Entries in totally laime (18)

Monday
Aug062012

Plop of The Week: You Made It Weird #70

Pete Holmes is getting dangerously close to making it really hard for people to not know him. You know, that perverbial random stranger on the street kind of knowing. And it's going to be fun, a little weird but a lot of fun. Holmes continues to accel at stand-up and all things comedy, including his regular intimate and thoroughly engaging podcast offering, You Made It Weird. Picking an episode with another fellow comedic peer seemed like the right thing to do. Check-out my excerpt from last week's Splitsider "Week In Comedy Podcasts" round-up:

Pete Holmes is on a roll lately with all things comedy: a possible late night TV show in the works, an ascending stand-up career and a soon-to-be podcast institution. You Made It Weird definitely skews into heavy comedy shop talk but it’s usually that good ol’ fashioned soul searching kind. The nitty gritty, the bits and pieces, the stuff that makes anyone give a crap anytime the performer/audience dance is underway. Holmes’ inquisitive nature and honesty really lays the groundwork for his guests to quickly join in on the sharing-is-caring fun. Fellow comedian and off-the-cuff master, Rory Scovel, pushes the limits even in Holmes’ safe place. Scovel starts off messing with Holmes by bringing a guest to the podcast recording, which leads to a fun more challenging back-and-forth for the host. Eventually, Holmes manages to dig into Scovel’s inspired and often free form approach to performing. Beyond his normal riffing hijinks, Scovel’s insightful about his own helter-skelter performing, his recreational activities and his upbringing. It’s a real treat to peak behind Scovel’s devilish antics and see a bit of the passion that sparks his comedy. The episode really soars when the two comedians get into it about how they stay inspired to create and connect.

Here's the complete list of episode picks from the rest of the Splitsider podcast crew:

Totally Laime #130 - Dan Harmon
Penn's Sunday School - Billy West and The Naked TSA Guy
WTF with Marc Maron #300 – Nathan Rabin, Jesse Thorn, Pete Holmes, Andy Kindler
You Made It Weird #70 – Rory Scovel
How Was Your Week #73 - Simon Amstell, Bobcat Goldthwait
Story Worthy #100 – David Koechner
It's That Episode #27 – Eddie Pepitone/My Super Sweet Sixteen
Bullseye with Jesse Thorn – Michael Ian Black, Tom Bissell, Pete Holmes

Honorable mentions from the Splitsider group this past week include The Dana Gould Hour #9 "Mini-KISS and Other Delights," Fitzdog Radio (Artie Lange, Todd Barry), Jordan, Jesse, Go! #234 (Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon), Professor Blastoff #63, Royal & Doodall #34 and The Bryan Callen Show #10 (Mike Callen).

Monday
May072012

Plop of The Week: Guys With Feelings #105

After a week off, I caught up on some comedy podcasts. Luckily, I caught the recent Jason Nash and Jeff Bumgarner loosey-goosey Guys With Feelings episode. The always feisty and fun Mary Lynn Rajskub makes for a particularly loose and interesting offering. The laid back interview show recently took the video plunge offering up an edited video version of its weekly show. Different ways to take in the comedy. I'm guessing the kids are into this. Big time. Let's leave the audio versus video podast conversation for another day. Here's my write-up for the Splitsider "Week In Comedy Podcasts" recap post:

Recently, Jason Nash and Jeff Bumgarner upgraded the digital offerings for their long-running Guys With Feelings. Now with a video segment, the interview show adds even more of a casual and behind-the-scenes intimacy to their low key interviews. Nash and Bumgarner always keep things funny and honest (code for slight awkwardness), no matter the subject matter. Mary Lynn Rajskub guests is a great guest, both honest and playfully difficult when the conversation goes wayward. Not sure there’s a show that seamless slides back and forth between daily life talk and Hollywood behind-the-scene revelations. Nash’s comedy is at its best when he throws out crazy theories to see what sticks or just plain confuses. There’s also some special bonus clips of Rajskub on Nash’s killer online series, Jason Nash Is Married. Plus, there’s some talk about Rajskub in a hot dog costume. The always clever and fun comedy writer, Alec Sulkin, stops by later in the show. Sulkin adds to the weird/casual mix of Guys With Feelings. It’s great to see Nash and Bumgarner continue to push their show format into new territories while keeping the overly honest and playful approach.

Here's the complete podcast picks from the Splitsider comedy podcast crew:

Improv Obsession Podcast #15 – Matt Besser
WTF With Marc Maron #274 - Bob Zmuda
Comedy Bang! Bang! #156 – St. Vincent, Zach Galifianakis, Paul F. Tompkins, Harris Wittels, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jessica St. Clair
Guys With Feelings #105 – Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alec Sulkin
Who Charted? #74 – Rob Delaney
The Dead Authors Podcast, Appendix B: Friederich Nietzsche & H.P. Lovecraft – James Adomian, Paul Scheer
Totally Laime #117 - Jon Daly

This week the Honorable Mentions from the Splitsider comedy podcast group include Mohr Stories #49 (Ralph Garman), The Best Show on WFMU, The Long Shot #507 (Natasha Leggero), The Todd Glass Show #42 (Brendon Walsh, Daniel Kinno) and You Made It Weird #45 (Shelby Fero).

Monday
Mar192012

Plop of The Week: Jordan, Jesse, GO! #215

It's always nice when a comedy friend shows up on a podcast. Ali Wong's recent appearance on Jordan, Jesse GO! is an example of her friend-to-all vibe working with the Maximum Fun guys. I always have some guilt not paying more attention to Maximum Fun and their stellar lineup of good natured shows. This week's episode was a fun and quick listen, a ready example of what Thorn and company do best - the silly-serious combo. Here's the write-up for Jesse Fox Splitsider "Week In Comedy" podcast round-up:

Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn are skilled at goofing around and proposing theories to work their way back from. Comedian Ali Wong visits Jordan, Jesse, GO! and manages to coax the hosts into a particularly fun episode, combining both silly tangents and earnest conversations. The show continues to be a free-flowing topic dispensary. The three put forth a easy flowing chat, avoiding the normal eye rolling pitfalls typically conjoined to marriage talk and reminiscing on their current and past neighborhoods. They have a lot of fun at the expense of both Bay Area and various Los Angeles neighborhoods with plenty of details to bridge the gap for the non-locals. There’s even some socio-economic musings to go around. They also explore the profound effect of discovering what your favorite radio personalities look like. Jesse Thorn is again at his best, letting loose his proper persona to put forth a bunch of silly stories and fun theories on a crazy amount of topics. Wong’s infectious curiosity fits in perfectly with the Morris-Thorn theorizing style.

The complete list of picks from the Splitsider crew for the week:

Totally Laime #110 – Matt Walsh
Mohr Stories #30 – Neal Brennan
Jordan, Jesse, GO! #215 – Ali Wong
You Made It Weird #30 – Kyle Kinane
The Todd Glass Show #35 – Paul F. Tompkins

Honorable mentions this time out include Alison Rosen Is Your New Friend #5 (Dana Gould), The Duncan Trussell Family Hour #6 (Bert Kreischer), Mike and Tom Eat Snacks #52, The Nerdist #180 (Baratunde Thurston), Nerdist Writers Panel #29 (Dana Gould, Liz Tigelaar, Robert Hewitt Wolfe) and The Todd Glass Show #36 (Paul F. Tompkins).

Friday
Nov042011

Plop of The Week: The Long Shot #405

I admit. I'm squarely positioned in The Long Shot's corner. The off-beat and fun podcast foursome always seems to deliver the goods and stand-out versus a lot of the other chat show offerings. Their latest episode sees Marc Maron visiting the gang. We chose Ep. #405 for our choice for favorite comedy show/episode for this week's Splitsider Week In Comedy Podcasts. The recap:

This time out, The Long Shot showed off what it does best – keeping it real and raw. It’s a “very special episode” complete with meltdowns and personal attacks…and an apology to a guy named Stu. Marc Maron highlights with a deadpan nonstop deconstruction of Pepitone. He uses a line-by-line reading of the definition of “narcissism” to get at Pepitone. He “misses the real Eddie.” Conroy and Maron again rehash their past failed TV show working relationship. The grudge that only one of them remembers. There’s a discussion of stealing, including Maron explaining his grocery store/stevia stealing past. Good girl Kenny still feels bad about her stolen car joy riding past. There’s a great “checking-in” segment featuring Flam’s start-and-stop Rick Fox anecdote – which, of course, leads to a very fun Pepitone rant about “what’s wrong with the world.” Kenny’s down in the dumps and Pepitone swivels between interrupting and offering up encouragement. The advice is more funny than functional. Pepitone hilariously segues from Kenny’s dismay to his own rambling story of his fun experience at a Basset Hound Picnic. Which basically means Pepitone describes what a Basset Hound looks like. A classic Conroy and the gang get-on-Pepitone’s-case segment ensues. The hosts’ eager tangents and constantly undercutting one other continue to make The Long Shot a comedic step above most chat shows.

      

Earwolf takes charge of most of the Splitsider list week this week out. The full list:

Beginnnings #34 – John Lee
Earwolf Presents: Gelmania – Tim Heidecker
Comedy Bang! Bang! #129 – Brett Gelman, Jon Daly, Allan Mcleod, Neil Campbell
The Long Shot #405 – Marc Maron
Professor Blastoff #27- Robert Ike III
Totally Laime # 91 – Rachel Bloom

Honorable mentions: The Gentlemen's Club #121 (Jeff Ullrich), The Todd Glass Show #14 (Rory Scovel) and You Made it Weird With Pete Holmes #2 (T.J. Miller).

You can check-out the full Splitsider post here, complete with everyone's recaps/reviews.
Friday
Oct142011

Plop of The Week: The Little Dum Dum Club

As part of our newly minted role contributing to Jesse Fox's Splitsider Week In Comedy Podcasts posts, I chose the recent episode of The Little Dum Dum Club (featuring Paul F. Tompkins). Here's my recap:

The Australian dynamic comedy duo of Tommy Dassalo and Karl Chandler offer up a new Los Angeles themed episode, featuring podcast guest supreme, Paul F. Tompkins. A fun colliding of podcast worlds, indeed. The guys are in Los Angeles, which means the show is heavy on Hollywood observations. Tommy and Karl recount their “dum dum” travel misadventures. Tompkins offers up not-really-all-that-useful Los Angeles tips and insights. There’s talk of “disco world” and odd celebrity lunch combos. Tommy and Karl explain their commitment to a hamburger-only Los Angeles diet and a harrowing strange-mother lap sitting incident at a local bar. There’s also a fun bit of Halloween riffing, including an instant classic Tompkins Trick or Treat bit. As usual, it’s another free form blast of Little Dum Dum fun. Perhaps most importantly, we all get to learn the mystique of yearning for Grace Jones to call you “magical.”

     

The full list of shows making the Spitsider cut this week:

Totally Laime #88 – Matt Besser
On Cinema #2 "The Shining"
The Thrilling Adventure Hour #42 "Beyond Belief: White Hunter, Drunk Heart” – Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Scott Aukerman, Dana Gould, Chris Hardwick, Patton Oswalt
The Little Dum Dum Club #54 – Paul F. Tompkins
Affirmation Nation with Bob Ducca – Episodes #79-84

You can check-out the full post here.

Sunday
Sep182011

The Earwolf Challenge Recap - Week 10: The Final Challenge

Deep breath, Challengeers. The long and winding podcast road has led us to Week 10 at long last. We have arrivedPlease, indulge me for a bit as I briefly reflect on the past nine weeks in as self-absorbed a manner as possible.

First, I’ll venture to say that I have probably spent more time listening to The Earwolf Challenge since it began than anyone not employed by Earwolf. Typically, I listen to each episode at least twice, sometimes three times, in putting these recaps together. I’d estimate that I’ve spent six to eight hours a week neck-deep in this podcast.

The first time through’s just for enjoyment: I’m usually driving or out running errands with my son or something errand-ly. And not really in a position to write anything down. It gets me familiar enough to listen more closely on the next listen and get a deeper sense of what’s going on. The third and fourth time -- sometimes there’s a fourth time -- is when I’m actually sitting down to type this thing out, so there’s a lot of pausing and rewinding. Especially if someone’s on a roll and I’m doing a lot of quoting, like with Besser during Sketch Week.

Not having it around is going to leave a sizable hole in my week. It’s become so central to my schedule that I can hardly believe this is only its tenth week of existence. Sometimes I don’t get to Comedy Bang-Bang until, like, Friday. That’s commitment, people.

And when I think back on the podcasts we’ve left behind -- The Complete Guide to Everything, Television Zombies, Ham Radio, et al. -- it seems unthinkable that as recently as late July, I was listening to Beginnings get the boot while riding the trolley down to the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con. Two weeks later, on a flight to Indianapolis, I was furiously scribbling notes about the mercurial meaning of the phrase “recurring sketch” in the hopes of giving myself a fightin’ chance of somehow getting a recap out during GenCon. And then two weeks ago, with much less significant demands on my time, I didn’t get one out at all. Life, she is strange.

I’m still gutted that Left Handed Radio got the axe last week, but no more so than I would’ve been if it’d been Totally Laime or The Little Dum Dum Club instead. The Final 3 are a field of strong, proven competitors who can all be proud of their performance on the show. Kudos.

Anyway. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the competition, as well as the chance to put it under a microscope in these recaps. Yes, I know they’re not funny, but I’m leaving the comedy to the professionals.

Speaking of which, enough of my navel-gazing. Let’s get into it!

The Challenge

No coaching session this week! What’s left to say, really? Especially this week, when the challenge -- in the fine tradition of Top Chef and Project Runway and etc. -- is just “Give us a full episode of whatever you want to do.” (Called it!) Our guest judges, joining us Wednesday, are Earwolf founders Jeff Ullrich and Scott Aukerman. (Called that too! But who else could it be, really?)

In the meantime, we’re treated to a full episode from each of our two finalists.

Totally Laime. Elizabeth and Andy bring out the big guns in the form of Charlie Day of the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where he’s a standout in an already outstanding ensemble cast. I only recently discovered Sunny, somehow, and immediately understood why I’d been hearing so much about it. So the timing’s pretty good for me. I guess Andy really is psychic.

True to Totally Laime’s mission statement, the three do indeed address some pretty unimportant questions. Or... sort of. It’s much more conversational than that, really. If anyone gets the ball rolling, it’s Charlie himself, who relates a brief anecdote about a woman -- apparently a neighbor of Elizabeth and Andy’s -- whom he’s been avoiding for years without any conscious effort. That leads into talk of face blindness and distinguishing fans from friends (something that must be especially problematic for Charlie, since he and his Sunny character share the same name), and then we’re off. It’s basically a 30-minute conversation with no particular agenda or direction.

It’s my first time listening to Totally Laime after weeks of hearing it critiqued bit by bit, and it’s a little like following the development of The Lord of the Rings online for years before seeing it in theaters. (Which I did, obviously.) Andy’s more active than I would’ve expected, more of a full partner or co-host than a mere sidekick. We hear a bit about his upbringing in Idaho, which sounds like it could’ve been a subplot cut from an early draft of Napoleon Dynamite, the moon tattoo on his ass, and his dual fear of death-as-the-end and death-as-an-eternal-afterlife.

“You guys aren’t going to win too many comedy podcasts talking about dying,” Charlie says, but you get the idea. Soon after, he delivers what may be the line of the episode when he says that “Life’s too short to be religious.” (It’s either that or when Elizabeth’s use of the word “trim” prompts him to ask, “...Is that pussy?”) .

Most of the other details of the episode, though, just sort of... float by. Charlie’s genial and everything, but I don’t feel like they uncover anything especially mind-blowing about him, and he doesn’t come off as the finishing-move guest I’d hoped he’d be. Indeed, Elizabeth and Andy talk a lot more about themselves (and each other) than anything else. Sometimes it almost feels like they’re guests on Charlie’s podcast, with him throwing in commentary on their conversation.

Overall, I have to admit that I don’t find it especially compelling. I drift a lot, and have to backtrack and re-listen several times to make sure I’ve gotten it all. It’s not funny enough to make me laugh, nor is it interesting enough to consistently hold my attention. I did perk up at the return of “Lame or Totally?” in the final few minutes of the episode, but by the it feels like too little, too late.

The Little Dum Dum Club. Tommy and Karl get the same conversational “coaching session,” but it’s really just touching base before listening to their submission. They seem to still be peeved about last week’s whole Galifianakis fake-out.

Back in Week 1, I’d admitted a bias in favor of The Little Dum Dum Club because I’d heard their episodes featuring Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins. So, it’s with some trepidation I say this: Dum Dum’s submission is by far the more entertaining of the two. Totally Laime does indeed have more heart, but Dum Dum has four funny comedians hanging out and telling stories for half an hour.

In other words, it’s a familiar set-up. It lacks structure, but its sheer momentum easily carries it the entire time. Right from the get-go, in fact, there’s a real sense of energy that’s lacking in Totally Laime’s leisurely chat with Charlie Day.

Earlier in the competition, one of the guest judges -- Jesse Thorn, I believe -- said that the problem with most “talk show” podcasts is that they operate on the expectation that a conversation alone is going to be interesting for the listener almost by default. What they don’t understand is that someone needs to drive that conversation forward and make it engaging instead of just hoping it’ll end up that way on its own.

Tommy and Karl definitely get that. The discussion never lags or slows. It just moves on to the next story. Within a short span of time, they and their two guests Luke McGregor and Nick Cody bounce from Tommy’s anecdote/riff about protesters outside a high-end chocolate shop, Luke’s disdain for their theme music and an email sent to the guys from Nick’s mother. None of this feels rushed. Everything gets its due.

Speaking of the guests, Luke and Nick, though likely unknown by most of the North American listening audience -- an inherent problem with Dum Dum’s location -- acquit themselves well. Luke comes off as a sort of nebbishy Australian. The closing story Karl buying him a lap dance and his subsequent awkwardness (especially the nipple-and-nose bit) was priceless. Nick, of course, was previously featured in Dum Dum’s submission for the Using the Guest challenge back in Week 5, and has some funny material about a cruise-ship gig.

By the end, it’s fairly open and shut: The Little Dum Dum Club is the clear winner in my eyes. However, if you’re Earwolf, would you rather produce a show whose hosts live locally in Los Angeles, or one that’s recorded on the other side of the world? And would you rather have a show that routinely features known quantities like Charlie Day, or one that interviews comedians largely unknown to most of your potential subscribers?

It’s a nice bit of suspense heading into the Judgment episode, which is...two hours long.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep112011

The Earwolf Challenge Recap - Week 9: Time Crunch

Apologies again, loyal readers (or reader), for short-changing you last week.

I don’t want to backtrack too much, but did anyone else raise an eyebrow at not one but two mentions of a second season of The Earwolf Challenge? I’ll admit, the first thing that comes to mind is The Apprentice, which...yeah. But The Challenge has at least two things going for it: a likable host and likable competitors. Ten weeks of competitions means Earwolf surely learned some valuable lessons. I look forward to see how the show grows into a second season.

With only three competitors remaining going into Week 9, I can say I’m genuinely dreading the departure of any one of them. Taking a look at my embarrassingly bad predictions from Week 1, I see we’re left with one of my picks for the Final 3 (Left Handed Radio), one of my picks to go home within the first few challenges (The Little Dum Dum Club) and Totally Laime, who I clearly felt would meet an ignominious and unremarkable end somewhere en route. My classic two-thirds wrong guarantee in action. Nailed it.

Episode 9.1: Coaching Sessions

This week on Internet Screw-Job, the challenge is not lose your shit. Actually, I heartily approve of the screw-you twist, which Producer Frank attributes to Earwolf co-founder Scott Aukerman. It’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from reality competitions. I just wish it hadn’t come so late in the Challenge run. Even the best challenges of weeks past look pale and wan in comparison. So much “here, go do a thing” chaff, compared to this week’s pointing-and-laughing wheat.

My tortured metaphors aside, the twist is quality entertainment and relevant to the podcast medium. The competitors are told they’ll have an hour to interview Zach Galifianakis, when in fact there is no such interview scheduled. When it comes time for the phone call, they’re sent an email breaking the bad news. Mockingly, one would hope. Then they’re given 30 minutes to come up with something else.

This turns the coaching session into one big farce, as Matt Besser has to just bluff his way through with a straight face. Most of LHR’s session is in fact dedicated to talking about how to approach the interview (plus one brief Old Dirty Bastard anecdote), which is obviously a waste of time for Besser, the producers and the rest of us. But Besser wises up for Totally Laime and Dum Dum, delving into their process instead. It saves what would otherwise be an entire episode of marking-time. Besser’s feigned outrage that playing a game counts as an interview and his over-the-top insults in between Skype calls are funny, but c’mon. I like a good anti-Australian remark as much as the next guy, but they do not in and of themselves a good podcast make.

Episode 9.2: The Challenge

Walking the Room’s Dave Anthony and A Special Thing impresario and Never Not Funny co-host Matt Bellknap join Besser as our guest judges. Another highly qualified pair, to be sure, but, after last week’s Doug Benson and Harris Wittles rapport, it feels like a bit of a step down. I’ll try to push on.

(Seriously, where’s Randy Sklar? Is there tension in Sklarbro Country that only one twin was asked on the show? Surely the last two guest judges will be Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich, right?)

Matt BelknapDave AnthonyThe competitors are, on the whole, understandably pissed about the bait-and-switch. “Bait-and-switch” is probably an understatement, really. The two gab-fests were definitely excited about getting to interview a big star like Zach, and even though LHR didn’t really know what to do with their interview time, it was still going to be Zach Galifianakis.

LDDC is the only one of the three to put that energy -- that angry, angry energy -- into their submission. Ah…comedy: “the angry art.” Definitely working here. For a bit. As the judges point out, they do lose the thread after a couple minutes. Cutting it down to just three minutes would’ve improved it immensely. Even so, it produces the biggest laughs of the episode.

LHR’s entry is soundly panned by the judges, but it makes me laugh. Look, I know Borat’s a tired reference, and I know the sketch is flawed. It makes fun of how outdated the reference is but also tries to indulge in it. The overall result is pretty uneven. Unevenness aside, props to them for dealing with the situation and moving on like the professionals they are. And with editing and sound effects. Impressive. Plus, they managed to find a funny “show me the money” reference, which were previously thought extinct.

Conversely, I really cannot get into Elizabeth and Andy’s impromptu conversation with one another. The judges, on the other hand, love it. Compelling, engaging, etc. When Andy asks, “Can I pretend I’m [Zach]?” I’m pretty disappointed Elizabeth shoots him down. It could’ve been hilarious to invent a series of outright lies to Elizabeth’s prepared questions. Conversely, I find I don’t really care about their stories of awkward young lust. Like Dum Dum’s submission, it spends a lot of time meandering. But without the same level of energy and humor to kick things off. In fact, when the clip’s over, I’m positive Anthony, Belknap and Besser are going to slam it. But no! The opposite occurs! Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not a judge.

Despite the surprise response to Totally Laime’s submssion, the judges offer up a quality discussion about how putting Elizabeth and Andy’s marriage front and center could give the show the hook it needs. This seems like it’d implicitly promote Andy from Psychic to Host. Something at least one past judge discouraged. But, hey...that was weeks ago.

Episode 9.3: The Judgment

For the first time, a judgment episode fills me with a genuine sense of dread. I don’t want any of these podcasts to have to “lose.”

LHR is still pissed. “I guess we just didn’t find it funny you guys lied to us,” says Unnamed LHR Troupe Member #3. Their tale of furious diligence both sheds some light and makes their submission that much more extraordinary. I may be giving them too much credit here, especially since their sketch, which admittedly got a laugh or two out of me, was pretty sub par overall. But they offer up a solid defense and really seem to have it together, both technically and creatively. Earwolf could do worse.

“Isn’t the goal to make you laugh, at the end of the day?” Anthony muses after they hang up on LHR. Hmm. I’ll come back to that later.

Tommy and Karl aren’t quite as, uh, magnanimous as their Brooklyn competitors. They aren’t quite their usual affable selves. When asked if they kept a full five minutes on purpose when three may have been better, Karl seethes, “I was just five minutes’ worth of angry, that’s all.” Well, maybe he doesn’t seethe, per se, but it’s certainly the least-pleasant we’ve heard them over the past nine weeks. Then Anthony finishes it off with some good-ol’ American bullying, and they hang up.

Then Anthony adds, “I will say this: those two guys made me laugh the most.” Isn’t that the goal, at the end of the day? Perhaps not.

After some podcast-related chit-chat, it’s time for The Challenge’s most dramatic rose ceremony yet. LHR is cut loose, and they are calm and reserved in defeat. “Well, you blew it!” shouts Unnamed LHR Troupe Member #2. I can’t help but feel he’s right.

But really, having to let any of these three go feels like “blowing it,” in a way. The silver lining is the exposure received, plus the weeks of discussing the ins and outs of sketch comedy with Besser. Anna delivers one last quality barb: “Fuck it, Nerdist approached us with a million dollars!”

Now it’s on to Week 10. Excitement! What challenge does the last week of the competition hold? If it’s anything like your Top Chefs or your Project Runways, it’ll be something standard. Giving the remaining two podcasts near-total creative freedom. So, let’s hope it isn’t that.

In the meantime, I’ll tide myself over with the latest episode of LHR. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Friday
Sep092011

Splitsider Top 5 Comedy Podcasts: September 8

     

Jesse Fox and Joe Berkowitz released their weekly comedy podcast picks. No real surprises - nice to see Pop My Culture's fun episode featuring the Superego gang receive some love. The Splitsider Top 5:

Comedy Bang! Bang! #121 - featuring Jimmy Pardo, Paul Rust, Rob Delaney
Jordan, Jesse Go! #190 - featuring DC Pierson
Mike & Tom Eat Snacks #33 "Pop Chips"
Pop My Culture #52 - featuring Superego
Who Charted? #40 - featuring Lee

The not-quite-top-5-worthy episodes receiving honorable mentions include Ronna & Beverly #8 (featuring Jon Daly), Totally Laime #83 (featuring Andy Daly) and Doug Loves Movies (featuring Jay Mohr, Jeff Garlin and Evan Glodell).

Click here for the full reviews and recaps.

Thursday
Sep082011

The Earwolf Challenge Recap - Week 8: Using a Famous Guest

My apologies, Earwolf Challengers -- my schedule finally caught up with me last week and made posting a recap all but impossible. It had to happen eventually. Well, maybe it didn’t have to, but...it did.

However, I couldn’t let it go completely, because this was probably my favorite week of The Earwolf Challenge so far. What makes it so good?

Besser rants. Our host dedicates several minutes at the top of Monday’s show to explaining the difference between constructive criticism and asshole criticism. And it’s not exactly, um, calm and level-headed, which is what makes it so compelling. Besser’s forthrightness and raw honesty starts the week off with a bang.

I’ll admit, this great opening isn’t unmitigated. Besser and Producer Frank pose the question: “how can we make sure everyone gets the same wisdom from Besser every week during the coaching sessions?”…and then immediately dismiss it as unsolvable. How about the solution of adding a little off-air prep time with Besser? Prepping some “wisdom” for the contestants ahead of time? Too much to ask?

Interesting challenge. This may be the first week with a challenge that actually feels like something you’d see in an actual reality-show competition. The playing field is leveled; everyone has the same resources to work with and the same standards to meet. Plus, it’s specific. It’s not just “hey, go find a guest and do something with them,” or even “give us some original material.” It’s “here’s Nick Thune for an hour; come back with five minutes of material.”

Meet the Producer. Spending a little time with Producer Frank does a lot to counteract the impression I’ve gotten in previous weeks that Matt Besser sometimes barely tolerates his producers. It’s nice to see evidence of his interest in Frank.

Harrs Wittels *Photo by Megan BerruGuest Judges. Maybe it’s because I’m still riding high on Harris Wittels’ absurdly hilarious turn on last week’s Comedy Bang! Bang! (I listened to his episode with Adam Scott and Chelsea Peretti twice in a row), but something about him just being on the show really brings it up a notch for me. Of course, Wittels is more of a podcast regular than a podcast expert but it seems appropriate for this particular challenge. Besides, joining him is Doug Benson of Doug Loves Movies, who qualifies as something of an authority. Between the two of them, they contributed a good mix of humor and insight.

Doug BensonReal tension. It’s getting down to the wire now, with only four competitors still in the running (as of Week 8, anyway). Everyone turns in a competent submission, even if some are more competent than others. By Wednesday, it really feels like it could be curtains for either Totally Laime or The Bob and Dan Cast. In the past, the week’s last-place finisher has been pretty easy to pick out. This week it really seemed like it could go either way.

I happen to think it went the right way, incidentally. Both Totally Laime and Bob and Dan revealed that they’d lost sight of the goal of the challenge and possibly the contest as a whole. Elizabeth and Andy make the mistake of thinking “knowing your audience” means “play to the judges.” Worse, though, Bob and Dan refer to themselves as a couple “nobodies on the Internet,” revealing pretty conclusively that they’re just not ready for what Earwolf’s offering. I like those guys, but they need a hook.

A good lesson. Just about every week’s challenge is rife with subtext, but everyone seemed to miss this one. For example, when the judges tell Left Handed Radio their submission is so Nick Thune-centric that it didn’t give a good impression of who the hosts are, they answer back with “But the challenge was ‘Using the Guest’!” Yes, but it’s not “Using the Guest to Showcase the Guest.” It’s really “Using the Guest to Make Your Podcast Compelling.” It’s a fine line, maybe, but an important one. And, certainly a contributing factor to Bob and Dan’s downfall.

Now that we’re down to the final three, I’m psyched to find out how it’s all going to wrap up. All three of the remaining competitors have been the front runner at some point (that The Little Dum Dum Club has never been in the Bottom 3 is really pretty remarkable). I can really see any one of them coming out the winner.

Before we get to that, though, I’ll have to get to it and give Bob and Dan a proper listen. That’s right -- I’m literally going to hear them later. On to Week 9!

Sunday
Aug282011

The Earwolf Challenge Recap - Week 7: Original Content

On advice of counsel, I’ve steered clear of any online discussion of The Earwolf Challenge, especially on the Earwolf forums. The intent, of course, is to keep these write-ups untainted by public opinion.

However, every now and then I can’t help but encounter someone on the Internet who has an opinion about this podcast and how things are going. This week, it was former guest judge Paul F. Tompkins on Who Charted?, who had this to say about the Challenge:

“That show is very exciting because they almost have it narrowed down to a winner, and they almost have the rules to their own show figured out. It’s a race to see which happens first: Will someone win before they figure out what the show is?”

Which, really, kinda nails it. On the one hand, the show’s easygoing tone feels comfortable and conversational, without the enforced seriousness or melodrama of its reality TV influences. On the other hand, that same tone gives the impression that Earwolf didn’t have a clear vision of what the Challenge was going to be, or even what it is right now.

Speaking of things getting nailed online, you know who does read the Earwolf forums? Matt Besser, that’s who. He and his co-host/producers, Frank and Peter, spend about five minutes addressing concerns and issues raised in The Challenge forum, mostly by politely shooting them down. And with good reason: why people expect The Challenge to hold itself to the same rigorous standards as, say, Project Runway is beyond me.

Before we get into the actual challenge, though, it’s time for “This Week in Passive Aggression” with Matt Besser and Producer Pete:

Peter:  You’re the boss.
Besser:  I’m not the boss. Let’s make that perfectly clear. Otherwise, I’d have a coffee today.
Peter:  [defeated grunt]
Besser:  Yeah. Exactly.

It’s that kind of warm camaraderie that keeps me coming back week after week. Also, I promised I would. So, there’s that, too.

Episode 7.1: Coaching Sessions

Hey, it’s Concept and Content! Yes, the time has come to start recycling challenges from the days of yore. The only real differences between Weeks 3 and 7 are that the clips can be longer (three and a half minutes - longer than most episodes of Affirmation Nation!), the content has to be original (instead of pulled from a show’s archives) and there are only five competitors left instead of 9. Yeah, it’s a pretty vague theme for a challenge (again), but this is the sort of thing I don’t mind seeing in the latter half of the show. It’s like on Top Chef near the end of the season, when they start to let the chefs do whatever.

Matt BesserHowever, for a show that already has, as has been pointed out, a problem defining itself from week to week, a challenge this broad is potentially problematic. In an attempt to give things a little focus during the coaching sessions, Besser adopts the persona of a big-time podcasting executive asking for pitches from the Final Five. Some contestants respond to this better than others.

Totally Laime stays “on message” by repeating their slogan like a mantra. It almost feels like they’re trying to ward away evil spirits. Yes, we get it: important people, unimportant questions. It’s a good angle, but angle alone isn’t going to (or shouldn’t) win this thing. Elizabeth and Andy have only been in the Bottom 3 once. Their output has still been rather uneven from week to week. But Besser likes their plan of doing a full show and picking out three minutes as their submission, so he gives them basically no feedback and moves on.

The F Plus doesn’t exactly display the same confidence or clarity of vision. When asked for their pitch, they crack wise about Steve Gutenburg (for some reason or other). Then follow it up with several seconds of awkward silence. Eventually they get around to something about the Internet being a mirror for mankind’s “basest and weirdest impulses.” Fair enough. However, that soon leads to an anecdote about an online community for hyper-sexualized treatment of Pokemon and the revelation that “a worrying amount” of the show is just covering sexual fetishes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is indicative of a greater problem. It’s Week 7 and Besser still isn’t sure what their show’s about. So, business as usual.

Unsurprisingly, the perennially affable hosts of The Little Dum Dum Club don’t have what you might call a “plan” for the week’s challenge. Much like in The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya and Westley reveal neither is left-handed, Tommy and Karl don’t mind the whole “original” content thing because they’ve been doing original material every week. “We’re not spooked,” asserts Karl. “We’re fine.” What can Besser say to that? This: “Not a good pitch, but it’s true what they said.” Thanks to their intangible, unpitchable rapport, they’re the only show left to avoid the Bottom 3. The new frontrunners? 

Speaking of frontrunners and being left handed – last paragraph call back! - Left Handed Radio is belatedly crowned the winner of Sketch Week. I guess we’re declaring winners now? Good. In describing what sets them apart from all those other sketch podcasts out there, they cite That Mitchell and Webb Sound as an influence, which is almost enough to make me forget their diss on Superego back in Week 1. Yes, I’m still holding that grudge! And I’m not the only one: apparently they’re “getting smeared on the forums.” The forums I don’t read. Smeared! Besser doesn’t have much to say to them, because what can he really say to anyone when the challenge is as broad as “Three-and-a-half minutes of material?”

Back in the beginning, Bob and Dan said they wanted to be the competition’s underdogs, and by God, they sure are. Like The Little Dum Dum Club, The Bob and Dan Cast doesn’t have a good pitch and seems to get by on the rapport of its hosts. They never have a plan, but, as Besser says, they “deliver every time.” But he goes on to point out that without an angle, there’s no way for Earwolf to market them. They’re not famous enough to have a built-in audience. And not unique enough to have a hook. 

This seems to be the first time the whole concept of marketability has been brought up. Week 7. Arguably one of the most important features of any podcast on Earwolf. All but ignored until now. Just saying.

Episode 7.2: The Challenge

This week’s guest judges...don’t inspire a lot of confidence, truth be told. We had such a strong start with Jimmy Pardo and Jason Sklar. Now we have Jordan Morris and Kulap Vilaysack. Morris immediately displays his podcasting bona fides by joking about a puddle of ejaculate he’s left in the corner. Charming. But I’m still putting more stock in his opinion than in Vilaysack’s.

Kulap VilaysackJordan MorrisLook, I have nothing against Vilaysack. She seems nice. I like her on Children’s Hospital, partially just because I can identify her. But I question why she’s judging The Challenge. Her podcasting tenure is equal to Howard Kremer, judge from a couple weeks ago. True. Yet, she doesn’t take primary hosting duties on Who Charted? I mean, I had my doubts about Kremer, but as a professional comedian, I at least trusted he’d be able to offer an authentic critical comedian’s perspective. By contrast, Vilaysack’s role on Who Charted?, apart from “keeping the charts,” seems to center around enthusing about dance music no one else likes and being familiar with comic-book movies. So...I’m skeptical.

As it turns out, Morris’s the big disappointment when it comes to critiquing LHR’s submission. Besser thinks it’s really strong (he’s right), but Morris utterly misses the point of their first sketch, incorrectly theorizing that it would’ve been funnier without “having every other word be ‘bark’ and ‘woof.’” That is, in fact, what makes it funny - that we, as humans, clearly aren’t the target demo for the commercial. Those “barks” and “woofs” somehow have meaning to dogs. That’s the joke

Worse, both Morris and Vilaysack apparently didn’t realize it was a sketch show. “Didn’t they say that in the first sentence?” Besser asks, as bewildered as I am. “Did they?” Vilaysack asks. “Shoot. Did not hear that for whatever reason.” Morris thinks the announcer said “it’s a sketch pod--” before a sound effect cut him off (and no one contradicts him, except for me shouting at my iPod). The actual line was “Today’s sketch comedy - today!” Guys, come on. There’s no way you can be this confused. You’re the judges. I’m just some guy on the Internet. Why am I paying more attention to this than you are?

It’s frustrating, that’s all. I’ll move on.

Totally Laime’s clip contains the phrase “asking the most important people the least important questions” twice in three and a half minutes, and closes with a brief discussion about The Challenge itself. Stay on message! The clip lives up to their mantra, I guess, but it also doesn’t seem to really go anywhere. The judges wish it had. Me too! Weirdly, Andy comes off as the host and Elizabeth as the sidekick. Plus, the sound quality’s worse than usual, which doesn’t help. The whole thing feels like the cracks are starting to show.

The Little Dum Dum Club manages to seamlessly integrate the setup of its clip with the clip itself, which right off the bat makes it feel much more natural than Totally Laime’s submission. In terms of content, it’s pretty similar, but the conversation feels much livelier and more organic. True, it’s largely about some local Australian stuff with which most of us have no direct experience, but it’s nothing so obscure as to be inaccessible. The judges don’t have a bad thing to say, other than Vilaysack’s confusion over whether Karl’s a host or the guest and which somehow leads her to bring up Ricky Gervais’ podcasting sidekick, Karl Pilkington. In other words, this is yet another week of maddeningly inexplicable competence from Tommy and Karl’s apparently hook-free podcast. 

Ordinarily, I’m quick to call out the judges for being too easily confused over the most minor of missteps in a competitor’s submission. As seen in the previous paragraph. That said, The F Plus’ submission is a frickin’ mess. I’m never so lost that I can’t understand what they’re doing, but then again I’ve been listening to these guys on this show for the past seven weeks. Needless to say, Morris and Vilaysack understandably have no idea what’s going on. It’s not even the trusty confusing format excuse. Or that their clip isn’t especially funny. The mess is they could present any three and a half minutes they wanted, and they chose this clip. If nothing else, it’s a case of Bad Song Choice.

And no, “commentate” isn’t a real word. Come on.

In the Frickin’ Mess category, though, The Bob and Dan Cast really gives The F Plus a run for its money. Bob and Dan’s riffing in their submission can fairly be called “aggressive” - they ping-pong between topics, from backpacks to Cuba Gooding Jr. and back. There’s an unfortunate whiff of desperation about it. Vilaysack compliments the professionalism of their clip, but can’t identify anything else she really likes about it. Besser compares it to the set-up for a Harold, which is fair but not especially favorable. 

Episode 7.3: The Judgment

Despite their frustrating confusion, the judges give top honors to LHR, although Besser has The Little Dum Dum Club neck-and-neck with them. Interesting! Feeling kinda stupid that I’d predicted they’d be among the first to go, but I’m glad I was wrong.

Thanks to subtraction, the Bottom 3 equals The F Plus, Totally Laime and The Bob and Dan Cast. The latter two feel pretty safe. Totally Laime has too good a track record to go out now, and the worst the judges can say about The Bob and Dan Cast seems to be that they didn’t follow through on the promise of their opening credits. Piddling stuff, really.

The F Plus, on the other hand, has had a bumpy road since Week 1. Their difficulty in articulating just what the heck their show’s about week after week, capped by an especially weak submission, make them the odds-on favorite to get the boot. Bunny, Lemon, Bread, the Skipper, Gilligan, Zeppo, Gummo, Curly Joe, et al. sound genuinely surprised their clip confused anyone. None of their listeners have ever complained about their format. It’s safe to say the fourteen-man F Plus band must’ve listened to their clip before they sent it in. There’s just a fundamental disconnect.

They do manage to call out Besser for apparently contradicting himself during the competition - initially saying they should break up their readings with commentary, then criticizing them for doing just that this week. True, but it’s a pretty weak point of contention. There’s a middle ground, guys.

It’s The F Plus that bites it, of course. But even after the bad news is dropped, there’s still, like six and a half minutes left in the episode. What gives? In an unprecedented show of respect, or possibly just a failure to control the show, The F Plus gets a few minutes of riffing and general grab-assery before being shown the door.

I’ll be honest, The F Plus has always sounded like a hard show to listen to for an outsider. But you know what? Tradition is tradition. So, off I go to listen to an episode. If it doesn’t have a worrying amount of weird fetish material, I’m going to feel pretty ripped-off.