Ifirst heard Seth Rogen was starting his own podcast when he was making the interview rounds last summer. Self-deprecating and a little secretive, he wondered aloud — between promoting his upscale weed-accessory business and answering hard questions about how his movies have aged — if another famous-person podcast was something the world needed.
Indeed, many celebrity-hosted shows have a casual, inside-baseball feel to them that I find both boring and pretentious. Sometimes you can tell the host didn’t prep at all, or they talk to their pals about their other pals and let the whole thing ramble on for too long. Notable exceptions include Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert and WTF with Marc Maron, which largely work because of their hosts’ willingness to discuss their own trauma and grief, disarming guests and leading to moments of vulnerability.
The premise of Storytime with Seth Rogen is that his famous guests will tell their best story, the one so memorable or cinematic they couldn’t have invented it if they tried. To complete the package, there are dramatic sound effects and movie audio clips, and sometimes other major characters in the guest’s story take the mic, picking up where the guest left off or adding their version of the story.
Want our podcast reviews and episode recommendations delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for our weekly newsletter.
It’s not an entirely new concept. Shows like Rashomon, Family Secrets with Dani Shapiro, and NPR’s Storycorps execute this kind of storytelling beautifully. The spin that Rogen can put on the idea is bringing in big names and making each episode feel as monumental as possible.
Storytime mostly does all of this very well. In “Glorious Basterds,” actress and writer Quinta Brunson tells the story of her trying one last time to be a good Jehovah’s Witness by going on a date with a guy from her church, before a chance encounter with Paul Rudd changes her life’s trajectory. The Rogen-connected-magic happens when he gets Rudd’s side of the story, and then Rudd’s story leads to Semisonic singer Dan Wilson’s own tangentially connected narrative. All three stories are funny, nostalgic, and thoughtful, leaving you believing in fate and affirming everything lovely you already believe about Paul Rudd.
“Hey Me!,” an episode with comedian and writer Ashley Ray also has a slow build and multiple points-of-view, in a story about her sexuality, the church, her mother, Denzel Washington, and how basic cable can change lives. The tale also features a life-changing Kermit the Frog GIF, great advice on college long-distance love, and — with the same fun Seth-emails-and-celebs-respond trick at the end — Ava Duvernay’s take on Ray’s story.
David Crosby’s story about his best song, on the episode “Singalong,” is a more meandering journey, about The Beatles, spirituality, and songwriting. It has the most weed-smoking and talking about weed-smoking. But, of course, this is a podcast from Seth Rogen, and he mostly keeps the weed tangents to brief, informative asides.
Rogen’s BetterHelp ads remind us he is the son of therapists, and as the daughter of a therapist myself, I understand how this must have influenced his thoughtful, empathetic conversation style. His laughter, follow-up questions, and short anecdotes from his life don’t interrupt or distract, but flesh out each guest’s story and make us pause at the biggest moments. He’s also a writer who knows how to condense a plot into a tight pitch, and the show is adept at crafting guests’ stories into succinct three-act structures.
Storytime, like Rogen’s best movies, is propelled by an undercurrent of heart, charm, and unexpected human connection. He is right that the world did not need another celebrity interview podcast, but Rogen’s spin on the genre is a welcome and truly refreshing addition.