Elena and Harv tackle the Inappropriate Questions

I’m with co-producer and co-host Elena Hudgins Lyle and co-host Harvinder Wadhwa of the podcast Inappropriate Questions! Tell me all about it!
Elena: Inappropriate Questions is a podcast that explores frequently-asked offensive or nagging questions that mostly get asked to people from marginalized groups. We take it all apart and try to explore how people can be more sensitive and more respectful, but in a fun, non-lecture-y kind of way.
Harv: We ask all the inappropriate questions so that other people don’t ask them. That’s the aim.

Inappropriate Questions podcast logo

What’s the format like?
Elena: It’s interviews. We have a main guest who will tell a story from their life which is related to the question. Then we have an academic or expert guest who will go into why people ask this question, where it comes from, the background, the context. And then we close out with some ideas about why you shouldn’t ask it or, maybe, why it actually is appropriate in some situations.

I like that you get into some questions that affect you both in your own lives. You both put a lot of your own selves into it and it’s cool to hear how the show affects you personally.
Harv: Well, the reason why I joined this—one of many—is that, to me, nothing is inappropriate. I’m pretty thick-skinned. And maybe that is because I have to be thick-skinned, being a person wearing a turban in a country where very few people wear turbans. So you have to be a little thick-skinned to get by. So, one important thing for me was to get a little… “woke”. And a little sensitized. Not that I was not sensitive. I think I’m very sensitive. But, sometimes the sensitivity I have may not be the right kind of sensitivity. I’m into human rights, I’m into fairness, equity, but those are very broad things.

Totally. It’s hard to navigate the world today, even if you are a really sensitive person.
Elena: Right. Context is a huge thing, I’m sure you’ve discovered that listening to the podcast.

Your favourite word!
Elena: Our best friend! Our favourite word, exactly. And I like that Harv questions things, like, “Wait, is this inappropriate?” Because we always start from a place of thinking these questions are inappropriate or we have some research or personal experiences to back up why we think they are. But, sometimes we talk to our guests and come to the conclusion that it’s less inappropriate than we thought. Or that it’s okay in some contexts but not in others. I think we had this a lot with the question “Why don’t you drink?” We want to leave no stone unturned and make sure we’re getting into all the nuances of these things. Because they’re not simple.

Elena and Harv of Inappropriate Questions podcast, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Harv and Elena in studio

It’s cool to hear you hash out both sides. I really like Harv’s contribution too. Harv, you remind me a little of my mom.
Harv: [Laughs] Is that a compliment? I’m not sure, but I’ll take it!

What I mean is you’re from the same generation and I think it’s very important to have your voice. There are a lot of people in that generation that might be a little confused about what’s okay to say and what’s not.
Elena: Well, you hearing that means mission accomplished on our end! When the other producers [Sabrina Bertsch and Cindy Long] and I were brainstorming what the show was going to be like and what we wanted out of it, we were thinking we need these different generations’ perspectives because we don’t want to just be preaching to the choir. One of our frequent lines from early on was “We want our dads to listen to this.” We all love our dads, we have complicated but lovable dads, but sometimes they just might not get something, or they’ll use language that is inappropriate, or isn’t “woke” as Harv would say.
Harv: There’s such a backlash around being “politically correct”. Some people are saying we’ve gone a little too far in being “politically correct”. That’s something I try to bring into the podcast subtly—when we go too far in any direction, that has its consequences.

There are different ways to approach everyone about everything. Someone might say something inappropriate, but if you lash out at them, attack them for it, then, of course, their response is going to be a defensive one. There’s definitely a sensitive way to approach that, too, and I think you guys are doing that.
Harv: Yes, because some people take anecdotes of things that went too far in terms of political correctness and blow it all out of proportion. Sorry to bring it to this, but the Donald Trump election was part of this! People didn’t want to be politically correct and now they have license to be racist.
Elena: Harv, you bring up a good point in that the free speech vs. political correctness idea has really been blown out of proportion. I don’t think free speech and political correctness have to be diametrically opposed opposites!

Not at all. You can be sensitive and also speak your mind.
Elena: For sure. It’s really fired up people who are opposed to political correctness—the idea that they are defending free speech. We definitely wanted to take some of the fire out of the debate over political correctness by calling people in as opposed to calling people out. The podcast is definitely geared toward people with good intentions. So we give them some facts, some ideas, some other people’s experiences. We offer some other ways they can go about it.

From left to right: Sabrina Bertsch (Managing Producer), Erin Guerette (Digital Producer), Harvinder Wadhwa (Co-Host), Elena Hudgins Lyle (Co-Host and Audio Producer), Cindy Long (Editor and Audio Producer)
Left to right: Sabrina Bertsch (Managing Producer), Erin Guerette (Digital Producer), Harvinder Wadhwa (Co-Host), Elena Hudgins Lyle (Co-Host and Audio Producer), Cindy Long (Editor and Audio Producer)

Tell me about casting Harv.
Elena: Well, Harv’s daughter is a friend of mine from high school. I put out this call on Facebook to try to find these “dad or dad-like figures” as we called them. The team were mocking me because I got the most responses and they were like, “Elena, you have so many middle-aged dad friends!” Anyway, Harv’s daughter reached out to me and said “My dad is obsessed with podcasts! You need to get him!” So, I said okay we’ll audition him. He was the first candidate to come in for the audition. And at the interview he was like, “You’re done, right? I’m it.” And we laughed it off, but in the end, he was right!

Every episode has an accompanying web comic, which I love. How did that come to be?
Elena: Yes! We always conceptualized this podcast as more than just a podcast. And we’ve seen web comics around on social media and they’re really shareable. If someone sees it and thinks it’s funny or relatable, they can just tap that Share button or tag all their friends, so we always pictured this podcast being more than just audio and that seemed like the perfect additional medium.

Who draws the web comics?
Elena: Well, with our guests on the podcast, we want to make sure that everyone is from the community, of course, so they can speak to whatever experience we’re discussing. So, we said why not the same thing for the web comics? We want artists who can speak to these experiences. So we basically just trawled the internet to find artists on Instagram, Tumblr, etc., who have these presences and who make comics about their experiences. One of our comics was a personal connection from Toronto. But, everyone else is from all over the world. There are 2 people from the U.K., 2 people from somewhere in Oregon, someone from Spain. Everyone was really fantastic.

Inappropriate Questions Podcast webcomic, episode 1, trans issues

What kinds of questions are you thinking of exploring in season 2?
Elena: There’s so much we want to explore! People are welcome to send us suggestions on our socials too! We’re always taking suggestions. I personally want to talk more about racism toward specific groups of people. I’m also biased because I’m LGBT and I want to talk about more LGBT things. Asexuality is really interesting and a lot of people don’t understand it. People ask questions like, “Is it just a phase?” or tell people “You’ll find someone and then you’ll realize you’re not asexual”. That would be super interesting to dig into. We definitely want to get into mental health, too, and depression and anxiety.

“Have you tried yoga?”
Elena: Yeah! Or “Why can’t you just shrug it off?”
Harv: Addiction, too. That’s a big one. I would also want to tackle things like homelessness.

Right! Like, “Why don’t you get a job?”
Harv: Yes. It kills me to see we are one of the richest countries in the world and people are homeless. You can give me all the reasons, but I don’t buy any of them. There is nobody who should be homeless. Period. We can afford it. It costs us way more for people to be homeless than to give them a home. I would love to tackle that.
Elena: Also, fat-phobia and body shaming. A lot of people ask ‘Why don’t you just exercise?’ when people just have different body types, it’s not a negative thing.

Those are all so good. I can’t wait for season 2!
What are your favourite podcasts?
Harv: The Agenda with Steve Paikin is absolutely the best. And then Real Time with Bill Maher. There are a couple others. More or Less. That one is on statistics. And there are a few business podcasts that I listen to. And some CBC comedy podcasts. I like The News Quiz from BBC and Altdot Comedy which is stand-up.
Elena: Lately I’ve been really into daily news podcasts. I love Front Burner from CBC and The Daily from The New York Times. My all-time favourite podcast—I’m a huge, huge, huge fan—everyone either loves them or detests them. Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman have a podcast about U2. It’s called U Talkin’ U2 2 Me. They just geek out but also make the dumbest jokes you’ve ever heard. They go on forever about the most random stuff. That’s my favourite of all time.

Alright, some unrelated questions!
If I say close your eyes and go to your happy place, where do you go?
Elena: U2 concert. Front row. In 2017 I was front row with my friends and my little brother, who was just rocking out. We have a video of it and he’s just air guitar-ing. It was the cutest thing ever! We got the drummer’s setlist and I was right up close to them and the guitarist smiled at me ‘cause he saw me rockin’ out real hard. It was beautiful. That’s my happy place.
Harv: Hmm… Watching live cricket. At the game. The world cup is going on in England. If I could watch a game, that would be great. Any game. I don’t care who’s playing.

What’s something that is not real that you wish was real?
Elena: My first thought is Hogwarts. As long as there’s no dark magic B.S. going on.

The building or the academy that makes wizard people?
Elena: Both! The building has all these cool secrets and stuff. It just seems like such a great, warm, beautiful, mystical, fantastical, happy place in my head.
Harv: I don’t know if this counts, but I wish people had some strange superpowers. But I don’t mean a person can fly or punch really hard. I’m thinking a person can snore the loudest. If you’re bad to me, I’ll snore your head off.

If you could wade through a pool of something that isn’t water, what would it be?
Elena: Puppies! I love dogs so much and I don’t have one and I really want one and I love seeing them so happy! And they’re all lickin’ and sniffin’ and bein’ nice!
Harv: Jell-O is the best answer. I love Jell-O. Any Jell-O.

Great! And finally, if you had one question for me what would it be?
Harv: It’s a question for people of your generation. Is this, in your opinion, the best time to be born? As opposed to 20 years from now or 20 years in the past?
Elena: Daaaamn, dude!

I think 20 years from now…
Elena: … will be a wasteland?

Yeah, the world will be ravaged by climate change [I laugh nervously]. Twenty years ago was maybe an easier time for some people, but not others. If I was born as a white person 20 years ago, I could be living it up. But, as a woman I would have to face a lot of bad things. I think now is a really awesome time because people are talking about issues a lot. And that’s how progress happens.

We’ll end on that positive note. Infinite thanks to Elena and Harv for meeting with me for a very long, lively, wonderful chat!
Check out Inappropriate Questions and keep an eye out for season 2!

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