There’s no denying the eccentricity of “Everything Is Alive.” Above all else, it’s a strange idea that, if it weren’t so perfectly executed, would have faded into the oblivion of the cyberspace. While it’s described as an unscripted interview show with inanimate objects, from phone booths to pillows, pregnancy tests to subway seats, actual interview shows wish they could be at this caliber.
“Everything Is Alive” is a Radiotopia podcast hosted by Ian Chillag. Over the course of 20 minutes, he interviews seemingly innocuous objects, sometimes voiced by other podcasters, about their everyday lives. How does a chair feel when it’s sat on? What happens when a mousetrap is allergic to peanut butter? What do socks think about being worn with sandals? While Chillag was inspired by the miserable existence of being sat on, having zero autonomy, every object seems to be thrilled to do their jobs. It’s like if “Podcast But Outside” were mixed with “Armchair Expert.”
The entire podcast, from conception to execution, is essentially a parody of the podcasting industry even though Chillag has said that that is not the point. “Everything Is Alive” finds the humor in taking an absurd premise very seriously to the point where it actually finds poignancy within these made up stories. It’s like a strange character study you’d expect to be assigned by your weirdest acting teacher that turned out to be the greatest class you ever took.
Sal the Sock
Take Chillag’s most recent guest, Sal the Sock. He’s a little bit lovestruck with his other half, Rebecca, and has had a good, long life with his teenage owner. The episode opens up with Sal telling us when he and Rebecca first met, him being his usual loud self and her not so thrilled to be paired with him. But, she falls for his charms just like we do. They’re both ankle socks – white with a red line, great for tennis shoes and everyday sneakers, but God forbid if you wear them with boots. Your poor ankles. Chillag comments that Sal is actually an athletic sock, to which Sal is so grateful to be considered as athletic. Teenage boys don’t really wear ankle socks to basketball practice.
Sal, voiced by Sebastian Conelli, writer, actor, and host of “Loud About Nothing,” is so earnest and so deeply devoted to his life as a sock, that you need to know what he will say next. It may be something silly, like how terrifying the washing machine is, but the dryer is an oasis, the calm after the storm. It may be something even sillier, like how Sal one time ended up in the pocket of a pair of pants while inside the dryer, something Rebecca found just absolutely ridiculous. He isn’t shy about his feelings towards Thanksgiving socks, always bragging about their dinner that they get to attend just once a year. Don’t even get him started on Santa socks – those are worse.
But, it may be something achingly sentimental, like how Rebecca is actually missing. She’s been gone for quite some time, and Sal has been banished to the bottom of the sock drawer, sporadically calling out to the top of the drawer for his partner. He heartrendingly reminisces about the month he and Rebecca spent in the unfinished basement.
Peanut butter or almond butter?
It’s so weirdly charming. Within its absurdity is a poison dart that is destined to find the chink in your armor. While you’re disarmed by the hilarity of the subject, of the mousetrap filled with almond butter who has been set for three weeks because her owner doesn’t understand that mice would much rather peanut butter, is something disturbingly relatable. Because that mousetrap has been on edge for nearly a month, ready to snap. Every single object has such a unique and distinct personality, sometimes based around its purpose, sometimes deliberately the opposite. What is this uptight mousetrap to do when her only purpose is the last thing she wants to do? What is Sal, the overwhelmingly optimistic sock, going to do without Rebecca?
And within that painful reality is something kind of beautiful? It’s finding the little things that make life, or existence, worth it all.
We are also probably taking this podcast too seriously; at its core, it’s a whimsical podcast that can make anyone and anything sound endlessly interesting. “Everything Is Alive” is just so good. Chillag is so very likeable, the guests are brilliant voice actors, and the themes are oddly touching. And, it truly doesn’t have to be an existential listen if you don’t want it to be. It’s just a quick 20 minutes that will no doubt brighten your day.