Programmer Spotlight: Duncan Strauss of Talking Animals
Naveen Sultan about 3 months ago
Welcome back to our Programmer Spotlight! This time we are featuring Talking Animals' Duncan Strauss. Get to know him a little better below:
How long have you been with WMNF?
About 8 years. My first time on the air, I did a tryout edition of Talking Animals (I'd launched the show some years earlier in Southern California) on Nov 9, 2005. My guest was Nellie McKay.
What does your show represent to you and what do you hope people get out of it?
This will involve a long answer, so please bear with me - or skip to the next question!
My family has a longstanding dedication to public service, which began with my parents, who are both gone now. As one measure of that, there's an organization that carries my dad's name that provides scholarships to California college students to pursue public service projects.
It's cultivated a raft of whip-smart public service/public policy hotshots, including one working in the Obama White House. And the scholarship is now favorably compared with the Rhodes in certain academic circles. But, hey, that's a whole other Spotlight!
Anyway, in producing Talking Animals, I feel like I'm carving my own public service niche, educating folks (including myself) about an array of animals and animal issues. I've also long been determined to keep the show from sounding shrill or preachy, so that listeners tend to remain engaged rather than alienated by discussions even about harsher topics, like what truly goes on at factory farming operations, or the cruelty endemic to circuses that use animals.
It's the same notion behind including music and comedy in each edition of Talking Animals - to leaven the proceedings, and (I hope) make the shows more engaging. In the decade plus I've been doing the show, countless listeners have reported that Talking Animals has prompted them to make changes in their lives. Sometimes those change are tiny, sometimes they're gigantic. But that's the sort of impact I'm seeking--my form of public service.
What's your favorite show on WMNF (aside from your own)?
Well, the hackneyed thing to say here is this question is like asking which of my children is my favorite. Actually, that's not a problem, because I just have one. (Hi, Mike.) It's kind of mind-boggling how many great shows WMNF offers - you can tune in randomly, and always count on hearing someone smart and passionate doing something wonderful. Among my many faves: International Rhythm Vault, Art in Your Ear, Surface Noise and the It's The Music strip.
What's your best memory at WMNF?
Probably the most recent Tropical Heatwave. Flee somehow allowed me to follow him around all night, which was an absolute blast. We have hugely overlapping tastes in music, a similar approach to festival-going (20-30 minutes of a set, then on to the next one), he obviously knows his way around Ybor, and it's Flee! It was such a thoroughly fun adventure, I thought he should consider fashioning a new fund drive premium: for the right pledge, a few people get to join him next year--Flee's Guided Tour Of Tropical Heatwave.
Where did you grow up?
Newport Beach, CA.
What's your idea of the perfect day?
Some sort of family outing in--or on--the water. And if an animal or two can be involved, so much the better.
If you could come back in another life as an animal what kind would you choose and why?
I'd like to come back as an elephant. I guess it goes without saying that I love all animals, but I feel a particular kinship with elephants. I'm enchanted by their supreme intelligence, their emotional sophistication -- for instance, they grieve when a fellow elephant dies -- the premium they place on family, their elegance (maybe a surprising word to use with an animal that can weigh up to seven tons, but they really are elegant), that they're vegetarians, and that they tend to be highly gentle, kind creatures. For those reasons, and others, I'd need to be assured that my reincarnation turned me into an elephant living in the wild; if I had to be a captive elephant, in a zoo or circus, all bets are off. Then I'd just like to come back as one of the animals at our house, who live the life of Riley.
What is something you want to share about yourself with WMNF listeners that they
would be surprised to learn?
That I secretly hate animals? Kidding, of course.
This isn't particularly Talking Animals-related, other than comedy being important to the show, but when I was about 16, I met Groucho Marx. At the time, I was hugely into Marx Bros films, watching "You Bet Your Life" reruns every night, totally taken with Groucho. He was appearing at a benefit in the area, so my parents got me a ticket, and I went. At one point in the evening, he was circulating, I approached him, and shook his hand. He was quite frail (this was about a year before he died), but it was Groucho Marx! I was thrilled.