Wellness podcast Poog explores industry trends with humour

Jacqueline Novak, a co-host of the podcast Poog, in Westchester, New York, on Aug 17, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Kate Berlant, a co-host of the podcast Poog, is pictured in Pittsburgh, in July 2021.. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - At first glance, Poog, a podcast about the wellness industry, seems to be a gag. The name is Goop spelled backwards, after all.

Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak, the comedians who started the podcast in November, are equal parts irreverent and earnest on subjects like face yoga, colonics, optimising one's potential during menstruation, lymphatic drainage and crystals. The premise of Poog is not to debunk or even fact-check wellness trends, but to playfully explore them with a curious audience.

"I think people wonder if it's a parody because they can't believe we have the audacity to act that intense about hyaluronic acid," said Novak, 38, from her home in Hollywood.

The "hags", as they call themselves, have different areas of interest. Novak leans toward esoterica and the metaphysical: ghosts, astral projection, out-of-body experiences, EMDR therapy and skin care, to name a few.

Berlant, 34, is also fascinated by skin care, along with mindfulness and food: dairy and dairy alternatives, gluten-free bread, cage-free eggs, microgreens, hotel buffets, spaghetti dinners and martinis (she's a fan).

Podcasts are big business now, and so is wellness. A survey of digital media consumer behavior, conducted by Edison Research, reported that in 2020, monthly podcast listeners in the United States topped 100 million for the first time. As for wellness, its market value is estimated to be in the trillions of dollars.

Wellness is a market that thrives on the celebration of one's own specialness, where "You go, girl" has become less a rallying cry and more an endlessly looped mantra. This daily grind of onanistic boosterism can get exhausting.

Novak and Berlant could be considered the antidote, and yet they were invited into the high temple of wellness when they appeared on a Goop podcast, The Beauty Closet, in July.

"Because wellness and beauty are considered feminine realms in our culture, they're derided and devalued. Berlant and Novak get at the pure sexism behind that notion," said Jean Godfrey-June, the beauty editor of Goop and host of the podcast. "As a woman, always getting 'less than' messages from the culture, all you can do is laugh, and 'Poog' makes me laugh."

Kate Berlant, a co-host of the podcast Poog, is pictured in Pittsburgh, in July 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Although the podcast began during the pandemic lockdown, the two friends are no longer spending so much time in their living rooms. Berlant just finished filming a role in Olivia Wilde's new movie, Don't Worry Darling and began shooting Abbi Jacobson's A League Of Their Own for Prime Video.

And Novak's one-woman show, Get On Your Knees, had a sold-out run at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York earlier this summer; she's taking the show on tour next month.

From the first episode, the comedians said that part of their motivation for doing the podcast was a quest for free products. And companies delivered. "The products are coming," Berlant said. "It's actually stressful because there's so many, and they're arriving so quickly." She added that "everything tastes better when it's free." The commercialisation of wellness is ripe for a skewering, but Novak and Berlant aren't interested in myth busting.

"There's something endlessly fascinating about listening to people whip themselves into a frenzy over products," said John Early, an actor who has collaborated with both women for years. "I really wish for them freedom from the prison of consumerism, but I also think then we wouldn't have such a great podcast."

Actress Megan Mullally is a fan, as is Amy Schumer, who talked about the show on Paris Hilton's podcast. "It really is people not apologising for who they are and just sharing their genuine thoughts and feelings," Schumer said.

Miranda July, an author and filmmaker, is another fan.

"It's comedy in its most complex form," July said of the podcast. "This should be the basic unit of measurement of the highest human thought: two women talking."

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