Pictured above: Avery Trufelman, in a shot taken from a video promo for The Cut.
Q&A with Avery Trufelman, Host of The Cut
You first came to 99% Invisible as an intern and were eventually hired as a full-time producer. What did it feel like to work there in the earliest days of your career?
Yes! I first moved out to California with only a duffle bag, never fully sure if I would be able to stay. I was crashing with my aunt in San Francisco and sleeping on my friends' floors in Oakland. Back then, 99pi was just [creator/host Roman Mars] and one other producer, Sam Greenspan, and we were working in the corner of this architecture firm with all of our desks pushed up against each other like we were elementary schoolers. I was so, so starstruck. I remember just being giddy to walk to work and feeling like I needed to pinch myself constantly. My first tasks were transcribing our back catalog and editing our full episodes down to four and a half minutes, so they could be aired in a slot on KALW in San Francisco. Those two early responsibilities taught me a lot. I spent so much time closely observing Roman's style and voice, and kind of pulling apart those episodes to see what made them tick. It felt like a true apprenticeship in that way. And then my very first radio story ever was episode 101 of 99% Invisible.
Can you share some of your favorite memories from working on that show?
Oh man, where to begin. I think the richest part of the job was the people I was able to meet. I got to interview the most fascinating subjects, and 99pi has the best listeners in the world. All over the world. It feels like almost any city I go to, I can find new friends. My colleague, Kurt Kohlstedt, and I were invited to cover design week in Dubai, which was the strangest place I have ever been in my life. And low and behold, we met some fans of the show who took us out for meals, showed us around, and invited us into their homes, and gave us a much deeper perspective. But even locally, I was able to visit San Francisco's recycling plant, and I was allowed to look at the SF MoMA building before there was any art in it. Recently, an architect invited me to see a Diego Rivera mural hidden on the City College campus here in San Francisco. Just lucky stuff and I'm incredibly grateful for all the fortuitous encounters the show has afforded me. It all just feels like wild kismet.
Walk us through your decision to leave 99pi. Were you actively pursuing something new, or did New York Magazine approach you?
I did feel like it was time for a change. I mean, I had been at this job since I was 22. I'm 29 now. That's a big change. And I knew it couldn't last forever. Just...I felt like it was time to see what it was like to work somewhere else. And Nishat Kurwa, the head of audio at Vox Media, reached out to me in 2018, to invite me to host Nice Try!, this podcast about utopian experiments. I liked Nishat right away, and working with the crackerjack team at Vox was quite the experience. I couldn't believe that we pulled off an eight-part series in four months. I had no idea I could work that quickly, all while working for 99pi full-time still. Everyone at Vox is very smart and determined (special shout out to superproducer Megan Cunnane there).
After that project ended, there was this moment where the stars seemed to align kind of magically: I heard The Cut On Tuesdays [New York Magazine's previous podcast with Gimlet Media] was going to end. And I had been a massive, massive fan, I was really sad to hear it go. I had always been like "this is the kind of show I wish I could make," because you never knew what you were going to get every week. It always felt like a little gift. My friend (and podcast hero) Lynn Levy had been the editor on that show, and when I saw her last fall, she joking-not-jokingly asked me if I would want to host it. Which hadn't crossed my mind at all as a possibility. But then when the news came out that Vox and New York Magazine were merging, I straight up asked Nishat if Vox would bring back a podcast for The Cut and if I could host it. For some reason, I just knew it would be a fit, and it seemed like a logical extension of my work.
There was a lot of discussion and many calls and meetings, and honestly, it was hard to tell who was wooing who. I couldn't tell if I was courting The Cut or they were courting me. But I did kind of feel like a lovesick teenager waiting by the telephone with that giddy feeling in my gut. I had a crush on The Cut. I'm over the moon it worked out. It really feels like when I started at 99pi — I have that "I can't believe I'm here" fangirl feeling coupled with that anxious need to try to do something really good.
How did the 99pi team take the news of your departure?
I don't think anyone was super shocked, honestly. I've been doing my own thing with Articles of Interest for a while, and they were all more or less making 99pi without me. So I certainly had made myself dispensable! They were all really supportive and sent me off in this heartfelt Zoom party that totally made me tear up. They're an incredible group. And oddly enough, this is as good a time as any to go, since we're not in the office anyway. So everyone is just kind of missing everyone. Although I hope this isn't the end of my working relationship with 99pi. One day, I'd like to come back and do another story with them. And they assured me that the door is always open. I'm so honored to be an alumna of the show and I just want to make 'em proud.