate Levy, a writer here in Los Angeles. Her award-winning fiction and nonfiction essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and most recently she cowrote the screenplay No Way Jose with Adam Goldberg. She is also the voice behind, a blog about parenting, marriage, and her attempts at home organization, which draws from her own experiences as a mother of four young children, including twins. She is currently at work on a novel. 
Sarah Kate's childhood led her to think her Judaism was just a small part of who she was, but attending college at Yale, surrounded by people who took their heritage seriously, Sarah Kate began to better understand her Jewish identity. In our conversation, she provides answers and insights into how a person can be part of a religion without professing a belief in God. Perhaps one key to understanding this can be found in a religious culture where debate and pushback against accepted beliefs are not only tolerated, but encouraged.
So much of what Sarah Kate said about her cultural and genetic Judaism mirrors other conversations I've had with Jewish friends over the years. Sarah Kate and I have lived in the same neighborhoods in Los Angles, but experience the world from different perspectives. I hope you enjoy listening in on our conversation!
Nov 15, 2016

Welcome to the first episode in the RELIGION series of Smartest Person in the Room. For the next few weeks we’ll be hearing stories about people living within their religion, defined here as a “cultural system of behaviors and practices, often (but not always) in relation to something deemed sacred."

This episode is about the divide between modern day American Evangelical Christianity and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as LDS or Mormons. For purposes of clarity, in this conversation I refer to my guest Nish Weiseth as a “mainstream” Christian and to guest Emily Belle Freeman as a Mormon. Both living in Utah, Nish and Emily have partnered together to bridge the gaping divide between these two faiths that both follow Jesus. 

With their combined influence in both the Evangelical and Latter-day Saint traditions, Emily & Nish have decided to take on the difficult task of getting Mormons and Christians to listen to one another and learn from each other. They work as a pair, speaking to both Mormon and Christian congregations, but they also spend a lot of time in their own camps, trying to dismantle some of the misinformation and stereotypes that each side has of the other. Their hope is that Mormons and Christians will eventually be able to put aside their differences in order to impact the world for good, together. Their online hub is called Multiply Goodness, which includes a blog, resources and more, on how people can start doing this inter-faith work in their own communities. 

In this episode we talk about:

  • The main theological differences between the Mormon faith and modern American evangelical Christianity. 
  • If each faith tradition believes the other one is going to hell.
  • How Nish & Emily met and formed an unlikely partnership.
  • Why it's WOMEN who are leading this charge.

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Nov 11, 2016

A sneak-peek of Series 2 of Smartest Person in the Room!

Oct 25, 2016

The Hollywood series has concluded and host Laura Tremaine and producer/editor Megan Tietz decided to sit down to discuss the best and worst parts of making the first series of Smartest Person in the Room.

Laura and Megan talk about the most downloaded episode of the series and their personal favorites. They give a behind-the-scenes look at what was special and what was challenging about making the podcast.

They also address rumors and questions about the "lost" episode of the Hollywood series: Ep. #7, the interview with the high-powered talent agent that had to be removed 3 days after it debuted. 

This is a fun discussion for those who have already listened to most of the Hollywood series and want to hear more about the guests and the creative decisions behind the show. There's also a few hints about the next series topic, which will be hitting your earbuds soon.

Oct 11, 2016

Jeff Tremaine is a producer and director best known for co-creating the cultural phenomenon Jackass, an MTV television show that was born out of a skateboarding magazine and went on to four #1 box office movie hits.

Jeff's raw and self-taught style is also behind numerous other tv shows, documentaries, and national commercials. His influence and humor permeates through several decades of American youth.

Jeff is also host Laura's husband, which makes for a more casual and even more candid interview than any other in Smartest Person in the Room's Hollywood series.

In this interview, Jeff talks about:

  • How skateboarding culture influences fashion and art more than any other sport.
  • How Jackass was created out of Big Brother magazine.
  • The most meaningful documentary he's ever directed.
  • The differences between directing television vs. feature films vs. documentaries vs. commercials
  • What it's like to work with "difficult" people (and what defines difficult)
  • Stories about working with Johnny Knoxville, SteveO, Chris Pontius, Travis Pastrana, and more.
  • The book that had the greatest influence on him.

You can read the full show notes here

Sep 27, 2016

Julie Hébert is an award-winning playwright and a television writer, director, and producer. She began her career in the San Francisco theater world, and her plays have been produced across the country and won many honors, including two PEN awards for drama.

But for the last two decades, Julie has worked as a writer, director, and producer on some of televisions most popular and influential shows: ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, Nashville, The Good Wife, and many others. She is currently the executive producer and a writer/director on ABC's award-winning show American Crime.

In this episode, Julie and I cover a lot of ground, including what it's like to be a woman director in an industry still so male-driven. She shares one of her tricks for bringing instant authority to her role, and her opinion on whether this disparity is getting better.

Julie patiently answers all of my questions about how a writer's room works on these large sweeping dramas, and how the cast and crew reacts to having a different director for each episode. 

She shares set stories from her days on The West Wing and ER, as well as the responsibility of making a show like American Crime. 

This is a GREAT discussion, informative and inspiring. 

Sep 20, 2016
Katie Doering is a film and television producer with a passion for documentaries. She started in production working for the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed PBS series POV, and has gone on to produce popular doc-style tv shows as well as award-winning documentaries. 
Katie and I drill down into the state of her moral compass while working on shows like A&E’s Intervention, and how she felt about using someone’s vulnerability for entertainment purposes, and how her thoughts on that subject have changed.
These days Katie works for the Sundance Institute, the entity that is responsible for the Sundance film festival in Utah. Katie is a part of the Women’s Sundance Initiative, which tackles one of the entertainment industry’s biggest challenges: gender disparity in both opportunities and wages. 
Documentaries Katie mentions:

Two books that made an impact on Katie:

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Sep 13, 2016

Wayne Newton has been a bodyguard for the most high profile of celebrities, protecting Mariah Carey, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, and many more. In 25 years of private security, he has never once spoken publicly about this job.

What he says in this interview will make you rethink any assumptions you have about who is REALLY the smartest person in the room.

Sep 6, 2016

Shanna Zablow is an executive producer and general manager for the Gorilla Flicks Productions whose producing credits include MTV’s Rob and Big, Ridiculousness, and Nitro Circus as well as feature length films such as Bad Grandpa, Being Evel, and the Jackass franchise. 


This interview was personal for me as I am the one who hired Shanna for her first job in production many years ago, and she has been an irreplaceable part of my husband Jeff’s team ever since. The productions Shanna has worked on for more than a decade are all shows by boys and for boys, and in this episode, she explains how this dynamic has created both difficult challenges as well as a deeply rewarding career as a producer.  

Aug 30, 2016

Production designer Ethan Tobman is one of the most sought after artists in Hollywood. He designed the complicated and innovative set for the 2015 Oscar-winning film Room, and is the creative force behind the sets for popular music videos like Ok Go's The Writing's on the Wall and Beyonce's award-winning video of the year: Formation.

Tobman has collaborated with Hollywood's most talented and influential directors, actors, and musical superstars. In this episode, he explains the logistics of a production designer's job while weaving in his own tales of working with celebrity and genius.  

Aug 23, 2016

Phil Johnston is a Disney screenwriter, producer, and director best known for his work on Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph, and the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2.

In this episode, I talk to Phil about the years before he worked on such animated hits and he explains the process of starting with one character and ending up with a feature film. He also tells us how it feels to have worked on a project that made over ONE BILLION dollars, as well as how he compartmentalizes having a children's movie and an R-rated comedy release in the same month.

Aug 11, 2016

Laura Tremaine is not the smartest person in the room ... but she knows someone who is. 


Smartest Person in the Room launches August 23rd.