Zoe Nightingale just might be podcasting’s female version of a ‘Shock Jock.’ I first heard of The Adventures of Zoe Nightingale when the podcast was featured on a 2015 episode of the Love + Radio Podcast]. The raspy-voiced host, Zoe Nightingale, describes herself as once aspiring to be the female Howard Stern. She’s New York, she’s Jewish, and she’s plenty ribald. Specifically, Nightingale is fascinated with sex. While she also ventures into politics, gender, and community, she always seems to return to sex. Her brand of humor is more revelatory than crude, however. The NSFW podcast regularly features ‘man-on-the-street’ type interviews of Nightingale finding interesting people in interesting places and asking them about their sex lives.
Nightingale is funny and fast-paced, quick with a joke, double entendre, or her next probing question. Like Stern, her wit masks vulnerability not too far under the surface. She doesn’t ask to shock the listener so much as to push the interviewee. The places that she drives those interviews shine light not just on the person answering the questions – but on all of us.
The Adventures of Zoe Nightingale has had an especially compelling series of episodes over the last month. The host, recently broken-up, decides that she must explore whether she might be bisexual. She has dubbed the series, I Kissed A Girl and I … Liked it? The resulting episodes are far from a lurid tale of sexual experimentation. While (as ever) she holds nothing back and keeps no secrets about what occurred, the result is much more than ‘locker room talk.’
In the first episode in the series, Nightingale interviews the women behind Skirt Club. The invitation-only Club is a series of international sex parties for women only. Nightingale was introduced to the Club when invited to deliver a comedic speech on the history of women’s liberation. The lecture turned into a full-blown desire to experiment. As Nightingale describes it, “In my mind I am this sexually fluid, open minded sex goddess ready and willing to participate in any and all adventures. In reality, I am a fucking coward shaking like a leaf in the wind whenever I have to leave my comfort zones and try something new. It’s pathetic. I am working on it.” Not to spoil the story, she does end up “working on it.”
The second episode is Nightingale dishing to a friend on her same-sex experience at the Club. The third episode is Nightingale explaining her experience and conflicting emotions about that experience to her 70-something mother (who attended Burning Man with Nightingale on another episode). The fourth episode is her discussion on the same topic with her father. The father, who quotes self-help gurus and offers multiple book suggestions to his confused daughter is a delight.
I’ll leave Nightingale’s conclusions to the listener. What is clear is that this is much more than a story about a physical act. Nightingale surprises with a traditional response to the experience that is, in many ways, different than what you might expect. It’s not just counter-image, it’s almost counter-culture. Sexual exploration has gained wide, if not mainstream, acceptance. That fact makes the conclusion all the more satisfying. The Adventures of Zoe Nightingale is deft exploration by a very real and intriguing host.