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