There can be no discussion of Teknikal Diffikulties [iTunes link] without a discussion of the standard-bearers of the chattery, absurdist, sound effect-heavy radio comedy format; the creators of the likes of Peorgie Tirebiter, Nick Danger and Dead Cat Soap; the troupe that dared, in a turbulent time for America, to say, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers. Your Podthinker refers, of course, to the Firesign Theatre, the crazed quartet of Silent Generationers that lured him into the inescapable labyrinth of unconventional radio. Though tougher to immediately appreciate without the aid of the stems-and-seeds mess their listeners smoked back in the early 70s, the Firesign boys nonetheless proved a gateway drug themselves, but to hundreds of hours of old-time radio broadcasts, the lavish radio dramas of ZBS', the predictably unpredictable vagaries of college radio and now, of course, the culmination, the apotheosis of creativity-intensive audio-only media: the podcast.
What a delight, then, that "Cayenne" Chris Conroy, the mastermind (and mastermouth) behind Teknikal Diffikulties, works in both the podcast format and the Firesign vein. His sprawling dramatis personæ inhabit both our world and those of the far reaches of their creator's imagination, free-associating in word, deed and existence while trafficking in hails of sudden switch-ups, double- and triple-entendres, zingers and groaners — all while frantically cutting off and shouting over one another. That last bit is particularly impressive given that Cayenne is not just the show's sole producer, but its sole voice actor. Your Podthinker has, in the process of working with these types, confirmed his suspicions that the "voicework" business is an awful, awful business to be in; C.C.C. has evidently built up so much steam about his line of work that he can only blow it off by recording, editing and voicing elaborate — and, undoubtedly, crushingly labor-intensive — comedy sketches.
The program's iTunes blurb credits its star with performing the voices of "over 400 characters", though that calls to mind those old unlicensed Genesis cartridges that held out the promise of 52 games in one, some of which were just minor variations of one another, and others of which one wouldn't want to experience in the first place. While Cayenne contains many more multitudes than does the average self-anointed man of a thousand voices, he's not fooling anyone about who's breathing into the mic. Then again, he's not trying to fool anyone; instead, he embraces a one-man-against-the-world D.I.Y. ethos, breaking in at the end of most of the show's pieces of adventure, comedy, comedic adventure or what have you to provide an update on his life, his podcast and the difficulties of both. Not that the man's simply venting; he'll chat about, say, his struggles with therapy or melanoma surgery, but then he'll actually record a slick, chuckleworthy skit about his experience in the next installment. Indeed, Cayenne displays an impressive wherewithal to convert everything — everything — into radio comedy.
Your Podthinker wrote recently that Hudson and Gaines is "one of the best-produced podcasts in existence". Teknikal Diffikulties easily lands in the same league, and in some ways it's even more of an achievement because Cayenne's flying solo (and he puts out material with surprising regularity). But like those street-corner "one-man bands" with harmonicas mounted on their heads and cymbals strapped to their knees, it has a hard time transcending the realm of the parlor trick. Listening, one can't help but think, "This is pretty good, but imagine what he could do if he had someone else talking too!" It's not that he can't successfully pull off homages to both radio's bygone days and the brothers Firesign — his Peter Bergman-y "female" and Dave Ossman-y "old man" voices are uncanny — and he certainly displays plenty of inventiveness of his own, but it feels like there's much untapped potential. On final analysis, though, it's simply fantastic to hear someone still putting out sketch comedy and sequential narrative in audio form at all.
But the Firesign Theatre — now they really need to do an original-material podcast.
Format: one-man sketch comedy, essentially
Running since: February 2005
Frequency: variable, typically weekly, though a new schedule is in the offing
Archive available on iTunes: vast majority
[Podthinker Colin Marshall wants to write up more narrative podcasts. Tell him your favorites either at colinjmarshall at gmail or on the forum here. Submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here. Shoes for industry.]