Rainn Wilson explores the paranormal in two cosmically different podcasts
Terry Carnation is the character Rainn Wilson could have been literally born to play. Spirituality, art and comedy were pillars of his childhood: growing up in the Baha’i faith, the thoughtful D&D nerd grappled with the Big Questions early on and produced his own proto-podcast by recording Monty Python sketches on a tape recorder that he listened to religiously. He’s still hilariously parsing the strangeness of life in two new podcasts that offer very different takes on the world of the unknown.
As the U.S. government finally admits the existence of UFOs and intrigue-fueled extremism blooms online, Dark Air with Terry Carnation (released in April) offers a lighter take on the murky underworld of alien abductions, lizard people and celebrities under CIA mind control. Wilson’s alter-ego is an intense turtlenecked radio jockey who reprises his old paranormal show after a nervous breakdown, and helps callers deal with possessed pets and Bigfoot kinks while trying to solve an off-air mystery of his own. The podcast, created by Wilson and Aaron Lee, is a simpler foray into mystery and metaphysics, poking fun at the weird world of AM radio and deep-diving down the rabbit hole of American credulity.
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“Terry Carnation” made his debut in 2019 hosting Payne Lindsey’s podcast Radio Rental, where he read spooky stories straight off Reddit. In the comically scripted Dark Air, he channels Ron Burgundy pomp with just enough Robert Stack gravitas to nail gems like “I find the Irish off-putting” and “I for one do not understand the alien obsession with the human anus.” In another eye-watering scene, Tom Lennon (Reno 911!) plays an Alex Jonesian Youtube personality who shills testosterone suppositories and rants about man-duck hybrids running the post office.
Dark Air is playfully light: Wilson promotes the podcast and reads ads in character and maintains a real Twitter account. The deadpan calls are so ridiculous, he might as well have pulled them from real talk radio. One “time-traveling” caller says she’s in 1776 but is confused because nobody looks like the play Hamilton. Another woman insists her dog’s lazy eye is seeing ghosts, and a third believes 9/11 was an inside job–by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marching band. And Terry takes them all seriously. “Do you think there are other horn sections that are also trained assassins?” he intones.
Wilson’s comedy buddies Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) and Office coworkers Kate Flannery, Mark Proksch, Angela Kinsey and Creed Bratton lend their voices to the other weirdos who populate Terry’s world. Susan Sarandon does the voiceover. It’s a wonderful circus that could only live on the late-night AM airwaves–and now a podcast.
Wilson’s newer audio project, released earlier this summer, is more contemplative. He cohosts Metaphysical Milkshake with Dr. Reza Aslan, a writing professor at UC Riverside, tackling life’s big questions with fairly interesting guests. The show is a reworking of a 2013 YouTube interview series where Wilson held philosophical rap sessions with luminaries like Elon Musk, Deepak Chopra and…Demitri Martin, I guess, in the back up a beat-up Chevy van.
The longer podcast format allows the Milkshake hosts to explore the intersection of faith, reason and humanity more deeply: they chat with experts about the relevance of religion in modern life, the link between addiction and trauma, technological ethics, and facing our own fallibility. Wilson told Forbes that the show doesn’t shrink from delving into polite-conversation killers like religion, morality and death.
Wilson and Aslan tow that very sensitive line by staying curious and teachable, stressing that these metaphysical dilemmas are open-ended: they’re comfortable with ambiguity and encourage listeners to engage on social media or call in with their own questions. Metaphysical Milkshake doesn’t promise to answer the cosmic riddles that keep us up at night, but it does reframe them with insight and grace.
You can find both podcasts on Apple, Spotify and most streaming services.