Has the state of the world kept you up at night during the last several years? Have you ever said to yourself “I wish I had that guy who made the Big Shot and Anchorman” tell me a bedtime story? If so, then filmmaker Adam McKay’s new podcast “Bedtime Stories with Adam McKay” from his production company Hyperobject Industries and Sony Entertainment might be your ticket to a more relaxing sleep, or at least a fun way to navigate these (in Adam’s words)“crazy bonkers times that we’re living through.”
The improvised stories are told with a spoken word prompt from producer Harry Nelson and McKay goes right to work in one take telling an enjoyable story from start to finish that draws on his years of improv experience in Chicago where he was one of the founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. He says the concept for this particular storytelling podcast came to him from remembering how much fun he had telling bedtime stories to his daughters when they were growing up and thinking that this might be a way to help him get through his sleepless nights these last several years. He also was listening to a lot of storytelling podcasts at the time and the ones he was drawn to were ones he could still enjoy with the volume turned down like author Paul Auster and his books on tape because of his deep voiced delivery. McKay says that hearing Paul’s voice was very relaxing while he was in a “sweat slickered panic about the climate collapsing and watching Democracy collapse like Dominos.”
But it’s not only Adam McKay who will be sending audiences into a fitful embrace during the show’s first season, but celebrity guests like Sarah Silverman and Monica Padman and his biggest dream guest that he told me he was incredibly excited about, John Lurie. Adam previously worked with the fiercely independent artist in the HBO series Painting with John in 2021, a show that McKay executive produced.
We spoke with Adam over Zoom and audio only for this interview.
How does this show fit in with Hyper Object Industries?
Adam McKay: I’m not sure that it does, but in setting up the company we allowed for a certain number of projects that we weren’t sure they would fit in. We try to do projects that address this bouncy castle full of hyenas world that we live in, but sometimes you just got to tell a good bedtime story.
I’ve got to admit, it was hard to go to sleep after watching your film Don’t Look Up.
McKay: You can imagine if you watched it and had trouble sleeping how difficult it was for me to sleep while making it, especially since January 6 happened during filming! I’ve had a lot of friends tell me they’ve had trouble sleeping since then. These are improvised stories and they’re sometimes funny or strange but they fit into our mission statement since it’s important to laugh and to hear stories. You gotta live in the midst of these times and the idea for this podcast came from a joyful place. Something I love about podcasts is you can use them for ideas like this and try ideas where you don’t know the answer to the question and you don’t have to have a huge budget. Bedtime Stories most feels like it’s in the spirit of “hey let’s give it a try.”
What are some of the elements of a story that puts you to sleep?
McKay: Some of the stories aren’t necessarily the greatest bedtime stories, but what is important is the storyteller’s voice. I like to slow down and be very deliberate and the more specifics I can include, the better. If I can think about the jacket a woman is wearing or the odd candle in the bedroom, the more I’m pulled into a world. Those are the key elements of a good story I think.
Are there any words that don’t make for good suggestions?
McKay: Some are pretty tough, but you can honestly take any suggestion. I was teaching a class where part of the assignment was to create a story with hard words, and I suggested some bad ones like “OJ Simpson” or “fart” and the class rounded the terrible suggestion and created something interesting. So honestly you can use any word.
The first episode “Frenzy” is out starting today.