Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The SHeD Show with Andy Dick

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Vital stats:
Format: conversations (and occasional songs) between Andy Dick and his friends and colleagues
Episode duration: 1h-1h30m
Frequency: erratic

I know who Andy Dick is, and yet I don’t know who Andy Dick is. He entered my awareness as a guest on Loveline, the nightly radio program that occupied one of the larger, more edifying chunks of my time between the ages of thirteen and twenty. He had a specific reason for being famous back then, which I believe had something to do with a role on the ABC sitcom NewsRadio. I remain more or less ignorant of that show, despite its retroactive receipt of a great deal of comedy-nerd credibility, at least by the standard of ABC sitcoms. I know just as much about Less Than Perfect, the other sitcom, this time about an office, which carried his mainstream recognition into the 2000s. My curiosity has long had a place for his band, the Bitches of the Century, but mostly because of its name. I can’t get enough of that name.

Somehow, this thin experience has provided reason enough for me to download Dick’s every guest appearance on today’s interview-ish comedy podcasts and comedy-ish interview podcasts: Marc Maron’s, say, or Adam Carolla’s. As far back as I can remember, and in whichever sonic medium I can remember, a conversation with Andy Dick has always meant a conversation about drugs and alcohol, either the benefits thereof, the indignities thereof, or the vagaries of quitting them. Given his once apparently constant struggles with substance abuse and tendency toward bizarre public behavior, Dick became something of a dead man walking in the eyes of the media. Yet, like a high-personality Zelig wandering through a very specific and strikingly grim circle of show business, he displayed a hardy survival instinct while his significantly less doomed-seeming associates — actors Phil Hartman and David Strickland come to mind — met their ends.

Though Dick now finds himself in a time of sobriety, you’ll hear about experiences like these on his podcast, The SHeD Show [RSS] [iTunes]. Having demonstrated such willingness and ability as a guest, he’s become one of those celebrities whose podcast you may never have heard, but whose not having a podcast would shock you. I think of Dick’s show as falling under the heading of “people I know” podcasts, which are what you get when celebrities decide they’ve accrued enough interesting and/or funny acquaintances to record an hour or two with one every so often. But it takes no more than a glance at recent episodes to reveal that he knows different people than most celebrities. In fact, I found my way to his show when I noticed that he’d interviewed Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s Bookworm [MP3] — literally, a person I know. And in that unflaggingly enthusiastic conversation, he admits to not even really reading books.

Other names on Dick’s guest list also surprised me: actor of unclear repute Eric Roberts [MP3], former teen-pop idol Debbie Gibson [MP3], his own son Lucas [MP3]. He gets these people in front of a microphone and talks to them for at least an hour at a stretch, often breaking into impromptu song. He often sounds surrounded, though not always obviously so, by technical assistants, band members, or perhaps functionless hangers-out. (A logical setting, for those who have always imagine him at the center of a dissolute circle, egged on.) Though Dick refers to the podcast as “The Shit Show,” Apple’s evidently stringent language policy forces him to call it The SHed Show on iTunes. The clean name comes from the fact that he lives in a shed, though he takes great pains to explain that, Tuff Shed erected in his ex-wife’s yard though it may be, he has it fixed up like something out of Dwell magazine. But he doesn’t really live there, so he often adds; he sleeps there, but lives, variously, outside, in Los Angeles, on stages, on television, in the world of creativity, in The Industry.

I’d be hard pressed to explain exactly what I find compelling about Dick’s personality, but the evidence that I do appears clearly and presently in my willingness to listen to him talk. (I didn’t come for the insight into the inner life of Eric Roberts, I can assure you.) He does, however, embody several fascinating liminalities at once: not really a comedian, but not strictly an actor; not a household name, but somehow famous enough to be one; not a showbiz casualty, but hardly unscathed; not quite gay, but certainly not straight. Despite enduring the classically troubled life of a modern celebrity, his speech, manner, and appearance retain an almost unsettling energy and heightened crispness, burnt bridges be damned. He says much of his pure drive to create and share music, film, and television — his albums, movie Danny Roane: First Time Director, the pilot he’s written with his son — and it strikes me as far more genuine than the drives of others who feel the need to say much of them. In Andy Dick, we have a creature faintly not of this Earth; in his podcast, we have a means of listening to the alien atmosphere that he carries with him, and how it affects those unpredictable few who dare breathe it.

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[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]