Friday, June 8, 2012

The Podiwan Review 23 - Hollywood Babble-On

Part of the SModcast universe of podcasts, Hollywood Babble-On (HBO) is perhaps SModcos highest iTunes rated show other than SModcast actual.  In this version, Kevin Smith (@ThatKevinSmith) partners with friend and LA Radio celebrity Ralph Garman (@RalphGarman).  Garman does most of the heavy lifting on this show but Kevin's shenanigan's, scatological humor and general willingness to goof and gaff makes the nearly perfect conversationally comic yin to Garman's  radio personality yang.

The show started as a lightly produced, recorded in front of a live audience, weekly conversation between Smith and Garman about Hollywood topics like box office receipts, starlet meltdowns and rehabs and the occasional Hollywood obituary.  It didn't take long, however, for it to begin picking up recurring weekly segments like a ball of tape rolling down a hill of sock fuzz.  One of the first returning pieces to pick up momentum was Anne Heche's butthole.  As a subject it would only have had so much shelf life but then a listener produced and provided a musical bumper for the segment. When they started using that bumper on the show every week it encouraged other contributions from a number of very talented listeners and the list of regular weekly fan driven bits grew.  Those regular bits now include such gems as Hollywood Stiffs, Hollywood Helpers, the Creepy Clown, Shout outs (in any number of voice impressions that Ralph does), David Bowie Happy Birthday Dance, Exquisite Acting, Shit that Should Not Be and closing the show every week, Liam Neeson's Cock.  What was once a show that came in around an hour and change, now more often than not goes 100 minutes plus... and that's a good thing.  The show is fun, interesting and the pacing never lags.  Garman and Smith work very well together like classic comedy duos from the past. It's more radio show than stand up (especially since they're sitting down) and though on paper it seems like they have it buttoned down with all the scheduled weekly segments, in reality it is considerably more free flowing.

Smith is not always available and as such there have been a number of guest stand-ins to work with Ralph; the funniest being Jon Lovitz, Patton Oswalt and most recently Jay Mohr.  Another notable stand in in recent months was comic Brad Williams.  Both times that Catherine Reitman was on it just didn't work.  It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good either.

As nice as it is to have those guest hosts step in for Kevin when he's gone, what makes this special is the alchemy between Garman and Smith. A good bit of the magic is Kevin the mischievous kid who touches everything Mommy said not to, who has zero conversational filter in front of company and is endlessly fascinated with any subject as long as it's sex, dirty sex, self sex or butt sex.  Oh, and poop.  And if Kevin is the magic kid, Ralph is the magician; the master conjurer who, with a 101 voices, can wave a wand and make it funny.  As Jay Morh said recently, "Ralph has a tremendous On Base Average.  Put him in and he's going to get a hit."

The first shows were held at the now defunct SModCastle, a 50 seat black box theater in Los Angeles that Smith bought for the purpose.  But with all of it's shows growing in popularity, SModco quickly out grew that venue.  Currently, HBO sells out every week at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club and Podcast Theater at Universal City Walk.  Live podcasts like Babble-on or Doug Loves Movies are becoming THE shows to see in LA.  These podcasts and many others, including Adam Carolla, Walking the Room, Mohr Stories, The Nerdist and Marc Maron have found a growing, ready audience both at home in LA and on the road.  When Hollywood Babble-on takes their show on the road they fill any hall they go to.  And even if the production suffers a little, the audience never does.  Fans get a full show plus some.  Smith has been known to stack two shows at the same venue so those getting 2 hours Hollywood Babble-On with Kevin and Ralph may find that they've also gotten an additional hour of SModcast with Kevin and Scott Mosier (@SMosier) or a Jay and Silent Bob Get Old with Kevin and Jason Mewes (@JayMewes).

This show is on my "listen every week" list.  It's like brand name comfort food.  I like it.  I get some every week and I can count on the quality every time I open the can.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes. Every week.
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – Yes, Every week.
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Yes, Every week.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Podiwan Review - This About That

Recently, I was asked why it was that I liked every podcast I reviewed. As it turns out, of the twenty some podcast reviews written, only 2 of them were negative and one other review included a negative couple of paragraphs about a comic but not that podcast.

Here's why.

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I make a point of listening to new podcasts because I write this review blog.  I made a rule for myself that I wouldn't write a review for any podcast based on one single show.  I listen to at least 3 and I try to pick from the episodes of a podcast: one from the early attempts, one from the middle and one that is most recent.  That way, I'm not posting an opinion about somebody's pod skills until they've had some time to work out the kinks.  But what that means is I have to listen to 3 podcasts of a lot of things I don't like if I want to write a review and honestly, sometimes it really only takes one for me to know I don't like it and the second one confirms it. So, no third podcast gets listened to for some of them and as such, I haven't met my own rules for minimum threshold to write a review.

That's why most of the reviews are positive.  I'm human and I want to enjoy what I listen to and if I don't enjoy it, I tend to stop listening.

But, for the record, here are some short reviews of podcasts that I 'm not currently recommending.

Mohr Stories - Jay Mohr has a reputation in the industry as a hard guy to get along with.  I don't know him so I don't know, but there are times when I listen to him when I think he's kind of a dick.  Other times, he's pretty funny.   But he has burned a lot of bridges in show business and as such he has a hard time getting A and B list guests.  He has some very good guests and he has some really boring guests. He dominates conversation and most often talks about himself rather than the guest but it is called Mohr Stories and some of them are funny.  The show isn't horrible.  In fact, it isn't even bad... it's doesn't rise to the level that I choose it over a bunch of other stuff I listen to.  On the plus side, Jay filled in for Kevin Smith on the Hollywood Babble-On Podcast with  Ralph Garmin and killed.  It was their best show of the year.

Girl on Guy with Aisha Tyler - Another one-on-one interview show.  Ms.Tyler is not a terribly adept interviewer but she's getting better as the shows go forward.  I may continue to listen to her as she gets some decent guests, but she's not really breaking new ground and the shows don't rise to a level where they stand out from the clutter.  She's nice enough and as a veteran comic she knows where the joke is, but this is straight up interview so really, all things being equal I can't recommend it over something better.  Again, not bad, but not really worth the effort and there's just too much other stuff to listen to that is better.

You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes - Wow is Pete irritating in large doses.  He's funny in small doses so maybe we can just keep it that way.

Cashing In With TJ Miller
 - The concept / joke of this show is that Cash Levy can't get any guest but TJ Miller.  He interviews TJ over and over again.  If either one of them were more interesting it might be worth sitting though waiting for TJ to be funny.  Sometimes he's very funny, but mostly, it's just two guys talking.

The Long Shot Podcast - This is a conversational style podcast with the same folks each episode (mostly) and the occasional sketch.  One of the names on the marquee is Eddie Pepitone.  I like Eddie Pepitone.  He's funny.  I go out of my way to find stuff with him in it.  But with this podcast, when he's not in it, it just drags.  When he's not there, the show is a dog.  I've tried to let the other regulars engage me but they just don't.  In comedy the worst crime is being boring.  This podcast, without Pepitone, has yellow tape all around it. This is one that I will continue to monitor because I want it to be better and I'm hoping that it will get there.

Penn's Sunday School - I like Penn and Teller's whole thing, but this is not that.  This is another two guys talking style show with Penn and one of his buddies (Michael Goudeau) and they also have some guests.  Subjects are the ripped from the headlines kind.  Penn lines up politically and socially with the kind of stuff I believe and feel strongly about, but he's not capturing my attention.  I listened to half a dozen shows and didn't have more than a few engaged minutes out of the whole lot.  Also, Penn's voice gets weirdly grating after about 20 minutes.

Pop My Culture - Two people interviewing show business types for 60 to 90 minutes each episode.  Marginally entertaining but not enough to choose them over something else.

Talkin Walkin - Kevin Pollak does a great Christopher Walken impression.  It's funny,.... for a little bit.  It isn't funny for every episode in this podcast.  Pollak has a conversation with a guest "interviewer" and he does it as Chris Walken.  Fun for a little while. But really, one the shine wears off, it's just Kevin Pollak talking to a friend in a voice.  Mildly amusing at best. Bemusing more often than not.

Back in the 70's during Cable TV's infancy, there was a time when all you needed was a camera and some electricity and you could have a cable TV show.  There were lots of shows and most of them were crap.  The good stuff survived, the crap washed away and the corporate world found a way to monetize those things we would sit still long enough for that they could put a shoe ad on it.  Now we're in that place for podcasts.  This is the wild pod west.  A few years ago Ricky Gervais found a thick podcast vein of humor and gold.  They built a Deadwood like town on that vein and now the town is populated with a thousand new arrivals a day trying to dig out some nuggets of their own.  Early pioneers like Chris Hardwick, Scott Aukerman, Doug Benson, and Adam Carolla are the Al Swearengens, Alma Garretts and George Hearsts of the new podsplosion.  Their creating podcast networks and encouraging every bit of growth they can find, but here's something to consider....

Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project and father of the atomic weapons dropped on Japan, was famously quoted as saying (paraphrasing) "Just because we can do something doesn't exactly mean that we should do it."   Just because everybody can have a podcast doesn't mean that everybody should have a podcast.  I love the idea that there is something for every niche you can think of and there are no limits to who can sit with a mic or a camera and create their own content.  The unforgivable sin is boring the crowd and with so much stuff available to listen to and a finite number of hours to listen or watch committing such a sin should damn that podcast to the silenced central ring of the inferno.

OK, that's a bit dramatic given that I'm talking about podcasts.

Bottom line. So many podcasts, too little time.  If it doesn't rise to the level of interesting; if it doesn't stand out from the noise and the hum of just people talking, frankly, I have other things to do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Podiwan Review 22 - Superego Podcast

Comedy podcasts, thrown in a large container and shaken for a while, stratify into aggregate groups. The vast majority of podcasts are essentially a comedian or a comedian and his or her friends, sitting around and talking. The next largest group is that first category but with guests. The smallest fraction of the comedy podcast world is made up of produced shows... which is a shame because they are some of the best. Superego Podcast: Profiles in Self Obsession is one of the best of the best. Superego (@gosuperego) is an edited improv podcast that is so funny that I have, at times, found it difficult to breath or maintain urinary control. The only problem with this podcast, as far as I'm concerned, is that the shows are too short and there are too few of them. Each podcast is roughly half an hour in length and there are 17 shows in a season. Superego is currently in the middle of season 3 except that the troupe has recently been busy trying to make a living and have had less time to put out much more than a few short specialty episodes (joint efforts with the folks at Thrilling Adventure Hour).

The framework for the podcast is psychological case studies and the main performers are casts as mental health professionals. Well, not so much cast as photographed. The improvised sketches don't actually center on a psychosis. They're just funny, but they're introduced as a syndrome, malady or affected disorder and the characters in the given bit are, at least for comedic purposes, within the definition of that disorder.

Superego members (Dr.)Jeremy Carter, (Dr.)Matt Gourley, Mark McConville and Jeff Crocker improvise and then edit down bits to 3-5 minute chunks of pure lunacy. They regularly revisit sketch topics and characters that have previously produced comedy gold. To date, those mines are still producing. My personal favorites include Shunt McGuppin, a country music legend with no filter on his monologue, Maggie the GPS voice with too much emotional investment, Dueling Announcers Bruce" the Throat Hume" and Ed "the Inflection" Oliva, Imogene Kanouse aggressive horn-dog with a throat buzzer, Rev. Leroy Jenkins, Hart and Sole - Wrestler Voice Over Guys and the conversational Cylon Warriors from the 70's version of Battlestar Galactica. I can't list all of their sketches and characters as favorites as it defeats the concept of favorites, but honestly, I haven't heard anything from them that wasn't funny or that I wanted to skip over to get to something else.

As stated previously, Superego Podcast is edited improvisation. That description bears discussion in that it goes to the heart of why this is both polished and wildly creative. The Superego group will begin with a basic premise, start the recording and then just riff. They may have a few lines or gags that they want to hit on the way through, but mostly it is stream of consciousness. There are other improv podcasts out there and though they are often funny for long stretches, they also have those moments that, as a listener, you wish they might have skipped, and as artists, you can bet they would have preferred to cut out. Those others are "produced" shows and I appreciate their risk taking and basic comedy chops, but, the thing that sets Superego apart is that they go back into the recording and cut out the fluff, the crap and the unfunny. They make it tight. So tight, in fact, that it is often hard to breathe and one might have to go back and re-listen to catch everything. The editing genius of Matt Gourley, who also edits other podcasts such as Judge John Hodgman and The Sound of Young America, is the secret ingredient that makes this podcast more than just funny people having fun and sharing it. It becomes comedy art.

The list of comedic talent that lines up to work with this group is truly impressive. Giants in improv as well as some of the best known standups, writers and personalities come out of the woodwork to get into a sketch with Superego. Here's a short list (well not really short but it is impressive): Patton Oswalt, Jason Sudeikis, John Hodgman, Drew Carey, Greg Proops, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Daly, Colin Hanks, Steve Agee, Julie Klausner, Joe Lo Truglio, Rich Sommer, James Urbaniak, Jesse Thorn and Mark Gagliardi.

The dearth of podcasts that go beyond sitting and talking, even among funny people, requires that when we see something as wonderfully creative and funny as Superego, that we make absolutely sure the word gets out. I don't think there's an immediate chance of this podcast going away, but people who want good podcast programming from talented people need to support this kind of show to make sure that there is always a place for it.

I can see no shortcomings to this podcast other than that they just don't make enough of them. Also, inasmuch as I'm happy to enjoy several episodes in a row, they could go longer on each episode without offending this listener. There are 3 seasons of shows to work your way through, so those new to the podcast won't have to suffer shortages until they are well and truly addicted.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes. To the point of asphyxiation.
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – Yes, almost as soon as it plops.
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Yes, whenever I can.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Podiwan Review 21 - The Joe Rogan Experience - revisit

I'm always willing to admit when I'm wrong... and if that ever happens I'll be the first one to say so.  The reason I'll say that I wasn't wrong at the time I  reviewed Joe Rogan's podcastthe first time is that I think he agreed with me.  At that time, early in his podcast run, he hadn't settled on a format, the sound quality wasn't good and the technical glitches were a real problem.  In a recent podcast, Joe said that in looking back on those early podcasts, many, if not all of them were unlistenable.

But, and this is the thing... that was then.  This is now.

I should probably also say as soon as possible that I'm completely aware that Joe Rogan doesn't give two lumpy shits about my opinion of his podcast.  He's not going to lose any sleep if I didn't like something and he's not going to starch his boxers if I do.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was looking at the traffic for this blog and a good 30% of it is generated by people using the search terms "Joe Rogen" and "Comedy Podcast".  Though there seem to be damn few people willing to leave a public message on the site (open to all without qualification and I will not censor any reasonable comment, pro or con) quite a few were willing to find me (a simple feat via twitter) and send direct messages to me about what a horrible judge of podcasts I am, what a horrible human I am and the many many ways in which I should die. 

OK, so maybe I could look at it again.

 I was lucky enough to be driving long distances both to and from something twice in the same week and had several hours to fill.  I filled the entire time with the Joe Rogan Experience (and one episode of Jordan Jesse, GO!)  If the only podcasts of Joe's I ever listen to were the first 10-15 shows... then I'm right and so is Joe.  They are not great.  There are moments of brightness highlighted by long stretches of stoned banality and conspiracy mumbo jumbo; no guests and not much of interest. They are unlistenable.
But that's not all there is.

As of this writing, there are 114 episodes.  With the exception of a two week break taken recently when Joe was shooting a movie in New York, Joe Rogan and Brian Redban have recorded (and streamed live) at least once a week, sometimes twice a week and occasionally thrice a week since beginning the podcast.  They have dedicated a great deal of time, energy and equipment to doing this regularly and better.  They show a level of dedication that, at the very least, deserves a second look. (just writing regular reviews of other people's stuff is beyond my level of dedication.)

There have been changes to the show.  The most notable of which is the addition of guests.  I cherry picked through the last 50 or so shows available on iTunes and listened to Joe and Bryan with Doug Benson, Dave Foley, Brian Posehn, Andy Dick, Bill Burr and Jim Norton.  First off, that's a pretty good line up.  Even if you were just going to do short form interviews with a bit of comedy thrown in, that's a list of names that'll turn your head.  Second, Rogan isn't doing short form interviews.  He's taking advantage of a primary advantage to the podcast platform;  there is no limit on time and no censor of content.  Go as long as you want and say whatever the hell you want.  Also, the best part of long form interviews (or what has come about recently with the podcast medium, ultra long form interviews) is that if you talk to somebody long enough, sooner or later you start to hear from the real person in the interview rather than the prepared, repeated and manicured bits that they say on Letterman and Leno.

When Joe drops into interviewer mode it isn't Conan smooth, but it gets the job done and he's way better at it than he was before.  That said, I was impressed on a number of fronts with the conversations he had with the list of guests shown above. 

First, Joe doesn't suck up to anybody or overly agree.  He's willing to say he disagrees with a guest but he doesn't do it in an argumentative way. It's a discussion.  Both guest and host are equal participants with equal rights to an opinion.  And that was never more clear than when Jim Norton started spouting FOX News republican talking point rhetoric and Joe clearly disagreed but allowed Norton to have his say without a big wrestling match. Second, Joe has a reasonably broad understanding of the human condition.  He gets that we are only a few generations removed from the jungle and a lot of what we think and feel is instinctive response to fear, joy, happiness, hunger, loneliness, procreative drive and so on.  And all of that history relates to our current experience.  We can be as modern as we want, but we're still animals. 

Rogan relates to his guests as a friend.  He seems genuinely affable and people on the show appear to feel the friendly vibe and respond in kind.  The friendship between Joe and Dave Foley was a warm and endearing kind of thing that I didn't expect.  (And if anybody could use a friend now, it is Dave Foley.)

Another thing I found improved in the show was the lessening of the conspiracy theory stuff.  So much so that during the show with Brian Poshen, Joe put the brakes on something that Redban was talking about concerning a supposed nuclear disaster in southern California in the late 50s or early 60s.  Without actual evidence or reliable reportage, Joe wouldn't let Redban go with "I heard that..." sorta story telling.  Rogan still subscribes (to some degree) to schools of thought that I might consider wacky or improbable and border on black ship conspiracy bunk, but he doesn't push it on the show as much anymore.  Everybody believes something and if the conversation turns that way, he's still able to dial it up but the show now seems focused on informing the listener about the guest more so than about Rogan's background beliefs.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to Rogan and Redban speak with these people. The show has grown up and I think they really have something.  Rogan dominates the inquiry, but Redban gets a question in once in a while. And there were times when during the Poshen interview that it seemed like Poshen was interviewing Rogan, but that's really only the sign of a flexible show and host.  For the time being, Rogan has made it back onto my weekly listen list.  I'm re subscribed on iTunes and when I have choices in abundance of listening materials, Joe is closer to the top than to the middle and that's better than the bottom or not at all.

My rating scale Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – Yes, it is no on my weekly list.Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Not yet but I will

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Podiwan Review 20 - Titus Podcast

Christopher Titus, the stand up, TV SitCom star and now podcaster is not, for the record and contrary to what another reviewer says, a second rate Louis Black. I've seen Titus' stand up. I watched his TV show and I've now listened to each of the 12 TitusPodcasts released and he is not trying to be Louis Black. Are they both "angry" comics? Yeah, but Titus is way more genial about it and besides, angry comics account for about 25% of all stand-ups. The rest of the break down is 25% neurotics, 40% quirky observationalists and 10% comic geniuses. I don't think either Louis Black or Chris Titus are comic geniuses but they are funny and Black doesn't do a podcast. Titus does. I review podcasts. So, that's all I'm going to say about Louis Black.

That being said, Titus isn't pushing the boundaries of podcasting with his show. He's new to the podcasting game and he's doing the most common type. It's a standard sit and talk, but he's got a big part of it right; the chemistry.  The people on the show are friends and have an easy trust with each other that comes out in conversation. One of the holes that many comics who are doing podcast step into is the “trying to be funny all the time” hole. The good news for Titus' listeners is that he's not trying to be funny all the time. Certainly, his default position is trying to be funny. He's a comic. It's a reflex and a defense mechanism. But he also seems to genuinly want to discuss actual topics and to express thoughtful opinions. He dissembles occasionally by saying he doesn't think he's the shiniest penny in the bag (and true enough, he's not) but he's not a moron either. He seems more "everyman" than superman. I'm ok with that, especially in long form podcast format where superman can become something of a bore.

As to format, the show is an hour plus and is Titus, his girlfriend ( I think) Bombshell Rae and another friend, Stuntman Tommy. They sit around and talk. Pretty simple. Nothing produced. Mostly nothing planned except the topic. The audio isn't great but they're working on it and making improvements as they go. The show opens with Titus doing the Armageddon Update which is a prepared rant style commentary of current headlines. That's followed by the table talk and that goes about an hour.

Another reviewer said of Titus and the crew that they were uninformed and stupid. I don't think that's exactly accurate though Titus laughingly agreed with the assessment. No, I think there are a lot of things I take for granted as common knowledge that weren't a part of Christopher's world experience. I think there probably isn't much about a Chevy big block that he doesn't know and he absolutely knows how to craft 90 minutes of stand up. I'm quite certain that he's an intelligent person which mostly serves to highlight the occaisional missing piece of common knowlege. He’s inquisitive and discerning when he has the background info but there are times when the info he has is incorrect. Logically, anything that follows from the incorrect starting point will be skewed a bit. Stuntman Tommy; well, he doesn't talk enough for anybody to make a guess and Bombshell just sounds like she's young enough that things I lived through are only historical references that she could find on Wikipedia but otherwise probably wouldn't come upon. I think all three of them want to know and understand and plug into the world of factoids and relevant bytes but, as I've mentioned to people in my own business, you can't specialize in everything. You have to pick your thing. Titus' thing is being funny while exposing his heart and his hurt. His frustration in leaders and citizens is your frustration and he gives it a voice. His friends are like your friends and it's nice to listen in on them while they talk.

I like the podcast for what it is. It is simply three friends talking. One is a verteran stand up and the other two are normal civilians with standard funny input once in a while. There's no political correctness or agenda and by their own reckoning they stumble into more jokes than they plan. Good. That's more real. It's more accessible and frankly, it's the kind of thing I like to have buzzing in my head while I'm trying to do my actual work or walking the dog at midnight.

If for no other reason, I have to give a positive review to Titus for this line, stated while discussing a possible Palin run for President; he said, “You don't give the stupidest cheerleader the Uzi.”

That's just about the best frame with the fewest words that I've seen on the subject of Mrs Palin.

Recently the trio was discussing what they would or wouldn't do to improve production values. If I could offer any advice, it would be this: Don't produce pre recorded bumpers, intros and outros. That's radio. That's for polished teams of broadcasters and big budget "shows". That's not what TitusPodcast is. Titus podcast, I think, is best as a free form conversation with some jotted bullet points that you try to hit as the hour goes by. Be who you are. Don't try to be like 80 other podcasts that I cannot find the stomach to listen to even enough to review them.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes. Pleasant but not challenging
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – Yes, it is on my weekly listen to list.
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Yes

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Podiwan Review 19 - Judge John Hodgeman

John Hodgeman plays the elitist know it all with such easy and pleasing charm that it ain't hard to see why people think that he is just that way. From the republican manner in which he dresses (conservative grey suits and thin ties, short hair and black frame glasses) he could, at least visually, fit in on nearly any show on FOX. The genial condescension with which he addresses a crowd or a person is like that of a loving father towards a moronic child. He is never mean spirited per se' but nearly every comment is backhanded in some way. You'll be familiar with that aspect of Hodgeman if you've seen his eponymous segment "You're Welcome with John Hodgeman" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His bit on the Daily Show is to fix our worldly problems with easy and logic solutions. It doesn't matter that the solutions are ridiculous. His confidence in the solution is really all that matters.

For his Podcast "Judge John Hodgeman" confidence is again the key as Hodgeman oversees a 20 to 30 minute program wherein two litigants bring their argument to Hodgeman's court. The cases are frivolous, likely chosen by email and based on silliness and the litigants are sworn in to accept the result, no matter how poorly founded or nonsensical. Taking the role of courtroom announcer and bailiff is Jesse Thorn of the Jordan, Jesse, Go! podcast from the Maximum Fun podcast network that also hosts Hodgeman's show. The Judge John Hodgeman podcast grew directly from a bit that was done on Jordan, Jesse, GO! several times last year.

Though there is never a laugh out loud moment on any of the shows so far (and I've listened to all of them to date) every show is amusing, even pleasant. Judge Hodgeman listens to the complainants one at a time, asks probing questions. His questions usually try to pry more funny than truth out of the answerer but by the end the truth is pretty clear and the judge retires to chambers to consider his decision.
While the Judge is "in chambers" bailiff Jesse Thorn has a chance to speak with the litigants briefly. No further truths are revealed but sometimes a motivation can be sussed in a "So, what do you really want to happen here" sort of moment. When Hodgeman returns he hands down his decision and befitting the silliness of the argument being settled, the judge's decision usually includes some form of penance or act of contrition or even a recurring payment of goods or services. There is also the occasional court ordered hug.

All in all, it's a good gimmick; a familiar gimmick. I enjoy the show probably more because I like Hodgeman, but I also like the formula of exposition/investigation/resolution in a tight time frame and the fact that it is all kept light hearted and friendly. There are no heated debates, no rancor, no venom, no illiterates yelling incoherently at morons about "he my baby daddy" and the like. I'm surprised that no other podcaster did this sooner given that you can't turn on a TV in the afternoon in America without finding a litigant show of some kind on every third channel.

This show, Judge John Hodgeman, is on my weekly rotation of shows that I wait eagerly for. So far there are less than a dozen shows available, but I'm hopeful that Hodgeman, Thorn and the Maximum Fun Podcast Network will continue to produce the show for a long time.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - yes, pleasantly so
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – yes, every week without fail
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – big yes

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Podiwan Review 18 - The Smartest Man in the World

A year ago, all I knew of Greg Proops was what I'd seen on re-runs of the BritCom improv show "Who's Line is it Anyway" and the barely retooled American version that ran over here for a few seasons.  I'd also seen a couple of short, taped tidbits of stand up on basic cable showcases.  He seemed a lively improvisational entertainer and he had an easy time pulling deep references out of thin air at a lightning pace.  Then last year I started listening to podcasts.  A lot of them. 

I'd begun reviewing comedy podcasts and you'd be surprised how many you have to listen to in order to
A) Find one that fits the comedy, length and format profile,
B) find one that is good enough, bad enough or just plan released enough that it is worth doing, and
C) make an informed comment that goes beyond I liked this or I didn't like that. 
Anyway, Proops popped up on the radar quite a lot.  Apparently, he's a respected guy within the stand up community.  Since I listen to these people a great deal and feel like I've come to know them, their respect of him carries weight with me. (I realize they don't know me, don't want to know me and are basically contemptuous of reviews and critiques.)   Occasionally somebody would mention Proops and speak well of him.  Then I started finding podcasts with him as a featured guest or one of several appearing onstage, etc.  It was clear from early on that he is considerably funnier and more culturally plugged in than censored network television could ever show.  His comedy monologue is subversive from time to time, left leaning most of the time and graduate level cultural studies all of the time.  It is probably a challenge that most networks don't feel the average viewer is up to.  Also, though he can, he doesn't usually work clean.  He isn't dropping F bombs all the time but he's not shy about it either though he is more opften likely to say "kittens".  GP is acutely aware of funny at a skilled master practitioner's level and isn't going to ruin a good bit with the wrong words; dirty or otherwise. 
So anyway, he's funny.  Lotsa funny.  All kinds of funny.  Yeah, he seems a little affected, fastidious, aloof and above it all.  Add horn-rimmed glasses, "interesting" hair, a nasally, slightly effeminate Noel Coward tone and Buddy Holly suits with Beatles boots.  It's a kind of retro metro feel.  For a long while I just figured he was gay.  I assume he gets that a lot.
But really, get past that. He's not gay and it matters not the least.  I mention it only because it is part of the definition of features and bearing,... how one is received, perceived. whatever.  I couldn't freekin care less who he loves or how often but I'm describing him and that's part of the description.

Moving on,  A couple of months ago, Greg Proops began recording a weekly (though it wasn't exactly weekly at first) monologue in front of paying guests and then posting it on iTunes as "The Smartest Man in the World" or the Proopcast from Bar Lubich in West Hollywood. Greg displays an intellectualism with which lesser comics might alienate the audience but he is able to create a suave and sophisticated jocularity.  Even when it seems like he might have lost the crowd momentarily as they parse the previous parcel, he pushes onward, sometimes slogging, chest deep in a swamp of names, dates and other significata until magically, he ends up some place meaningful (and occasionally funny) as though he had intended it all along. 

I'm convinced that most times he's just relying on his innate ability to string words together rather than any type of actual planning.  When he arrives at some philosophical point or a punchline (or both), he may be as surprised as anybody else.  I'm pretty sure that the joke has just expressed itself to him mere fractions of a second ahead of when he's going to reveal it to us.

On a recent show, when discussing a new book available about Cleopatra, Proops, in a 3 or 4 minute stretch made historical and literary references that jumped between centuries, drew cultural significance about people then and now, built laughs out of thin air, and intelligently reviewed a book currently topping the NYT-BSL.  When the crowd got lost in the middle, he brought them back.  When they decided they might not think of it as funnily as he did, he nicely badgered them into getting back on the boat with him and explained how the rest of the ride would go.  To the audience's credit, after they came back in, they stuck with him until the end.

The Smartest Man in the World Podcast with Greg Proops is not for everybody.  You have to listen.  You have to follow and you have to be able to connect cultural references from more than just your own culture.  On the plus side, he is a likable guy who seems honest and reasonable in his mostly left oriented politics.  He is also just about as smart as he says he is (though not really the smartest man in the world) and thoroughly engaging.  I listen to his show in rapt attention as I try to follow his "through line" like one of those visual acuity tests you have to take to work for the phone company.

My rating scale

Is this podcast entertaining? - very much so, even if a little challenging
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – guaranteed yes
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Quite a lot and without reservation

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Top 10 Best Guests to Have on a Comedy Podcast

In no particular order here are the ten best guests I've heard on comedy or interview comedy podcasts ever and the guests I would do anything to get on my show if I had one. All of them have at least B list or above notoriety and each and every one of them will put your podcast on the top of the download chart. If you line up all ten of these in successive weeks, you may have to start hiring help just to deal with the clamour of advertisers wanting a piece of your time (literally). Remember, podcast community, this is just guests. I'm not saying anything about regular cast members on shows. That will come later when we have more regular cast members on shows (or at least more regular cast members on shows other than just David Feldman's Comedy Podcast (a very good show with a very good regular cast)).

 Adam Savage
Yeah, the mythbuster guy with the red (partially singed off) hair. This dude is funny. He's got a thousand stories. He's ratings gold and he will work hard to make the podcast great. Something that not all comics or celebs can or will do is work with the host. Most of the people on this list not only do it, they excel at working with the host, they go out of their way to help out. They (these top 10) are, as Adam is, gifted intellectually. They may argue that they are not (false modesty) but they, to a person, are razor sharp and lightning fast. They (and again I mean this of Adam and the others) appear to read the other people on stage with them very well. They pick up what's going on and immediately get on the same page. They also, and this is especially true of Adam Savage, can speak extemporaneously and at length on many subjects, make it funny, interesting and fill up some time. Adam Savage is a great "get".

Thomas Lennon
Best known as Lt. Dangle on Reno 9-1-1 (try not to call it Reno 9-11 in front of him), Lennon, has written and performed nearly everywhere, for nearly everybody and every studio. (Yeah, I'm exaggerating, but the guy has done shit tons of stuff). This is another guy that gets your premise, even if you just made it up, and can run with you at top speed to the end of the bit even if neither of you knows where it's going and he will make it funny. Lennon pops up on a number of podcast on the circuit in the same way that folks with movies coming out hit the talk show circuit. Lennon is comedically generous and will go to whatever extreme is necessary to help you flesh out your impromptu bit, supplying either new ideas to it or riding with you on yours. He seems fun to work with and from what I've heard on podcasts and read, he's willing to show up with not much warning. A guy who is this good and will bend a schedule to help you out is priceless.

Doug Benson
Some of the people on this list have podcasts of their own but that doesn't mean they can't guest somewhere else, now does it? Doug host the podcast fav "Doug Loves Movies" (reviewed in this bog previously) and is known as this generations pot comic by some. He's really more than that. He's funny, he's quick witted (even stoned) and he brings his A game to the mic every time. Also, Doug works all the time. He does road gigs several days a week. He does his own podcast at least once a week (unless he needs to can one for upcoming schedule conflicts. He does other podcasts fairly regularly. He does the Benson Interruption (a show that has been picked up by Comedy Central for sometime later this year) and he does TV and movies. If he didn't smoke as much pot as he does, it is entirely likely that Benson would just fill every spot at every Laugh Factory, Yuk Yuks and Comedy Store. But he's a great guest because he brings the funny. When he's not being funny he's reasonable and articulate and most of all, he knows what damage a bad guest can do and he'd never do that to you.

Jon Hamm
Yep, that Jon Hamm. Madmen Jon Hamm. Who new he was funny? Well, apparently everybody in the stand-up union because they all seemed to know him and no one was surprised when he started popping up on podcasts and killing . When I say killing I don't mean outright laugh your ass off and choke on your vomit killing but great "guest" killing. Guest killing is supportive, brings ratings, is entertaining, engaging, pleasant, personable, has stories worth telling.  Also, if you do a live podcast in front of people, you could do worse than to have one of the best looking men in Hollywood on your show. He's a veteran of many media; stage, Silver screen, small screen, computer screen, improve, etc. He can handle himself and he can lend a hand. He's nearly egoless and still thinks of himself as trying to make it so there isn't a lot you could throw at him that he wouldn't do because he had to protect his image.

Paul F. Tompkins
PFT is everybody's go to guest in the podiverse. He will show up early and stay late, help write the bits and probably take tickets at the door. Tompkins has been quietly building his following through electronic media for the better part of the last 20 years (he is often credited with being the first to use Twitter to fill a comedy club and his on line presence has consistently been, since before everybody else was doing it, the place to find him, his gigs and his peeps gigs. His community circle includes pretty much everybody in the business. He can open, he can middle and he can headline and I suspect that if you need him to deal with the lighting guy he can do that too. He recently started his own podcast (which is strange considering he's been first in so many other things) but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a regular on the podcast wheel. He would be, in 1970's terms, the center square on Hollywood Squares. He's always there, he's always plugged in and ready to go and he's always a good guest,.. count on it.

Craig Ferguson
Let me preface by saying I dig Craig Ferguson. I like his style, his attitude (or lack of an "attitude"), and I get his funny. He's also, such a big name now that getting him on your show puts you on the map is one move. If you can hang with him, you're pretty good. If you can't keep up, he'll help you and slow down. He won't step on your lines or bust your joke but that's to be expected from a pro. Better than all the other reasons, Ferguson is wild, a little crazy, a lot funny and just exactly the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with (if he still drank). Since he's a TV host, he can feel your pain as the host of your own podcast and he will bail you out of jail if you talk yourself into it. @Craigyferg, his twitter name, isn't cowed by taboo, can drop an F bomb with the best of them, but doesn't rely on foul language when funny ain't happening.  You want this guy on your podcast. You need this guy on your podcast.

Greg Proops
Universally recognized as the King of improv, Proops has headlined both the British and American versions of Whose Line is it Anyway, and worked in every improv club and with every improv troop in this country, most in Canada and many in England. You will not put him in a position where he can't box his way out of it and make it humorous. Some of the best comics are very smart and the best of the best improv folks have encyclopedic knowledge from which to draw and they do so with such speed that, regardless of funny, it is amazing to see in process. Good news for your fledgling podcast. If you get Proops, you'll be able to get most of the rest of the folks on this list simply because you can say, "Proops was on last week and he loved it, had a great time and the audience loved him."

Kevin Smith
Kevin has his own podcast. In fact, as of this writing, Kevin has his own near network. He's spun off 5 or 6 podcasts from Smodcast, including Tell'em Steve-Dave, Jay and Silent Bob get Old, Blow Hard with Malcolm Ingram, Hollywood Babble-On, Highlands: a Peep Hold History and God only knows what. There's also a whole line of online animations of smodcast snippets put to flash animation. In his spare time Kevin writes and directs movies, goes mobile with the smodcasts and appears on other people's podcasts.  Did I mention that he owns and runs his own theater (the SmodCastle) in (or near) Los Angeles. If anybody knows how to be on a podcast, it's Kev. The only one of his pods that hasn't been number one on iTunes is peephole and it got close. Though Smodcast proper was a little funnier before Kev started smoking so much dope, it is still 10 times more interesting than your average podcast.  All of the outside podcasts he appears on are all better for his being there. He will work hard to make it move and even if the funny is scatological, it is still funny.

Tom Arnold
Some people roll their eyes and moan when you mention Tom Arnold. They have an idea in their heads already about what his story is, what his style is, what, in fact, he is. (Kinda how I react to Todd Glass) But they're wrong. Here's how I know; Everybody would love to book Tom for their podcast and he's a go to guy on TV talk shows when other folks don't or won't show up. If that many people want him, book him and or try to book him, he's got something going on. Tom Arnold will quite literally give himself a heart attack trying to make his segment on your show fun, fast, entertaining and human. And, contrary to what somebody else might have told you, he doesn't do it at anybody else's expense. I've still never heard him say anything about his former wife Rosanne Barr that was negative that didn't also come with an explanation and a bag full of caveats that made her actions, words or position seem absolutely reasonable in the situation. Tom is an every man except he's funny. He's the guy you invite to the BBQ because it just wouldn't be as much fun without him. He might spill some shit, it might get noisy or messy from time to time and he might even take over your duties as the burger flipper, but you will have a good time and that,... is a great guest.

Kevin Pollak
Another guy with his own podcast and spinnoffs but who has made the rounds of the podcast circuit, Kevin Pollak is a seasoned pro stand up, actor, writer and director. He's "A" list and he's as deep as he is funny. As a bonus, if things start slowing down, he knows every old joke in the book and does flat out the best voice impressions in the business. (I want to see him in a Walken-off with Jay Mohr and Christopher Walken). If he's on your show, you won't have any dead air.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Podiwan Review 16 - David Feldman's Comedy Podcast

On the surface of things, this article is the review of David Feldman's Comedy Podcast, but for this particular review I'm going to vary the routine a bit by also revisiting an artist that I said not such great things about previously.  And here's why.

I was at the airport picking up a friend the other day and while I waited I was listening to David Feldman's Comedy Podcast.  I was listening to the 7/13 episode titled Comedia Del'Farte.  It was good, not the best he's done but pretty much OK and his cast of supporting funny people always make the show better than the sum of its parts... more than just a stand up podcast.  I dig their effort and the "Let's Put on a Show!" style of performance and the "let's smear boogers on the Mona Lisa" mentality.  I have a couple favorite episodes and I'll get to them in a few minutes.

Anyway, Del'Farte ran its course and since I have several Feldmans in the queue, the next one started:  the 7/12 episode with Todd Glass.  Many of you will recognize that I didn't review Todd favorably the one and only time I included him in this blog.  That was when I reviewed Jimmy Dore's show "Comedy and Everything Else".   I mostly liked Jimmy's show but I didn't dig Todd.  In fact, if you read that review, you'll kinda see that I never really have dug Todd.  I felt like Todd was a conversational bully using noise, bluster, machine gun chatter and backhanded slights to control every single moment of any show that involved him.  It was a giant "look at me" fit in the middle of somebody else's birthday party like you might expect to see in a 12- or 13-year-old ADD who skipped the Ritalin for a few days.  Granted, that last bit, or the need to exhibit that particular part of their inner beast, describes 95% of all stand ups.  But Todd just gets under my skin in a way that no other comic seems to.  Worse than that, he breaks the cardinal rule of comedy. He isn't funny.  Or at the very least, not very often.

You can pretty much do anything you want as a stand up.  You can be a racist dwarf-tossing transgender Nazi who likes to mow down bunny heads using an old John Deere 325 riding mower with a satanic goat skull as a hood ornament... as long as it's funny.
Everything else is crap.

So, I'm at the airport, waiting for my friend at the wrong baggage carousel because he's coming in from Houston instead of his usual Chicago, and David Feldman introduces Todd Glass.

I admit it.  I rolled my eyes a little and sighed just a little out of reflex.  I'm human,  I have a preconceived notion of what I can expect from Todd Glass.  I understand that a lot of people find him funny, but for me, Todd pushes all the wrong buttons. And yeah, that feeling probably affects the way I perceive his humor.  I come to the table with an idea that I don't like broccoli.  It doesn't matter that somebody poured cheese over it or dipped it in ranch dressing or gold or the filtered pee of 15 virgins, I'm not gonna like it and I know that before I taste it and even if it is well done by everybody else's standard, I'm still going to say no thanks. 

So yeah, I feel this way.  I hate like hell that I have prejudices that color my opinions, but I do.  I'm human, shoot me.

The show starts, Feldman does his written material.  There's some yuks and twitters in the crowds.  He introduces the folks who are normally there and then he brings on Glass.  And for the next 10 minutes, Glass steps on every joke anybody else tries to make.  He verbally bullied his way into nearly every second of the segment and he essentially hijacked the show.  I should mention here that Feldman's show is mostly scripted like an old time radio show but there are times when they depart from that,... (those times seems like they are when Feldman and company know that a guest won't or can't follow the script.)  At those times they just try to have a conversation.  With Glass, good luck having a conversation.  It's just him, rambling, throwing jokes that don't work, explaining why we're not smart enough to get the jokes and how nobody understands lighting in restaurants but him. (yes, lighting.  It seems to be a recurring theme with Glass.)

I felt bad the first time I said that Todd Glass rubs me the wrong way.  Maybe I was being unfair saying that he's irritating, pompous, overbearing and just flat out unfunny.  But after listening to him screw up 10 minutes of somebody else's podcast, I think I was right.  Todd Glass rubs me the wrong way.  He's pompous, overbearing and just flat out unfunny.  I've learned my lesson.  If I don't want to come away from a podcast grinding my molars and thinking up new ways to say I don't enjoy Todd Glass as an entertainer I should avoid listening to anything with his name in the title or credits.

OK, there.  Done.  I've said all I will say about Todd Glass and I'm hopeful that I've actually typed the name Todd Glass for the last time.  Now I'd like to tell you about David Feldman's Comedy Podcast and my favorite one or two episodes.

First, the show is an ensemble.  Feldman is the lead; it's his name on the marquee, but David is helped quite a lot by his merrymaking minions, Alan Chapman (musical director and comedy songwriter/singer), Eddie Pepitone (sidekick/flunky/resident punching bag), Stefanae (yes, stef uh nay) Zamarano and Jim Earl.  Others who also contribute regularly (as part of the Clutter Family) are Rick Overton, Jimmy Dore, Jane Edith Wilson and Ron Babcock.  Each week, one or two guests add their voices to the scripted portion of the show as well as a possible interview segment.

As far as the written part of the show goes (and this is for both the cold open by Feldman and the scripted multi-character segment for the cast) the jokes contained therein aren't usually the kind that if you read them on paper you'd laugh out loud.  You might say to yourself, "That's funny."  You might smile a bit or let out a small heh heh.  What makes this show laugh-out-loud funny for me, and what brings me back every week, isn't the "ripped from the very old headlines" stories that are stuffed to overflowing with double entendres and homocentric potty humor.  It's the voices.  The often deadpan sound of a cold reading from the guests who laugh in their lines, the voice of reason and calm that comes from Feldman reading meta jokes he isn't completely convinced about, the whiny snagglepuss of Alan Chapman as David's "wife" in their crossover (home life/podlife) relationship and finally, and most importantly, the completely manic histrionics of Eddie Pepitone.

Ah, Pepitone.  In this show, used in this way, he is genius.  I'm convinced (but just barely) that he should not carry his own show.  30 minutes of straight Eddie would border on too much Eddie,  but in this show, he is the topping that turns soft serve into a sundae.  Without Eddie, you've got ice cream.  Everybody likes ice cream, but I really love a good sundae.

My two favorite shows so far were almost 100% scripted plays.  The first was when guest Patton Oswalt appeared.  The show was a send-up of 70's sitcoms.  The gag was that Patton, as a kid, had starred in a show called "Patton Pending".  This show was "blow Pepsi out your nose" funny in multiple places and Peppitone played the part of a wizened, forest-dwelling uncle dispensing advice and odd suggestions to the young Patton ( but I swear that for at least a week I thought the part had been played by Richard Kind).  I nearly peed my pants at one point and I hadn't done that since I saw the mime telling the eponymous joke in Paul Provenza's movie "The Aristocrats" start to work over the small imaginary dog in the act.

My second most fav was the Changeling episode with Paul Provenza as the Chief of Police.  Rather than a child being abducted, it was Eddie the sidekick.  The super effective, talented and well loved replacement Eddie (following the plot of the movie) was nearly as funny as the real  moronic, oafish and odorous Eddie. It wasn't pee-my-pants funny, but it was well-written, mostly well-performed and had those moments during the play when the actors crack each other up that I've always thought allows the audience into the joke as conspirators rather than as mere spectators and makes the entire experience more than just watching a funny skit.

I wish more podcasts were like David Feldman's Comedy podcast.  I think episodic, podcast teleplays (podiplays? pladipods?)  are liked by people who look for podcasts to listen to.  Such shows could potentially do that thing that advertisers sooooo slobber for, namely, bring receptive listeners back to the same place over and over again and make them great targets for commercials.  The first show that I want that to happen for: "Patton Pending".  I know it's a send up "one-off" show, but I want to hear as many episodes of that show as they can write.  But next time I'll pee before I listen.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes, oh yes
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – I do every week
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – Without reservation

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Podiwan Review 15 - Comedy Film Nerds

The Comedy Film Nerds are Graham Elwood (@grahamelwood) and Chris Mancini (@myopicprod).  They're comics and filmmakers and they do a podcast that involves both of those things.  Graham and Chris invite a (usually) well known comedian or new media personality and then they discuss movies (new and old), DVD releases, trailers, movie posters and pretty much all things movie.  Since the podcast runs about an hour, they also horse around a little and talk about friends, other stand ups, places they've worked and the state of comedy in general.  Though they aren't always funny (who among us is) they are generally good tempered, quick witted and willing to participate in bad puns, anecdotal meanderings and the occasional sidebar that could take a while to know if it will pay off or not.

There are only about 16 or 17 shows available for download at present so the show is basically new.  Based on that newness and without checking dates (or generally doing some homework) I'd have to say that this show is very much like Jordan, Jesse, GO! coming out of Canada.  JJG has over a hundred shows and Comedy Film Nerds is a near copy except that they discuss movies as a focus and JJG does so only occasionally.  Both shows are hosted by two stand up comics.  Both shows have guests from the stand up community.  Both shows feel very much the same in their conversational style (though you have to get used to the "ahboots" with JJG).  The biggest difference other than the focus is that Comedy Film Nerds is funnier and more entertaining.  I've laughed while listening to CFN but I have not done that with JJG.  And without making this review too much about Jordan, Jesse, GO! (too late) I would say that even if JJG isn't particularly bad, it isn't particularly good either. It's listenable and mild but not really engrossing.  You can listen to it on a drive and it won't draw too much of your attention away from driving, but it isn't so boring that you fall asleep and kill a family on vacation unlucky enough to be in oncoming traffic.

Back to Comedy Film Nerds.  OK, usually the best parts about most comedy podcasts are the guests. This is especially true of CFN.  Though Graham is consistently entertaining and funny, he's better with a funny guest to bounce with.  The show has hosted a fair number of big names in it's short run including; Paul F Tomkins, Doug Benson, Mike Schmidt, Chris Hardwick, David Feldman and Jimmy Dore.  That's a pretty nice list of friends and an impressive list of guests.

While reviewing movies, trailers, directors, and whatever else is connected to moviedom, they recognize no sacred cows which is a little strange given that they are also acclaimed film makers (Oscar nominated I believe as well as Smithsonian recognized).  You'd think that if they had hopes of getting something into production any time soon, they might be a bit more politic about the things they say, but, refreshingly, they are not. Either they don't care who hears it, or they're unaware of how many people DO hear it.  CFN has been, since its first episode, in the top downloads list on iTunes for comedy podcasts.  Some of that is due to the dismal pickings for new comedy podcasts, but also certainly, some of it is due to the show being entertaining.

I only have a couple of gripes about the show at this point in their development.  The first gripe is that it took them so long to figure out that they needed to have a guest.  Without a guest, they are just exactly as boring as Jordan, Jesse, GO! With a guest,.. funny.  Without,.. boring.  With, Funny.  That's a lesson to everybody else.  Know it now so you don't have to stumble on it later. 

But they know it now so let's judge them now.

First gripe and this is admittedly picayune; in every show so far there have been conversational strings or moments that just drag on and on  and on and on before they find a way out.  I feel their pain and understand that sometimes it is hard to recover from a dead end.  I would only suggest that they see it sooner and bail rather than sticking with it until the bitter end we all see coming.  Second gripe; the sound quality was a little poor until they just recently got a sound board  and some better mics in the "world headquarters and garage" studio.  If I was going to do a podcast with more than one person speaking, the first thing I might consider after I found a person to the be the "other", a guest for us to talk to and a place for us to do that, might be a decent sound recording set up including multiple mics, a multichannel board and a way to keep the outside noises,... outside.  Other than that, I have no complaints.  It ain't the funniest thing on pod, but it is worth listening to.  And the line up of guests puts it on my list of weekly "listen-tos".

My Rating Scale
Was I Entertained? Yes, usually.
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? Yes, probably.
Will I recommend this podcast to a friend? Yes, most likely.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Podiwan Review 14 - Never Not Funny (Pardcast)

Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo is, as the title suggests, never not funny, or at least not very often not funny.  Jimmy's podcast has been called the holy grail of podcasts and essential listening for podcasters and civilians alike.  Without offending our brothers in the middle east, Jimmy's show is the Mecca that stand-ups turn to face everyday.

Hmmm,. too much hyperbole? 
OK, so the show isn't going to cure cancer or create world peace.  I don't even think it's the best podcast on the net (though many other people do), but I do like it and here's why.

Jimmy is funny. Usually
Jimmy has great guests who trust and respect him. Mostly
There is such a back log of shows to listen to that you could listen for a long time without running out. Definitely

Here's what I don't like.
If you want to hear the whole show, you have to pay actual money. I know,.. it sucks.  I'm poor and I don't pay for podcasts. I'm just not going to do it. Even if I had money, just on principal I'm not going to pay for pod. And yes, I know that since I only get to hear 24 of the 90 minutes the show usually lasts that I'm missing a lot of show.  Does Jimmy have a right to try and make a living?  Yes.  Does he have a right to monetize his show the way he wants to? Yes.  Does this model suck? Yes. He's right and it sucks.  Both are true.

Hey, Jimmy!  Find a fucking sponsor or twelve.  Don't tell me you can't find somebody to foot the bill for the show because you want to be offensive or use colorful language.  SModcast is sponsored by Fleshlight for god's sake.  Mike Schmidt has some programmer in the UK sponsoring segments of his show and nobody says fuck more than Mike (somebody call Guinness and we'll check).  Enough people listen to Never Not Funny (NNF) that you can support ads.  If Howard Stern taught us anything, he taught us that you cannot offend advertisers.  You mention their names and they get business.  Even if you say shitty things about them.  Even if you mention horrible stuff before and after their ads.  NNF reaches a lot of people.  You can do ads.  Stop with the fucking memberships for listening to the whole show.

Other than that, maybe this show is the holy grail of podcasts.  Every stand-up in the business does this show.  Most people who listen to comedy podcasts listen to Never Not Funny and Pardo is generally regarded as one of the funniest hosts and quickest wits behind a mic. The show is considered a "Must-Listen" on every list of the best podcasts (some people may be copying the lists instead of doing the work, but...)

The Jimmy Pardo style of interview isn't groundbreaking.  It's just comics talking.  Jimmy asks some set up questions but mostly they talk. And yes, Jimmy can talk too much.  It sort of goes with the territory.  He wouldn't be a stand up if he didn't like to talk and tell jokes.  He doesn't often step on his guests but when he does I have felt the urge to reach through my ear buds and put my hand over his mouth until the guest has finished a complete sentence.  Just one complete sentence would be enough.  But Pardo's mind moves at a higher pace than many so I can see that he sees the end of the statement coming and just jumps to it rather than wait the 2 or 3 seconds it'll take to get there naturally.  I do it too. I understand it. But that doesn't make it easier to sit for, but sitting for it is easier than waiting for a slow mouthed guest to finish (I'd step on them, too). In the end, it's a matter of style and that's a style I can live with because I do, every day.

My rating scale

Is this podcast entertaining? - Yes
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – As soon as I run out of Nerdist and the Bugle
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – I have and I will

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Podiwan Review 13 - Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast

I've been putting this one off for a while now. There are several reason for it like; I blew out my knee and I wasn't feeling like writing a review, or I keep looking for new podcasts that I like and end up spending a lot of time going back to old fav's because I'm not liking many lately, but most of all, I didn't want to judge Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast too soon or too harshly.  Like another review I posted recently, I wanted to like Bill's podcast because I've liked his stand up act.  Mostly he's funny.  Usually, he's acerbic.  And absolutely always, he's a pissy Irish guy from Boston or Philly or some such place with a fuck load of drunk Irish guys picking fights with non Irish types and generally pissing on stuff because somebody else likes it.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind that part of it.  The truth is that sometimes I like that, ..sometimes.  I'm not Irish (much), but I am pissy most of the time and I like to see others with my affliction just so I don't feel so alone on the planet.

But his podcast is not his stand up and I'm not reviewing stand up.

Bill does his podcast, as the title suggests, Monday morning.  Since he's a comic, his weekends are filled with stage appearances around the country doing an act that he admits is filthy and can run towards mean.  Most of us know what Monday morning feels like and I assume that it's worse for a guy who works late nights in places filled with drinks, drunks, smoke and assholes.  On Monday morning, he's back at home and he does the podcast with every bit of that weekend effecting his mood and demeanor. 

The "studio" for his recording is his apartment and I assume that since he occasionally mentions that he's walking around that he's just plugging a wireless head set mic combo into a computer and recording like that.  That's as tech as it gets.  The sound quality is mostly OK though sometimes the levels are off but this is the wild west in podcast years and though some may have big fancy studios, most have a room, a mic and a computer,... so Bill is right on par.

Bill's show is a one man dialog.  Just him, no help, no guests, no regulars, no callers. Sometimes its a rant.  Sometimes its a diatribe and sometimes, sadly, it is simply a waste of time.  By Bill's own reckoning, some shows are shit and he's fighting internally with whether or not to keep it or erase it and start over.  I listened to 5 shows (picked randomly from the list available on iTunes) and in two of those shows Bill tells the listener several times how sucky the show is and how much he wants to start over and how many times he already has.  In a third show that he didn't like he kept saying how tired he was  and used the shortage of sleep as an excuse for why he thought the show was so bad.  Hint: If you want people to like something, don't tell them how bad it is.  Tell'em you're on fire and this is the greatest shit since shit started coming in brown tube shapes.

Thing is, though, it wasn't as bad as he kept saying it was, except for the fact that he kept saying it. It wasn't good, but it wasn't the horrendous crapfest that he kept telling me it was.  The complaint had that irritating whininess that you sometimes hear from somebody who's good at art saying to anybody who is in the room how they're no good at art and it sucks and they don't really like it and waa waa waa and,... you know what?  I don't give a fuck.  If you don't like it, don't show anybody. If you show it, accept that it might die on it's own but it could be great.  So Bill, if you don't like the podcast, erase it or archive it for later so you can use it for ideas or inspiration or whatever, but really, stop the fucking complaining about how bad the podcast is.  Let the listeners judge it on their own.  As a listener, I judge that that is the worst part of your podcast.

Most of the other shows I listen to and review are group efforts or buddy shows.  Some have guests, some have games, etc.  The only other one man show I've listened to enough to review is Mike Schmidt's 40 Year Old Boy podcast.  They're a little the same thing but mostly not.  Mike's is a stream of consciousness monologue with the kind of hyper enthusiasm that borders on mania and Bill's is a guy talking to a headset while his energy is low on the Monday after a weekend of shows.  Mike's is self loathing humor (emphasis on humor) and Bill's is self aggrandizing venting with not much in the way of humor (considering that he's a comic).  Mike will tell a story including every single painful detail in tangents and asides while maintaining the through line of the story and I listen intently to every syllable with interest and laughter.  Bill tells a bitch fest about another comic that pisses him off for not following the unwritten rules of stand up or some guy carrying a purse (man bag) and getting made fun of by large drunk Irish pricks who might fight at any moment (but don't) and I find it hard to care because the more I listen, the more I think of Bill as a racist, homophobic, misogynist who I would find it difficult to stand and converse with for more than a few minutes without just telling him to fuck off. (for the record, I'm white, straight and married with kids).

In the second half of each podcast, Bill answers viewer email and gives advice.  On five shows out of five, the letters were from dicks asking dicky things in dicky ways and Bill's advice was perfectly suited to that audience, that level a maturity and that point of evolution.  In real life, I avoid people like this because it's just too hard to keep from saying how disappointing they are as humans.  This is the group that Bill appeals to in the podcast.  I don't know Bill so this is just a guess based only on listening to 5 recordings of him talking to a mic on Monday morning, but I'd say his demographic is spot on.

Of course, as I said earlier, it isn't all bad, but even the stuff that wasn't bad, wasn't particularly good.  That isn't reason enough to listen when there are other choices  (even limited choice is choice) available.  If you're really into Bill Burr, there's only one Bill Burr podcast on Monday Morning and you can get it at iTunes or Bill's website.  However, if you have a standard that includes being genuinely enthusiastic about listening to the show then this probably isn't the weekly feed for you.

  Usually, when asked for advice about what to do with a life, a wizened elder says follow your passion.  It's why writers write, singers sing and artists art.  They're driven to it.  They would do it even if they weren't getting paid.  Comics are the same way. They need to get up on stage and do that thing called stand up.  It's cathartic.  It's standing in the glow of love. It's adulation and high wire walking rolled into one.  It's a lot of things and different to all, but they all need to do it.  I don't think Bill needs to do the podcast in the same way that he needs to do comedy or in the way that the Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) needs to do his Nerdist podcast or @KevinPollak needs to do his chat show.  These guys, and others like them, are driven to do it. They need it and even when it isn't going well, they love it, try to save it, fix it, turn it around and make it entertaining. They fight for it and they never tell me how much it sucks.  I'm not really sure why Bill does the podcast.  I don't think he enjoys it.  It doesn't seem like he's having fun or that he really has stuff he needs to say to listeners, issues that need expressing, open wounds that need to be cleaned.  In fact, I get the feeling that when he gets up on Monday morning, there's a voice in his brain saying, "Crap.  I have to do the fucking podcast again."

So Bill, I'm letting you off the hook.  You don't have to do it if you dont' want to.  This is America and everybody has the right to not do a podcast if that's how they feel.

My Rating Scale
Was I Entertained? mostly not
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? no, not really
Will I recommend this podcast to a friend? only if I bump into a person in that demo.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Podiwan Review 12 - Adam Carolla Podcast

The podcast universe was made for Adam Carolla.  When CBS let him go he hit the ground running and hasn't looked back.  My numbers may be a little off but as I heard it, the first three days of his podcast had 100,000 - 250,000 and 500,000 downloads respectively.  I don't know what his numbers are day to day but let's say he competes with networks and gets an audience share that would generate enormous advertising dollars in any major US market.

OK, so Carolla is big time radio talk come to pod.  He was personally anointed by Howard Stern hissef as the heir to the throne when Stern headed to Sirius. He gets whoever he wants and says whatever he wants on his show, in his studio, which is in his world.  Being a force of nature, he's a dominating force in any conversation. He's also typically funny (though not funnier than his stand up guests) and he has an opinion about everything.  I know that  last one sounds like I'm saying something bad about him but I'm not.  The fact is, everybody has opinions about everything.  It's just that most people don't express every opinion without regard to collateral damage.  Most of us can't do that because collateral damage would blow back on us.  You can't scare Adam with that because he's pretty genuine when he says he couldn't give a rat's ass.  He has a trade.  He was in construction once.  He can fucking do it again.  So if the most you've got to hang over his head is that he may have to actually work again for a living, you got nothing.

So what about podcast?
OK, it's a lot like Stern's old show, Stern's new show and Carolla's old show on CBS.  You get a lot in the way of opinion, ranting, pontification and story telling.  I like the story telling and the opinionifying, and I understand the pontification as I'm prone to that as well.  But unlike Stern's rants, Carolla's rants are the kind that if I was in the room, I'd actually be afraid of some shit hitting the fan.  He's a big guy (yeah, I know, Stern is tall, but he doesn't come off as "Big") and he has some crazy in him.  I'm 6'2" and go 235.  I can make with the loudness and the posturing that makes people cringe and find a place to hide and I know how easy it is to go from feigned anger as a comedic device to full on wide eyed, spit spraying crazy in the blink of an eye (a crazy eye).  Apparently, so does Adam.  During one of the shows I listened to recently, Adam  was happily tooling along in a low key rant about the Santa Barbara Parking Police (meter maids) and how one particular meter maid interrupted a short segment on KTLA's local news and started writing tickets for about 10 cars.  OK, it was clearly a stupid thing for the lady to be doing but the more Adam went up the food chain on this situation the louder he got until as he's short stroking the process for getting a ticket dismissed, how much it cost, how long it takes and how nobody is every going to do that so they just pay the fucking ticket and that's how Santa Barbara gets you.  At this point, Carolla is foaming at the mouth and screaming for this woman to be crucified.  He may actually be fomenting a crime if one of his listeners decides to "rid me of this turbulent priest".  (Too literal?  OK. Carolla says, not actually meaning it, that somebody should do such and such about this woman and somebody, a listener, a fan, thinking Carolla's serious and will really appreciate and reward such a thing, does thus and so to the meter maid.)

So that's my only knock on Carolla; the ranting.  I'm not fond of it in any radio or podcast when it turns to the scary anger type of thing. Going on a tear is good radio.  Drilling home a point like Lewis Black is funny, but crazy is just scary and it usually makes people step back.  The air waves and the Internet streams have enough of that from the fundamental righties and lefties.  For folks in the middle, which is mostly where Adam seems to be, we don't need so much vitriol to make the point of pointless frustration and stupidity in our social machinery.  Luckily, it is a place not often visited by Carolla.

Adam is a good interviewer in that it doesn't really seem like an interview so much as a conversation.  I've said this before and it seems to be a consistant theme with me.  I'm not fond of "interviews" since anymore they seem to be soooo prepared and predictable.  The big name shows use a formula that works for the networks because it delivers nice little bit sized chunks of TV that can be book ended with commercials.  The segment producers asks the guests before the show what they want to talk about and the host works from that list. That way, the guest has prepared stuff to talk about already vetted and ready to go.  It's canned, it's boring and we've all heard it enough time to feel it coming from a mile off.  Then we tune out and go to a far away place in our thoughts.  Which is kinda not the point.

So it's refreshing that Adam doesn't do that.  I don't know if that was a conscious decision or if, since he'd really rather not do the prep work, Adam just wings it.  Either way, it's all same same for me.  At least we don't get some SNL cast off saying, "So, what's this I hear about you and the Santa Barbara Police Department?.." setting up a story for the guest to do in 3 minutes and then break for a commercial.

As far as guests go, every actor with a SAG card or stand up who has done a 30 minute set at the Laugh Factory or musician who's band has sold a million copies of something has been on the couch with Adam.  I'm sure he has a list of "gets" that he'd like to fill and hasn't yet, but seriously, if you can think of their name and they do radio chat type shows, he's probably had them on.  Shows range a bit, time wise, but usually run about 90 minutes and he does 4 or 5 shows a week. Some of the podcasts available on iTunes are just the guest segments of some shows so they are obviously shorter.  Also, there are times when Adam and crew aren't there and a friend sits in.  Those days are usually treats for the listener.  These folks are doing Adam's show they're not Adam Carolla so I'm not reviewing them. (but, just so you know, my favorite was Larry Miller.  Kevin Nealon was a close second.)

The regulars on the show and in the studio are; long time friend and partner in crime Bryan Bishop and, the one time host of "While You Were Out", Teresa Strasser.  Bishop is a capable side kick and foil for when guests are either late or missing or Adam just wants to hang for a while.  Strasser, as the news girl, provides conversational fodder ripped from today's headlines.  Both Bryan and Teresa are there to help fill up the air; they do a fine job of it and complement Adam's style.  But really, without Carolla, nobody would be listening these cometent but average two people.  I'm sure they're nice people but really, they just carry the water while Adam carries the show.

My Rating Scale
Was I Entertained? Yes, most of the time
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? Yes, I listen to several shows a week
Will I recommend this podcast to a friend? I have and I will