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.