Compassionate Investigation: An Interview With the Minds Behind “Oh No, Ross & Carrie!”
I have a confession:
I am a podcast fiend.
I’m always on the prowl for new podcasts, and I’ve gotten to where I’d much rather listen to a podcast while I work or do chores (instead of music). I’m also incredibly particular about what podcasts I listen to (Citizen Radio has spoiled me, what can I say?) – so sifting through the seemingly endless podcast listings on iTunes in search of that perfect show can be tedious.
Oh No, Ross & Carrie is one of those rare podcasts that I love being able to unequivocally recommend to my fellow podcast junkies. Headed by Carrie Poppy and Ross Blocher, they investigate “spirituality, fringe science and the paranormal (from a scientific, evidence-based standpoint).” They’ve taken on The Mormons, reflexology, dowsing, exorcisms, and many more! The best part? They actually visit and experience these beliefs for themselves, and they do so with a sense of humor and genuine curiosity. If you’ve never had the pleasure of listening to the show, you can check it out using their RSS Feed, or by subscribing via iTunes.
One of the bummers about podcasts is that many content creators don’t even get paid for their hard work! iTunes doesn’t currently support paid subscriptions for podcasts, so many rely on donations from listeners by hosting subscriptions through their own site. This is where you come in! Right now, Oh No, Ross & Carrie is taking part in the Maximum Fun donation drive, so it’s a great time for you to sign up and support some quality investigative journalism. The link to their drive can be found here, and it’s super important that you indicate during sign-up that you are registering to support Oh No, Ross & Carrie. The donation drive is taking place until 3/28, so don’t wait too long to sign up as a supporter. Here are some of the perks:
$5/Month: A warm fuzzy feeling that you support great media, and access to special bonus content.
$10/Month: All of the above, and a calendar with your favorite podcasters as cats!
$35/Month: All of the above, and pair of rocket engraved highball glasses.
$100/Month: All of the above, and Inner Circle membership.
$200/Month: All of the above, and free registration on the second Atlantic Ocean Comedy and Music Festival!
If you’re on the fence about checking out Oh No, Ross & Carrie (for shame!), I don’t think you will be after seeing what they have to say about the show. Lucky for you, I had a chance to ask them a few questions, so read on to learn more!
First off, can you give us a little bit of background about your show for people who are unfamiliar?
CP: Hi, everyone! Ross and I host a podcast called Oh No, Ross and Carrie! which is essentially a look at fringe America. We investigate spirituality, fringe science, and claims of the paranormal, by partaking in them ourselves. Each of our monthly episodes covers a new investigation (with some of our longer investigations being two-parters). In the course of doing our show for the last three years, we have gone undercover to become Mormons, join the Raëlians, hang with the 9/11 truthers, and even join the Tony Alamo Christian ministries cult, led by a convicted child sex abuser, from prison. We have also been cupped, received acupuncture, been hypnotized and exorcised, received psychic readings, taken a speed reading course, and had our DNA analyzed. Basically, if it might show up in the “weird news” section of your local bookstore, we want to try it out.
RB: Our motto is, “We show up so you don’t have to.” Carrie and I get ourselves into some strange and often uncomfortable, even downright icky, situations so we can report back to our listeners. We like to think our show is as entertaining as it is informative. The criteria for an investigation is that it represents an extraordinary claim: fringe science, pseudoscience, the paranormal, or something along those lines. I once met a guy who offered to get me into a furry convention. I was thinking what a great episode that would make, until I remembered that people who wear large animal costumes aren’t making any wild claims about how the world works.
What has been your favorite episode of the show to date? Any least favorite episodes? What did you love/hate about those episodes?
CP: My favorite investigation was definitely the Mormons, because they were such nice people and it was a really humanizing experience, to interact with them and understand why they believe what they believe. But it was also eye-opening to see how much people suffered for their beliefs (especially women, from what I saw, but I suspect it is the same for LGBT members). I will never forget that experience. But my favorite episode to listen to is probably our exorcism episode. In it, one of Bob Larson’s team of teenage exorcists tries to exorcise me, and hilarity ensues. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say, it turns out exorcising me isn’t exactly easy. As for least favorite investigations, the hardest ones for me to complete were the Ordo Templi Orientis and 9/11 truther investigations. Both groups were run by sanctimonious pseudo-intellectuals that were hard to stomach, even though much of the rank-and-file were quite nice. Listening-wise, I think our crisis pregnancy center episode might be a little weaker than the others, because we couldn’t get very far once they tested my urine and found out there was no baby in my belly. But hey, we did what we could. Even though I had a role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, I still don’t quite know how to fake a baby.
RB: The Mormon episodes always jump to the top of our list of favorite investigations, because the Mormons we met were able to match our enthusiasm, and worked more than any other group to create an immediate and all-encompassing sense of community for “investigators” (their term for people who are looking into joining the church). It’s hard to pick favorites, though I also really enjoyed the exorcism experience, as well as our time with the Raelians, OTO, and the Tony Alamo Ministries – those were all really fun to talk with my friends about while we were in the process of investigating. Another favorite of mine was speed reading, because that’s something I actively want to pursue in my personal life, and I found it more helpful than I had expected it to be.
Generally, the more human interaction we get, the better. There are lots of things to research that are just Carrie and I trying out pills or measuring an effect – I think it’s better when we can spend time with someone (or a group) who believes the claim. My least favorites are probably the Sikh and Pro-Life Pregnancy Center episodes, just because I feel we didn’t get enough information. We might revisit the Sikhs down the line. The least comfortable for me personally was the Hydrocolinic Therapy investigation – the reason will be abundantly clear to anyone who listens.
Can you give us any hints about new episodes and investigations you have planned?
CP: Well, Ross and I are each getting certified in something we previously investigated (Ross is doing something a bit more spiritual; I’m doing something a bit more fringe sciencey). We’re taking some very expensive classes to get on the real inside track. Which is part of why we’re in serious need of sustaining donations right now!
RB: At any given moment, we’re at least part-way into three or four investigations, or doing early research for something we plan to investigate down the line. There’s been a few we’ve had to put on hold for various reasons and plan to come back to. I’ll just say that right now we’re attending the services of another fringe religious group that does a lot of chanting.
If people can come away from your show with one thing, what would you like it to be?
CP: Compassion. Second priority: a good chuckle.
RB: A light-hearted and open-minded approach to new ideas, even ones that sound a bit far-fetched, with a healthy foundation of common sense.
You seem to always find the most unique and off the wall subjects! How do you come up with and decide on your topics?
CP: We have an ongoing list that we and our producer have access to, where we keep all our ideas and research. It started out as us just jotting down all the things we’ve always wanted to try, and has ballooned into a massive list that’s constantly being added to. Most of the list is now suggestions from listeners. Since we have listeners from all over the world (hi, Sweden!), we’re lucky to get suggestions for all kinds of groups and practices that we might never have heard about otherwise.
RB: It’s a very long list – it would take us the better part of a decade just to get through our wish list and the ideas listeners have sent us. We’re going to try! In any given month we’ll choose an investigation that is either timely (meetings happen to be going on near us), topical, feels like a change of pace, or is something we can accomplish in the time we have available. Carrie and I are constantly shuffling ideas around and evaluating what we can do between our busy schedules.
If money and connections were no issue, who or what would you most like to do an episode about?
CP: Well, we hope to get the money for all our investigation ideas, eventually, so we can’t spill those beans. But if time were no issue (and you ARE Mad Art Lab, so please build us a time machine), I wish I could go see what really happened at the People’s Temple in Guyana.
RB: I’d like to spend time with a snake-handling congregation, but those are awfully far away and quite rare. I’d also be fascinated to see the process of a cult forming. Just to be present for those crucial moments when the first followers believe and create a group large enough to attract followers. That process mystifies and intrigues me.
A lot of critiques or investigations of religious groups I see are based in a complete lack of understanding of theological doctrine, but it often strikes me how knowledgeable you guys are on such matters – for example in your recent episode about Tony Alamo, you reference the doctrine of eternal security. That’s not a term you hear used much by non-religious people! What helps you be so knowledgeable on these fronts?
CP: Ross and I both were evangelical Christians when we were younger, so you’ll definitely hear inside vocab in our episodes. I think I’m just as interested in religion, and especially in Christianity, as I was back then. Christianity is in my heritage and still has significant influence on how I think. And I’m also just not a “hardcore atheist.” I think there was a moment in time where I might have qualified as such, but I am much more interested in understanding religion and believers, and finding common ground, than in pointing out our differences.
Oh, and also, we google the shit out of everything.
RB: I was definitely a hardcore evangelical Christian up until college, where I was president of my college’s Bible study group, LIGHT (Living in God’s Hands Today). The Bible’s just part of who I am, and I continue to study it. Carrie and I both have that background and continue to read on those subjects. I still read a fair amount of Christian literature and have a church family outside of our investigations. Theology is one of my favorite subjects to talk about with smart people of all persuasions.
You guys have the ability to discuss these zany sorts of topics (like dowsing) without being condescending, and I think that’s really important. Do you ever find it hard to keep that up?
CP: Thanks, I’m really glad it comes across that way. I don’t think it’s too hard to respect the people we talk to, partly because I believed in a great many of these things once, myself. If I thought the people who believe in them were dumb or gullible, I’d have to say the same of myself! I really don’t buy that there is some deep divide between people who believe things and people who don’t. I think we all just have access to different kinds of evidence, and evaluate them differently. I’m sure there are plenty of things I believe in that other people find unlikely.
RB: It’s always a relief to hear someone say that we don’t come off as condescending. Our show is meant to be funny, but we hope the humor derives from situations and ideas, and not at the expense of well-meaning people. I don’t know if we always succeed, but that is the goal. Carrie’s point is really important, and it’s easy to forget: we’ve all believed something at some point that we no longer accept. It’s part of maturing as a human, and any person we meet may be at a different stage in that journey. She or he is working with a different set of experiences and influences, and may very well change her or his mind based on the evidence. It’s as logical a stance as it is a compassionate one. That, and I think we just genuinely like most people.
Tell readers in one sentence why they should give you money (besides the fact that your show is overwhelmingly awesome). Do you have a set amount of money that is budgeted toward hot drinks?
CP: One run-on sentence? Okay! You should give us money because we want to investigate the thing you are dying for us to investigate (seriously, I promise you, whatever it is, it’s on our list), whether you want us to investigate a particular religious group that a certain infamous Oscar-presenter is in, or you are dying to hear about whether reptilians really rule the Earth, so help us keep the show alive and keep doing bigger and better stuff!
As for hot drinks, we generally just complain when a place we’re investigating doesn’t provide them for free. I mean, my god, THIS IS AMERICA.
RB: Imagine a sad world in which psychics are reading fortunes and congregations are meeting to chant, but no one is amongst them and asking a bunch of questions with an intent to tell you all about it, and then realize that such a world will come to pass if you don’t give us money to ensure we’ll keep making more episodes because we could not afford to otherwise!
I’d like to extend a huge thanks again to Ross and Carrie for taking the time to answer my questions and give some insight into the exciting world of Oh No, Ross & Carrie! Once again, you can check out the show using their RSS Feed, or by subscribing via iTunes. And if you can, please support their forays into investigative journalism by donating to their show using this handy link! Again, please make sure to earmark your funds for their show by indicating that you are registering to support Oh No, Ross & Carrie. It isn’t every day you find an informative and compassionate look into some of society’s “fringe” ideas, and I think we can all agree that’s something this world needs a little bit more of.
Featured image by Amy Davis Roth