I’ve been very emotional the last couple of days, as the final episode of The Karen & Ellen Letters has crept ever-closer. I hate goodbyes, and in the past have really struggled with things ending. As the podcast draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on my own experience over the past year. I thought I’d put pen to paper; if you’ll indulge me.
Like a lot of people, I was introduced to podcasts through Serial, and several other true crime podcasts quickly followed. As well-done as they were, I began to find the dark and disturbing subject matter too much. I needed something else, because I love to listen to people, and I love to hear stories. I just didn’t know what that “something” was.
I saw a few posts, extolling the virtues of The Karen & Ellen Letters in the Podcasts We Listen To Facebook group. Me of a year ago though, was very wary of trying anything new. However, something compelled me to give it a go, and I tentatively downloaded the 2 episodes and Aftershows that were out at the time.
Immediately, an obsession, and a love affair was born.
After episode 3, I posted in PWLT, to say how much I loved the podcast, and thanking the people who had recommended it. Not something I would ever have done before. Almost instantly, Josh responded with the link to the group.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It was a revelation from the second I pressed play. Best warning ever on a podcast. Cognitive dissonance, and severe brain damage? I was sold.
The production quality also hit me straight away. The music, the background noises, it was so professional. I loved it already, and nothing had even happened yet.
I completely fell in love with Josh’s voice, before he’d even spoken for 10 seconds. (You had me at “coincidentally”.)
I laughed out loud the first time, when I heard Lists 1 & 2.
“Refrigerator lightbulb, 2 dollars.”
This is a testament to Miss Sara Stapleton, who from the very first line, portrayed Karen’s self-righteous confidence perfectly.
In fact, I just wanted to take a minute to thank all the voice actors so much for all their hard work, and their complete and utter brilliance.
Jeff – I don’t think there is anyone on this earth who could ever be more “Maaaaark.” From snarky to sensitive; pompous to outraged; you played it right every single time.
“Dear Grocery Shoppers” will forever be one of my favourite moments.
Sara P – your sweet and charming portrayal of Ellen made us all fall in love with her, and her eternal optimism. The mouse-release videos are my particular favourite.
Matt – I am SO glad that Josh couldn’t find the original Rob. You were born to play this role, and I am proud to be the founding member of the UK branch of the Matt Peelen fan club. The arrival of Rob into the story was built up so much in Season 1; so it was a lot of hype to live up to. You surpassed all the hype; and every Rob letter is pure brilliance. The Carmen Miranda letter is my personal favourite.
Sara S – what can I say? Not only the best Karen ever; but super-sleuth extraordinaire, hilarious Roomie, and wonderful friend. I hope there will be many more Murder Boards in the future.
You all completely brought these letters to life, and provided us listeners with hours of laughter. Thank you!
It does seem strange to look back now, at how the podcast started, and how it is now, as it reaches the finale. From just laughing at some hilarious correspondence; to going on this crazy adventure to find out where they came from.
Josh kept repeating, “Trust the journey”, and I’m glad that I did. I never had the urge to dig or investigate myself. I love the anticipation, and being able to suspend my disbelief, for as long as possible.
I love the two seasons equally.
The first, for the laughter and incredulity. The second, still for the laughter, but also for the solving of the mystery. The way all the stories were presented individually, then gradually woven together, is a huge testament to Josh’s creativity, and production skills.
Is the picture complete? Do we know everything?
No. But I think that’s ok.
I used to hate ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. It would make me anxious if things weren’t definite. If I didn’t know for sure.
Now though, I’ve learned through this podcast, that it’s not the end of the world if some things go unanswered. It’s much more like real life that way. And because I so wanted to find out that at least some of it was real, I’m more than happy with what we know.
Josh spoke right from the beginning about his own personal journey with these letters.
Just interjecting here and there within the narrative, but never forcing us as listeners to feel a certain way. I think there was a great skill in letting us find our own way, and make up our own minds.
I found my own feelings changing over time.
At first, laughing at the girls, and their apparent stupidity. Incredulous over Karen and Rob’s demands. Finding complete joy in the private jokes and catchphrases, that sprung from these letters.
Then, as we heard Josh explain how he became obsessed with the hype, and popularity of the blog, I found myself too questioning whether it was right to have this voyeuristic, and judgmental relationship with these people. Especially as they were all completely oblivious to it all.
Knowing what we know now, it’s interesting how Josh’s relationship with the letters mirrored Mark’s in a lot of ways. At first, something fun to share with close friends.
Then, the desire to get that ego boost from sharing them to a bigger audience.
It seemed exploitative somehow; and made me question my own motives as a listener also. The difference came when Josh was able to eventually recognise this; when Mark was not.
This is where Ellen’s favourite theme of Karma comes in.
Mark failed in his attempts to share these letters, and this story, with a larger audience, because his motives were questionable. Josh hit this hurdle at first too, but eventually succeeded, when he saw that the true value was in the people, and their stories.
Not what was in it for him.
I felt that Mark really wanted to be a storyteller. This is shown by what we now know that he made up/changed. Also, from what seems like some autobiographical details that were added; such as the touching exchange with Ellen about anti-Semitism. But his intentions were wrong, and ultimately, I think that was his downfall.
Josh definitely succeeded where Mark failed. He was able to recognise his mistakes, learn from them, and tell the story in the right way.
In the first Q and A, Josh talks about the girls being very privileged; and having a lack of empathy. In the end, I think that this statement can be more attributed to Mark, than to Karen and Ellen. In the latter part of Season 1, there is a subtle change in the way that Josh describes the podcast at the beginning of each episode.
Instead of saying that this podcast will “help you appreciate the stupid people in your life;” it alters to saying that it will “make you feel better about the stupid things that you’ve done in life.” It didn’t go unnoticed, and it’s small details like this that make this podcast exceptional, unique, and intuitive.
The concept of empathy is something else that has resonated strongly with me, throughout this experience. Especially during Season 2. The “characters” from Season 1, have suddenly become real people. Experiencing life, love, and loss, like the rest of us.
I was already fond of them by the end of Season 1; but as we discover the real people in Season 2, I became really invested in needing to know that they’re all doing ok.
It was also really heartwarming to find that, although we now know that many of the letters were changed/embellished, the essence of the people that we fell in love with in Season 1, was still there. And, however hard it is to let them go, and stop peering through that window into their lives, it is the right time.
I’ve never been sure if I believe in fate or not. It’s easier to believe, when you get something that you want, than when you get something you don’t. But you cannot argue against the fact that Josh seemed destined to have these letters. To go on the journey, to tell the story. The physical proximity to people and places involved. The way the letters would always find a way to come back out of the box, until Josh found a way to tell the story in the right way.
Personally, I feel that podcasts, and the people connected to them, came into my life at exactly the right time. I was stuck in a rut, and had withdrawn a lot from life.
I thought I had to concentrate on “just” being a mum, and had become fairly isolated.
As much as I loved podcasts, they didn’t actually help, as I would just withdraw into that world of listening on my own.
Until this podcast.
The community that came with it, has been a revelation. Instantly, I felt that I had found my people. I remembered what it was like to really laugh. Not just chuckle, but laugh-until-the-tears-run-down-your-face-and-you-disturb-the-neighbours, laugh.
Josh said in one of the earlier Q&As, I think, that he wanted people to feel that they had someone to laugh with.
You totally succeeded Josh. You provided the foundations for the best place on the internet; and the community has grown and thrived.
I’m so grateful to everyone that Laila has been embraced and included in that community. She overheard the episode with the the exchange over Karen’s ripped jeans, and instantly fell in love, like I did. To this day, “a deck is designed to be walked upon, not sat upon,” is one of her favourite quotes.
Thank you so much Josh, for including Laila in the warning, and the aftershows. She has loved every second, and is over the moon to be “famous.” I love that I can share these precious moments with her.
This represents another theme that I feel runs through this podcast: Connections.
The connections that brought Josh the letters in the first place.
The ones that made him keep returning to this story.
The Season 2 search for the connections that would make sense of it all.
But perhaps the most important ones are the ones that have been made between all of us. I am so very grateful for the friendships that I have made through this podcast.
I know that I have made friends for life; and you’ve all contributed to making me feel happier than I have in a long time.
I love each and every one of you Roomies. Such a huge variety of people, from a huge variety of places. We all have very different lives, experiences, and opinions, outside of that group. But in there, we have something that bonds us implicitly.
We had a great MP in this country called Jo Cox, who was tragically killed.
In her maiden speech to Parliament, she said:
“We are far more united, and have far more in common with each other, than things that divide us.”
It’s so true. In a world that, at the moment, sometimes feels like a place where there are more divisions than ever; having this safe place where we can be united in laughter and love, is priceless.
Thank you Josh, for providing us with that. For starting it all, for working so hard, for always being so generous with your time, humour, and care. Thank you also for encouraging us all to be open and honest; by leading by example. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this blog. Something that I’d never have had the confidence to do a year ago.
As we come to the end of this podcast, we have found out that some of the Karen & Ellen letters are real; and some are not. But the love, laughter, and tears, have all been real. The friendships and bonds, that will last a lifetime, are real.
I know that I’m going to be very emotional tomorrow.
Letting go is always hard, and I’m extremely sad that the podcast is ending.
It will still be there when we need it though.
For me, it’s the podcast I go to, when nothing else will do.
You are all the people that I go to, when nobody else will do.
And that will never change.