Em Schulz and Christine Schiefer are the creators and co-hosts of And That’s Why We Drink, a weekly podcast where they share true crime stories, paranormal encounters, and more than a few laughs. The podcast has been ongoing since 2017 with 264 episodes so far, boasting a whopping 80 million downloads, and the pair won the 2019 “People’s Voice” Webby Award for Best Comedy Podcast. Although Christine and Em attended the same grad school Boston, it wasn’t until they connected by chance in Los Angeles years later that they became friends and, subsequently, superstar podcasters. They chatted with Funny Or Die over Zoom to talk about keeping a successful podcast going through the pandemic and to give some words of wisdom to aspiring creatives.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Thank you both so much for joining me! I feel like a lot of groups of friends have like a moment where they look at each other and go, “we’re so funny” or “we’re so good at this, we should have our own show,” but it’s so interesting that you two took a different approach, which was finding common interests but not really knowing each other, and using the podcast to get to know each other. What’s it been like cultivating and growing such a successful podcast in tandem with your friendship?
Christine: Yeah. Who does that? What is wrong with us?
Em: I think we both took it as an opportunity to document a friendship from start to finish— or maybe it doesn’t have to finish. Hopefully. Christine is the one who introduced me to podcasts, so I think once I realized that this was a friend I didn’t want to lose I was like, “Well, why don’t we just try to make our own?” Worst case scenario, we have the beginnings of our friendship recorded.
Christine: Yeah. I have to admit this, when Em initially texted me I was like, “No thanks, I’m not really feeling it.” I can’t live that part down, but my boyfriend who’s now my husband was like, “You need a hobby, you need something to do after work, you’re depressed, you’re making a new friend, lean into it,” stuff like that. Then from day one, we were 100% invested.
I don’t think we ever realized it was going to be successful. I mean, we wanted it to be, but I don’t think we were ever naive enough to think like, “Oh, this is going to be the next big thing,” because we were working minimum wage assistant jobs in the entertainment industry. So it was more like a fun hobby, and I think that part of the reason it went well is we never took ourselves too seriously.
Em: Yeah, we [originally] met through film school, so we had just spent like two years being beaten down into believing that we’ll never make it big. We were just like, “Let’s do this thing for ourselves and no expectations.”
The format of your podcast is described in other interviews as ‘a true crime podcast with a comedy twist.’ But listening to it, I felt like it’s almost more of a variety talk show where you happen to talk about true crime and paranormal stuff, in that it’s very warm and casual and authentic. I feel like I’m sitting in a room with you, listening to you two hang out. Was that aspect of inviting your audience into your lives and being so open and personal there from the start or did that evolve over time?
Christine: I would say that was definitely from day one. Since Em and I were assuming only our mothers, if that, were listening, we were just kind of hanging out like we did every other night, but now we had a microphone in front of us. And we were learning about each other, like Em said. I think it’s episode 13 that I learned Em had gone to clown college and I had not known that before. So everybody who listens to the podcast got to learn that fun fact alongside me.
Em: I think it was really a blessing in disguise that we decided to start a podcast as strangers because it fuelled a need to fill empty space. We didn’t know each other, so we were just going to talk about ourselves and if someone wanted to listen, great. I’ve actually never heard anyone describe [the podcast] as that before, but I do like how that sounds. It would make sense why a lot of people seem to really enjoy the banter of it, because there’s a whole level beyond just storytelling. A lot of people who started listening from the beginning and have stayed with us feel like they became friends with us, because they got to know us at the same time that we got to know each other.
Has it been interesting building a loyal audience of people who are not solely listening for the paranormal and true crime stories, but who have also become so invested in you as people?
Christine: Definitely. Em and I have gotten recognized in public and the first few times were jarring, because it’s a radio show and you think, “Why would anyone know what I look like?” But people get involved in our social media and follow us on different platforms. I would say it was an adjustment period for sure. A couple days ago someone tweeted, “Oh, Christine I just found your husband,” because he works at the ER here in Cincinnati, they were like, “I was his patient!”
Em: It’s definitely been a fun adjustment. It feels nice to be recognized for something that people enjoy. I’m really not looking forward to the day someone recognizes me because they don’t enjoy it, like, “Hey! I hate your podcast!” But it’s been really nice, I know we’ve both made friends through it. I got to know [our listeners] because they came to so many of our shows and meet and greets, and eventually they just became recognizable. And now we have our own relationships outside of the show.
So with you both going through film school, what’s it been like finding success on the front end of the camera or mic, being the talent, not just the ones producing it? Is that something that you were prepared for or saw for yourself?
Em: I’m not prepared for it at all. Which is ironic, because we got an education to be prepared for it. It’s funny that, in some ways, we ended up in a completely different industry, like we went to TV school and now we have a radio show. It’s opened up doors, so even if we’re not in television right now, it could happen later. It’s definitely expanded our horizons.
Christine: In some ways I’m in kind of a different boat, because I always intended to do writing and a friend and I were doing clip shows and mini series on YouTube. I was always trying to do the next fun on-screen thing. I feel like that really helped— studying comedy writing, I had to do improv as well, and I think that all flows together for podcasting.
What’s it been like recording and producing during the pandemic? And also hitting your 200th episode milestone during the pandemic, which by the way, congratulations. That’s huge.
Em: Thank you!
Christine: Aw, thanks.
Em: It feels right that it would happen during a pandemic or some sort of catastrophe. But, I mean, first of all, I never thought we’d have 200 episodes. Recording has been quite an adventure this year, even before the pandemic Christine was like, “Oh, also I’m moving.” So it wasn’t a matter of when are we going to drive to each other anymore, it was now how are we going to see each other, period? We had plans of action and then the pandemic just kept ruining them. It’s been a nice game of cat and mouse to make things work.
Christine: There’s definitely been a lot of trial and error. I’m very glad that we did study what we studied. Sometimes it feels like, “We studied TV and I studied journalism and undergrad, what use was all that?” But at the same time I’m like, “Thank God I learned the basics of editing on my own,” because it made it a lot easier to adjust. I feel really fortunate that we are able to do our jobs from home during the pandemic. A couple episodes went out with apologies saying things like, “Sorry if we sound like we’re a mile away from the microphone,” but I think we’re figuring it out.
Is there anything that you two have learned or developed while in the pandemic that you’re going to apply to episodes in the future once we’re through all of this and have some normalcy back?
Em: I think that the whole world could probably say we’ve learned how to adapt to new situations. I think before [the pandemic] I was more anxious or worried about how we were going to get everything done under normal circumstances, but I think we’ve become a lot more accommodating to whatever environment we’re in.
Christine: I agree. We had, for example, a big tour scheduled for the spring and, like everybody else in the entertainment industry, our live shows were completely nixed. So being able to do virtual “live” shows instead of doing in-person shows and figuring out how to do bonus content for our Patreon supporters when we’re not in the same room has been, I think, a good lesson in creativity and winging it, which we’ve learned we’re both good at.
Broader than podcasting, do you have any advice for people wanting to either break into a creative field and/or who are considering unconventional career paths?
Christine: My advice is pretty much always the same. Em and I kept our day jobs until we felt confident that we were able to support ourselves through [And That’s Why We Drink]. While it was a dive off a cliff because we spent our savings on audio equipment and there was risk involved, we definitely waited before leaving our day jobs. My advice is pick something that you would do for free as a hobby anyway. If you go into something like podcasting expecting to make a living, I just don’t think that approach tends to work as well as if you’re 100% passionate and doing it for the fun of it first.
Em: If you go into it genuinely, people are going to be able to tell and will want to pay more attention, versus, I think, a lot of people can tell right away if someone’s in it for the clout.
Christine: It also reduces burnout. If Em and I picked a topic that we weren’t 100% invested in, we’d be less likely to have put 110% effort and time in. We were working full time, there was a point where I was working and planning a wedding, but the podcast was the fun part of everything I had on my plate. It is hard, it’s a lot of work, especially once it becomes at a business level, but if you really care and are passionate about it, it’s going to be a lot easier to hopefully transition that into an actual job.
Em, do you have any advice specifically for young gender nonconforming creatives looking to break into this kind of industry, whether that’s through podcasting or another medium
Em: This is a time where a lot of people have questions and we’re all in a space where we’re learning together. Even though I am not cisgender, I haven’t officially come out as anything yet because even I don’t know. But I think that’s really important, because there aren’t a lot of people out there who are in the public eye in some capacity who say, “Look even I don’t know and that’s okay.” I think this is a really good time for people to get educated or help others along the way or do something in that world, because people are looking for how to be the best ally possible.
Christine: Every time we do a live show, or even just on social media or through emails, people, especially parents will come up and say, “Em, you helped me understand my child who was trying to tell me they use they/them pronouns,” or what have you. It’s really cool to see people from all generations say, “the way you talked about [gender] made it easier for me to get it and accept people.”
Em: At least once at each live show, someone who’s queer will approach us and say we’ve helped them in some way. If we’re able to do that, if that’s a side effect of our show, then other shows out there can do the same thing.
Christine: Em taught me, even. You can hear in the beginning [of the podcast] I realized I was misgendering them because we hadn’t had that conversation, but you can hear the transition over time. Now if people are really early into the podcast and they say something to us, a lot of times other listeners will jump in and comment like, “Hey, I know you’re not at this episode yet, but just so you know, Em uses they/them pronouns.” It’s really fun to see people grow along with us.
Em: One of my favorite parts about our show is how everyone together has grown in understanding, whether referring to me or a gender-queer person they know. They probably think I don’t see it, but I’ve seen a few people in the comments defending me very kindly and politely if I get misgendered. It’s fun to see what we’ve taught people and watching them teach others.