In November 2019, the popular Star Wars television show, “The Mandalorian,” was released on Disney+, to widespread internet conversation on the origins of the mysterious masked protagonist and memes about the adorable “Baby Yoda.”
James Richardson, a fourth grade teacher at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, was having the same conversations about the show with two old friends: Patrick McDonald, a longtime childhood friend and former classmate at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, and Charles Giannone, a former coworker of his wife who Richardson quickly became friends with after they were introduced. They created a group chat to discuss the series, which they dubbed the “Fandalorians.”
The three men are close, bonded by their love of teaching — McDonald is a social studies teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, while Giannone teaches third grade at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead — and as self-proclaimed nerds. The men are fans of television shows, movies and comics.
They decided to blend their professional skills as teachers with their private conversations on pop culture. The result is “The Fandalorians: Teachers By Day, Nerds By Night,” a weekly podcast where all three friends come together to discuss pop culture news, talk about television and movies, and debate their “hot takes” amongst each other for around an hour.
“It’s something fun to do, it’s something interesting to do,” Giannone said. “We’ve always talked together, so now we’re just letting other people listen in to our conversations.”
Marvel, Star Wars and DC are just a few of the subjects the group touches on during what is currently an 11 episode series. The idea for the podcast surfaced at an outdoor hangout at Richardson’s house during the pandemic, where they caught up with each other and had debates on various pop-culture subjects.
“It was just a really fun night and Mr. Richardson was like, we should just record this and see how it goes,” McDonald said. “This sounds like it would be a good podcast.”
The group had conversations around starting a podcast in the past, but they finally started by premiering their first episodes in July. Richardson edits and acts as producer for the podcast.
The podcast allows the three friends to find time to gather every week to get together and talk. It has also increased their attention to detail when it comes to the topics they discuss around pop culture.
“We’ve known each other for years and we’ve been around each other enough to know we’re kind of funny. And I’m just looking at it, because I listen to podcasts, and I’m thinking we’re as funny if not funnier than some of the ones I’ve listened to, and it’s worth a try,” Richardson said.
The podcast leans into the fact that all three of the men are teachers. Bells ring as the group transitions to the next “period,” or segments of their show, which are often named after school related activities, like the “morning announcements” for the news segment, “post-observation” for an end of the show reflection, or “student of the week” where they highlight an individual who is doing something great adjacent to pop culture.
“There are so many podcasts out there — hundreds of thousands — and so you have to create your niche. And instead of just being a generic pop-culture podcast we leaned into our strengths as well, which is as teachers,” McDonald said.
The debates on the show are healthy, yet heated, disagreements between old friends. An argument over their opinions on “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” — McDonald loving the film and Richardson hating it — was the subject of debate on the second episode of the podcast. Giannone has never watched “Lost,” prompting the other two to gang up on him in an effort to persuade him to watch the 2004 drama series in the podcast’s 10th episode.
“Now we have to go back to therapy for this,” McDonald joked, after the wound that was the group’s Star Wars argument was reopened during the interview.
“From a teacher perspective as well, it’s important for people to understand how to disagree without yelling at each other, or just saying ‘you’re stupid,’” McDonald said. “You see a lot of people just going right to attacking their character. It’s totally fine to have different opinions than other people, and then you can still be friends.”
The podcast isn’t big — there have been around 90 consistant listeners, the group said — but it has been enough of a success that they’ll continue the ritual of gathering together every weekend over zoom to record.
“We’re all teachers, we have things going on, it’s hard to get together, but it’s not like we need the podcast to be overly successful to pay bills or anything,” Richardson said. “It’s just something we could do for fun as a hobby.”
The group prides itself on making the podcast family friendly and appealing to those who are both in the loop about pop culture and those who aren’t.
“We try to introduce every podcast like you’re a first time listener just popping in,” Richardson said. “So you don’t have to start from [episode] one, you can jump in wherever and see something you’re interested in and stick around for things you might not know.”
“The Fandalorians: Teachers By Day, Nerds By Night,” is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Audible and other websites where you get your podcasts.
Correction: The headline of this article has been corrected. It previously incorrectly stated the three teachers are from Riverhead. Only two are teachers in the Riverhead district.
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