The beloved hosts of My Favorite Murder recently started their own podcast network called Exactly Right, and I’ve been so excited to check out their lineup, which caters to audiences that like MFM (also known as: me!). First up on my sampling of Exactly Right’s menu: This Podcast Will Kill You. First of all, that’s a great title. Second, it does something similar to what MFM does — makes an unsavory topic (infectious diseases, in this case) totally cool to talk about. And you’ll definitely want to be friends with these gals.
In each episode, hosts (and PhDs) Erin Welsh and Erin Allman Updyke (who luckily have distinctive voices, so you can tell them apart) dissect an infectious disease, starting with the biology and later discussing the history and cultural contexts of each particular illness.
Not a science person? No big deal. Even though both hosts are disease ecologists and epidemiologists, they break down key terms and make complex microbiological phenomena comprehensible for any listener. The Erins are really funny together too, and they seem so natural at podcasting, even from the early episodes. Adding to the show’s approachability factor is the “quarantini” the hosts make at the start of each episode. Every quarantini is a cocktail themed to match the topic of the show, both in name and in ingredients. In the episode titled “Hit Me with Your Best (Polio) Shot,” the Erins make “The Salk Shot,” after the man who invented the polio vaccine. In the rabies episode, they concoct “Hair of the Rabid Dog,” complete with foamy egg white on top because, you know, foaming at the mouth.
The biological piece of the show is always really enlightening for me because I have pretty much no clue how any major diseases work on a cellular level. And you might think you know how the plague gets from a flea into a rat, but I bet you don’t really understand what is going on in a flea’s tiny esophagus that makes the whole transfer possible. When you hear it, you might look like this dog.
The historical segment is equally fascinating, but for different reasons. The Erins take you from the first known instance of a disease to its “heyday” to today. Speaking of present day, you might be surprised to find out that a lot of stuff you probably assumed had been eradicated has totally not. Like, you can still get the plague. Not to scare you. But you can also get leprosy.
I feel like I learn a lot in each episode during this segment. In the leprosy episode, I not only learned what the heck actually happens to a leprosy patient, but that the biblical leprosy you’ve probably heard of is mostly like not even leprosy at all. On the cultural side of things, I also got a clearer picture of how “lepers” were treated, like up until the 1960s(!). In the episodes on the plague in all its varieties, I learned that there was an antisemitic element to humans blaming one another for spreading the disease.
As a person who grew up with (and still deals with) an intense fear of vomiting, I thought this podcast might be tough for me to listen to because guess what’s a popular symptom of almost everything horrible?! Yep. The vom. But I haven’t found TPWKY to be problematic in any way for me. But if you’re someone who is truly phobic of infectious disease in general, it might be tough to listen to every now and then. (Or heck, it might be like exposure therapy!)
When I recommend podcasts to others, I like to think of similarly themed or toned shows that listeners might enjoy. For TPWKY, besides MFM, Invisibilia comes to mind first, along with Radiolab. It’s all the science of Radiolab with the strong female voices of MFM or Invisibilia (which also features plenty of science). As I mentioned earlier, I also like that the show kind of “reclaims” a don’t-talk-about-it-over-dinner topic and makes it the start of a casual conversation. Plus, you learn not only about disease but about how humans react to it and how we treat each other. At it’s core, TPWKY is a study of humanity on both a micro and macro level, and I get the feeling this podcast is going to hit it really big in 2019.
So give it a listen. And please, wash your hands.