Uluç Ülgen’s show mürmur is like many other interview shows but with a couple of caveats: his guests could be anyone, and are often times random and unfamiliar. And the goal is not to promote but to connect.
“Everybody is on guard especially these days,” says Ülgen who moved to New York City from Minnesota. “And the whole point of mürmur is to be like ‘let’s take off the masks and cut the bullshit and just be real’ and hope that sincerity will lead to something tangible, a friendship between you and me.”
He’s talked with anyone and everyone, starting the show by inviting guests into his apartment through a flyer. Now the show that’s been covered by NPR, The Paris Review, and others is live on Radio Free Brooklyn. Ülgen says having those conversations was a way to help him not only meet people but understand himself more.
“Mürmur enabled me to become the person I’ve always wanted to be my whole life, but never had the chance to be because I was so shy and just socially awkward,” says Ülgen. “My eyes are watering just thinking about it.”
The Turkish-born host of mürmur came to the US as a child, and says he struggled with fitting in while living in the midwest, like many calling his experience “difficult.”
“I went from being the most popular kid in elementary school to coming to middle-of-nowhere Minnesota and being the loser foreign kid,” says Ülgen. “So, I always wanted to be part of something part of the group but I was denied the opportunity because I couldn’t speak the language, I was always conscious of the grammar, I was conscious of the fact that I had a name that was much different than what other kids had for themselves.”
Ülgen says growing up was one of several experiences that helped to bring him to create mürmur. He recounts his high school experience as being somewhat calculated, choosing friends who shared his taste in music and made him look cool, like many of us. Something he now wishes he did differently.
“I always thought it was impossible to get along with anybody that didn’t like what I liked, says Ülgen. “But as you get older you realize all of that is bullshit, and what really matters is kindness. And someone who is opposite from you might be your potential best friend because there is mutual respect.”
Other than wanting to connect and make friends, he wanted to give back after an experience he had while traveling abroad – a trip he took because he says he was at a low point in his life.
“Every little town I went to, every village there would be at least a dozen people walking up to me asking ‘Brother are you ok? What’s on your mind, are you hungry?” says Ülgen about his travels which included a trip to Syria, around 40 miles away from Aleppo. “That really, really moved me because I knew if I was back in new york…a million people would walk over me like a cockroach and never take the time to ask ‘hey, are you ok?”
He says mürmur was a way of paying back that kindness and helping to spread it within the five boroughs. But he had some worry about being able to have these conversations, and he feels that for many Americans vulnerability is not a strong suit.
“Having a conversation is not as hard as people make it out to be. All it really takes is to simply be in the moment,” says Ülgen, who has published more than 200 episodes of mürmur.
“We always have this fear of running out of topics and running out of things to say. But if you place yourself completely in the moment you’ll find there is a plethora to talk about.”
The unformatted conversation driven show hits any and every topic, and elicits all types of guests. Many of the people he meets he says he keeps in contact with, and even those he disagrees with, he values.
“There is a quote from My Blueberry Nights,” Ülgen recounts. “‘Sometimes we depend on other people as a mirror to define us and tell us who we are. And each reflection makes me like myself a little more.’”
Mürmur airs live on Radio Free Brooklyn on Wednesdays at 2pm, and is available on podomatic and other podcast distribution sites.