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Let’s Head to Provincetown (and 4 Other Podcasts Worth Checking Out)

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Hello, everyone. Greetings from Malaysia. Home! Took me all of 15 minutes to regain my tropical gait, which wasn’t very hard to do when everything feels so moist all the time. Anyway, a relatively quick one this week. As always, you can reach me at nicholas.quah@nymag.com or find me on Twitter.

Welcome to Provincetown

Summer of Soul(searching)
Listen here.

At the outset of a summer not long ago, Mitra Kaboli traveled to Provincetown with two aims in mind. The first is to fulfill her assignment of documenting the lives of several individuals across a season in the Massachusetts seaside haven for the queer community. Kaboli would construct a group portrait of sorts; among those she shadows were: a performer identified as the summer’s “It Girl”; three beneficiaries from a program designed to help relocate young people from communities that aren’t particularly welcoming of their queer identities; a newcomer to the town looking for some fun; and a newly divorced bear hoping to rebuild his life. The other goal is of a more personal nature: She arrived in Provincetown with a wish, as she notes, to “unlock the secrets to growing old and gay.”

Welcome to Provincetown feels like a throwback, particularly when compared against the kinds of narrative podcasts that make up the bulk of new releases these days. Not too long ago, and definitely dating back to before the pandemic, works like this could probably have been identifiable as its own tangible genre even by casual podcast listeners: personal, subjective, atmospheric, creatively adventurous, emotionally expansive. Of a school, most definitely, with Radiotopia-affiliated shows like The Heart, Love+Radio, and Radio Diaries.

I shouldn’t bury the connection here: Kaboli, who leads and hosts Welcome to Provincetown, is an audio documentarian, sound designer, and artist once associated with The Heart, so there’s aesthetic genealogy to be traced. Kaboli has also worked on ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcast and the sports-media giant’s earlier narrative podcast endeavor, Dunkumentaries (which I adored). She has, over the course of her career, exhibited a striking ability to balance the accessible and the experimental, and this new project continues the streak.

Welcome to Provincetown is available on all platforms. Produced by Kaboli and Emily Foreman. Story editing by Gianna Palmer. Executive producers are Jessica Alpert, John Perroti, Ben Riskin, Bianca Grimshaw, and Kameel Stanley.

Persona: The French Deception

A profile of the quintessential conman.
Listen here.

Every scam is the same, even as every scam is different in their own way. There’s a unifying emotional architecture to a con: Whatever their personal history, the target, or mark, is often made to arrive at a place where they want to buy into the lie that’s being sold — whether it’s the promise of easy riches, of a life larger than their own, of a world where everything makes sense and they sit at the center of it.

That notion came to mind as I listened to the first few episodes of Persona: The French Deception, which offers a character study of Gilbert Chikli, a French-Israeli criminal said to be “one of the greatest con artists of all time,” responsible for extracting tens of millions of euros from corporations and billionaires over the years. To set the scene, the opening sequence of Persona studiously describes a successful Chikli gambit on a French bank manager almost two decades ago, around whom he constructs an elaborate fiction involving a government operation to disrupt a terrorist plot. Chikli portrayed himself as a federal agent; the bank manager was given the opportunity to believe she was serving her country. In the end, she willfully handed over hundreds of thousands of euros.

The beats of that story feel so familiar, almost archetypical. At this point, I must’ve spent a combined total of a hundred media-consumption hours — reading, watching, listening, IV-dripping — on stories concerning cons, scams, hoodwinks, deceptions, hoaxes, and other assorted antisocial chicanery. (I’m far from alone, obviously.) Yet there’s a straightforwardness with which Persona pulls together the story of Gilbert Chikli that feels distinctly old-school. Though his broader symbolism shifts, Persona fundamentally considers the guy as an unsavory operator who delights in the criminal thrill. Shortly before the pandemic, Chikli, along with an accomplice, was sentenced by a French court to 11 years in jail for a money-making scheme that involved them impersonating a government minister using a silicone mask. Shit’s wild.

Persona is a scam story, but one told with a clinical eye. The series is hosted and reported by Evan Ratliff, one-third of the Longform podcast and the veteran magazine journalist behind 2019’s The Mastermind, an absolute barn burner of a nonfiction book about another elite criminal: Paul Le Roux, a programmer turned drug kingpin. (Relatedly, Le Roux is sometimes floated as a possible candidate for the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin.)

There’s a good deal of connective tissue between Persona and The Mastermind. Both are deep studies of criminal savants; Ratliff is obviously drawn to such characters, and the bulk of the two projects can be described as an extensive effort to really see who these men are. Both also come from a very particular swashbuckling, globe-trotting strain of magazine journalism, not particularly common these days. If you like one, you’re gonna love the other.

Persona is available on all platforms, but new episodes are available early with a paid Wondery subscription. Henry Molofsky is the senior producer. Also produced by Sophie Bridges and Chris Knapp. Edited by Joel Lovell. Executive producers are Jenna Weiss-Berman, Max Linsky, Morgan Jones, Marshall Lewy, and Erin O’Flaherty.

Meanwhile …

➽ Looks like we now know where the Obamas are taking their audio business, post-Spotify: Audible!

➽ Another entry worth noting in the steadily simmering subgenre of dating podcasts: Queen of Hearts, which features the drag queen Jujubee as host, and which sports more of a good ol’ blind-date game-show construction, complete with challenges.

➽ The 11th, Pineapple Street’s experimental feed that houses one-off or limited-run projects, released an hour-long or so “cosmic audio drama” called “His Saturn Returns,” from a New Orleans-based writer-performer named Sai Sion.

➽ NPR’s Code Switch has named a new host: B.A. Parker, who was previously the co-host and lead producer on the previous iteration of The Cut’s podcast. She starts next month!

➽ Fans of By the Book, in which hosts Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg tangibly test out self-help books on their lives (and the lives of their respective families), should take note: The duo have a new project through Audible in which they transpose that approach onto the equally vibrant (and complicated) genre of romantic-advice books. It’s called Romance Road Test, and this first season will contain 16 episodes.

And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed. Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

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