The woman who made one of most popular podcasts in the world has ended her sabbatical in the most obvious way: She’s now producing (and sometimes guest starring in) a separate podcast about gambling on the election, hosted by a domain name reseller and a guy who used to artisanally sharpen pencils for a living.
“It makes sense to me. It feels like one of those wonky, ’70s spinoffs of the most minor characters. [Election Profit Makers] is the Mork & Mindy of Mystery Show” says Starlee Kine. “In this case, it’s David. David was client No. 5.”
Kine is the host of Gimlet’s Mystery Show podcast, which last posted an episode in January, and had burned up the iTunes podcast charts. On the strength of her storytelling and pedigree (Kine was previously a This American Life producer), it was the most listened-to podcast in the world for much of its run.
Mystery Show’s most famous episode involved that very David—David Rees—spending the podcast obsessed with finding out Jake Gyllenhaal’s then-mysterious true height. That investigation landed Kine on Conan, where Gyllenhaal himself was measured from head-to-toe on cable TV.
Then, for the last half-year, she appeared to disappear. When The Daily Beast called her last Friday, she was at a Copenhagen hotel, where she answered questions from the receptionist’s phone because the hotel worker couldn’t patch her through to a room. (“What’s weird is that she just picked up the cordless phone, and I’m chained to the desk,” said Kine.)
But when she heard Rees was starting a podcast about gambling on the election—with his childhood best friend Jon Kimball, no less—she thought it was “a no-brainer that he should have a podcast.”
“We don’t do anything unless we’re really into the idea. When he came up with this, he was excited,” she said. “It seemed like a logical trajectory.”
Thus began Election Profit Makers, where Kimball and Rees throw a few thousand dollars at weird election prop bets. Those wagers include everything from picking who will win the whole thing (both Kimball and Rees have Hillary Clinton becoming the next President) to whether or not Donald Trump will actually show up to all three debates.
Here’s the craziest part: Kimball and Rees think their podcast even accidentally moved a market on that last bet. It shot up about 15 percent after an episode dropped a few weeks ago. Kimball, who’s on the phone from from North Carolina, said he felt a little “weird” about his newfound power. He wasn’t sure this was going to be a big thing.
“When David first asked me about it, I was skeptical. I thought we’d make a great podcast, but I didn’t know,” he said. “When he told me that Starlee was getting involved, I thought, ‘Is she seriously signing onto this?’”
“I’m committed,” Kine said, jumping in.
“I mostly just listen. I do find it really nice. Jon and I have never met. I feel very proud that Jon seems to be secure with me on the phone.”
“I think we did one or maybe two where Starlee wasn’t on it,” said Kimball. “Those were the two in a row we didn’t release.”
Kimball is a domain name reseller who buys websites like Brainwashing.com and sells them to the highest bidder. (Brainwashing.com currently redirects to Breitbart.com, Donald Trump’s personal Pravda.) He was in a childhood “secret band no one was allowed to know about” with Rees, according to the podcast’s website and the show’s numerous fawning remembrances of the terribleness of the band’s gear.
“I’m way out of my comfort zone doing this. The first few weeks we did this, I was a nervous wreck,” he said, although Kine pretty vehemently disagrees.
Rees is a natural in part because he really should be at this point. He hosted a TV show called Going Deep on The Esquire Network (and formerly NatGeo), which spent half-hour blocks on topics like “How to Shake Hands” and “How to Open a Door”—which also served as names of episodes.
Before that, he sharpened pencils for a living. Really. His website offered No. 2 pencils hand-sharpened by Rees himself using a small knife for an exorbitant fee. A pencil sharpened by Rees today—now that he’s part-time—will cost you $500.
And before that, Rees created the comic strip Get Your War On, which drew widespread acclaim as one of the, well, sharpest satires of the George W. Bush administration. Get Your War On even inspired an off-Broadway play that the New York Times kind of liked in 2007.
(He’s in Europe this week in an unreachable place, so couldn’t comment for the interview.)
And Rees’ resume is why both Kimball and Kine say there are only about seven episodes left of this thing before they take it behind the iTunes shed and send it to Podcast Heaven.
“It’s the same reason that David’s gonna lose all of his money on PredictIt. People could throw $1 million at him. He’s totally dedicated—completely in on his commitment to the concept,” said Kine.
“It’s leaving it all on the field. There won’t be anything left. There will be no money,” said Kimball.
“That’s why everyone should get in now. We’re gonna be gone. We mean it,” said Kine. “I will probably start working at this hotel.”
And that’s part of what’s so good about the Election Profit Makers: It’s… actually fun. Not fun in a “we work for an election forecast site so we will emulate fun on an Internet radio equivalent” way. Fun in a “there is no tomorrow so let’s ride this sucker out” sort of way.
“Part of me is doing this as an escape mechanism. The election is still pretty dark,” said Kimball. “That’s not to say we’re not still having a really good time.”
Kine doesn’t even know how people are finding out about the thing. Nobody’s really promoted it. They haven’t spent any money on ads for it. Still, Election Profit Makers has made some visits in the top 30 of the News & Politics category of the podcast section. And it’s just a random podcast about gambling on the election.
“Wait, do you think it’s gambling, Jon?” asks Kine.
“Oh, I think it’s gambling. They are doing some educational stuff [at PredictIt], but if you win money, the IRS takes a cut,” he said. “So, yeah, it’s gambling.”
Kine says she’s never gambled in her life. “That’s the whole point,” she said. But that’s part of it: It’s not really a gambling podcast. Election Profit Makers is a podcast about trying to take over some control over a totally uncontrollable part of life, and trying to at least have fun a tiny bit of with it.
“The whole mission of the show was total commitment to this idea. All the bets are real. You always hear the truth,” said Kine. “The joyfulness that comes across in the podcast is that this election is so absurd, the tone of the show matches the tenor of the election: lunatics feeling joy.”