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Former 'Morning Edition' host Rachel Martin's new podcast is called 'Wild Card'


Happy to tell you that NPR is launching a new show, hosted by a familiar voice to many MORNING EDITION listeners. Rachel Martin was co-host of this program for years, and she is now the force behind Wild Card. Wild Card, a show that gets straight to the big questions that make our lives meaningful. Rachel puts those questions to actors and writers and comedians - questions about the beliefs that help them make sense of the world and the lessons they've learned over time. And she does all of this with a special deck of cards. Rachel joins us now. Hi, Rachel.


INSKEEP: So, like, tarot cards or, you know, one where you can deal from the bottom of the deck. What are we talking about?

MARTIN: I think they possess a certain kind of magic because...


MARTIN: ...Magical things unfold in the form of conversation with them as the tool that I use.


MARTIN: So, you know...

INSKEEP: So you're going to hold up these cards that have questions for people. But how did you get to this idea anyhow?

MARTIN: You know, you do interviews. And you get to this moment in the conversation, and you can tell. Like, something unexpected has happened, right? They've told you something you didn't think they were going to reveal, or it surprised you in a way you just completely weren't expecting.


MARTIN: And I basically just wanted those all the time. Like, I just got greedy, and I wanted to have more of them. So we developed this game as a shortcut to getting to those moments quickly.

INSKEEP: And so how do you do that?

MARTIN: Well, we have written on these cards big questions. These are existential things. It's about how to live a good life. It's about memories and people who have shaped us over time. And I hold up three cards in front of the guest, and then they get to pick. They can't see the question. And so there's an element of surprise. And I don't know, Steve. It's so fun because I don't have control.

INSKEEP: And they don't really either because you're like, door number two.

MARTIN: That's right.

INSKEEP: And you don't know what's behind door number two.

MARTIN: That's right. It's like the cards are a co-host in a way.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MARTIN: A silent partner, if you will.

INSKEEP: You're saying you've replaced me with three pieces of paper.

MARTIN: That's right.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

MARTIN: And they - they're not as funny as you.


MARTIN: So I've got questions on cards. I'm going to hold three up in front of you, and you pick randomly. One, two, three. Which card?


MARTIN: What's a place where you felt safe when you were growing up?

INSKEEP: Ah. I used to go into the laundry room when the machines were going, and the dryer was hot. And I would sit there with my back to the warm dryer.


INSKEEP: And I would read a book or play with little toys or whatever I had when I was a little kid. I loved it there.

MARTIN: Did you ever intentionally need to seek respite from something?

INSKEEP: I don't know. I suppose so, yes. And I would find that in books. And that's another way to answer this, I suppose, is a place where I would find safety would be wherever a book took me. And I'd be reading about the world that I largely hadn't seen growing up in Indiana. But I'd be reading a Sherlock Holmes story that was set in London, or I'd be reading about someone who was sailing across the ocean or going places that I could hardly imagine going myself.

MARTIN: Did everybody else read as much as you did in your family?

INSKEEP: It was a house full of books.


INSKEEP: I might have been the biggest reader. But my parents were both teachers, and they went out of their way to fill the house with books. And they would buy series of those Time-Life books about different aspects of the world.

MARTIN: Right. Young people, this is what we used to read.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: The Time-Life books.

INSKEEP: Yeah, or just - we used to read books.

MARTIN: Right (laughter). OK. We're moving on. This is round two. Three new questions for you, Steve Inskeep. One, two or three?

INSKEEP: I see a little dimple in card number three. So I choose that one.

MARTIN: Oh. Are people fundamentally good?

INSKEEP: In writing a book recently about Abraham Lincoln, I learned a lot more deeply about his understanding of human nature, which sounds dark but I think isn't, that people act in their own self-interest. And they may dress up that with all sorts of other justifications and say they're acting on morality or whatever else. But they look after their interests. I say that's a dark thought. It's also a realistic one.

I mean, we have to look after ourselves. If we don't look after ourselves, nobody else is likely to do it. But if you understand that people are acting in their interests, you can hope - and I think this is true in many cases - that people will take a larger or more generous idea of their self-interest that includes their family or includes their community or includes their country or includes the world in the things that they want to look out for in their hopefully enlightened self-interest.

MARTIN: Do you consider yourself innately optimistic about people?

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. I'm optimistic. And maybe the way I'd rather put that is that I try to think long term.


INSKEEP: Most of the stuff that really upsets us today you can barely remember the next day or a week later or a month later. We are continually told this election is the election that could destroy everything or whatever. This moment is the moment of no return. And we keep having these moments of no returns, and we return.


INSKEEP: And there is something hopeful about that. There is something positive about that that I think we can acknowledge, even as we do face the real, real, real problems that we have.

MARTIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: You're welcome.

MARTIN: You win the game.


MARTIN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: So who else besides me gets to play this game?

MARTIN: Our very first episode is with comedian and actress Jenny Slate. It was such a fun experience to talk with her. She was my dream guest for this, and you'll see why. Besides Jenny, we've got Issa Rae - actress, comedian in her own right, producer extraordinaire - and also actor Chris Pine, who's directed his first film recently. And we've got music producer Jack Antonoff and U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limon. So lots of really interesting people.

INSKEEP: Were there any guests so far that have just been clunkers - that you're like, man, they're kind of dull?

MARTIN: I'm not telling you.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Wait. I got to answer your questions?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: You're going to answer mine. Typical.

MARTIN: Everyone has an answer to these questions. Even if their answer is, wow, I don't actually see myself in that question. I don't resonate with that question. Then I want to know why. I want to know why a question doesn't sit with you. And that's totally interesting.

INSKEEP: Rachel, you've just hit on the thing that keeps me going and that makes me love interviewing people and meeting people - everybody's interesting if you listen carefully enough.

MARTIN: That's right.

INSKEEP: Rachel Martin is very interesting and is the host of NPR's new podcast, Wild Card. Thanks.

MARTIN: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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