Most podcasters want to avoid putting their listeners to sleep. But for Drew Ackerman, being boring is a full-time job.
As host of the popular sleep-inducing podcast Sleep with Me, Ackerman (known as “Scooter” to his listeners) has mastered the art of sleepytime storytelling. Episodes of Sleep with Me are filled with crazy tangents and monotonous monologues about whatever he pleases, whether it’s Game of Thrones, Radio Shack, or the art of making a podcast.
“I think it’s still an ongoing experiment,” says Ackerman, 41, who spends his days working for a library system in the San Francisco Bay Area. “I feel a little bit like Don Quixote. … I don’t even get it. But it’s working, so I’m just gonna keep doing it.”
Ackerman spends 40 to 50 hours a week crafting his charmingly offbeat show, which ranks on iTunes alongside more expertly produced podcasts from NPR, Earwolf, and ESPN. He says Sleep with Me is partly inspired by insomnia he endured as a kid and the “silly, boring stories” he and his brother used to tell each other to help fall asleep.
“One scary thing for me is, like, ‘How boring am I really?’” Ackerman says. “Because I think [the show's success stems from] some natural aspect of being myself."
As a frequent Sleep with Me listener, I wanted to know about a few of Ackerman’s influences. His answers didn’t disappoint:
“When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I remember some kid who had an older brother and was like, ‘We gotta listen to this [radio] show on Sunday night,’” Ackerman says. “What I’m trying to accomplish with the podcast is what this show did for me: It was this safe haven. I’d be terrified about school the next day, so I’d listen to that show. Even if I couldn’t fall asleep—which normally I couldn’t—it just carried me away somewhere. It made me feel less alone and made me laugh.”
2. KURT VONNEGUT
“I recently reread the book Hocus Pocus,” he says. “The first time I read it was in high school, and it changed my life; it really melted my brain. It created another thing that I strive for: It felt like [Vonnegut] was really pushing the boundaries, and it was really hilarious to me.”
3. THE BEASTIE BOYS
“Even if they were successful, they were doing something different,” Ackerman says of the influential hip-hop group. “That’s something I strive for with the podcast: I don’t want it to stagnate. I want it to keep incrementally getting better; one way is if I keep testing stuff out. I remember when the Beastie Boys played their own instruments on one album, it was like, ‘What?!’ But then it’s like, ‘Oh, if it’s working, let’s keep making it work in different ways.’”
He pauses. “This is so funny in the context of being like, ‘How can I make stuff more boring?’” he says, laughing. “How can I push the limits of what’s boring and soothing and lulling?”
4. LENA DUNHAM
“No matter what she does, it seems like 33 to 49 percent of people are gonna have an opinon about it, but she doesn’t seem to let it prevent her from putting her neck out artistically,” he says. “I always think about that with the podcast and trying out new stuff. … And now I hear [feedback] from more people, and I’m just trying to figure out how to process that without getting frozen. She’s doing that on a scale that is just so huge, but still she doesn’t let it stop her.”
5. ROMAN MARS
“I hope he never uses his voice to put people to sleep, but his voice is like butter,” he says of the 99% Invisible podcaster. “But I think more than just the show and his voice are his actions as far as Radiotopia and what he invests his time in. He really is the embodiment of a rising tide.”
6. BILL SIMMONS
“The legend of Bill Simmons is he started out writing just to his friends, and then he slowly grew things to now, where he’s his own media conglomerate. It’s inspiring, but it’s also like, ‘Oh, that’s achievable, making a living.’ I want to get to the point where I could do the podcast full time,” Ackerman says. “I want to be able to do that and not have another job that I go to.”
7. JAMES THURBER
“James Thurber kind of feels like the original Larry David,” Ackerman says. “When you read his short stories they’re so funny, but because of his behavior and his curmudgeonly viewpoints, he gets himself into these situations and then sees the absurd."
He adds, “I’ve never talked this out, but it’s painful not being able to sleep, whether it’s people’s physical body or feelings or mind. That’s why I want the podcast to be absurd in some sense. … I mean, with everything going on lately, [you need] to be able to take a step back from it, especially when you’re trying to sleep.”
“He tells these stories that are so boring that he falls asleep,” says Ackerman, who thought of the Simpsons character when he began developing Sleep with Me. “I was like, ‘I don’t think the podcast should be that boring.’”