In the beginning, we all baked bread. Soon, there were the Tik Tok dances, the growing of scallions in a mason jar by the window sill, self-care tutorials, and shallot pasta. Some might call this the "homesteading" period of the pandemic, and if you can believe it, it has been about a year since that phase of lockdown began. Here we are a year later, when the "finding a fun hobby" portion of a global pandemic feels so far in the rearview mirror. But that may be all the more reason to get back into figuring out a hobby to occupy your mind, because we all still deserve having something to look forward to every day (or week). That's where comedian and podcaster extraordinaire Sydnee Washington comes in.
You may know Washington from her stand-up routines (pre-Covid, of course), her appearances on various Comedy Central specials, or her hilarious Instagram Live series, "Syd Can Cook," in which she, a person who does not know how to cook, is joined by a fellow comedian who teaches her how to prepare a dish via video chat. In a way, Washington was doing Selena + Chef long before Selena Gomez tried it. Next, she'll even appear in Grindr's (yes, you read that right) very first original scripted series. But until then, she's hosting her new podcast Hobby Hunter, which involves chatting with guests like her friend and collaborator Marie Faustin and comedians Caleb Hearon and Shelby Wolstein about the hobbies that have brought them joy over the years. The podcast shows that, from "dating" to "collecting basketball cards," a hobby assumes all kinds of forms.
Whether she's interviewing friends on podcasts, trying not to kill her plants, or raising her cat, Washington has fully made a hobby out of being herself. Below, she explains everything you need to know about finding a hobby, taking the first step toward actually testing it out, and answers the age-old question: can you ever be too old for a hobby?
When did you know you were funny enough to turn comedy into a career?
There were two things. I was waitressing, and I would be closing out at the end of the night. I would tell jokes and people would sit and listen to me for hours. I knew I was funny because they could have gone home, but they stayed. And I knew I could start making money when I started producing my own shows. I had a show with Marie Faustin, my best friend and the person who also hosts another podcast with me called The Unofficial Expert. We had a live show called The Warmup and it was always packed! It was a monthly show, people would give us money, and we had real fans!
After that, you moved into making web content, right?
I was doing stand-up, and then I did more digital content with Marie. We had a series called "S&M" on her YouTube channel, which made me feel like I could be myself. It was natural, it didn't feel forced. I got a show for MTV2 called Vidiots, which was music video commentary, and I figured I could do TV as well. It didn't get picked up for a second season, but it felt like it could be good for me.
In addition to working with Marie on The Unofficial Expert, she was the first guest on your Hobby Hunter podcast. Where did the idea for Hobby Hunter come from?
It originally started with my Instagram Live series, "Syd Can Cook," because I couldn't cook at all. My friends challenged me at the beginning of the quarantine. They were like, you're going to die of starvation if you don't start buying groceries and cooking for yourself. I realized, I hate cooking, but I love content. I also loved the attention from Instagram Live, so I will continue doing it—but it’s a lot of work! You cook for two hours, then you have to eat it, and then there are dishes. I needed something else that wouldn't take up so much time every day, so I started collecting [neon] lights, which I call sex lights. I want my apartment to look like a nightclub that has no alcohol in it. [Laughs.] I also started getting plants, and I'm a cat dad. I wondered, ‘Oh, are these hobbies?’ The podcast is a way to find out what other people are doing with their time and what makes a hobby interesting. I've been able to talk to so many people who have inspired me to find other things to do.
So contrary to popular belief, cooking is not your hobby, but it is a job?
It is a job! But being myself is the hobby. The cooking costs a lot of money, and there's production, and that's a job, but I love it because it makes me feel complete. It makes me feel good after it's done.
What's the best meal you've made, one you're really proud of?
There are two meals I'm good at. So far, I'm crushing it with buffalo wings. I can't get it wrong. Even if I put too much cayenne pepper in there, it's a hit. Recently, I had a birthday show and I made strawberry shortcake. It was delicious. I made frosting from scratch, and I might make another cake for my friend’s birthday. But baking is hard because you have to be particular with the measurements, and I don't like that—I just want to put ingredients in and make it happen. But you have to know exactly what to do when you bake, and it's overwhelming.
How do you decide who you're going to invite onto Hobby Hunter? And how do you decide if you want to try their hobby?
The process is, you have to stalk. You have to watch their Instagram Stories, because that's where you see what they do in a way that’s not so curated. Some people throw things on Stories and feel more free, but when they post on the grid, they feel that since it's staying there it has to be more polished. On people's Instagram Stories, I see them cooking, painting, singing, doing puzzles, writing. I follow their journey! Mitra Jouhari makes pottery now, a lot of cups. Seth Rogen has started getting into pottery too. Dulcé Sloan does UV resin jewelry, which I found out from FaceTiming her one day and I saw the setup behind her. She told me she used to have a jewelry shop and I was like, 'What? We've been friends for years and I didn't know that!'
Would you say your hobby is finding out what other people's hobbies are?
I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm extremely nosy, and my hobby is finding the tea, the gossip. [Laughs.] That's been ingrained in me since I was a child. All my life, I've been watching other people and wanting to know more.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New York City—you've gotta be born on New York soil to be a New Yorker. But then I grew up in Oakland, California, so I could have a childhood and a backyard and climb trees. I moved back to New York when I was 13, and I had to take the train by myself and I was like, “Okay, I'm an adult now!”
Speaking of being nosy, I noticed, courtesy of your Instagram Stories during the pandemic, that you were one of the first people to really get into the HBO show Industry.
You heard it here first! It wasn't promoted that much and I love HBO Max, their whole catalog of shows. I saw the preview and was like, I don't like finance and don't really want to see straight dudes but the main character is a Brown girl, so let's go. As soon as I started watching, I was like, 'Oh, this is my thing.' I went on Instagram Stories and added commentary, and people had no idea what I was watching and that's how I got them in—I wouldn't say what the show was at first, because you have to create buzz. That's a hobby.
What else have you been watching during the pandemic?
I just started Buried with the Bernards. It's incredible. It's on Netflix, and it's about a small Black family in Tennessee who own a funeral home. It's like Six Feet Under, but straight comedy.
You mentioned that you recently got into collecting plants. Why'd you start doing that?
If you haven't gotten a plant in the quarantine, are you even a part of the pandemic? It's so easy to have a plant because if it dies, you can just replace it. But if it lives, it feels like I've accomplished something; I'm accomplishing life, without having to birth anything. I have about 25 plants. Some have transpired, transitioned, they're D-E-A-D. I've learned I'm not that good at this, but it's a lot of prayer, and I talk to them and tell them we need each other, and ask them to tell me what they need. Then I forget to water them.
Let's say you've stalked everyone on Instagram and you've figured out the hobby you want to try. How do you accomplish that next step of actually trying something new?
If I'm doing something with somebody else, then it'll get done. If I do it own my own, I never get it done. I'm a queen of procrastinating with a capital P, but if I link up with somebody else, then it can happen. It's better when you have someone else to see you fall and film you failing. You can succeed at a hobby, and also fail at it. You have to experience both sides.
What else have you tried lately that you may want to turn into a regular hobby?
I'm so into makeup. I like to watch tutorials over and over again, and you would think by the 100th time I would do it, but I won't. I'll just watch. It’s therapeutic for me. I have rhinestones and pearls and things to glue to my face, and I buy different palettes. I do a lot of it freehand, and I don't think I could be a makeup artist and get paid for it, but if someone wanted me to play on their face, I would. People slide into my DMs and if they're not saying how funny I am, they're commenting on my appearance and asking if I can do a makeup tutorial. Makeup tutorials would be too easy for me, which is why I chose cooking for the Instagram Live series. I'm really into music, too. I'm not a DJ, but I'm like a sommelier for music. I can be on SoundCloud for hours coming up with different mixes. If I didn't have pride, I would probably start DJing. But I'm a little late in the game.
Can you really ever be too old for a hobby, though?
I think it's okay to DJ, but when you're closer to 40... [Laughs.] But I am on Instagram Live, and that's my job and my hobby. Especially at the peak of the pandemic, people were saying they'd lost hope and everything was so grim, but that they'd go to my Instagram and laugh for two hours.
Can anything be a hobby?
Sometimes we feel incomplete, or wonder what we're doing with ourselves. A lot of people focus on their careers, but if you just try new things, you can work toward getting to that final product, and everything is not going to be amazing or polished, but if you really focus on the journey of having fun and finding out what sparks you, in the long run you'll be happier. Putting so much pressure on “What is my thing?” is harmful, not helpful.