‘It’s dumb content for smart people’: How Long Gone, the Podcast Everyone Wants to Appear on
It’s got celebrity guests, insiders’ tips, and discussions about post-sobriety friendship. We meet the two hosts who have propelled their podcast to the cutting edge of pop culture
There are too many podcasts. Every celebrity under the sun has one. You can even get an MA in podcasting. Trade publications say the bubble is bursting. That doesn’t bother Los Angeles-based Chris Black and Jason Stewart, hosts of the cool, prolific and wildly popular chatshow How Long Gone. “Turns out that a celebrity who only made a podcast to make money was actually not good at it, and as soon as their 10 episodes were up, they got their cheque and they finished,” says Stewart. “The cream will always rise to the top and I’m creamy, baby.”
Black adds: “I think the podcast bubble is bursting for certain people, but I imagine that will just make the playing field more clear.
People who do it because they love it, we’ll stick around.”
Such confidence might seem borderline hubristic. But Black and Stewart have built How Long Gone into something compelling and unique. First launched in the early weeks of the pandemic as a way for the pair to stay in touch and chat with their (smart, successful, often famous) friends, How Long Gone has now run for more than 450 episodes, each one acting like a comedy show, in-depth interview and niche scene report rolled into one.
Episodes have featured guests as varied as Charli XCX, Financial Times journalist Jo Ellison and Violet Cakes owner Claire Ptak. But the topics of conversation are generally the same, ranging from the best supermarkets and guests’ favourite prescription pills to sceney party gossip and the vagaries of media and entertainment. There is the sense that anyone could get on the pod. As I’m waiting to chat to the pair at the Standard hotel in London, their publicist divulges that he is hoping to net an invite.
The podcast’s clout is accruing fast – as evidenced by the fact that, the day after we speak, Black and Stewart host their first London live show, with a guest they have been trying to bag for a long time: Alexa Chung. Stewart describes Chung’s booking as his and Black’s “hero story” (“You name a string, we pulled it”) and Chung herself gamely gets on How Long Gone’s level, discussing, among other things, her fitness routine and her fondness for the occasional painkiller.
Black, 40, works as a creative consultant for brands such as Thom Browne and J Crew; Stewart, 42, is a DJ who threw an influential weekly party at Los Angeles’ now-defunct Cinespace club and taught Zac Efron how to DJ for the 2015 electronic dance music movie We Are Your Friends. Neither are bothered by the idea that their discussion of insidery restaurants, bars, publications and parties – many of which are discussed totally sans-context – may seem too niche. Black describes this quality as the podcast’s “special sauce”, and both hosts agree it is an inherent part of the appeal.
“The way I grew up was like, if you’re hanging out with cool older kids and they mention a band or a place or or a movie, instead of saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know what that is,’ you just laugh and smile, and then you go home, take the time to research what they’re talking about, and discover it yourself,” says Stewart. “I want to create that for this generation.”
How Long Gone’s status as a kind of cosmopolitan city guide only captures a sliver of its appeal. Certainly, that’s not the reason that so many well-dressed twentysomethings crammed into Black and Stewart’s two London shows. Part of the fun just comes from hearing the pair riff on stupid Twitter beefs, terrible airline food and other ephemeral parts of their lives: Black and Stewart are extremely funny in a way that is not mannered or hammy. They say they are never short of material, which makes it easy to keep up the three-to-four episode a week clip they have developed. “Every day, there’s 10 new things to talk about – there’s 10 new apps, there’s 10 new fashion lines to make fun of, there’s 10 new albums that are bad,” says Stewart. “It’s like going to a museum and everyone’s looking at the same painting, and we’re the guided tour. What else do you need?”
Black says: “I think there’s also something to be said about real friendship being on display. I think that’s something we’re in a short supply of. I think people can sense when it becomes a business – people could tell when the Rolling Stones started taking separate planes to the gigs.”
Adds Stewart: “This is our therapy slash kiki.”
An interesting byproduct of that real friendship: How Long Gone has inadvertently become one of the most insightful looks at sobriety in podcasting. Black is sober, after battling an addiction to prescription opiates in his 30s, while Stewart still drinks and takes drugs; the resulting conversations they have on the podcast about drugs and sobriety are vastly different from those on more specifically wellness-minded shows.
“I think it’s an important thing to talk about and to destigmatise as much as possible. I think that we do it in a way that’s pretty approachable,” says Black. “I shy away from earnestness as much as possible, but I think addiction is really tough, and a lot of people struggle with it. If Jason and I can joke about it and make people feel comfortable, or think about it in a different way, then that’s like the least I could do.”
“We’re also showing an example of a friendship of a sober person and a not sober person. I think a lot of young people out there could be listening and be like, ‘Oh, my friend had a drug problem, they got sober, and now I don’t know how to act around them’,” says Stewart. “We’re kind of showing how to still hang out and be social in situations where one person is sober and one person isn’t. How do you navigate something that’s so sensitive?”
While much of the press around How Long Gone categorises it as a “bro-cast” – given the hosts’ proclivity for expressions such as “bro” and “fire” – it’s these displays of friendship that make that tag feel misguided. Stewart says he doesn’t care either way. “It makes us harder to find and easier to appreciate,” he says. “It pleases me to have somebody think we’re a fucking bro-cast of two straight white guys talking. [People are like] ‘I’m going to hate it. Actually, I kind of like it. Actually, I love it.’”
In general, How Long Gone has an air of unproduced reality that sets it apart from a lot of the more scripted-feeling chatshows that abound. Celebrity guests seem endeared to Black and Stewart’s conversational style, which means that How Long Gone’s interviews often feel more revealing: during her interview, Charli XCX discussed her reluctance to leave a major label, while the indie musician Snail Mail spoke candidly about her reasons for entering rehab. What begins as banter can often lead to surprising insight.
“We could have a dumbed-down conversation like a normal chat show, but that’s not entertaining to us,” says Stewart. “We’d like to think that we’re doing dumb content for smart people. That’s a good little window to fit into.”
Even if the podcast bubble isbursting, Black and Stewart are sure that How Long Gone has a bright future. They have just signed with CAA, the behemoth talent agency, and have their eyes on an expansion into television. Is it risky, I ask, to build a brand predicated on being cool?
“Obviously you can’t stop ageing, and there’s nothing worse than being like old guy at the club,” Black says. “But we use Bret Easton Ellis, our friend who’s been on the show, as an example. He’s older than us, but he’s so interested in what’s going on, in this way that I think keeps you young.”
“For most people, once you hit your mid-30s, you just stop – you stop trying because your career, your family, your kids, whatever, it gets in the way and you stop caring about what’s cool,” says Stewart. “You have to make a conscious effort to find new books, movies, music, whatever. We’ll do that until we die.”
Moving beyond a podcast, then, makes perfect sense. “Culture is flat – everything is the same everywhere, so our market is bigger than it ever has been before. This will work in London, Australia, the US, Canada – there’s more access to the things that we’re talking about than ever before,” says Black. “The world is primed for us.”