Jack Weiss ’86, left, with his smart roommates, from left: Dan Caner ’86, Rosie Zweiback ’86, Mace Hack ’86, Nils Muiznieks ’86, and Dave Powelstock ’86.
Courtesy Jack Weiss

Jack Weiss ’86 is an entrepreneur in the technology and security industries with a background in politics and federal law enforcement. So what is he doing hosting a podcast whose most recent episode digs into the roots of monasticism?

It all ties back to Princeton, where Weiss’ roommates included a handful of future Ph.D.s. Inspired by the stories of their post-collegiate careers, Weiss created My Smart Roommates (also on iTunes), a series of discussions in which he talks with Princeton friends, and one spouse, about their areas of expertise. In Dan Caner ’86’s case, that meant talking about monasticism, though the conversation ranged to other types of solitude, including parallels in the lives of modern academics. Podcast participants so far have included Nils Muiznieks ’86, former commissioner of human rights at the Council of Europe; David Powelstock ’86, a professor of Russian language and literature at Brandeis University; Mace Hack ’86, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska; Caner, a historian; and Caner’s wife Emma Gilligan, a professor of international studies at Indiana University. Earlier this month, Weiss spoke with PAW about the project, his first foray into podcasting.

Appreciating the academic life

“I ended up in a more conventional space than my roommates. If you think about Princeton, so many people go into business. I’ve polled others, and it just seems really unusual to have a set of roommates who all got Ph.D.s. It’s my conversations with them that really germinated this.


Three more podcasts to check out this month

1. Sports Illustrated’s GRANT WAHL ’96 talks soccer with HBO’s Bill Simmons on Planet Futbol.

2. On The Slowdown, Princeton professor and U.S. Poet Laureate TRACY K. SMITH delivers a daily dose of poetry.

3. DAVID ROSENTHAL ’07 goes behind the scenes of IPOs and acquisitions with co-host Ben Gilbert on season 3 of Acquired.

“Since I was a federal prosecutor and a politician I’m used to what is quaintly called ‘public speaking’ and used to the process of interviewing and being interviewed. But when it came time to create the podcast I very much wanted my role to be subservient and in the background. I want my roommates and their experiences to be prominent and highlighted because what they’ve done is so unusual — and I think so interesting and so relatively unheralded in the world. … The podcast is doing a service if it’s exposing to the graduates of [schools like Princeton] just how special their professors are — and how human their professors are.”

Deep thoughts

“I’m not embarrassed to say that my roommates and I had deep conversations [in college], because when you look at how they turned out you realize that we probably really did have really deep conversations. They were already so focused and so specialized in the fields of knowledge they were pursuing. Sure, it’s pretty easy for anyone to look back on college and say they thought deep thoughts and read great books and had great thrilling conversations, but over the past few years, as we’ve been conversing as a group, it really did occur to me that what’s unique about them is the way they cross-pollinate, the way they can have a multidisciplinary conversation that few other groups of friends can have. I created the podcast to bottle and share that.”

On being selective

“When you edit conversations, you can really create something special and engaging. For this podcast, I actually hired a producer at Sirius XM in New York to produce and edit the conversations. The number one rule of show business is leave them wanting more, so we might have an hour or an hour-and-a-half conversation, and Sarah, the producer, distills it down under a half hour. I don’t want it to be like the podcast version of that 800-page book that you know is great but you never want to pick up.

“We definitely did the first season on spec, as proof of concept. I don’t think Guy Raz needs to be overly concerned that we’re gunning for his position in the podcast charts. Having said that, I have been overwhelmingly gratified by the quality of responses from our listeners. It’s been universally nice and heartwarming. ... I view podcasting very much as sort of an intellectual garage band — the barriers to entry are just as low as forming a garage band, and it’s just as much fun to work on.”

A note on the theme

“In our class we had this college band called 3 Guys Named Burt, and they wrote and performed entirely original material. It was good rock music with multiple levels of irony — so it was college rock, making fun of college rock, but still being really good three-chord rock, all at the same time. I’m good friends with one of the leaders of the band, Rod Barr ’86, and he had this perfect song that we’ve used for our theme song. So on the one hand we have a podcast where my roommates who think the great thoughts speak about it, and then on the other hand we have a theme song that totally shreds us for taking ourselves so seriously.”

Interview conducted and condensed by Brett Tomlinson 

Alumni, if you have a podcast that you’d like to share with PAW readers, please email us at paw@princeton.edu.