Every week, the Features Section publishes an interview with a particularly active, interesting, or notorious senior: the WesCeleb. But where do these people go after they graduate? In our WesCelebs Revisited series, The Argus is checking in with alums who got the special designation in the past to hear about their time at Wes and see what they’re up to now. And as always, we’re taking WesCeleb nominations for current seniors.
In her 2007 WesCeleb interview, Andrea Silenzi ’07 mostly talked about her work at WESU, the University’s radio station. About two weeks after the interview was published, she was embroiled in a controversy with The New York Times over a falsified entry to its well-known Metropolitan Diary column. She’s gone on to work in podcasts and is now a Supervising Creative Producer at Spotify. The Argus Zoomed with Silenzi to hear about that scandal, her time at Wes, and her work since graduating.
The Argus: What’s your memory of that interview?
Andrea Silenzi: I feel like I always wanted to be asked to be a WesCeleb, but then when I was asked, it didn’t really check out with what I thought my campus status was, if that makes sense. Like the idea that you could be a WesCeleb, but still be struggling, bouncing between different friend groups and not really knowing your place in campus life or loving parties. I remember being really flattered by the ask and eager for the status, but I don’t think it had any impact beyond feeding my ego.
A: Can you talk about the NYT scandal?
AS: About two weeks after I was interviewed for being a WesCeleb, I was involved in a hoax on the New York Times. There’s an infamous column there called the Metropolitan Diary. The closest thing I had to compare it to at the time was a this popular blog—we used to have these things called blogs before TikTok—called Overheard in New York. But the Metropolitan Diaries [are] a different kind of what you overhear in New York—it’s a very Upper West Side snooty, the-homeless-people-say-the-darndest-things, kind of voice. Through my volunteer work with a radio station called WFMU, we did a program where we crowdsourced the ultimate entry to the Metropolitan Diary, which then went on to be published. Because I was the show’s intern, I was the one who made the call and got it published. And then the editor of the column came for me. It was a moment where the New York Times was really—we didn’t have the phrase fake news back then—but they were very afraid of being accused of [fabricating information]. There was a famous reporter who made up a ton of lies about the Iraq War, and they were very sensitive to having that continue to be their reputation. So this editor decided to come down on me for lying to The New York Times.
A: It sounded very harsh, especially cause you were a twenty-something in college at the time.
AS: He called me for a statement, and during the statement I could hear him typing furiously, possibly on a typewriter [laughs]. He asked me to defend myself, why would I do such a thing? I was explaining to him the history of this radio station and the joke of what we were doing and the thing we were bringing attention to. He said that I must be a very egotistical person, because there’s a lot about me on the internet. I think he found my WesCeleb interview. Now that I’m looking back on the timeline, I think he found that exact interview, and that was his definition of there being a lot about me on the internet. I blame the Argus.
A: You worked at WESU as a student. Can you talk about what you did there, what it was like?
AS: My work at WESU was the most rewarding part of Wesleyan, period. At the time that I joined the station, community members were fully integrated. So it was my first experience of having adult friends, and it was my first experience thinking about Middletown as a city and the community and the culture that Wesleyan feeds off of. I became friends with CmdrAleon, who has a show about UFOs, and I became friends with the natural food hosts, and I became friends with a homeless man named Fred who ran The Homeless Report. It was so fun and so cool. Within my time at WESU, I was a DJ all four years for a show called ‘Andrea’s Antique Radio Show,’ where I would play old-time radio dramas with occasional commentary from me and then sometimes from my homeless friend Fred. There was a summer that I was working on-campus and I did a sex talk radio show with my friend, Micah, which I hope no one ever finds ever because I don’t think we really knew enough about sex to do a sex talk radio show [laughs]. But we had a lot of fun pretending [that] we did and just making our voices really low. WESU became a place for me to experiment with the storytelling devices that have gone on to feed me in my professional life.
A: You also mentioned in the interview that someone was sending you mail from jail.
AS: I made it sound like he thought I specifically was really special, but I think he sent jail mail to every DJ. But it was my first experience of having a fan, and I think in order to truly live up to the standards expected of a WesCeleb, I had to show off that I had a fan.
A: You had that show with your friend…What’s it called—‘Let’s Get it on With Barry and Eve?’
AS: Oh no, you found it!
A: How did that link up with the show you later did about dating, ‘Why Oh Why?’
AS: I don’t know if I could draw a line between ‘Let’s Get it on With Barry and Eve’ and ‘Why Oh Why.’ When I was creating ‘Why Oh Why’ at WFMU, I kind of stopped and asked myself, what do I know about? What could I talk about for hours? What am I endlessly interested in? And that became dating and relationships. If I got a drink with a friend, that’s all we could talk about. It wasn’t the Mars Rover or television we were watching, it was just who is he? What does he think? What happened to him? I think it was an obsession with me. I think dating has always been an obsession for me. And when I had to pick a subject matter for a podcast, [it] was obvious. Maybe there is a connection.
I think women feel a lot of pressure to have an expertise if we’re going to do something publicly. I don’t think I would have been comfortable doing a show about something I didn’t [have] expertise on. And at that stage in my life, the only thing I felt credible expertise on was my experience being a woman dating. I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable claiming an expertise on other interests I have. I look back all the time and I wonder why I didn’t do a show about whales. I really love whales, but I would have felt like I didn’t know enough about whales, and the whale-people would come for me. I think if I were to do it again I would have thought harder about my subject matter because the personal is really compelling, but it also makes the product that you’re making more emotionally challenging.
A: I guess a podcast about whales would be emotionally challenging in a very different way. What are your stand-out memories from ‘Why Oh Why?’
AS: I think about my time at WFMU as a chance to experiment, because no one was listening. And then I did a show that continued to be an experiment because I was making the show for free as a volunteer. So even though it was over the airwaves and all of New York and New Jersey and [on] a very popular radio station, it still felt like a WESU-like experience where it wasn’t my ‘job job.’ Then, when I brought ‘Why Oh Why’ to Panoply and started making it as my full-time job, that’s when the show really stepped up. My favorite episodes from that time include an episode called ‘How Will I Know?’ about a breakup I was going through. When I started the podcast, I was in a relationship that I thought was going to lead to marriage. He, this person, felt like my family, like I was never going to know anyone as well as [him]. Then we broke up while I was doing a dating podcast. And that was just like, where do I go from here? I think my subtitle for the episode, when I published it was ‘well, here’s the most personal thing ever.’ By episode eight, with [that] episode, I became a correspondent for my broken heart, is the way I thought about it. People don’t love going through a heartbreak, but they love experiencing it through another person. And I think it really helped the show and probably helped me.
A: Did you find it cathartic or therapeutic to talk about on the show?
AS: Yeah, I think there’s a distancing that happens when you get to be the reporter instead of the person just going through something. Another example is I did a series (with a lot of help) from the Women’s March. So, the very first Women’s March, I sent ten women, who became my show correspondents, into bars to talk to men about the March. Men who weren’t attending the March, who were just, you know, watching TV, having a beer. [They asked] them, do you consider yourself a feminist? It turned into a two-part episode, and it was fun to feel like I was a correspondent from the front lines of how men are understanding a feminist movement. But then if you stop to think about how many men don’t believe in our equality if you think about it too hard, it really is not a good feeling. So I would prefer to make a podcast about it than just sit at home, being upset about something.
A: How long did you do ‘Why Oh Why?’ for?
AS: Why Oh Why?’ was a huge success in a lot of ways. It was named the best new podcast by NPR, The New York Times, we were featured in GQ, Esquire, yada yada yada. And then I went on to host a popular parenting podcast called The Longest Shortest Time, which was a huge risk because I’m not a parent, but I’m hoping to become one someday. It was an existing show that had a lot of respect in podcast land. And I got to learn from working really closely with my hero, Hillary Frank. I feel like up until that point, I never had help up-close with how to improve my writing, how to improve my show structure, how to manage a production schedule, and working for an established show helped me to beef up those skills. So I’m getting further and further away from the playground in this narrative now.
A: It’s a different kind of critical distance, but do you think that not being a parent and doing a show about parenting—what was your relationship to that?
AS: Going in, we told ourselves, you don’t have to be an athlete to be a football correspondent. You don’t have to be a scientist to host a science podcast. Radiolab is a great example of that. So couldn’t I not be a parent and host a parenting podcast? But I found myself dealing with a lot of insecurity around, who am I to ask these questions? It was definitely something to overcome and to find my voice in. Towards the end of my time at that show, I think I finally did. I did a series called ‘The Single Lady’s Guide to Sperm Shopping,’ where I talked about all the challenges of, if you are to become a single parent, where do you source the sperm from? There are apps for that now. It’s crazy. And that series was named one of the best podcasts of 2019 by The Atlantic.
A: What was the research for that piece like?
AS: I went to a sperm bank! So for episode one, I downloaded an app where you literally swipe through men’s profiles, who would like to donate their sperm to you. If you think being on Tinder’s hard, just wait. I discovered a culture of men who really want to impregnate [women]. I believe there are undertones of white nationalism and incel culture behind some of these guys. So I stared into the eyes of men who I would never want their sperm and then I tried to figure out, how do I ever take anonymous sperm from a sperm bank and know that I’m not getting that guy’s sperm? There’s no way of really knowing that. It’s a really personal decision where you’re going to find your sperm, and it brings up a lot for people along that journey. I came to the conclusion at the end of the series that if I were to become a single parent, I would have to go through the emotionally draining task of asking a friend, probably a Wesleyan friend [laughs], or I needed to go back to Plan A of dating and try a little harder there. Because I don’t think for all those years I’d spent talking about dating, making podcasts about dating, I’d never stopped and made sure I was really, really putting my all into dating. Right after I left that job I went on a date with this tall guy named Dan and we’ve found love, and now we’re going to get married, and we’ll probably have a baby.
A: Congratulations, that’s so exciting!
AS: I’m not a witch, but I do think [laughs] sometimes if you…I don’t know if making a ton of podcasts about dating helped me to get there, but it was kind of funny that the moment I stopped doing that, dating got way easier because I was sitting in front of the right person.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sophie Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org