This past Friday, Geoff Edgers spent about 15 minutes waiting for Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas to figure out how to join him on Instagram. As he’d done through quarantine, the Washington Post reporter had mounted his phone on a camera atop a water cooler in his house in Concord, Massachusetts, flipped on the stream so it was visible to any of the Post’s 3 million or so followers, and…waited. Ten minutes in, Donahue and Thomas still weren’t on, so he tried calling them via Google Hangout on his laptop, with the speaker on so the hundreds of people watching could see that he hadn’t given up. He mused that his bosses like to see him “sweat and squirm.”
When Donahue and Thomas finally got on the call 15 minutes after its scheduled start, Thomas said, “We’ve been here, muted, yelling at you.”
Edgers broadcasts these hour-long sessions, called Stuck with Geoff Edgers, at 2 PM every Friday, and sometimes Tuesdays, on the Post’s Instagram account, via its Instagram Live Feature. That means, with the exception of a few highlights you can view on the account’s story highlights, you have to join live if you want to see these odd documents of how some of the jet set are living through the same lockdown reality we all are. That could mean learning compost tips from Tiffany Haddish, a cocktail recipe from Paul Feig, or the truth about hair transplant surgery from Joe Buck. It could mean waiting ten minutes for David Byrne to get his camera working. Celebrities–they’re just like our moms!
Reached by phone, Edgers says the idea for this show originated with the thought, “what can I do that will be alternative programming?” The inspiration was an ambient anxiety fueled by the pandemic and its attendant self-quarantines. “There’s something very off right now and you can’t put your finger on it,” Edgers says.
At first, Edgers, a wizard at celebrity profiles, thought he’d just try to call someone “smart and artistic and famous” every day—his first call was to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons—but that Style deputy features editor David Malitz suggested he get with the Post’s video department to figure out some way to share similar conversations with the news organization’s audience, which offers a pretty wide potential viewership in times when many people in the world aren’t locked down at home. “Part of what is so fun about Geoff is that he totally rolls with the technical difficulties,” says Phoebe Connelly, the Post’s deputy director of video, “which I frankly think is the best part of this current news moment. Maybe it will get old, but the glitches are what make video seem worth our time again.”
Edgers writes plenty of daily journalism at the Post, but he’s carved out a space for himself with immersive profiles that require his subjects let him in in a way celebrities usually shun. That can mean spending eight hours in an SUV with Sinéad O’Connor in California after visiting her in Ireland and getting her to share an unfinished demo, or coaxing Eddie Murphy into the open. When speaking to their publicists, Edgers says, “I always say to these people, Look, I know that you can’t maybe do this. But if your client can’t be a regular person, or at least let me in, in a different way, and especially if this story can’t be special, then there’s just no reason to do it.”
The negotiation process for Stuck is a little different. Some people turned him down because they don’t have a new product out, whether that be a movie, TV show, new music, or what have you. Much of that stuff, especially films, will likely wait till the pandemic eases. But lots of people have time to chat. Byrne recently had an ambitious museum show postponed, and his Broadway show is on ice. “I just wanted to hear what David Byrne was doing, and what he was thinking, and if he was riding his bike, and you know, how does he view the way the world is going right now? That was more important to me,” Edgers says.
Buck, who appeared on a show May 5, says he agreed because Edgers sent him some of his profiles–“He writes about stuff that I want to read about,” he tells Washingtonian when reached by phone. “I think he has a way of getting real info out of people.” When he did the show, “I looked like absolute hell,” Buck says. Didn’t matter. People are “Realizing that it’s kind of cool to dip into their office or den or bedroom,” he says.
He did a dry run with Edgers using a “burner” Instagram account the day before: “I thought I was gonna be involved in Watergate or something,” Buck says. “I’ve been doing a ton of social media interviews,” Katie Couric tells Washingtonian in an e-mail. “What I enjoyed was that Geoff was so new to the format and was getting such a kick out of it, it made it more fun!”
Except for a few highlighted stories the Post keeps around on its profile page, the Instagram Live sessions vanish when they’re over. Edgers didn’t use Instagram too much before the pandemic–like many journalists, he tended to view social media as a way to share articles he wrote, a function Instagram is not exactly built for. Now, he says, with some tutoring from his teenage daughter, he’s come around: “It can be a very controlled medium that actually can border on art.”
The Marlo and Phil interview eventually went great—they talked about their new book about maintaining a happy marriage, Donahue revealed that he’s a slob—”I’m a towel-on-the-floor guy”—and Thomas promised to send him the recipe for her mother’s tomato sauce. Edgers showed her his battered copy of Free to Be… You and Me and asked them about Rosey Grier. It was a perfectly lovely way to burn an hour in quarantine during week 8. The actor and Better Things director Pamela Adlon is on for Friday; this Tuesday at 2 PM, Edgers will interview the velvet-voiced Gilbert Gottfried. “That should be interesting,” Edgers says.