Jack Wagner’s Paranormal Podcast Otherworld Centers on the Human Experience

Comedy Features Jack Wagner
Jack Wagner’s Paranormal Podcast Otherworld Centers on the Human Experience

In case you’re wondering how an interview with the creator of Otherworld, the paranormal podcast with a human focus, ended up under the Comedy section on our website, I’d like to point out that a) we don’t have a discrete podcast section and b) the show was actually born out of Halloween specials on the comedy podcast Yeah But Still (co-hosted by Jack Wagner and comedian Brandon Wardell), so we’ve got a technical affiliation there. 

I make this distinction because Jack Wagner, the host and producer of Otherworld, has created a uniquely open-minded corner of the podcasting universe with his new project. There’s no snarkiness here or jokey dismissals of what happened, but a genuine desire to explore the strange and inexplicable. Wagner interviews people about their own supernatural experiences—subjects so far have included missing time, djinn, and a charismatic clairvoyant—and sometimes brings in experts to consult on the incidents. 

“I was amazed by the sheer number of [stories],” Wagner tells me over Zoom as he recalls the podcast’s origins. “And also I noticed the pattern where people kept saying, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the first person I ever told about this.’ And I just realized that there’s not a really good place to tell these stories in a way that people will actually believe them, and somewhere safe for a person who did experience something really intense to tell their story and have it be taken seriously. I reached a certain point where I was like, ‘This is absurd to be doing this within the confines of a comedy podcast once a year.’ So I just decided to start this, and it’s been growing very fast.” 

What began as a side project has quickly become Wagner’s full-time job since Yeah But Still ended after 500 episodes and a slew of guests, from comedian John Early to musician Kevin Morby. Otherworld is a real labor of love, and now that he’s started a Patreon, Wagner is hoping he can travel to gather more stories and create accompanying mini-documentaries. He’s found himself working around the clock on various aspects of the podcast. 

“It’s crazy; I’ll do interviews in the morning and forget I did them by the afternoon,” he says with a laugh. 

Wagner has a whole host of half-finished episodes on the back-burner, usually because a possible interviewee is unsure if they want to go ahead with their story or due to some other extenuating circumstance. These are often people’s most vulnerable or even frightening memories; they’re used to being waved off with explanations like sleep disorders or head trauma (as someone who used to struggle with hypnagogic hallucinations, Wagner is all too familiar with the former), so deciding to go on a podcast can be an intimidating idea. Wagner is happy to wait and see in these instances, as the podcast does much of the heavy lifting in encouraging potential subjects to open up.

“People have heard the episodes told in a good way and then eventually they’re motivated. A lot of the work is usually done by this person listening to the show. They’ll start the email now by saying something like, ‘Okay, I’m finally ready,’” Wagner shares, later adding, “Every person’s different… It’s kind of organic because I’m genuinely so interested in these stories and how they affect people’s lives.”

For all my posturing above, though, there is a comedic element to some of the episodes, because the human experience is so frequently funny and many people use humor as a way to cope with these unfathomable incidents. 

“I do think that some of these episodes are funny. It doesn’t mean that the topics are funny, but there’s inherently funny moments in these stories,” Wagner explains. “Ultimately, the thing with Otherworld is that these aren’t ghost stories; they’re stories about people’s lives. That’s what I’m looking for when I am reading these emails, it’s not just like, ‘Oh this is a creepy ghost.’ It’s how they affected the person who experienced it, and a lot of times there’s really funny aspects of that. In fact, I think one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard in my life is related to a ghost and it’ll probably come out at some point, but there’s humor in these I think. I’ve always been drawn to that with comedy. It’s like hearing unusual things that happen to people and this is just a more extreme version of that, you know? The best stories have everything.”

One of those stories is that of Gina and Sean Johns, who are Romani and practicing psychics. Their initial episode was about an unnerving woman who came into their shop looking for their help, but then that spiraled off into a separate one about the dangers of gnome worship. The pair also occasionally appear on other episodes as guests, considering their unique insight into the paranormal. Their episodes have proven to be some of the most divisive of the series so far—either you loved them (me) or found the notion of gnome worship a bit far-fetched. Wagner’s response to the latter group in many ways sums up his approach to Otherworld and supernatural happenings.

“Some people have a really hard time discerning between a person who genuinely believes something that you find to be strange, versus somebody that’s lying. Those are very different. These two people very much believe in gnomes. They’ve had first-hand experiences of people who worshiped gnomes and believe in this. This is like something that is 100% true in their reality and their lived experience. I don’t need the listeners to believe in gnomes, but these people believe in gnomes,” Wagner says. 

It’s Wagner’s openness and passion for these stories that’s brought in not only podcast guests, but collaborators as well. Every episode of Otherworld starts off with a 1980s-esque theme song by Cobra Man, their retro pop preparing you for an out-of-this-world experience. Stories develop a new aural texture and sense of place thanks to original scores by Chrome Sparks, North Americans (Third Man Records), Juice Jackal (previously of Blood Orange), Trayer Tryon (of Hundred Waters), Theo Schafer, Lala Lala, and many more. 

Humanity and curiosity are at the core of Wagner’s work on Otherworld, and why the podcast excels on so many levels.

Otherworld is available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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