From a 15-minute podcast to a nationally broadcast, hourlong weekly public radio show (and podcast), “The Dinner Party Download” (on 89.3FM KPCC and wherever podcasts are served) is a fast hour of food, culture and conversation that will help you “win your dinner party.”
On Jan. 28, hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam are stepping out of the studio and onto the stage, as KPCC presents The Dinner Party Download (DPD) live onstage at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, with special guests actor Jason Schwartzman, musician Father John Misty, and others to be announced. Ticket sales are moving briskly; as I write this a week before Christmas there are still some seats, but there may be very few left by the time you read this. Check out http://www.scpr.org/events/2016/01/28/1840/kpcc-presents-the-dinner-party-download-live.
If you’ve never listened to DPD, first and foremost it’s a smart and entertaining show, structured like a good dinner party. There’s an icebreaker, featuring people you’ve likely heard of (Sir Ian McKellen for example) telling a silly or punny joke. Then there’s small talk, perhaps an unusual subject from a journalist to kick off conversation, and a playlist selected by a musician to get everyone in the mood.
Next there’s a story featuring an odd bit of history, paired with an original cocktail recipe by a guest bartender, composed of many steps and difficult ingredients themed to that history lesson. Then there’s a guest of honor, someone like Steve Martin, Gael Garcia Bernal or Gloria Steinem, sharing whatever’s on their mind. And a fun etiquette segment, where luminaries such as the late Jackie Collins, humorist Fran Lebowitz, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi or Emily Post’s grandkids answer listeners’ questions (often with an edge) about how to behave in dinner party situations.
The show is always framed through the lens of food, because, as co-host Rico Gagliano told me, “Food is as much about the culture surrounding it as it is about actual ingredients or eating.”
Gagliano, who came to LA from his native Pittsburgh to be a screenwriter (he was a fellow at American Film Institute) wrote for film, worked on TV sitcoms (“Mad About You” and others), reality and kids’ animation shows, and more. But after awhile he began feeling “a little like I was selling my soul.”
To “cleanse my soul” he combined his background as a college DJ and print journalist with his life-long respect for public radio. “There’s a performance-like storytelling aspect to public radio, along with the quality writing and reporting, the idea that you can tell a story and use these elements in an almost cinematic way without the technological hurdles involved in telling a visual story, and still make it personal.”
He found work with the daily national business show “Marketplace” and the late-lamented “The Savvy Traveler,” both under the banner of American Public Media.
That’s where he met up with fellow producer Newnam; they’d hang out and share their interest in arts and culture along with their desire to produce something of their own.
One day Newnam told him, “I just want to do a show where we talk about everything we’d talk about at a dinner party,” and the idea was born … with a slight twist. For the 15-minute podcast, Gagliano says, “The idea was you’d get everything you needed to know and wanted to talk about at a dinner party on your way to it, by listening to the podcast in the car. So by the time you got there, you’d discover some stuff you’d have otherwise missed because you’re a busy person.”
The podcast gained a following, and American Public Media eventually asked them to create an hour-long version of the show for radio and the Internet. Now it’s broadcast on at least 125 stations nationwide, heard by approximately 650,000 people a week on both platforms.
Food and Wine Magazine recognized the podcast on a recent “40 Under 40” list, prompting Gagliano to wonder how they possibly could have been on “the same list with the person who invented St. Germain liqueur and a top White House chef consultant!” DPD is regularly featured among the top food podcasts on iTunes.
While the show skews toward a younger demographic, “To young people we say grown up culture can be fun, too so we might cast an opera singer in a way that makes it interesting to them, or we’ll take younger pop culture artists and try to make them more understandable to an older audience.”
He continued, “Something we concertedly do is make the show eclectic, every week in every way. We do a show with a range of ages, many kinds of communities, diversity and a variety of arts.”
When you reach this point, you can get guests more easily, with publicists calling you instead of you calling them. “George Clooney has not come a’callin’ yet,” laments Gagliano,” but “if he’s reading this, the door’s always open [author’s note: mine too!]. Much to our surprise, Ian McKellan was actually offered to us, and we were like, ‘What!? Really?’”
The great thing about a live show, says Gagliano, is “the sense of excitement and energy and the feeling in the audience that it’s part of a community. After all the show is about throwing a party, so that’s what we’re doing.”
While cocktails are a feature of DPD, the “dirty little secret” that Gagliano and Newnam share is that they never make those complicated recipes themselves. “We’re martini drinkers! So on the show we’ll have these twenty-stage, five-hour process cocktails with impossible to find ingredients, and afterward we go home and serve ourselves cold gin in a glass!”
Join Rico and Brendan for DPD on Jan. 28 at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. Tickets and details at http://www.scpr.org/events/2016/01/28/1840/kpcc-presents-the-dinner-party-download-live.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various print and online publications.