Wilton guys bring ‘Smart Drivel’ podcast to the airwaves

WILTON — Do you know the name of the skier who was immortalized on TV as “the agony of defeat,” or where the expression “giving someone the cold shoulder “ came from? (Hint, it has to do with mutton.)

Those are just a couple tidbits of information to be gleaned from the funny and entertaining new podcast “Smart Drivel” hosted by Jon Ellenthal and Kurt Schneider of Wilton. The show can be accessed on Spotify and Apple at podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/smart-drivel/id1505239771.

For anyone looking for a little levity during the pandemic, Smart Drivel is a kick to the funnybone, combining humor with practical knowledge and trivia.

Ellenthal and Schneider are lively and engaging hosts, similar in nature to good-natured brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi who for years hosted the award-winning show Car Talk on NPR.

From their easy going, sometimes teasing banter, it’s clear Ellenthal and Schneider are good friends off the air. “People say that listening to ‘Smart Drivel’ is like eavesdropping on a private conversation,” Schneider said.

Episodes of ‘Smart Drivel” run around 25 minutes each and focus on one theme of the day. Popular episodes include “The Most Underrated Inventions,” “Little Known Facts,” “Favorite Movies,” and “Pet Peeves.”

In an episode titled “Dinner Party,” the pair go about curating their ideal dinner party list. Potential invitees included the Marquis de Lafayette (who achieved recent popularity from the Broadway show “Hamilton”); Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television; Russell Pickett, the sole survivor of the U.S. infantry company that led the charge on Omaha Beach in WWII; actor/comedy writer Tina Fey; and the Star Wars character Yoda. Also on the list was Vinko Bogataj, who was immortalized on ABC’s Wide World of Sports for his epic ski-jumping crash that came to represent “the agony of defeat.”

The two argued about each other’s choices while sneaking in cogent explanations about why theirs would make the better dining companions.

In another show, “More Fun Phrases,” they discussed the origins behind common sayings such as “happy as a clam,” and “raining cats and dogs.” They also explained that the phrase “giving someone the cold shoulder,” came from the practice of giving a guest a cold piece of mutton or meat when you wanted them to leave.

While the show is new and still building an audience, reviewers on Apple are calling it “laugh out loud funny,” and “engaging and enlightening,” while listening to it in the car, walking or jogging.

On paper, Schneider and Ellenthal are successful businessmen and don’t immediately jump out as jovial podcast hosts.

They met in 2008 through their membership in YPO (Young President’s Organization), a global leadership community of chief executives. Sharing a common bond of living in Wilton with their families, they became fast friends.

Kurt Schneider, 54, is a bit of an adventurer. Originally from Scarsdale, N.Y., as a kid he spent three years in Tokyo, Japan, while his father was working for Union Carbide. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Schneider and his wife and two sons moved from California to Wilton in 2003 where he was hired as CMO (chief marketing officer) of World Wrestling Entertainment under Vince McMahon in Stamford.

Schneider has also served as CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters and worked at Disney and Fox Sports. In his off time, he has volunteered at Bridgeport public schools, and in 2016 he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his brother.

Sporting a contagious laugh, Schneider says he was encouraged to do “Smart Drivel” by a friend who told him “he knew an awful little about an awful lot.”

Jon Ellenthal, 55, is a graduate of Wesleyan University, majoring in English, and has lived in Wilton 23 years with his wife and two sons. A self-described “career entrepreneur,” he is currently the chief strategy officer for ApiJect Systems America, a public benefit corporation dedicated to making injectable medicines safe and available for everyone. Before that, he was the co-founder of Upside Travel, a business-travel sales company, and served as the chief executive officer of Walker Digital, a private lab for business innovation.

Sharing a passion for humor, the two friends initially considered writing a film script or TV show together, but laziness got in the way. “We just didn’t get around to it,” Schneider said.

But doing a podcast was more doable.

They maintain social distancing by recording “Smart Drivel” from their individual homes, and release a new show every Monday. Seeking ultimate fan approval, they encourage their listeners to critique them, correct them, and give them ideas for new podcasts.

Global phenomenon?

The pair enjoys communicating with their fans via Twitter or Instagram, and have dedicated listeners from as far away as Australia, England, and Hungary.

“You can’t stop the global phenomenon that is ‘Smart Drivel,’ said Schneider. “You can seek to contain it, but you cannot stop it,” he said with a laugh.

Of the two, Schneider is the more gregarious and outspoken. The show has no producer and he keeps track of the time, with each show running between 25 and 30 minutes.

The low-key Ellenthal acts as the duo’s straight man, although he would argue he is just misunderstood because he has a dry sense of humor. He edits the shows, and adds music to the beginning and end of each episode. “We like to poke at each other as long as it doesn’t get mean,” he said.

The guys try to keep the show clean and apolitical. In one episode, Schneider gave the surprisingly deceptive etymological root of a couple of common curse words. He did spell them, rather than pronounce them though, in case sensitive ears were listening.

“At the end of the day, the show works because it is an extension of who we are. It is authentically us, we aren’t playing roles. We love what we’re doing and are having a lot of fun doing it, and we’re looking forward to the future,” Schneider said.

To date, 21 episodes of “Smart Drivel” have been recorded and are available on Spotify and Apple. Fans can communicate with Schneider and Ellenthal at Smart Drivel on Twitter and Instagram.