Column: How two opinionated Torrey Pines High grads found their calling in a podcast

Torrey Pines High School graduates Rebecca Cohen (left) and Maya Gurantz are the co-hosts of "The Sauce"
(Ricardo Williams (Cohen) / Christopher Bordeaux (Gurantz))

In ‘The Sauce’ podcast, Maya Gurantz and Rebecca Cohen drink and dissect pop culture


Necessity may be the mother of invention, but never underestimate the motivating power of a tall Bloody Mary and a headful of outrage.

That’s what was in the mix when writers Rebecca Cohen and Rosie Knight got together in the Gaslamp Quarter a few years ago for brunch and some post-Comic-Con venting. They drank, they blew off steam, and then they drank some more.

And out of that spicy blend of alcohol and analysis came “The Sauce,” a podcast dedicated to strong drinks and 100-proof opinions.

Beginning in 2017, Cohen and Knight did a handful of episodes together, drinking their Bloody Marys while they expounded on the stuff that bugged them about comic books and nerd culture. After a handful of episodes, Knight got too busy with her writing and had to bow out. But Cohen was having way too much fun to stop.

When Cohen started brainstorming about who would be the ideal co-host for these sessions of imbibing and opining, her thoughts immediately turned to Maya Gurantz, her old friend from Torrey Pines High School and a fellow believer in crimes against the status quo.

It was a match made in unfiltered heaven. It still is.

Whether it was calling out the principal for bringing in a Christian theater company to present a play about the dangers of teenage sex (Gurantz), or returning a crude note from a classmate with the grammar and punctuation corrected in red pen (Cohen), the fellow drama club kids and budding feminists did not believe in keeping their thoughts, objections, concerns or criticisms to themselves.

“Somehow, I never got the message that you aren’t supposed to confront people with your opinion all the time. I never learned that. In my (graduation) year, they voted me Most Likely to Lead a Protest,” Cohen, 45, said from her home in New York City.

“Being who we were was a political statement then,” Gurantz, 44, remembered. “They didn’t get us to shut up, but they tried.”

Now, no one is trying to get these longtime friends to shut up about anything.

Thanks to their impressive academic backgrounds — UC Berkeley and NYU for Cohen, Yale and UC Irvine for Gurantz — and a range of interests that include cults, ‘70s cinema, art, toxic masculinity and politics, the “Sauce” co-hosts are never at a loss for words or ideas.

Whether they are unpacking critical race theory or explaining in enthusiastic detail why Netflix’s much-celebrated “The Queen’s Gambit” is actually a piece of streaming garbage, Gurantz and Cohen tackle their subjects with maximum confidence, oodles of laughter, a healthy dose of swearing and no regrets.

Or as they say in the show’s introduction, “This is ‘The Sauce,’ the cultural and politics podcast where we drink cocktails and ruin the stuff you love.”

“The slogan originally came from the premise of the show being that we would deconstruct pop culture, and for a lot of people, that means ruining pop culture,” said Cohen, a cartoonist and illustrator who wrote and illustrated “The Adventures of Gyno-Star: Fighting the Forces of Evil and Male Chauvinism,” a web-based comic strip.

“But it’s not about ruining it. It’s about listening and understanding and reading the subtext. Some people find it interferes with their pleasure. For other people, it enhances their pleasure.”

Over 135-plus episodes, the “Sauce” co-hosts have taken on “Tiger King,” Rush Limbaugh and Christmas music. They have deconstructed the bad-boy appeal of actor Adam Driver, explained why “Wonder Woman 1984” was terrible, and entered the pop-culture danger zone with an episode titled “How ‘Top Gun’ Ruined Everything.”

Naturally, not everyone wants to hear two super-smart, super-articulate pop-culture experts tell them why the thing they love is overrated, underwhelming or just plain bad. But there are plenty of people who can’t wait for Cohen and Gurantz to carve up their latest zeitgeist turkey.

The podcast has been downloaded in 140 countries, with an average of 1,000 monthly downloads. It has an active Patreon community, where members gather in the private “Sauce Speakeasy” to exchange drink recipes, talk about cats and make suggestions about what “The Sauce” should ruin next.

Maybe it’s because having someone else confirm your doubts about the Pop Culture Flavor of the Month is very sweet. Or because you want to justify your strange attachment to Bernie Sanders memes. Or maybe because speaking your conflicted mind about “Top Gun” or “Cobra Kai” or “Marriage Story” is a lot easier if these former Torrey Pines High School troublemakers do it first.

“My husband is like, ‘I can’t watch anything with you because you ruin it,’” Gurantz said. “With ‘The Sauce,’ we are able to find people who actually want us to do that. We are all so well-versed in pop culture and the way pop culture manipulates us, but sometimes, we don’t have the words for it. Because of our studies, Rebecca and I have the words.”