Very Serious
Very Serious with Josh Barro
'Help! I can't stop reading advice columns, even though I know the questions are fake!'

'Help! I can't stop reading advice columns, even though I know the questions are fake!'

Why there are so many advice columns, why they're full of fake letters, and why advice from Ben Dreyfuss is better than what's out there. Plus: Ben and Josh answer your mail.

Dear readers,

This week’s episode of the Very Serious podcast is extremely fun — I think you will really enjoy it.

Most of you are aware that about once a week, I’ll answer questions from readers in this newsletter — what we call the Mayonnaise Clinic. Sometimes I get questions about politics and policy and my opinions, but sometimes the questioners are seeking advice, which I’m happy to give.

My friend Ben Dreyfuss, author of the recently rebranded “Calm Down” newsletter on Substack, has been getting into the advice business himself, taking the questions from popular advice columns and offering his own blunter, funnier, better advice.

I invited Ben on the podcast to talk about the advice column as a format, and the perverse incentives that lead publications to run questions everyone knows are fake. And Ben and I considered some letters together — advising a reader on how he should meet people while living in a really lame suburb; counseling a woman in a six-year relationship who clearly isn’t being taken seriously by her boyfriend or his parents; and helping out a guy who doesn’t feel respected by his mentor and predecessor in a high-profile job.

I hope you really enjoy the episode, and if you have any questions you’d like answered in the future, either in a forthcoming edition of the Mayonnaise Clinic or on another advice-column-as-podcast episode, I encourage you to send them to



Episode links and references

Click here for a transcript of this episode.

Here’s Ben’s Substack, which is now called Calm Down.

  • Here’s his first advice column, where he answered a few letters submitted to the New York Times, including the father writing in about finding a box of unopened condoms under his son’s bed.

  • And here’s his latest one, where he answered the letter about the botched wedding invitation and bad feelings about it; and the one about the longtime girlfriend invited to pay her own way on her wealthy boyfriend’s family’s vacation.

Bennett Madison in Gawker: ‘Help! I Couldn’t Stop Writing Fake Dear Prudence Letters That Got Published’

From the Mayonnaise Clinic:

Very Serious
Very Serious with Josh Barro
Very Serious is a weekly conversation with top political commentators, columnists and policymakers, focused on how events in the news relate to major, long-standing controversies in politics, economics and culture. Host Josh Barro is joined by a rotating set of regular guests to work out the ideas behind the arguments on topics serious and not-so-serious. It’s a great conversation across ideological lines that will leave you entertained, enlightened, and maybe even persuaded.