Irene McGee as one of seven “Real World: Seattle” strangers in 1998, and now, as host of “No One’s Listening.”
Irene McGee made reality TV history in 1998 when she became the first cast member of a production to walk away before its filming ended. And while she didn’t choose to be slapped in the face on her way out the door of “Real World: Seattle,” the moment is etched into the minds of all who saw it, and is still one of the most memorable in the history of the genre.
McGee, a graduate of Georgetown University, told it like it was while she was an MTV fixture, and her pluckiness was a trademark of “Real World” and its Seattle season. Behind a quick wit and sharp tongue, though, she wasn’t happy living under the microscope of TV production and ultimately left the show. In the aftermath of her departure, she struggled to understand the “slap heard ’round the world.” She had a lot to say about it but felt like her words were falling on deaf ears, so the New York native eventually took it upon herself to create “No One’s Listening,” a podcast where she could share her uncensored thoughts.
Since 2005, the program has focused on the changing face of journalism, the rights to anonymity and every ethics-related debate that media have encountered in-between. Along the way, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky and Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales have stopped by to lend their insights to the show, which has drawn the praise of author Amy Tan, Comedy Central VP of Records Jack Vaughn and the former Rolling Stone editor, Ben Fong-Torres, who said “McGee’s feet are wet enough, and her ideas–and personality–are fresh enough that she could be a fit for any number of talk stations. Preferably on one where somebody’s listening.”
Make sure to check out “No One’s Listening,” plus read our Q&A below with the onetime reality star (@SpringFever).
On why she tried out for the show:
“Real World” used to be like “American Idol,” and everyone tried out. So I went and stood in line for awhile, and I thought, “This just isn’t for me,” and I had a Renaissance and Reformation midterm to study for. There were a ton of people with head shots and who were all done up, and I was in a T-shirt and ripped jeans. But as I was about to leave, a director saw me and pulled me out of line. He asked me a few questions, and I knew I was going to get it. I told him there was an under-representation of naturally curly hair on TV.
On the aftermath of Stephen’s slap
It really messed me up–like, I had nightmares of him just hitting me over and over again… Leaving was probably the bravest thing I will have ever done, but also the most misunderstood.
On how the incident shaped her career
I started speaking at colleges–like, doing these really impassioned speeches. I was still really angry and upset, but it was never my goal to villainize MTV; it was to understand why and how this was going on–why everyone knew that I got hit but no one was really addressing it academically. So I started grad school, got into media and technology and started a thing called a podcast in 2005, which were not popular at the time. I wrote about and talked to anyone and everyone I could–Daniel Tosh, Josh Wolf before he went to jail. I wanted to talk to people in media who wanted to talk about media and didn’t get to. But my goal wasn’t to get people who were already fans of Noam Chomsky to listen to Noam Chomsky–it was to get people who liked Britney Spears to listen to Noam Chomsky. And they did.
On her life now in New York City
For fun, I’m doing stand-up comedy, and I started up a site for health and wellness. I would love to turn “No One’s Listening” into a TV show and get people who could make media interesting as guests. Everyone likes media–I just don’t believe what we’re producing is the best we can produce.
On A Dream Guest
I have to get Neil Diamond. Like, this whole show is a ploy to get this little girl to meet Neil Diamond.
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Photo courtesy of Irene McGee.