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May 2, 2024 30 mins

Want to know which billionaire speaks Esperanto fluently? Or what country almost adopted Esperanto as its national language? Or why Hitler and Stalin were both afraid of Dr. Esperanto (actually Doktoro Esperanto). Join Will and Mango as they dive into the incredible world of constructed languages and also discover why William Shatner isn't just the greatest Esperanto actor of all time... but also probably the worst.

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
You're listening to Part Time Genius, a production of Kaleidoscope
and iHeartRadio. Guess what, Mango, what's that? Will? I just
wanted to say, kium vibankas. What are you saying? You
don't know? I'm speaking nineteenth century constructed language Esperanto, And

I asked, how much do you binch in Esperanto? Oh, man,
I don't speak esperanto. Hmmm, hoto s doman gut? Was
that Esperanto? I mean, I'm pretty sure I butchered it.
But what I tried to say was, oh, that's a
shame in esperanto. And all of our Esperanto speakers listening
are like, no, you didn't say that, But either way

I tried. Well, I feel left out. Let me google this.
Mevo las lendi esperanton. All right, Mango, you're speaking esperanto.
I guess it's pretty easy to speak esperanto. Yeah. I
mean that's kind of the point. And by the way,
isn't it just fun to say esperanto? Yeah, esperanto and
it rolls off the tongue esperanto. Yeah. I feel like

we should commit to saying and at least a thousand
times in this episode, So now we have about a
thousand people that have just dropped off from listening. But anyway,
still haven't told me how much you binge. Oh, I
definitely want to tell you all about my weightlifting prowess.
But before I do that, why do we dive in?

Welcome back to Part Time Genius. I'm Will and as
always I'm here with my good friend Mango, And somewhere
behind that big booth is our pal Dylan. Oh, there
he is. He's waving a big green flag and it's
got this big green star in the corner. He is
just waving that thing at us. Yeah. I don't know
how he's waiting that from that tiny studio booth, but
look at him. Go, that's really it's impressive. Well, I'm

excited about this show because I feel like Esperanto is
kind of a punchline today, but the idea behind it
is actually really cool and it makes you wonder like
what would have happened if the world had embraced it,
and if we'd all learned to speak Esperanto in school?
How might the world be different? Yeah, let's get into it.
You know, at the top of the episode, I know
you referred to it as a constructed language, and I'm

curious about this. Aren't all languages basically constructed? You know?
I was curious about that too, and I learned that
the difference is that constructed languages are artificially created, meaning,
instead of a language that evolves naturally over time, the
words in grammar are actually planned out from the very beginning.
So consider dat Rocky from Game of Thrones or Elvin

from Lord of the Rings. Both of these languages were
invented and used in fictional worlds. Now, that said, if
there's a community of fluent speakers, especially native speakers, who
actually grow up speaking that language as their mother tongue,
then the language can actually involve and lose that you know,
constructed status. I like that, so I can get promoted

from a constructed language to kind of a natural language.
So that's right. So tell me about Esperanto itself, Like,
why was it invented in the first place. So, Esperanto
falls under the category of international auxiliary languages, and it
was created to facilitate international communication, which is why it's
relatively easy to pick up. So Esperanto was dreamed up

in the late eighteen hundreds by a Polish medical doctor
and his name was el El Zamenhoff. I love that name,
like elms. Yeah, like super steampunk or something. But it's
also crazy that you said it's been around since the
eighteen hundred, so, like I just assumed it was kind
of a modern language and came out in the nineteen fifties. Well,

you're actually not totally wrong. So the UN and UNESCO
gave Esperanto a by officially recognizing it in the nineteen fifties,
but it was actually invented well before then, back in
eighteen eighty seven. And just to put it in perspective
for you, Esperanto is older than Helen Keller sliced bread
and the invention of the zipper, three things that you

talk about, nonsta, I'd say every day you mentioned these
things at least once. Yeah, well it's also crazy though
it's like basically created twenty years after the Civil War,
Like that's nuts. So honest, tell me about the genius
behind it. This guy ll Zemenhoff. Well, to start with,
he spoke a ton of languages, so I think genius

feels right here because get a load of this. So
Russian was his mother tongue, but because he lived in Poland,
he spoke Polish too. He learned Yiddish from his mother.
He also studied German, English, Spanish, Lithuanian, Italian, French, Hebrew, Latin.
I'm not making this up, and to round it all out,
a little bit of Aramaic. And so before he invented Esperanto,

Zemenhoff even learned another constructed language, VALLAPUKH Wait, what's what's valapouk?
I actually thought this would be one that you knew
for some reason, you just strike me as the type
that would speak vallipuuk. But actually that's really the problem
here is with with Valapuk. It's very very hard to learn.
It was constructed back in eighteen eighty, it was about

a decade before Esperanto, but it was just too complicated,
so it never took off. And Zaemonhoff saw that and
he realized that if he was going to get Esperanto
to catch hold, it had to be much easier to learn.
So Zemanhoff was fixated on this idea that if we
could speak a common language and one with you know,
no cultural baggage or ideas of superiority or inferiority, that

it would create this more tolerant world and So what
was driving that fro him? Was it like partially because
he was a Jew? Yeah, that's exactly it. So this
is the eighteen eighties. He's a Jew in Poland at
the time of the Russian pogo RUMs, and you know,
anti Semitism is on the rise, and Zaymanhoff thought if
he could make an international auxiliary language, he could bring

people together. So I notice you keep using the word auxiliary,
and I'm curious, like why is that. Well, like, Esperanto
is just another word that I like to say over
and over, so it's just just kind of fun, sure,
But I mean, the reality is that Esperanto isn't meant
to replace your mother tongue, like whatever that may be,
that's fine for that to still be there. Zaymanhoff really

saw it as a second language, like something people could
learn quickly to facilitate easy conversation with anybody there sore
speaking to around the world, and so we worked really
hard to make the language as easy as possible to
pick up. Well, before we get into just how fast
you can pick up Esperanto, why don't we take a
quick break. Welcome back to Part time Genius, where we're

talking all things Esperanto. So I don't know about you,
but when I learn languages, I'm great for like the
first six months, Like vocab is easy, pronunciation is really easy,
but eventually the grammar just catches up to me and
it stifles me and gives me like total anxiety, and
instead of getting pleasure from speaking a new language, I

really get in my head and get very tongue tied.
So I'm curious, like, how did Samon Hoff go about
making Esperanto easy for new students. Well, I mean, like
any language, it does have grammar rules and vocabulary, so
you can't get around memorizing those rules. But what he
tried to do is to make those as simple as possible,
and not only that, but to make them very consistent.

And if you're already familiar with a romance language, you're
going to recognize a lot of it. I mean, here's
an example of something that makes Esperanto easier to learn.
There's no ambiguity and how you pronounce it. Zam and
Hoff wanted it to have a one to one letter
to sound correspondence, meaning there are literally extra letters in
Esperanto and within the alphabet, just so you can never

have to guess how something is spelled or pronounced from
its context. Oh, that's really cool. You know, Hindi is
actually like that, it's fanatic. And I remember thinking, like,
it's so much better for beginners to be able to
spell that way because it's just you know, no ambiguity.
But actually, remember in college, one of my professors talked
about this movement to change English and make all the

spellings more phonetic. And part of the reason was that
if a language is spelled phonetically, it supposedly reduces, you know,
the difficulties for people with learning disabilities like dyslexia and
so like, if you spell things exactly the way you
pronounce them, spelling tests aren't a thing anymore. Yeah, I mean,
and that's I mean, I find that really interesting. And
fixing spelling wasn't the only thing Zamanhoff was concerned with, Like,

he did other things to just try to simplify the language,
like the nouns have no gender, which can be a
real stumbling box to speaking a language you know fluently,
and the verbs are all regular, there's only one standard form, pertense,
And he worked to really simplify the grammar as well,
like actually before he constructed Esperanto. Zamenhoff had these dreams

of reviving Latin and making that the language that everyone
could communicate in, but he decided the grammar was just
too hard, so he decided to work to make the
rules as simple as possible. Anyway, Zemenhoff laid out all
the Esperanto basics in his book Unua Libro aka first book,
and this was in July of eighteen eighty seven, and mango,

can I tell you the pseudonym that he published it under?
This is pretty great. Yeah, I'd love to hear it
doctro Esperanto. I love that. I knew you would. It's
kind of like an off friend X Men character. Yeah,
it actually I think that's spot on because it translates
as doctor hopeful, which is kind of bittersweet, given that

Zamenhoff died in nineteen seventeen and Esperanto largely died off
during World War One. I guess World War made the
mission of kind of bringing people together seem futile, and that,
you know, there were some dedicated speakers that kept it alive.
But then, of course there was World War Two, and
you know, the rest is history there. Yeah, it couldn't
have been good for pushing Esperanto forward. Yeah. In fact,

Esperanto had two formidable opponents during World War Two, Joseph
Stalin and Hitler. So Stalin sent Esperanto speakers to the Gulags,
and Hitler wrote in mindcomf that Esperanto was a language
being used by Jews as a method of world domination. Wow,
which of course was not Zamenhoff's point. But what's really

devastating is Zamenhoff's three children, who were of course also Jewish,
were actually all killed during the Holocaust. Oh that's uh,
you know, it's crazy to think that, like Esperanto is
almost like a Miller joke or something these days. But yeah,
it wasn't that long ago that, you know. I guess
just speaking it could get you killed or thrown in prison. Yeah.

Think about a lot of our younger listeners here. I
love that you just made a Dennis Miller reference, so
they can they can do their homework on hewe But
he was also from right after the Civil War, I believe. Yeah. Yeah,
I'm pretty pretty sure a little bit a little bit after.
But what's amazing is that somehow Esperanto managed to survive
and was taught in concentration camps spoken by true believers,

and after World War Two, Esperanto was almost completely gone,
but it somehow managed to survive into the twentieth century.
And that really was thanks to these small groups of
Esperanto enthusiasts. And it's hard to know exactly how many
people speak Esperanto, but according to some estimates, there are
at least two million speakers in the world today, which

I found shocking when I saw that number. Yeah, and
even though Esperanto was made to be this auxiliary language,
there is a cohort of about a thousand people who
speak Esperanto as their first language. Isn't that wild? Wow,
that's really cool. So Esperanto kind of ended up transcending
that constructed language status and I guess evolved into a

real language. Yeah. Yeah, it makes me wanted to say that.
You know, look, Japeto, I'm a real, live language. You know.
Pinocchio was actually written in Esperanto. Wait, you're kidding, because
I said, is that actually true? No, it's not true,
but it sounds like a lie that Pania would tell.
But you know who actually is a native speaker of Esperanto?
And I found this in research and was fascinated by this.

George Soros. Okay, so this is your second line? Is that?
Is that actually true? It is true? And also George
Santos speaker? No good, Yeah, George Soros actually is a speaker. Apparently,
his father, Tivadar Soros, was a huge proponent of Esperanto,
and in fact, Tivadar published his memoir in Esperanto in

nineteen twenty three. It's really fascinating. It's about being held
in a prisoner of war camp in Siberia and how
he kind of led this escape of his companions. They
fled by foot and made it all the way back
to Hungary. And so how does Sourus's dad learn Esperanto?
So Sourus's dad is from Budapest, and by all accounts

he was a genius. He was a doctor, a lawyer,
he was a writer and an editor. But early in
his life, after fighting in World War One, he escaped
Russia and returned to Hungary, and in this period he
picked up the language. In his twenties, and then a
little later he actually helped start this literary journal. It
was called Literature Amando, and it published works in Esperanto,

and I assume that that's how George Soros grew up
speaking in or what. Yeah, so George and his brother
grew up speaking it. They grew up in Budapest in
the nineteen thirties and forties, and in fact, when he
was seventeen, George left Budapest to seek his fortune in England,
and he said, quote, one of the first things I
did was seek out the Esperanto society in London, because

it was basically this refuge for him. I do like
how speaking a common language can almost make you a
citizen of a country, or at least give you this
shared background, which is nice. Yeah, it's funny, my family,
I mean you know this, but we speak this tiny
dialect of a dialect that basically no one speaks, like
maybe like twenty five thousand people in that world. But
when I hear someone speaking it, you feel immediately connected

to them. But unlike Esperanto speakers, Conkany speakers never almost
had our own country. Wait, was there actually almost an
Esperanto country. Yeah, so the long lost Esperanto nation was
called I'm a Kajo And in eighteen fifteen, this is
after the fall of Napoleon, the borders within Europe had

to be re established, right, So like Prussia and the
Kingdom of the Netherlands were fighting over this territory known
as Moorsnet, where an important zinc mine was located. And
so eventually more as I was divided into three parts.
One went to the Netherlands, one went to Prussia, and
one was declared a neutral territory around this disputed zinc

mind called neutral Moresnet and was sort of a little
like No Man's Land or something. Yeah, and it's a
tiny space, like it was only like seventy acres or so.
But by eighteen sixteen there were I guess, like two
hundred and fifty two hundred and fifty five people living there.
But because of the zinc mine, the number of inhabitants
grew and by eighteen fifty eight there were about twenty

five hundred people there. Anyway, one of the immigrants to
neutral Moresnet was this German doctor named doctor Wilhelm Molly.
He was a really popular doctor because he kept his
fees very low, and he actually became super popular when
he helped to like end this cholera epidemic there. Yeah,
I mean, that's what all the popular kids in my
high school. Did they helped, you know, clear cholera. Yeah, sure, sure.

Well doctor Molly was also really big into Esperanto, and
when he met this professor named Gustav Roy, who was
also an Esperantis, they decided to establish an Esperanto state
in this area. In nineteen oh eight, there was this
big demonstration with speeches and this effort to establish this
Esperanto free state, and they wanted to call it Amika Joe,

which means friend place in Esperanto. That's actually pretty funny.
It's like Amity Island and Jaws or Amneyville from Amnityville
Horror in both these movies where everything goes, you know,
super smoothly in this friend place. Yeah, I guess naming
your new nation friend place is sort of a kiss
of death. But they really wanted to make this place happen.

So the zinc miners there even had a band and
they played a proposed national anthem, the Amika Joe March,
which I'm sure you're familiar with, definitely, and the New
York Times covered it in nineteen oh eight and they
heralded Amika Joe as a new European state. But of
course it did not last When the zinc mine got depleted,
Prussia began to reassort his claim over the territory and

the inhabitants of Moors that petitioned for annexation by Belgium.
In nineteen nineteen, the terror Ratory was seated to Belgium,
and that kind of brought an end to the existence
of nutral Warsnet and also the dream of Mikicho. Let's
talk about a few more constructed languages before we get
to that, though, Let's take a quick break. Welcome back

to part time Genius. We were talking about Esperanto, So
will I think you were just about to walk us
through a few more constructed languages that you found. It's
funny because before going into this, I knew about Esperanto,
but I didn't realize how many constructed languages there are
out there. It's kind of like this Pandora's box, like,
way before Esperanto, there was Lingua ignata. This was thousand

years ago, and it's kind of a divine language. So
you've got the Benedictine Abbess Hildegard von Bingen. It's quite
the name, right, the Benedictine Abbess Hildegarde von Bingen, who
had these religious visions, probably brought on by intense migraines,
and she constructed this glossary of a thousand words. She

arranged them hierarchically, beginning with the words for God and
the angels, than human beings, than other animals, plants, and
so on. And the abbess used Latin for the grammar
of her language, but also wrote in this made up
script literary ignante or unknown letters. You know, one thing
that's funny about Esperanto or volapuk is that they're both

supposedly universal languages, but they're also super Eurocentric. They're mostly
based on Latin or Romance languages, so of course they're
easy to learn if you're from Europe. But there are
obviously other continents where people speak languages with wildly different constructions.
You know, there are two thousand different Asian languages alone,
which as proto completely ignores. And I found a couple

of these con langs that actually addressed this. So are
we the kind of people that say con langs? Now? Yeah,
I've decided to, you know, break that barrier on this show.
But it is a thing. Con lang is the actual
term for constructed languages. Anyway, One con lang that addresses
this eurocentrism problem is Lingua de Planeta, which is based

on Arabic, Mandarin, English, French, German, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian,
and Spanish. That feels like a lot of very different languages. Yeah,
but I mean it's got Planeta in the name, so
you know it is true too. That's true, I get it.
The language was invented in twenty ten by Dmitri Ivanoff

and a group of fellow language enthusiasts in Saint Petersburg, Russia,
and it was based on the most widely spoken languages
in the world. The unfortunate part is that it is
really really hard to learn, so you didn't pick up
Samenhoff's lesson. But the good thing is that wherever you're from,
at least some words will be familiar to you. But
because most of the words sound completely different, and because

you're combining elements of Russian and Portuguese and Hindi, it's
it gets a little complicated. Yeah, I mean, it doesn't
exclude whole portions of the earth population, which is a
nice idea, but it sounds almost impossible to learn, which
doesn't seem like a great strategy for spreading a language. Yeah,
I mean that kind of highlights the dilemma of this

whole ideal interlanguage, right, like how do you compress thousands
of global languages and cultures into one universal standard. Even
uniting a continent with a single language can be a
real challenge. There was another example of this that I
was looking at, Afriheli, for example, which was created by
this Ghanian civil engineer ka Kumi Autobra. This was back

in nineteen sixty seven, and Afriheli takes vocabulary from languages
all over the African continent and the whole goal of
this was to be adopted as the lingua franca of Africa.
And of course there would be lots of benefits to that,
right like not only can a unified language promote unity
and understanding among different peoples, you could improve education and

of course you can boost trade from this. So in
nineteen seventy one, the Afriheeally Center began publishing a newspaper
in Afriheally called The Sun, and according to a nineteen
eighty seven press release for the twenty fifth anniversary of
the language, about one thousand people learned Afrihally, but the
last published reference to afriheally seems to be nineteen eighty eight,

so it unfortunately wasn't that successful. Yeah, I mean, while
we're counting up all these failed attempts to unify real people,
we should definitely talk about the fictional con lingus which
tend to be more successful, including Klingon, which I know
you have a story about Klingon right, Yes, I had
not thought about this in a while. So you and

I when we were back at Mental Floss, we were
invited to give a talk to the team at Google,
and so we thought, ah, this was in the time
there was all this talk about how smart you had
to be to work at Google and how many tests
you had to pass to get you know, hired there,
and so we thought, you know what, we're going to
come up with a challenge that these guys are not

going to be able to solve. And so we were
working with a puzzle creator, and the puzzle creator had
this amazing idea of coming up with a crossword puzzle
that was all in constructed languages, so like Klingon and
Elvish and Esperanto was of course one of them, and
several others. And so we thought, you know what, the
one who completes this. If anybody does, will win a prize.

I can't remember what we were giving away, a subscription
to Mental flows or something. Well, anyway, I think there
were like ten people that brought it up complete. Not
only that, they were actually correcting our grammatical mistakes in
these constructed languages. So it was it was pretty amazing
and proved that they were, you know, pretty smart. I guess, yeah, yeah,
but a little So you were talking about this, but

they actually hired a linguist to create a whole Klingon language. Yeah,
so Klingon was created for Star Trek by a linguist
named Mark Okrind. And you know, he didn't actually create
the whole language at one time, which is kind of interesting. Basically,
the story goes in the Wrath of Khan. There were
two Vulcan characters speaking to each other in a corridor,

and the producers shot the scene with the actors speaking English,
but later they decided to change it to a Vulcan language,
but there wasn't one yet, so okrn told the Washington
Post quote, they wanted a linguist to come and make
up gobbledygook that matches the lip movements and I said,
I can do that, and from then on Okren kind
of designed the language as needed based on the needs

of the scenes. The language was built kind of one
line at a time to suit the story of the show,
and he'd actually coach the actress to say the lines
to get through the process and then moved on. But
actually there are people who can speak Klingon right, Yeah,
today there are are more than two hundred and fifty
thousand copies of Okren's Klingon dictionary that and sold and

Duo Lingo even has a Klingon language course, which is amazing.
No way. The funny thing is that some Klingon speakers
aren't even Trekky's like, they just love languages and wanted
to expand this one. So there's a group of speakers
that formed the Klingon Language Institute in nineteen ninety two
and it's a full nonprofit organization dedicated to legitimately teaching Klingon.

They have translators, they have other online resources. And the
strange thing is like, unlike Esperanto, Klingon is not easy.
But when a language is part of like this world
building of a story, people will apparently really want to
participate and there's a fandom that wants to develop that culture. Yeah,
it makes me think about like Lord of the Rings,

where the readers who are really into these elven languages.
In fact, JR. Tolkien kind of did the language thing
the opposite way. Tolkien writes, quote, the invention of languages
is the foundation of my fictional writings. The stories were
made to provide a world for the languages, rather than
the reverse. And apparently Tolkien started creating languages when he

was thirteen years old, and he believed that a language
could not be complete without the history of the people
who've spoken. I mean, this is just so interesting to
read about. And the whole thing was basically a hobby
for him, like something he did for personal enjoyment as
a scholar and a linguist. And in fact, it wasn't
just the languages he made up. He also liked to

write poems and songs and dead languages like medieval Welch.
This was just a way of keeping his mind sharp
and obviously it worked. I love what a weirdo Tolkien is.
I remember my friend Brian Gottisman wrote this article for
as a mental floss about Tolkien, and there was a
bit about how sometimes as a joke, Tolkien would chase
his neighbors around dressed like an axe wielding Anglo Saxon warrior. Yeah,

it's amazing. And also sometimes at like a cash register
at a store, he would hand a shop keep false
teeth instead of a payment. Like such a weird though. Anyway,
before we do an entire episode on tolkit right now,
why don't we switch lanes into a fact off? All right, well,

how about I kick this off? So for nearly forty years,
Esperanto was the language of instruction at the International Academy
of Sciences in San Marino. The idea of using Esperanto
was basically to eliminate linguistic biases and keep the focus
on the science instead. It's a perfect example of why
esperanto is invented. That's really cool. Do you know that

studying Esperanto can help you pick up other romance languages faster?
So there are two studies from the nineteen fifties, one
that observed the kids at Denton Grammar School and another
from Sheffield University, and these took place around the same time,
and they found that the average student who learned one
year of Esperanto followed by three years of French. Spoke
French much better and more fluently at the end of

that course versus those who just took four years of French.
I guess it kind of makes sense, like we were saying,
how it's so easy to learn? But all right, Well,
in nineteen twenty one, the League of Nations, the precursor
to the un almost accepted Esperanto as their working language.
This is from the Library of Congress. It almost went through,
but then the delegate from France vetoed it because he

saw it as a threat to the French language and
the position it held in the world. Doesn't it Just
this feels like that's the right way this must have ended,
And because all resolutions had to be unanimous, the proposal
was ultimately scrapped. That's so sad. It feels like Esperanto
almost had a shot. And then yeah, then the French.

Here's a quick non Esperanto one. Have you ever heard
of the fictional con land called Teo Knot I don't
think I have. Yeah. So it was created by a
sci fi author, Sarah Higley, also known as Sally Caves,
and the language is one spoken by a race of
winged cats who eventually become human but continue to worship
cats as gods. Oh you know how I feel about cats.

It's so cat to be cats also worship cats the
whole thing. But anyway, all right, so this is really cool.
Did you know that Enya sings some of her songs
in a fictional language called Loxian. I guess she was
recording a song in all of these languages, English, Gaelic, Latin,
and none of them were quite doing it for so
her creative partner, Roma Ryan, wrote the lyrics into Loxian,

and Enya loved it. Well, you know what I always say,
if anyone can bring the global community together, it is Enya.
You do say that that's true. So here's a final
one for me. I didn't realize that there had been
any movies made in Esperanto, but there is at least
one film, a black and white movie called Incubus starring

none other than William Shatner. Nically, the film was lost
for decades, but it was restored and then released in
two thousand and one. And despite the fact that Esperanto
is supposedly easy to speak and pronounce, according to many Esperantos,
his pronunciation in the film is off, which is not
unlike our pronunciation in this show. Yeah, I was gonna say,

I'm guessing he did it better than us, But I
don't know the fact that we talked about cling on
in this episode and you somehow brought it all back
to Shatner, I gotta say it makes me want to
give you this week's trophy. So congrats, Mango, Thank you
Will or, as the renowned thespian William Shatner often says,
an esperanto, thank you will Nice. That's it for today's

Part Time Genius. If you like the show, please be
sure to reach out to either of our moms who
would love to hear about it, or let us know
in the reviews. You know we love hearing from you.

Part Time Genius is a production of Kalidus and iHeartRadio.
This show is hosted by Will Pearson and Me mongas
Chatikler and research by our goodpal Mary Philip Sandy. Today's
episode was engineered and produced by the wonderful Dylan Fagan
with support from Tyler Klang. The show is executive produced
for iHeart by Katrina Norvel and Ali Perry, with social

media support from Sasha Gay trustee Dara Potts and Viney Shore.
For more podcasts from Kaleidoscope and iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
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