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Ken Jennings and John Roderick Are Preserving History for After the Apocalypse

By way of their podcast, Omnibus.

By Jessica Voelker March 27, 2018 Published in the April 2018 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Kyle Johnson

You know Ken Jennings—the Jeopardy! guy. He won America’s most cerebral game show a record 74 times, banking more than $2.5 million along the way. And we all know John Roderick as our rock star–turned–politician. In 2015 the Long Winters frontman surprised everyone with a Seattle City Council bid. He lost, but the run demonstrated that like Jennings (pictured on the left), Roderick (on the right) has an uncontainable curiosity about the world. It makes sense, then, that these friends teamed up to cohost Omnibus, to explore cultural phenomena both past and present—time capsuling everything from Jennifer Aniston’s Friends-era haircut to Ice Age megafauna—and aim their roaming commentary at a mysterious future audience they imagine emerging after the apocalypse. —Jessica Voelker

We met at Bumbershoot. That’s not a super Seattle thing to do, to become friends with people in your 40s. —KJ

Normally in Seattle, we would’ve said, “Let’s hang out sometime,” and then never seen each other again. In this case Ken asked me to be in a promotional video for one of his books and I was playing a science character wearing a white lab coat. —JR

John has an air of instant authority, but slightly disheveled. He’s an academic with a past. He’s a dangerous professor. —KJ

He had such a charmingly awkward, quippy personality. I was kind of like, I’ll keep this little guy around as a sidekick. —JK

John is not aware that he’s the sidekick on that podcast. —KJ

I’d been thinking about how things that happened preinternet will either make it on the internet or won’t, depending on the whim of people right now. —JR

We decided to make a show about the end of the world. The idea we would be creating a reference work. The time-shift conceit, the idea that you’re talking to distant descendants of humanity. —KJ

We have an odd couple dynamic. Ken wears pocket protectors and irons his underwear, and I just walk around my house and pull dirty clothes out of my bookshelf and put them between two slices of bread. —JR

I grew up with a shelf of encyclopedias. I love the idea of making some complete, authoritative thing in our new postbook era. We’re throwbacks in an age of specialists. We feel like we’re the last generalists, the last people that are a little bit interested in everything. —KJ

Ken is famous for it. Right? How do you win that many Jeopardy!s without having an incredible breadth of knowledge? But he defies the stereotype because he has pretty deep knowledge in a lot of silos. —JR

And that really works well for our format, which is not just a bunch of facts about giraffes or whatever. We really are trying to tell a story to the sentient jellyfish of the future, or whoever they are. —KJ

A lot of people that listen to our show are not the type of people who want to go to a meet up at a bar. It’s a safe space for introverts. We have listeners who are in their early 20s who don’t have role models, who are like: How do I be a person? How am I moral? How am I useful? —JR

And we’re wasting that audience by teaching them about “The Rachel” haircut. —KJ

We often are like: “Is this topic good enough for Omnibus?” And Ken’s quote is, “Ultimately we’re going to have to do everything.” —JR

We have to do everything, unless some actual cataclysm ends the show. —KJ 

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Image: Kyle Johnson

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