Atlanta duo's podcast in top 10 on iTunes

'Stuff You Should Know' grows up

The answers to these questions and hundreds more lie in the archives of the podcast "Stuff You Should Know." And here's some other stuff you should know: One of the most downloaded podcasts on the planet -- 3.8 million times in November alone -- comes out of the mouths and heads of two Atlanta guys in their 30s working in a studio across from Lenox Square.

Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, both graduates of the University of Georgia, will take on just about anything: freemasons, fight clubs, Legos, presidential pardons, sleepwalking, quicksand, zombies, migraines, hiccups, cremation, dreadlocks. They agree on topics for the show and then go forth and find out whatever they can about them. But that's the last time they discuss the topics before they go into the studio and sit down in behind the microphones.

"We don't talk about it," Clark said. "There's no practice, no script, no rehearsal, one take."

It is a one-take wonder. iTunes just released its list of the best podcasts of 2010, and "Stuff You Should Know" is No. 7 overall.

Clark told the show's listeners about SYSK's big numbers during the recent recording of the 280th "Stuff You Should Know" podcast ("How Immigration Works").

Sitting across from Clark, as always, is his cohost Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant. For two years now, the two have seen their show's popularity skyrocket to the top of the charts. It consistently ranks in the top five most popular iTunes podcasts.

Clark, who came up with the name of the show, recorded the first "Stuff You Should Know" podcast in April 2008. Initially, he had one cohost one week and another the next. Bryant made his first appearance that May ("Why Does Toothpaste Make Orange Juice Taste So Bad?"), and in July ("Why Do People Blush?") Clark announced the two of them were going to be permanent fixtures behind the microphones.

"It was magic after that," Clark, 34, said recently.

"Definitely good chemistry," Bryant, 39, added. "We felt very comfortable together."

The podcasts initially were five to six minutes in length but gradually expanded to about 30 to 45 minutes -- about time of a typical commute to or from work. It airs Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The duo's friendship (Clark often refers to Bryant as "Chuckers")  is one of the charms of the podcast, as are the liberal doses of humor. There's an everyman, conversational feel to the show -- two pals sitting back and picking apart one topic after another.

Clark and Bryant have received messages from at least three couples who say they were drawn together because of their shared interest in the podcast. One couple had a "Stuff You Should Know"-themed wedding in San Diego. (Clark and Bryant signed the online guest book.)

Regular listeners learn the most unusual things. As for gum staying in your stomach for seven years: That's a lie perpetrated by adults on kids, say Clark and Bryant.  And gouging out a shark's eyes? It's risky, but if that's your only choice, give it a shot. Most predators don't function well with gouged-out eyes.

In the show “Is Tone Deafness Hereditary?” Clark noted that the song "My Way" was banned from bars in the Philippines. At least a half dozen people – some likely tone deaf and who became enraged after being jeered, Clark suggested --  had been killed performing karaoke renditions of the song.

“If you do find you’re tone deaf, stay out of the Philippines,” Clark counseled.

In that context, he asked, what did Jimi Hendrix, Yanni and Bing Crosby have in common? Perfect pitch.

When not recording the podcast, Clark and Bryant work as staff writers for the commercial educational web site HowStuffWorks produces 10 podcasts -- such as "TechStuff" and "Stuff Mom Never Told You" -- with "Stuff You Should Know" its most popular.

Clark was hired as a staff writer in July 2007 and Bryant came aboard a month later. On his first week on the job, Bryant told his wife there was a fellow writer there -- Clark -- he seemed to have a lot in common with, such as music, pop culture and a dogged inquisitiveness. They've been good buddies ever since.

Clark, who lives with his girlfriend in Midtown, moved with his family from Toledo, Ohio, to Marietta when he was a teenager. He graduated from Sprayberry High School. After UGA, Clark was the founding editor of The Washboard Weekly, an edgy tabloid in Johnson City, Tenn., that couldn't sell enough advertising to stay afloat.

Bryant, who lives in East Lake, grew up in DeKalb County and graduated from Redan High School. After college, he tried to fulfill his dream of becoming a screenwriter. He enrolled in classes at NYU film school and lived in Los Angeles for four years. He wrote six screenplays, including "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," a satire about a Southern Baptist Church that got some attention. But ultimately he couldn't find any takers and returned to Atlanta.

The first HowStuffWorks podcast ("BrainStuff") was recorded in 2007 by the web site's founder, Marshall Brain, a former North Carolina State computer science professor.

The website started out in 1998 as a hobby, with Brain writing articles about various topics on his kitchen table and then posting them online.

After the site won a national award, venture capital began flowing in, and was a hobby no more, Brain, 49, said in a recent interview.

In 2002, HowStuffWorks was sold to the Convex Group, an investment firm founded by Jeff Arnold, the former CEO of WebMD. Three years ago, Discovery paid $250 million for it.

"It has exceeded all expectations," said Brain, who also grew up in Atlanta, graduating from Marist. "You just rub your eyes and wonder how in the world did it happen."

"Stuff You Should Know" was the web site's second podcast, and it did not take long for it to take off.

Around the time Bryant became a permanent cohost, Roxanne Reid, the director of HowStuffWorks' video department, was sitting at her desk one day when Jeri Rowland, the show's producer, called. "We're No. 5 overall!" Rowland exclaimed.

Reid told Rowland she was busy and to leave her alone. Rowland convinced her on the second call. For a few weeks that November, Stuff You Should Know was the most popular podcast on the iTunes charts.

Michael Cascone, chief operating officer for Discovery Digital Media, said the best thing the company did for "Stuff You Should Know" was to not get in the way of what Clark and Bryant were doing.

"After a few months, it was clear the chemistry was there," he said.

Clark and Bryant also make a point to tell listeners they do not hold themselves out to be experts on any subject.

"We're professional researchers," Clark said.

"Knowledge junkies is more like it," Bryant said.

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