Stephanie Wittels Wachs thought she was done talking about her brother.
The HSPVA grad and Rec Room co-founder had already published a memoir, Everything is Horrible and Wonderful, that documented the way Harris Wittels, an executive producer on Parks and Recreation and writer for Sarah Silverman, had died in 2015 of a heroin overdose. She had sat for innumerable interviews—including on Late Night with Seth Meyers—about her brother, her writing, and her family’s healing process.
So when she was approached last spring by Jessica Cordova Kramer, an executive producer on the podcast Pod Save the People, to do a show about opioid addition, Wachs said no.
“Jess reached out because she lost her brother the same way,” Wachs tells Houstonia. “When you share trauma with somebody, it's pretty easy to form a deep bond fairly quickly. I was literally one week from giving birth to my second child, so I was like, listen: I love you, you seem great, but I'm about to pop.”
Yet soon after, Wachs felt like she got a message from the universe.
“My son was about 2 months old,” she remembers, “and I read this horribly disturbing headline which said opioids are now killing more people than car accidents. I literally turned around, got out my phone and texted Jess to say All right, I'm f*cking in.”
Enter Lemonada Media, the duo's new podcasting network with three shows already in production and three more coming soon. The first show, Last Day, will be a narrative podcast focused on the opioid crisis, told through the final day of Kramer’s brother’s life. Last Day premieres September 25.
The goal of the podcast network is to “help people deal with the hardest sh*t in their lives,” according to Cordova. The name Lemonada is a play on the Italian word for lemonade and the concept of turning life’s lemons into the sweet-tart beverage. It’s also a play on the Spanish word “nada,” as in “no lemons.”
“My worldview is that we’re all going through so much,” Wachs says. “We’re all suffering. That’s how me and Jess connected. And so we felt this real strong need to create a space for people who are going through stuff like this.”
That’s not to say all the network’s shows will be dark. In a series launching in late October called As Me, accessibility activist Sinéad Burke, who has a form of dwarfism, will interview people like Jamie Lee Curtis and Tig Notaro about what it’s like to live as themselves.
And the third show, which premieres in November, is a parenting podcast calls Good Kids: How Not to Raise An A**hole.
Of course, this news comes on the heels of a viral New York Times story that asked the question, “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?”
Wachs admits she forwarded the story to Lemonada’s entire staff.
“Yes, there are a lot of podcast companies now, but there’s not a ton of women-run podcasting companies,” she reasons. “I feel like there is a flavor we’re going to bring to this, a different perspective. And you know, if whatever giant companies are coming on board [as advertisers] to sell their stuff, it’s because a ton of people are listening.”
Wachs also posits that the popularity of podcasts might be a reaction to the non-stop flow of information on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
“It's so fascinating that we're going back to audio and radio as a form of entertainment,” she says. “It’s such a simple medium and it’s very intimate. I have to pay attention to podcasts in a way that I don’t when I’m watching TV and multitasking—I have to actively listen. So there’s this king of meditative quality that I think is interesting."
Wachs also knows that listening to podcasts is a form of self-care for a lot of people, and she hopes Lemonada can fill that role.
“For us, the whole self-care thing is about finding your people, finding community,” Wachs says. “The mission here is to make people want to get out of bed in the morning, to give people a place to feel connected.”