The Reluctant Phoenix with Jeff Simmermon
The Reluctant Phoenix is a podcast hosted by comedian and storyteller Jeff Simmermon (PBS' Stories from the Stage, This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, RISK!) featuring interviews with people who have been forced to restart their lives after major disruptions, whether they want to or not.
These reluctant phoenixes have faced death, grief, divorce, and major surgery and been forced to search for identity and make sense of the past. TRP guests have undergone transformation and emerged anew on the other side. Listeners commiserate, empathize and find strength with the guests as they realize that adverse circumstances can clear away what doesn't work in your life to make room for future possibilities.
Because of the pandemic, we are ALL reluctant phoenixes. Says Jeff:
“Many of the habits we had are all gone, swept away overnight by the tiny virus - and a lot of the things we did and the ways we did them will change. Sometimes something comes along and burns away everything you think you know, and it can feel like there's nothing left. But whatever is left is who you really are."
Season 1 of The Reluctant Phoenix was launched in 2020 - a year when we all experienced transformation to our income, jobs, schools, health, and social lives. Season 2 will continue with guests such as Co-creator of The Daily Show Lizz Winstead, comedian Nonye Brown-West (NPR, Dark Tank, Boston Globe “Comic to Watch”), and Flatbush Misdemeanors (premiering on Showtime 5/23) writer and cast-member Kerry Coddett.
Comedian, storyteller and host Jeff Simmermon is a reluctant phoenix who has faced his share of flames and has risen from them. He lost a testicle to cancer in 2009, undergoing emergency surgery 24 hours after his diagnosis. In 2013, Jeff quit a stable six-figure job as Director of Digital Communications at Time Warner Cable because he knew he’d never forgive himself for not trying his hardest to be a full-time standup comic (Jeff muses “I don’t know if I’m a full-time comedian or if I’m just unemployed”). In 2014, now a cancer survivor, he learned that his marriage was ending two weeks after his first wedding anniversary, and he found himself living alone within 6 days.
Each time he was forced to take a long look at the rhythms of his life and what he had thought was normal - and he realized that he had been carried along by a sort of inertia and overdue for change.
In yet another upheaval, Jeff’s father was diagnosed with ALS in 2020. It has been devastating to see his dad gradually lose the ability to walk, speak, and feed himself. COVID has complicated the ability to provide Jeff’s father the required in-home care. Waking up in Brooklyn after a trip to Virginia to help out, Jeff posted to Facebook: “Why would anyone ever get out of their bed? Like, what is out there that you really think is going to be so great when there’s heartbreak at every turn?”
His old friend, future TRP producer, and fellow-reluctant phoenix Kara McGuirk-Allison responded “You should get out of bed and start a podcast with me!”
Jeff and Kara go way back, first bonding through college radio at James Madison University’s WXJM. In 1995 Kara started at NPR’s WUNC in Chapel Hill, NC. She worked for several NPR news magazines, and a program about constitutional law that lost its funding in 2008 when she was 6 months pregnant with her son. Kara began to freelance, and in 2014 Shankar Vedantam from NPR called on her to help create the Hidden Brain podcast. The show launched in 2015 and is one of the top 20 most successful podcasts in the USA.
Then in 2016 Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer, and quit working to focus on treatment. She beat the cancer but felt as though chemo had fried her brain. “I would look at everyday objects and struggle to find the words. “I once called a briefcase ‘that thing that holds things’.” says Kara. She tried everything from supplements to crossword puzzles but nothing worked until a longtime friend asked her to produce a podcast. As soon as she started editing again, her brain function increased! Kara had followed Jeff’s career and knew he had storytelling chops. “I was so impressed with Jeff’s ability to hold conversational interviews that retain a story arc...one of the best editors I have ever worked with”.
According to Jeff, Kara and The Reluctant Phoenix have given him a reason to get out of bed:
“I’ve already remade my life several times - after testicular cancer, after a surprise divorce, after leaving my corporate job to pursue standup - and it’s been so wonderful to have someone see that as a strength and help me guide it into a productive place. Because honestly, outside of this experience, I’m a complete fucking mess.”
The Reluctant Phoenix Season 2 will see episodes released weekly beginning June 1. It can be found everywhere podcasts are streamed.
ABOUT JEFF SIMMERMON:
Jeff Simmermon is the host of “The Reluctant Phoenix” podcast, a standup comic and storyteller whose stories have appeared on Risk!, This American Life, The Moth‘s podcast, PBS’ Stories From the Stage and in written form in The Paris Review Daily and Newsweek. Jeff’s first album “And I Am Not Lying” was released in 2017 by Comedy Dynamics. His latest album of standup and storytelling is called "Why You Should Be Happy". It was released in 2020 by 800 Pound Gorilla Records. Both are available wherever the very finest digital comedy is sold.