They Slay: Buffering the Vampire Slayer
Kristin Russo is a woman wearing many hats. She’s the co-founder of Everyone is Gay, a digital advice, support and resource center for LGBTQIA youth. She’s the Editor-in-Chief of My Kid is Gay, a website dedicated to helping parents understand their LGBTQIA kids. She’s the co-director of Autostraddle’s amazing A-Camp. And finally, her “hobby” of sorts is co-hosting Buffering the Vampire Slayer—a patriarchy-smashing podcast that discusses each episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Kristin, along with her co-host, mega-talented musician Jenny Owen Youngs—who writes a song inspired by every episode—have spent the last two years watching Buffy, talking about Buffy, typing about Buffy, and even traveling for Buffy (the two recently visited London for the Vampire Ball). The podcast doesn’t just tackle the easy stuff—the monsters, the repartee, the fashion—but they roll up their sleeves and dive into more challenging topics like race, queer issues, and feminism. And they’ve interviewed some fan-favorite cast members and guest stars—including Doug Jones, the ubiquitous creature actor who’s been in basically every film ever. The just-right balance of analysis and entertainment has earned Buffering accolades in Time's Top 50 Podcasts of 2018 and Esquire's Top 10 Podcasts of 2018. Needless to say, if you’re a Buffy fan and aren’t listening to this podcast, you’re missing out.
We recently chatted with Kristin about all things Buffering and Buffy. Read on to learn how to get a skeptic hooked on Buffy, why the series was so important, and whether she’s Team Angel or Team Spike.
How did you and Jenny meet?
We met for the first time at the old Knitting Factory—it moved to Brooklyn but it was in Manhattan at the time. One of my really close friends at the time was a musician and playing shows that were co-headlining with Jenny. And then the next time I saw Jenny it was at the Living Room at her show.
Are what point did you discover your mutual love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
I didn’t know or love Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I met Jenny. I knew of it because I’m a child of the ’90s and it ran concurrently with my life—I graduated high school in ’98 so pretty much on the same page as the Scoobies. When I met Jenny she immediately said, “You have to watch Buffy!” You know, spreading the good word, as all Buffy fans do. When I watched it with her for my first time in 2010, I really wasn’t feeling it. Season one is just not the best season. So we stopped. The next year, we tried again with Jenny’s master plan: to skip season one, fill me in on the details I needed to know and start season two. Then I was hooked. I got really into the show and was so moved by the whole series. I developed a really deep love of the characters, and once you crack that in the Buffyverse, then there’s no hope for you, ya know?
Why is Buffy the Vampire Slayer so important?
So many reasons. SO MANY REASONS! The show can be kind of cracked open and pulled apart in a thousand different ways. There’s an entire academia set for Buffy studies. We look at it through a feminist lens and through a queer lens. I think of us right now, where we are in the world, which is a pretty terrifying place, the theme of Buffy resonates so powerfully. We’re following a woman—a feminist, who is just kicking ass all over town and fighting evil while also reflecting on what the fighting is about, how to sustain it, what we need to do to take care of ourselves and what we need to sacrifice to take care of the world. Those are things that I think about every day in my actual life. The series as a whole—the characters—just give us these footholds as we do our own climbing.
What are some of the Buffy themes that have resonated with you the most on a personal level?
I identify with some of Buffy’s struggles and scenes around mental health/well-being as they relate to fighting. Sort of saying what’s good, what’s right, fighting for it and where the balance is. That theme resonates with me personally because of the work that I do with LGBTQ communities. Also, the themes around sexuality are just delightful. I have to be spoiler free on my own podcast but not here in this interview—rounding the bend to Willow questioning her sexuality and starting to develop a relationship with another woman was incredibly groundbreaking at the time to be on television. Then there’s the whole angle of Buffy as the Slayer and coming out to her mom. That whole thing is so jammed packed with queer shit and I love it.
If you had to live a day in one episode of the Buffyverse, which one would it be?
The first episode that comes to mind is “Band Candy” because it’s such a fun episode, but it’s also chaos and people are still gonna die. Perhaps... “Once More, with Feeling.” That’s a really fun episode. For one day it would be pretty enjoyable to have to express everything through song and also see how other people express themselves through song.
Turning into a vampire—awesome or awful?
There’s really just a lot of pluses and minuses but I would say that I would ultimately not like to be a vampire—betraying everything I believed about myself as a young person.
Besides Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar (because duh) who is your number one dream Buffy cast celebrity guest for a Buffering interview?
Alyson Hannigan. I mean, I put her in the camp of Sarah Michelle Gellar—obviously I want to talk to Willow. We’ve had some wonderful responses from other people so far. I just finished doing an interview with Doug Jones for “Hush” and Cameron Coy—both lead Gentlemen in that episode. I’m going to be doing an interview with Professor Maggie Walsh and it looks like I’ll be interviewing Sophia Crawford who did all of Buffy’s stunts...so, I don’t know who my top would be, but hopefully we’ll just get them all.
What’s it like to operate as thought leaders within such a devoted fandom?
It’s mostly incredible. There is pressure that comes along with it. Jenny and I genuinely feel that the people who listen to our show, are holding us up just as much as we’re holding them up. I think that we also have a really honest community where I don’t feel the pressure to do everything perfect. I know especially with our Buffering listeners, that if we misstep, we’ll be able to be honest about that. [The fans will] hear us, and that’s a really great space to be in. It allows us to take risks and talk about hard things—we’re journeying together, we’re learning together, and we're gonna figure it out together.
How the heck do you find balance between totally kicking ass in your career, running this super successful podcast, and just living your life?
Well, it’s not always easy, but the message that’s at the heart of Buffering and the other work I do is a lot of self-care. I try really hard to not only tell other people how to take care of themselves but to practice that, and to really reflect. I try to be as reflective as I can—I meditate every morning when I wake up, and I try to always keep that in my schedule. I know the things that help lift me in a changing landscape is often hard to keep up, but I also look to the people who look to me. I’m listening to them and taking advice from them because I think we all have a lot to offer each other.
Ok last (and arguably most important) question: Team Spike or Team Angel?
Team Spike. I don’t even have to think about it. I’m definitely re-falling in love with the character Angel in a way that I didn’t on my first viewing. We’ve gotten so endeared to him with his emotions and his broodiness—he’s just so dramatic. I will say that now having poked fun at Angel, he kind of feels like a big brother to me more than anything else, but I remain loyal to Team Spike. I have to be true to myself and I always pick the bad boy over the other guy.
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Curl up in some cozy loungewear and binge watch some Buffy—and then tune into Buffering the Vampire Slayer for some amazing analysis.