Breaking the Oath Keepers
Prosecutors—and best friends—Lou Manzo ’06 and Brendan Downes ’07 are at the center of government efforts to take down the Oath Keepers extremist militia for its role in the January 6 insurrection.
Crimes and Misdemeanors...?
Ceara O’Sullivan ’14 and Griff Stark-Ennis ’14 resolve petty disputes on the hit podcast Petty Crimes, one feud at a time.
One morning last summer, Griff Stark-Ennis ’14 awoke to find a once-in-a-lifetime congratulatory text flashing across his phone’s screen. A bleary-eyed scan through his friend’s excited message revealed that Time magazine had just named Petty Crimes, the year-old podcast that Stark-Ennis cohosts with his friend Ceara O’Sullivan ’14, as one of the best of 2023. “It was a nice way to wake up,” Stark-Ennis recalled. But the good news didn’t stop there. A couple of weeks later, the New York Times named Petty Crimes one of “6 Podcasts to Help You Take an Actual Break This Summer.”
The podcast is a witty examination of everyday social transgressions and faux pas. It employs dramatic production elements typically found in the popular true-crime podcast category, but gives the whole thing a lighthearted twist. O’Sullivan, a comedian whose short comedy videos had already gained hundreds of thousands of fans on TikTok, came up with the idea for a podcast that investigated “crimes”—which would be its listeners’ gripes about inconsequential slights from their lives and relationships. The tone would be snarky and fun, like her favorite reality shows, and each episode would end with the hosts weighing the information provided and ultimately deciding which party was “guilty” of the “crime” in question. O’Sullivan and Stark-Ennis, friends from their days at Boston College, fleshed out the idea during long walks in Los Angeles, where they both live. The podcast launched in March 2022 with O’Sullivan and Stark-Ennis as cohosts.
In the year and a half since, O’Sullivan and Stark-Ennis have dissected dozens of trivial dramas submitted by their listeners, and determined who was at fault in each of them. One episode, for instance, centered on a listener who was shamed by fellow airplane passengers for not giving up her seat so a young family could sit together. The hosts reviewed the situation from the point of view of all the involved parties, as they do in every episode, and decided that everyone was guilty, including the airline for not having assigned seats. “I dabble in true crime, but I like the light true crime that doesn’t keep you up at night,” O’Sullivan said.
Crimes covered by the podcast have included a post-breakup custody battle over houseplants, a dog that was being allowed to go to the bathroom on a shared rooftop deck in O’Sullivan’s building, and the inequitable sleeping arrangements at a bachelorette party. (Why would a bridesmaid who had agreed to sleep on the top bunk sneak away from the festivities early and fall asleep in a better bed?)
For those new to Petty Crimes, O’Sullivan recommends an episode called “Blueberry Hoarders.” It was inspired by a listener who wrote in after she’d been asked by the owner of a blueberry bush to stop taking berries from the plant. Surely, the listener argued, inflated berry prices at the grocery store made her behavior acceptable. Stark-Ennis and O’Sullivan disagreed, taking the neighbor’s side instead.
Listener submissions account for most of the crimes discussed, but the hosts have learned that podcast ideas can come from anywhere. For example, when someone once asked Stark-Ennis for his opinion about a dispute over a parking spot at the gym where he worked, he brought the matter onto the podcast and had O’Sullivan make the final ruling. (She determined that the guilty party was the person who’d asked for Stark-Ennis’s opinion in the first place.) “The perfect petty crime is something that couldn’t matter less,” O’Sullivan explained, “but to the people involved, it matters so much.” Sometimes, though, there isn’t a clearly guilty party—“the situation is in the gray zone,” Stark-Ennis said.
Each episode ends with a segment called “Criminal or Minimal,” a kind of lightning round in which the hosts quickly cycle through submissions and decide whether the situations are really offenses, or whether the injured party should just get over it. (Sending voice memos instead of texts was deemed criminal, while rejecting a friend’s invitation to share an entree at a restaurant was found to be minimal.)
The bond between Stark-Ennis and O’Sullivan dates back to their days on the Heights. As he tells it, Stark-Ennis was a fan of O’Sullivan’s before he was her friend. He used to watch her perform with the BC comedy troupe My Mother’s Fleabag, and they eventually grew close. After graduation, they each worked in Boston for a few years before deciding to pursue careers in Hollywood. Stark-Ennis moved in January 2018 to look for modeling and acting work, and O’Sullivan followed in 2020. Late last year she was hired as a staff writer on Saturday Night Live. The Writers Guild of America strike has shut down the show’s production, but Petty Crimes has given O’Sullivan and Stark-Ennis a sense of creative control amid the dispute. They released new episodes throughout the summer, and hope to eventually perform live shows as well. “Talking about what is going on in your life and is driving you nuts, and having someone else say, that would drive me nuts too—there’s comfort in that,” O’Sullivan said.