It’s a bold move these days for a man to put the word “explain” right up there in the title of his podcast. But Seán Defoe, host of Newstalk’s weekly Let Me Explain with Sean Defoe, marches right in. And if you’re worried that a podcast so titled, hosted by a man and containing a fair share of monologues, could veer into something more like “Here, let me mansplain that for you”, I have good news: Defoe comes away clean of the two traits Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me, identified as key to what has been coined the mansplainer: overconfidence and cluelessness.
On the contrary, Defoe is transparent about what he doesn’t know and as political correspondent for the Bauer Media Group including Newstalk and Today FM, far from clueless; able to distil often complex topics into something digestible and informative in under 15 minutes.
Like, what is cryptocurrency? And why are they protesting in Iran? And what is Ireland’s nuclear fallout plan? In these audio iterations of the more established explainer video, Defoe is your only man (splainer?) and not in a patronising, let-me-hold-forth-little-lady-even-though-you-actually-have-a-PhD-in-this way.
Across 35-plus episodes to date, Defoe reveals an unsurprising ardour for subjects political and many of the Let Me Explainers are politically themed, from Who is Rishi Sunak? to What’s the Paschal Donohoe Eurogroup Row About? to Is Style [in politics] Better than Substance? In fact, that’s how the podcast kicked off last May, with an episode entitled Leo and the Leak, on Varadkar’s leaking of the GP contract, taking a comprehensive and informative look at the stakes, the timing and potential outcomes.
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Since that slick and scandally beginning, Defoe has dropped explainers once a week – as well as one extra “emergency” podcast in July when Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh resigned the Fine Gael whip to vote against the Government. Big ‘splaining on that one.
But Defoe’s sphere of interests widens well beyond the goings on at Leinster House. Need a quick primer on cryptocurrency? On what plant milk is all about? His expansive curiosity takes him all the way to space, with episodes on space junk – litter in space is a big mission-ending risk, apparently – and aliens, and even into the multiverse (see episode 31).
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Defoe knows his medium and his subject, delivering polished scripts with casual ease in a tight, get-in-and-out format, clipping along at just the right pace to make the information imparted easy enough to absorb but smart enough to be instructive. There’s some canny audio production in there, too, courtesy of Lochlainn Harte who broadens the soundscape, bringing in other voices, interview snippets, archival audio, television show clips and music.
Where Let Me Explain works best is where it ignites curiosity, inviting the listener into the subjects with just enough information to whet your appetite. If Defoe does his job right, we know just enough to want to know more, a little like the host himself, whose curiosity and appetite for information is infectious. On a quick binge of the 36-odd episodes already dropped, I learned about space junk and the multiverse as well as who the first UK leader was to refer to a taoiseach as such, and how to reshuffle a Cabinet without taking the Government down.
Men explaining things to me has never felt so politically expedient.