ArtBeat: 15 minutes of fame — Jamie Berger’s podcasts about being famous more about art

  • “Have a seat.” Every week, Jamie Berger invites people — known and unknown — to sit down and talk with him about fame for his recently launched podcast, “15 Minutes: a podcast about fame with Jamie Berger.” Courtesy Anja Schutz

  • The logo for Jamie Berger's podcast, “15 Minutes: a podcast about fame with Jamie Berger.” Courtesy Anja Schutz

For The Recorder
Published: 9/28/2016 12:30:06 PM

You may know Jamie Berger as one of the owners of The Rendezvous, the Turners Falls bar at 78 Third St. that he and fellow owners Emily Brewster, Chris Janke and Mark Wisnewski reopened in September 2007, giving the old dive bar a new life as a pub, bistro, karaoke bar, monthly bingo hall and eclectic music venue. If you’re an NMH student, you may know him as your academic coach: part tutor, part counselor, part buddy.

Or you may not know him at all. And this last possibility interests Berger, who has spent a lot of time thinking about fame.

Berger’s recently launched project, “15 Minutes: a podcast about fame with Jamie Berger,” can be listened to on iTunes or on any podcast platform. You can find links on the podcast’s Facebook page or on its website:

Currently at 14 episodes and counting, the podcasts range from 5 minutes to a little over an hour. The “15 Minutes” of the title refers, of course, to the expression credited to Andy Warhol (but, interestingly, contested by photographer Nat Finkelstein, who claims to have said a version of it first): “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

When I sat down to talk with Berger, it became a sort of dueling banjos session for interviewers. Partway through, I realized I was running off at the mouth about my two previously not-published (but close call) novels.

“Wait,” I said, “I’m talking too much.”

“No, I tricked you into it,” Berger said with a smile. “I’m happy.”

If you listen to some — or go ahead, all — of Berger’s podcasts you’ll hear that getting people to talk does make him happy. He could probably get anybody to talk about anything, but fame is the topic he chose because it’s been a preoccupation for him.

“Or an impediment, almost,” Berger says. “I feel like I do things until I get to a certain level where you’re really competing for that attention, and then I get grossed out by it and move on. I’ve gone through so many different lives: as a writer, a performer, and then I run away.”

I ask him whether it’s that the moment of fame doesn’t feel like what he was hoping it would be, once he approaches it.

Berger laughs and says he hasn’t gotten close enough to have that problem. But several of the people he talks with address that, including novelist Sara Jaffee, filmmaker Penny Lane and radio producer Tina Antolini.

“They all say a version of: What you learn when you get so amped up and you get to go up and give the speech and get the award is that, of course, it’s quickly anti-climax unless that’s just a little piece of candy that is related to the fact that the process is what you love,” Berger says.

WRSI morning radio disc jockey Monte Belmonte echoes that sentiment in his interview in Episode 7. Quoting musician Elvis Costello, Belmonte says, “The joy is in the making.”

“If you want to be famous, you will never be famous enough,” Belmonte says. “… If fame is what you think will make you happy, guess what, you’ll never be happy. You might as well learn to be happy now.”

So, while Berger’s podcast claims to be about fame, it’s just as often about happiness and how to find it, and about the joys and difficulties of making art.

Berger sees “15 Minutes” as art, not a journalistic endeavor. With the help of musician and sound engineer Ed Patenaude, Berger edits his roughly once-a-week conversations meticulously.

“I’ve spent hours getting rid of most of someone’s ‘likes’ or ‘ums,’” Berger says. “I think I say ‘um’ a lot. But it’s guests I clean up more than myself.”

For the record, listening back to our talk, I heard lots of ‘likes’ from me but only the ‘ums’ Berger said in this one sentence.

“I get really focused,” Berger says of editing. “And that’s why I think it might be the right thing for me.”

Every episode, he learns more about listening and asking questions and what makes a vibrant conversation, as well as gaining insight into the allure and the reality and the disappointment of fame. Berger plans to launch a fundraising campaign so he can spend more time on the project, and hopes to find an increasingly diverse array of subjects who will talk about fame from varying perspectives.

“The podcasts will only be really good if there are more people willing (to be interviewed) who aren’t famous, or who walked away, or who failed. … If it’s all going to be people talking about, ‘Yeah, just keep up the hard work,’ it won’t have the variety that I want it to have.”

“Part of the civil duty of this podcast is helping people to deal with this big stupid thing that is in our faces from childhood,” Berger says.

Some upcoming podcasts he’s looking forward to include conversations with actor/comedian Eugene Mirman of hit TV show “Bob’s Burgers” and graphic novelist Jessica Abel. And Berger invites you to sit down with him sometime, to talk about your own experiences of fame, encounters with famous people or anything that relates to his topic.

Find links to “15 Minutes: a podcast about fame with Jamie Berger” on its Facebook page or on the website: The Facebook page also includes relevant postings that expand the conversation.

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