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Podcast icon Sarah Marshall's Pa. rat awakening

Sarah Marshall of the hit You’re Wrong About podcast talks Philadelphia, rats, and more.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
May 5, 2023
Inside this edition: State business, fast horse, Sophie sings, Philly fanatic, meat Xanadu, noo jersey, and Sarah Marshall explains it all.
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A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Pennsylvania is in the live music business as the owner of a venue that has hosted rock concerts, R&B concerts, symphonies, and more.

What is the venue and what city is it in? Hint: It's not Philly or Pittsburgh.

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth knowing: A horse from Schuylkill County named Angel of Empire is among the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Classic Empire, Angel's sire, came in fourth in 2017.

» One thing worth watching: The Pittsburgh Pirates are good? Yes! They are! And what better way to celebrate than with this truly unforgettable seventh-inning stretch with former Mayor Sophie Masloff.

» One thing worth sharing: Gov. Josh Shapiro is a Sixers fanatic and he's handling the playoffs as you might expect: Throwing Celtics fans out of his office and reupping footage of a dire mismatch with a now-MVP.

» One trip worth taking: Take a trip with Ed Simon of Belt Magazine to the "Xanadu of smoked meats" in Berks County and the "Anabaptist version[s] of Bob’s Big Boy" from his childhood memories.

» One mystery worth solving: If smoked meats aren't your thing, someone dumped nearly 500 pounds of cooked pasta in the woods of neighboring New Jersey and no one knows the who or why.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Why party affiliation can be misleading in local Pa. elections

» Penn State says 50 full-time jobs in jeopardy amid budget cuts

» A complete guide to proposed changes to Pa.’s Constitution

» The Pa. legislature may have finally met a tax break it dislikes

» Why State College gambling foes failed to stop a casino

» Gov. Shapiro signs cancer screening bill into law, his first

» How Shapiro wants to revive a withering tax rebate program

» How to give feedback on fighter jet training over the Pa. Wilds

» Full guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court

» Guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

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Sarah Marshall and Jamie Loftus on stage discussing slides of a hot dog eating contest displayed behind them on a large screen.
Sarah Marshall, seated at left, and comedian Jamie Loftus at a live show at Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles in 2022. (Courtesy of Positive Jam Public Relations)

Sarah Marshall needed to make a correction about Philadelphia and rats.

In an April interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the podcaster had praised the city as a “perfect place” where “people walk around with rats on their shoulders.”

Seated onstage days later at The Fillmore in the very same city, she apologized.

She knew of a single rat person, she clarified. “Maybe it’s not fair to extrapolate there are many rat people.”

Such playful accountability is typical on You’re Wrong About, Marshall’s podcast on which she and a guest reconsider something or someone whose popular conception is just a bit, well, wrong. Think Tonya Harding. Anna Nicole Smith. The Beanie Baby boom.

She met the aforementioned rat after she’d already left Philadelphia, where she moved for a short while in 2016. But she says the rodent (who had a mohawk and was named TicTac, by the way) is emblematic of Philly’s oddball charm and the freedom it gave her to try something new.

When she returned again in late April as part of the You’re Wrong About tour, a live show that reimagines the podcast with vaudeville flare, it was something of a homecoming.

When I caught up over the phone with Marshall, she was about to grab a hot dog breakfast at A.P.J. Texas Weiner in Center City (her live show co-host, the comedian and journalist Jamie Loftus, is a hot dog expert) before hopping on a train to Pittsburgh.

She had added the Steel City to the tour because Pittsburgh also has played an important role in her life, she told PA Local.

“I think of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as places where I have kept turning up at various complicated times in my life and getting kind of taken in by my friends and taken care of, spit-shined and polished and sent back out into the world.”

Before the podcast, which launched in 2018, she’d recently abandoned a career in academia and a PhD program that made her feel like “one of the dinosaurs in Fantasia duking it out over a tiny puddle of water.”

In search of a way to tell the stories that weren’t quite academic enough for the journals or timely enough for the magazines, she lived a fairly nomadic life that frequently included stops in Pennsylvania, she said.

After reconnecting with a friend who had a place she could rent for $400, Marshall moved to Philadelphia in 2016 and began the work that would become You’re Wrong About.

I had to ask: why Philly? Was it the allure of strange sandwiches and aggressive-but-charming residents? Maybe even the peculiar bliss of people and rats living in coiffed harmony?

“I didn't know that was what I needed, but it clearly was,” she said.

Sarah Marshall and Jamie Loftus on stage.
Marshall and Loftus, together again. (Debi Del Grande / Courtesy of Positive Jam PR)

Philly was weird, but it was also affordable. Marshall was able to make ends meet as a freelancer, she said, while figuring out what to do next.

“I've always been a funny person, but like, it never occurred to me that that could have any role in what I was doing,” she said, “and so it was in Philly that I first started supporting myself as a writer and trying to make sense of what that would look like.” 

Marshall took to the road to bring the podcast’s reputation for empathy and compassion to life. The show’s sing-a-long finale, a collaborative performance of the mom-friendly hit “Sing” led by YWA producer Carolyn Kendrick, is especially crucial to that mission. (Kendrick also co-hosted two episodes about Karen Carpenter, whose cover of the song popularized it.)

“What I hope that it conveys is a sense of connection with others and compassion with and for others and the understanding that things are overwhelming, but we can do so much more together,” Marshall said of the finale. 

“Philly is a city that has a lot of community organizing, a lot of union presence, where people already understand that, and Pittsburgh, too.”

I’ve listened to You’re Wrong About for years and greatly admire the warmth Marshall brings to her work. I’ve marveled at her delicate treatment of big topics  — abortion, religion, sexuality — that are otherwise lobbed around like hand grenades. And I’ve laughed in surprise as she’s revealed the ornate engineering behind things I’d assumed evolved on their own — online shopping, homelessness, moral panics over sexting and satanism.

At the Fillmore show, when the 35-year-old Portland, Ore., resident explained to the audience the role Philadelphia played in creating her podcast, and how after years of life on the academic track it was the place that helped her derail, it made sense. 

I didn’t grow up in Philly, but I’ve got roots there. My grandparents still live in the same South Philadelphia row home my mother grew up in, where we’ve celebrated countless holidays and birthdays, and exactly one Super Bowl win. 

I’ve made happy memories (cherry water ice at Pop’s on Oregon Ave., shopping under the soaring glass ceiling of the Franklin Mills Mall) in the city, and I’ve made not-so-happy ones (getting heckled at Lincoln Financial Field for taking too long in the bathroom, being terrified of the animatronic Ben Franklin head at the aforementioned mall). 

Philadelphia didn’t exactly raise me. But like Marshall’s work, Philadelphia fostered my appreciation, even love, for the way people and places can be complicated.

Both require a surrender to the whiplash of duality. The flashes of genius and the moments of profound stupidity. The beautiful ceilings and the monstrous founding father crania.

The You’re Wrong About live show, on tour nationwide until May 18, explores this with a sensitivity and good humor that has become Marshall’s signature. 

Nicknamed the “Attack of the 50 Foot Bimbo” on merch, the tour takes on the stereotypes applied to people, mostly women, who society has dismissed as silly, or naïve, or too sexy, or not sexy enough. You know the ones: bimbo, gold digger, slut.

Marshall invites us to reframe our thinking and imagine a world where we are all a little silly, or naïve, or too sexy, or not sexy enough, and despite it all, we can still be kind to each other.

“We’re all bimbos,” she told the audience. “We’re all, at the end of the day dumb sluts, and we don’t have to make good choices to survive.” 

And that, folks, is why I’m proud to be an Eagles fan.

Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

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Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"The devil works hard, and the PPA works harder."

—Anti-Philadelphia Parking Authority sentiment as told to comedian Chris Aileo; 3,053 tickets were issued on Monday alone in street-sweeping zones

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Fuchsia dream in Longwood Gardens, via @noraodendahl. Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A diffused closeup photo of pink and white flowers.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Pennsylvania is the owner of Harrisburg's The Forum auditorium, which recently hosted a concert by Father John Misty, whose writing credits I now know include tracks by Beyonce, Kid Cudi, and Lady Gaga.

The state paid more than $100 million to buy the building that houses the theater from the Dauphin County General Authority, PennLive reported in 2012, and big renovations followed to both.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Support Spotlight PA's vital journalism and get a 12X match on new monthly donations.
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