11. The Storyteller
Name: Drew Ackerman
Title: Host of the podcast “Sleep with Me”
Why they're interesting: Responsible for making "adult bedtime stories" a thing
Drew Ackerman tells dull, meandering stories on topics no one cares about. And that’s exactly why his weekly podcast “Sleep With Me" has become such a hit. After getting interested in podcasts about five years ago, Ackerman toyed with the idea of creating his own. He came up with an idea for adult bedtime stories. “At first, I was like, no that’s too weird and too embarrassing and too silly,” Ackerman said. “Because I knew there were already all of these other audio sleep aids, like different types of sound and ambient music. But they didn’t work for me.”
So, in 2013, Ackerman gave adult bedtime stories a shot. His audience grew very slowly, giving him time to master the format — each show should be distracting enough to keep people from getting lost in their minds, but not interesting enough to make anyone care about reaching the end. “I want all the shows to feel like I’m just sitting there winging the story,” Ackerman said. “But it actually takes a lot of work to do that.”
As more listeners started tuning in, Ackerman relied on their feedback to tweak his shows. “A lot of times, I’d be recording a show and I’d just start singing,” said Ackerman. “I thought that was harmless, but people would say, ‘that wakes me up,’ and I was like, oh, okay, then I guess I can’t sing.”'
Eventually, he struck the right balance between peripatetic narratives and non-sequiturs. “The essential element for me, to tell someone a bedtime story, is being present in the moment,” said Ackerman, “and part of that is putting self-criticism aside. I’m able to indulge my super curious, super boring side and ramble for as long as I want.”
Ackerman thinks of "Sleep With Me" as equal parts sleep aid and entertainment. “I always call [my show] a sleep offering, [as opposed to] a sleep solution or cure," said Ackerman, "because I think it takes the pressure off listeners. An offering is there for you to try out and just see how it goes, whereas a solution is supposed to work. I like the podcast to be pressure free — it could help you fall asleep, and I hope it does help, but it contains no shoulds or wrong ways to use it."
"Sleep With Me" is also valuable, Ackerman feels, because it creates a community for troubled sleepers. “It can feel very isolating, in the deep, dark night, like you’re the only one going through this," said Ackerman. "Everyone seems connected in this feeling of why can’t I just fall asleep. I think it’s reassuring, in some sense, to know you’re not battling it alone.”