It's Somebody's Job to Make That Stuff
And on Letterman, at Miramax films, and now on a podcast, that somebody is Nick Gansner
Published in 2020 Wisconsin Super Lawyers Magazine on November 18, 2020
The product of a two-lawyer household, Nick Gansner has fond memories of his parents’ day jobs, particularly the perks, like when he got awarded with a Cubs game for good behavior in court. “As a kid, I was like, ‘Oh. I guess that’s what moms and dads do: be lawyers,” he says.
So it tracked that his first stop after undergrad was to work as a paralegal. But when he stopped by his university’s career services department to put the finishing touches on a résumé, an internship posting for The Late Show with David Letterman caught his eye. “I figured I could do law stuff whenever, and since I was already there with my résumé literally in my hands, and there was a fax machine, why not?”
Gansner soon found himself entranced by Manhattan skylines and the entertainment industry. “The Letterman job was gofer work, but for a kid from the Midwest it was like, ‘Wow.’ All that stuff in movie theaters and TV—it’s somebody’s job to make that stuff?”
While he explored whether that somebody could be him, he stayed in Manhattan and worked various entertainment jobs, including as an executive assistant at Miramax. “Seeing how the movie industry worked was certainly fascinating,” he says. “I got to go to the Academy Awards. I got to go the Cannes Film Festival. But there was just a point in time where I was like, ‘Is this how I want to spend my life?’ It didn’t feel like a grown-up job.”
After he got his J.D., he landed at the Dane County DA’s office (twice), with a pit stop in between working in the AG’s office of his hometown of Chicago. His prosecutorial work focused on child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.
“These are cases where you come to know the victims of these crimes, and they are looking for assistance in managing their life after this trauma,” Gansner says. “The system is supposed to have a role to play in this vein. And victims’ rights has been something that I think the country and the system isn’t cognizant of.”
In 2013, Gansner switched to private practice, forming Nicholson, Gansner & Otis, a boutique that specializes in defending sex crimes. He also found himself back in the entertainment industry—this time, thanks to the podcast Getting Off, which he co-hosts with firm founder Jessa Nicholson Goetz.
“We are external processors and big talkers here, and we enjoy diving into specific cases,” he says. “Jessa was like, ‘Well, we could sit here and have these conversations in a slightly more organized way, record them and make a podcast. Maybe folks would be interested.’”
Folks are interested: Getting Off just celebrated 2 million unique listens.
The two don’t shy away from dark humor as they talk criminal justice filtered through an anti-Law & Order lens. “Almost every cop show or police procedural comes from a very pro-prosecution perspective,” Gansner says. “That has an effect on how people see the system and how they think about the human beings who are caught up in that system.”
As a former prosecutor himself, he knows the importance of the job. “And it can be very noble if it’s done ethically and responsibly,” he says. “But certainly not all prosecutors are that way. And it can be very frustrating to come across folks who practice that profession in a manner that I have real issues with.”
In the midst of the nation’s reckoning with race and police misconduct, it’s a timely conversation.
“I grew up in a very certain place in a very certain way,” Gansner says. “And to leave my home for college and law school, then go into the field of prosecution, it exposes you. To discover that the world that you thought you lived in, and the country that you thought you lived in, is just not what it was—that’s an intense thing to discover. It’s like Neo in The Matrix.”
Getting Off episodes range from specific crimes (Jeffrey Epstein, a four-part series) to systemic issues (immigration, detention and victims’ rights) to historically significant crimes (the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till).
While the pod can sometimes be a little tongue-in-cheek—starting with its title—the end goal is serious.
“We hope our legacy is that people outside the system come away with a greater awareness for how it actually operates,” he says. “If it mattered to you as a kid to be taught that you lived in the land of the free, and that we all stand equal before the law, and you think, ‘Hey, that’s why we’re special,’ and then learn that’s never been so and it still isn’t, there’s no reason to get defensive about it. It’s the reason to get to work.”
Getting Off is available at gettingoffpod.com, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.