By Paul Karolyi, Special to Denverite
On the very first episode of These Things Matter, published way back in the quiet pre-Serial days of April 2012, co-host Kevin O’Brien told the story of how the podcast came to be: “About a month or two ago, [co-host Taylor Gonda] and I were at a comedy show, and I said something to her about falling asleep while having sex.” Gonda confirmed, and O’Brien concluded, “And now, pretty much, we’re doing a pop culture podcast.”
But now, with O’Brien joining the flock of creatives departing Denver for greener pastures in New York City this March and Gonda plotting a possible move of her own to Los Angeles, These Things Matter is coming to an end.
These Things Matter had evolved over five years to become one of Denver’s most respected and popular podcasts. It won all the awards a local podcast can win; both Gonda and O’Brien were named to Westword’s list of “Colorado Creatives”; and they sold out their live fourth anniversary show at Syntax Physic Opera in April 2016.
“But it’s kind of hit a plateau,” Gonda said. “It’s not a bad place to be. We have a steady listenership and a following, but we both have plenty of things we want to do outside of the show.”
Over the past year, These Things Matter’s fans have listened along as Gonda dipped her toes into the world of professional DJing. (You can see her spinning vinyl at Sputnik every first Friday of the month.)
O’Brien is moving to New York with his long-time girlfriend and fellow comedian Mara Wiles so they can take their comedy careers to the next level. “Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever see Taylor again,” O’Brien joked. “Maybe on Instagram or something.”
Posted every Tuesday for the past five years, These Things Matter has explored “pop culture, autobiographically,” as the tagline goes. O’Brien and Gonda invited comedians, musicians and a mix of other creatives to Gonda’s Cap Hill apartment to discuss their pop culture touchstones, ranging from Led Zeppelin and The Beatles to Haruki Murakami and Marvel Comics.
After a couple months figuring out the concept and tone, Gonda says they settled into a groove that’s carried them through to today. “I think it was the Weezer episode with Adam Cayton-Holland that did it,” O’Brien added. “After that, I remember thinking, oh, so we just have to do this — get a semi-famous comedian to talk about something they love — every week.”
They also figured out early on how to work together, according to O’Brien. Because he came into the show with some radio experience, O’Brien took care of the production and editing duties, while Gonda managed the business side and social media. “We’re both on top of our shit,” Gonda said, “that’s why I think we both like working together.”
Working out a division of labor also kept the pressure of their relationship outside the show, and they’ve remained close as a result. “If you’ve listened to the show from the beginning, you’ve basically heard our friendship,” Gonda said. A quick scroll through These Things Matter’s back catalog reveals the shape of their creative partnership, from the triumphs, like booking their podcaster role model Tom Scharpling, to memorable bumps in the road, like the notorious Britney Spears episode in which the guests showed up drunk and weren’t interested in having a conversation.
Wiles described the dynamic as a mix of a brother-sister and co-worker relationship.
“I think they are both playing it cool about it ending,” Wiles said. “Kevin turns on his host ‘tude and he plays it cool, but it was a five-year commitment and I know they were both a little tense about what was going to happen next. I think it’s a good chapter ending for both of them.”
These Things Matter has had a lasting impact on Denver’s comedy and podcasting communities. “It laid the foundation for a lot of other Denver podcasts and it really brought people together,” Wiles said. “I think it was an important show.”
It also inspired a younger generation of podcasters. JD Lopez, host of Left Hand Right Brain, said that when he first started podcasting These Things Matter was the “gold standard for how to do a podcast locally.” Other local podcast borrowed from the way that Gonda and O’Brien formatted their shows.
“Before I started mine, I looked at their website and copied how they posted their episodes,” he said. “The first show I did had a male-female dynamic like theirs. My friend suggested it, and I remember thinking ‘These Things Matter did it, and they’re doing great.’ ”
“They were trend-setters,” Lopez said.
As a young comic, Lopez dreamed of being invited onto These Things Matter. O’Brien and Gonda sought established guests with followings of their own, so an invitation conveyed recognition and respect.
“As I’ve been listening over the years, I’ve always thought about what topic I would want to do,” Lopez said. “It used to be ‘Rocky,’ but then Mara Wiles did ‘Rocky’ — she was great! — now it’s Jackie Chan.”
With less than two months of shows remaining, it’s looking more and more like that window is closing. “I would still love to do it if I get the chance.”
Paul Karolyi is a freelance writer and podcast producer. He hosts Changing Denver, the podcast about our city’s physical spaces, how we make them and how they make us.