By JACKIE MOE
What is the true meaning of life? Actor, comedian and writer Justin Long ventures into the minds of celebrities to learn how they spend their time on earth in his new podcast “Life Is Short.”
Through engaging, thoughtful conversations with everyone from actors to musicians to deep thinkers, Justin chats about the experiences that have led them to find meaning in their own lives. Accompanied by his brother, actor and producer Christian Long, the brotherly banter and fun discussions give the Wondery podcast a lighthearted and comedic tone.
As a longtime actor, Justin— recognized for his movie roles such as “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” “Waiting,” and “Galaxy Quest” — said he’s used to getting inside the heads of the characters he plays, so the interview format comes natural to him. Guests so far have included actor/producer Neil Patrick Harris, actress Anna Chlumsky, actress/director Olivia Wilde, actor Kevin Bacon and comedian Neal Brennan.
Justin chatted with us about favorite moments and guests, what it’s like to work side-by-side with his brother, the joys and challenges of running a podcast (including having to venture into the world of Instagram…) and more.
What was the initial inspiration of creating the “Life Is Short” podcast?
I think it was turning 40 – which brought with it, as is common, a heightened awareness of how much and how quickly time is passing. It really snuck up on me and I started rethinking how I was using my remaining time and, more importantly, curious how others were using theirs. I also just really like talking to people and learning about them. So it was a combination of a midlife crisis and being super nosy (laughs).
Who are your podcast heroes? What qualities do they have that have inspired you in your own podcast?
I really love listening to Dax Shepherd’s podcast. He is incredibly bright and curious and has enough knowledge about most subjects that make his contributions really valuable and elevate the conversation. The first podcast I ever did was Anna Faris’s “Unqualified” which I also loved – Anna had a very easy, laid-back approach to her interviews that made me feel like a very engaged fly on the wall. Both Anna and Dax are very empathetic people which, I think, is the most important attribute for the podcasters I enjoy listening to.
You’ve had a pretty diverse group of people on — Fran Drescher, Kevin Bacon, Wolfgang Puck, etc. — who has been the most:
Fun? Fran was fun because she’s so unpredictable and opinionated and… fun. But Cobie Smulders and Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell are all people whose company I so enjoy in life, so hanging out with them in front of a microphone was equally fun.
Fascinating? Wolfgang Puck has a fascinating upbringing which I was almost completely unaware of. Jeremy Renner’s view of life and death fascinated me. I’m honestly fascinated by some part of every guest we’ve had so far.
Thought-provoking? I hope this isn’t a cop-out but I’ve also found every guest we’ve had to be thought-provoking to some degree but the interview with Roger McNamee (author of the book “Zucked”) was one I still think about – he opened my eyes to so many hidden dangers of social media. Jesse Eisenberg has such an open and empathetic worldview that he has made me reevaluate my own behavior towards people through a more understanding and forgiving lens.
Has anyone made you nervous or anxious to talk to?
Most of the guests I’m, at least, slightly nervous to talk to. But obviously the ones I didn’t know have been the most nerve-wracking. Wolfgang Puck, despite never having met him, really put me at ease – he was so disarmingly down to earth and sweet. Neil Patrick Harris is an old friend of mine but Neil is, himself, such a great host and deft conversationalist that I felt pretty nervous in the beginning of that one. Ditto for Lena Dunham. And in both cases they’re people I really admire. They were also two of our very first few episodes.
What challenges have you faced so far venturing into the podcast industry?
I was saying “yeah” too much. Somebody pointed it out and as much as I wanted to disagree with it, I couldn’t. I’ve also had to curb an annoying instinct to talk over people if I get excited by something that springs into my head. I also had to start an Instagram account – which went from being a challenge to something I’ve begun to enjoy.
What has been your most special moment since launching so far?
I think the most special moments have been hearing and reading peoples positive feedback about the show. It’s something I’m so much more personally invested in than a movie or TV show I do. It’s really just me and my brother talking, so any positive reinforcement about that I take very personally. It’s also been really special getting to do it with my brother.
I love that you have your brother by your side to “hold you accountable” the way siblings do and reveal a different side of you to your listeners. What does that mean to you to work with Christian?
We’ve been creative partners for a long time and have had many scripts never see the light of day, so it’s nice and deeply rewarding to see a creative endeavor of our’s come to fruition. It’s incredibly gratifying. He also brings out the best in me — I’m my funniest and most engaged when I’m interacting with him. I think we challenge each other really effectively and push each other to be as funny as we can be. And as much as we share a very similar comedic sensibility, we are different people and his criticism and commentary I find more valuable than anyone else’s. I suppose I respect him more than anyone else.
What do you hope to achieve with this podcast?
I didn’t have these ambitions going in but it would be really nice to just be a positive, fun, interesting, whatever presence in people’s lives. Selfishly, I’d always just hoped it would be fun, which it definitely has been such a fun creative outlet. But now the thought of having a positive impact on someone’s day, on someone’s life, is something I hadn’t considered but feels insanely gratifying.
Discuss this interview with Backstage SoCal publisher Jackie Moe via Twitter at @jackieemoe