Did you ever wonder about earwax, and exactly why you shouldn't dig it out of your ear canal with a cotton swab? Or about the Nazis' failed attempts to infiltrate American society during World War II, and the pretty boneheaded ways in which they were found out? Josh Clark and Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant, hosts of the Stuff You Should Know podcast, are here for you. Since 2008 it's been their job to research and report on topics that range from the seemingly—and dreadfully—mundane ("How Moss Works") to the bygone and faddish ("A Podcast on Zoot Suits? Yes").
Taped in Atlanta, the biweekly podcast is part of the website HowStuffWorks.com, where Clark and Bryant are editors. It essentially follows the simplest mission statement ever: Tell your audience about stuff. It's too boiled down not to be brilliant, and even the straightforward titles of the episodes—most follow the format "How [Blank] Works"—play right along. And, yes, they take audience requests.
Their current "Midwest Plus One Fall Tour" (the "plus one" is Pittsburgh) is a result of the podcast's long-standing popularity, which in turn is a result of its amiable, soft-spoken, and wholly likable hosts. Clark and Bryant avidly study subjects many people might never consider, such as cremation or dog shows, and present their findings. They don't discuss their research with each other before they go into the studio, or plan out major talking points. Instead there's a natural flow to their conversation as they build on each other's facts or comments and try to entertain each other. For a listener, it's almost like eavesdropping on a private dinner chat. As they riff through, say, the history of Auto-Tune, they crack subtle and sarcastic jokes, make each other laugh, and educate their audience in the process.
The live show is similar to a podcast episode, with some additional features. "We do dual stand-up for ten minutes and rap with the audience before taking seats behind the table in traditional fashion," Bryant explains. "We encourage interactions. We've been stumped on questions about new topics, and stumped on old topics we should already know."
All the tour dates, Chicago included, will feature the same topic, which Bryant says he wants to keep a surprise. And though the pair will likely rehash some material each night (not unlike what happens during a stand-up comedy tour), Bryant feels confident that the natural back-and-forth of the podcast will remain intact. "Neither of us had done any stage work, so it feels new to us every night," he says. "We've been able to keep it fresh." v