WFPL’s popular podcast “Strange Fruit” will record its 200th episode on Wednesday, and hosts Kaila Story and Jaison Gardner are celebrating by throwing a birthday party at Galaxie, complete with special guests, a live taping of the podcast and cupcakes.
“Strange Fruit” is a show known for featuring guests of all backgrounds and dissecting issues that touch on topics of race, the LGBTQ community and social justice. Gardner describes the show’s mission to Insider.
“We say that what we do is we tell the stories of disenfranchised people through their own voices,” he says. “That was one of our early tag lines.”
The seed for “Strange Fruit” was planted on Twitter, explains Gardner.
“It started through a tweet, believe it or not,” he says.
Gardner and Story are such close friends that they interact constantly on social media.
“Even if we’re in the same apartment or same place, we would also communicate via Facebook or Twitter or whatever,” he adds.
This communications includes shout-outs, call-outs and a healthy dose cutting up. One day in 2012, the two were being their regular Twitter selves, and a friend joked that they should get their own show. That’s when WFPL producer Laura Ellis chimed in.
“(She) tweets us and says, ‘Funny you should mention that, I wanna meet with you all about getting your own show,'” says Gardner. “We had met Laura, of course, because (we) were both guests on another show she produced called ‘State of Affairs.’”
Story and Gardner had been guests on an episode discussing drag culture, and Ellis was impressed. The two went for a meeting with Ellis and Gabe Bullard, the former news director at WFPL.
“They were looking to take the station in a different direction — they wanted more local programing, more diverse programming,” says Gardner.
Team Strange Fruit fit the bill. Gardner is an activist and Story is an academic, so they are able to bring different perspectives to the subjects they tackle. But Gardner says it’s not necessarily what makes their podcast popular.
“What you hear on the radio is exactly what you get in real life, and I think people appreciate kinda just getting to hear two best friends talk about stuff.”
That friendship and humor allows the hosts to discuss difficult topics but still keep the overall tone of the show approachable.
Gardner says it’s a powerful mix, as reflected by some of the mail he’s gotten from fans.
“The letters that mean the most to me are, someone will say, like, ‘Hey, I’m a straight white dude who’s upper-middle class and who is maybe conservative leaning,’” says Gardner, adding that those letters go on to say things like, “‘Initially when I heard your show, I disagreed with everything you said, but after a while, it made me think and made me question things I thought I knew.’”
Even the jocular Gardner can sometimes have difficulty discussing some subjects in a lighthearted way.
“For me, having to be an activist in real life and having to protest, like, police killings, and having to come down and talk about it, I just was emotionally spent,” he says.
At those times, Story and Gardner will often start with the tragic news and then try to move on to lighter topics.
Gardner finds the longevity of the podcast somewhat surprising.
“We never really imagined we would get to this point … to last 200 episodes and five years,” he says. “There are sitcoms and dramas that don’t last that long — there are, like, legitimate news programs that don’t last that long, let alone a show hosted by two queer people in the South.”
Wednesday’s live taping will feature guests Leah Halston and Karter Louis. Halston is an award-winning drag queen who performs at Play, and Louis is a musician and local entrepreneur perhaps best known for his gone but not forgotten restaurant Hillbilly Tea.
The party is a way for Gardner and Story to share their excitement over the milestone.
“We don’t know where we’ll be in five more years, but we want to celebrate with our listeners, with those people who have supported us, those people who have been our guests, those people who have been our sponsors,” says Gardner.
The “Strange Fruit” 200th Episode Party is happening Wednesday, June 21, at Galaxie, 732 E. Market St. The free party start at 6 p.m. and runs till 10.