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Jordan Jesse Go! Episode 88: The Crystal Store with Andy Daly

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Jesse and Jordan are joined by Andy Daly to discuss the lady who owns the crystal store, our faltering economy, David Gordon Green and more.

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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Widely Ranging Interests"

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While one demands specialists in certain professions — hope springs eternal that one's neurosurgeon, for example, is singlemindedly, obsessively, monastically devoted to neurosurgery — other positions are best suited to generalists. A broad breadth (and not simply a deep depth) of knowledge provides a distinct advantage to one's writers, say, or one's filmmakers, or even — why not? — one's podcasters.

This is not the kind of argument possible to make rigorous in a few hundred words, so your Podthinker will instead marshal a confirming example. Make that two confirming examples: Mark Edward Hornish and Francis Gasparini of Widely Ranging Interests [iTunes link]. They do appear to possess what their title promises, though it would be a lie to claim that Gasparini and Hornish's intellectual ken extends infinitely toward all horizons. In practice, the duo's interests remain eclectic, though within the rough, misshapen bounds of the following regions of scholarship:

  1. Obscurities of history
  2. Obscurities of anthropology
  3. Obscurities of geography
  4. Making up bald-faced lies about oddities of history, anthropology and geography

Stylistically, their explorations of these areas — with special emphasis on area four — isn't much different from the way the You Look Nice Today Guys do things: hold up a thin veneer of realism for a minute or two, then plunge, expressionlessly, into the bizarre, trying to not laugh and thus give the game away. Thing is, when Merlin, Scott and Sandwich blue-sky solutioneer about restaurants staffed by wise, dog-riding babies and ambiguously pregnant waitresses, they're clearly talking nonsense. When Mark and Francis claim that the Micronesian island of Yap still maintains a functioning television studio [MP3] or that Jesus' abandoned foreskin was, for a brief period, considered by Catholic doctrine to have become the rings of Saturn [MP3], who can confidently call bullshit?

Other topics touched (and grotesquely riffed) upon in the course of Widely Ranging Interests events include a television channel devoted entirely to processes (e.g., the process of lawnmowing), Gulag-wide beauty contests, the sinister effects of ergot poisoning and where to find 60-foot-tall spiders. As might already be clear at this point, the discourse meanders all over the place, sometimes chunkily, sometimes smoothly, sometimes stupidly, sometimes ingeniously. Whatever one can say of it, positive or negative, the nature of these guys' conversations is one you're unlikely to hear anywhere else in life, let alone in the podosphere.

This is both a plus and a minus. The very same discursiveness and fanciful elaboration that generate the bulk of the show's entertainment value are products of a balance between fact and fiction best described as... uncomfortable. The listening experience is one of repeatedly being intellectually wrong-footed, of muttering to oneself that, hey, that's a fascinating little fact about gigantic ancient stone money, then almost immediately realizing that it's probably a fabrication. Unless it isn't. But it must be. But it might not be.

Such talk can frustrate, sure, but here's the important part: in none of these episodes is a single word spoken about The Dark Knight, nor about how rad The New Adventures of Beans Baxter was, nor about the eternal struggle between the Playstation 3 and the XBox 360 that cannot be resolved. Any program that steers so artfully around the usual podcast dude subjects merits attention, especially when it has such an amusing fixation on the ownership of tiny, inconsequential, possibly nonexistent countries. (Although your Podthinker is 99 percent certain he's read somewhere that Sealand is a real place. Maybe.)

Vital stats:
Format: erudite two-man You Look Nice Today
Running since: February 2007
Duration: 15m-30m
Frequency: twice or thrice a month
Archive available on iTunes: last eight only

[Podthinker Colin Marshall's once-wide range of interests has pretty much narrowed down to just podcasts at this point. E-mail him about podcasts and only podcasts at colinjmarshall at gmail. Discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Spike Feresten Interview: FOX's Late Night "Talk Show" Host on The Sound of Young America

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Show: 
Bullseye


Spike Feresten wrote for most of the funniest television series of the 1990s, including Seinfeld, The Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and even an episode of The Simpsons. Even some of his failures -- like The Dana Carvey Show -- were beloved. Among his credits are the classic "Seinfeld" episode "The Soup Nazi."

Three years ago, he stepped in front of the camera as the host of Fox's late night series Talkshow with Spike Feresten. It's a comedy-heavy Saturday night talk show that has featured guests ranging from Tim & Eric to Tom Hanks. The show just got extended from half an hour to an hour, airing in the slot that once belonged to Mad TV.

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College Humor's Jeff Rubin and Streeter Seidell: An Interview

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Over the past few years, CollegeHumor.com has gone from a repository of "Cat Gets it in the Jewels" videos to one of the internet's top sources for original comedy. Now, the College Humor team have created a television series for MTV, which premiers Sunday night at 9:30. MaxFun scribe Casey O'Brien talked with Jeff Rubin and Streeter Seidell, two of the minds behind the show, about making a career in comedy, and making the transition from the desk to the family room.

What do you think sets College Humor apart from the millions of other sites posting funny videos and articles?

Jeff: The biggest difference is our original content, which very few people are doing at the professional level we are and even fewer are doing well. So there's that.

Streeter: When I started at CH we did not do any original video. A year or so later we started to introduce it slowly so it was kind of like, "if you came to watch wacky cat videos, you can still do that. And, hey, if you have an extra few minutes, maybe you'll like this sketch we made, too." We built a following for our original stuff within the audience we already had for our submitted video and I think the two worlds - the viral video world and the original video world - found a nice balance on the site.

Jeff: But even for the less glitzy parts of the site, like the links and the random Internet videos, we try to give it a personality. Instead of just saying, "Here's a video of a Japanese Goblin Shark," we'll say, "Japanese Goblin Shark - the three scariest words known to man." We're not just an automated "best of the Internet" thing. Our collection is manually curated by the same people that write and star in the videos and I think that comes through. We're not just faceless administrators, so hopefully it's a lot more personal.

Streeter: At the end of the day, I think CollegeHumor is different because it evolved slowly and intelligently from a much simpler humor site. It built an original humor brand on a solid viral video foundation and I don't think we'd be successful today without either one of those things.

What inspired you guys to get into comedy?

Jeff: I'm tempted to say it's because people made fun of me in middle school, but the truth is I was into comedy before that. I think when you're five-years-old you find a movie you love and you just watch it three times a weekend, and for me that movie was Spaceballs. In about fifth grade, I used to write a silly newspaper called The Daily Smell that I gave away to my classmates. I listened to Weird Al albums like they were actual music until approximately high school. Hard to believe I wasn't more popular!

Streeter: I think I knew I wanted to do comedy after the first time I did standup. I was terrified the night before. I actually had a panic attack and forced my friend to take me to a hospital in the Bronx (not a place you want to go to the hospital with anything less than a gunshot). But the next night I was sitting in Standup NY and heard the MC call my name. I went up and did the garbage five minutes I had written a week before. And I did great. I think the MC had said something like "this is this guy's first time" before I went up so the audience was a little more forgiving but by the end of my set I was getting genuine laughs. After the show I was sitting in the bar and all these older people were coming up to me and saying how much they enjoyed my set. It was a great feeling and I knew then and there I wanted to do some form of comedy for a career. If I had bombed I don't think I would have continued with comedy.

What is this College Humor TV show thing that people keep jabbering on about? What is it exactly and how is it going to be different from the website content?

Jeff: "The CollegeHumor Show" is going to be a natural extension of the stuff you see on the website. Imagine a half-hour long Hardly Working with a three-act plot, guest stars, cut-aways to other skits, and higher production values.

Streeter: We wrote the show, play fictionalized versions of ourselves and shot it in our office, much to the annoyance of all the other people who work at CH but aren't on the show. With the show we had 20-something minutes so we got to play with the story aspect and got to explore the characters a bit more. Hopefully we were able to preserve the tone of the stuff on the site and, if we did that, people who like Hardly Working will probably enjoy the show.

What's the hardest part about writing comedy and being consistently funny?

Jeff: I'm well aware how spoiled I am, but working with 10 of the funniest people I've ever met has in many ways made me jaded. Sometimes it takes something really over the top and bizarre to get a hearty LOL out of me, and it can be tricky to sort out what's funny to us and what's going to be funny to the rest of the country.

Streeter: I think the hardest part about being consistently funny is dealing with the fact that you will never be consistently funny. We're lucky to work at a place that doesn't put an unreasonable pressure on us to produce at all costs, so if you just don't have any amazing ideas for a month or two you're not going to get fired. However, because Ricky understands that creative people cannot be creative at gunpoint, the pressure to be funny comes from within. If he were breathing down my neck to write something funny and I couldn't do it, I could blame his pressure for stifling my creativity. But when I can't think of something funny I only have myself to blame, which is a much worse feeling. Dealing with that failure to produce, or to produce quality material, is the hardest part of writing comedy.

You guys have actually made money from being funny. What advice do you have for people that are trying to get into the world of comedy writing?

Jeff: Going into comedy to make money is crazy. If that thought doesn't discourage you, you will be fine.

Streeter: The way that almost everyone at College Humor wound up there was by writing tirelessly and being generous with their talents. A lot of people I meet will say things like "You're so lucky you got a job there." And to a degree they're right. Certain things just happened to get me there, but I also worked ceaselessly, and for free, for almost two years to get myself into a position to be hired. "You're so lucky," yes. But I also spent most of my senior year in college sitting at my desk writing articles instead of going out and partying. Most people there have similar stories, though most started as very talented, dedicated interns. And the common thread we all share was a willingness to put ourselves and our writing out into the world. It's great to be the funniest guy in the frat but nobody in a position to pay you is going to come knocking on your door if you never put your talents out into the ether. There's certainly no recipe for success and, yes, there is certainly an element of luck involved, but if you're talented you cannot harm your chances of doing this professionally by putting yourself and your work out there as much as you can.

BBTV preview "How's Your News"

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I'm really excited that Arthur, the director of How's Your News, and Jeremy, one of the reporters, are coming in tomorrow for an Sound of Young America interview.

If you're not familiar with How's Your News, they're do video news pieces with a team of mostly developmentally handicapped reporters. If you haven't heard the This American Life show that follows them, it's very much worth your time. There's also a feature documentary about them.

Anyway, the show is really a hoot -- something special for MTV.

Podcast Coyle & Sharpe Episode 53: Interprotoplasm Flow

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Welcome to season two of Coyle & Sharpe: The Imposters! In the early 1960s, James P. Coyle and Mal Sharpe roamed the streets of San Francisco, microphone in hand, roping strangers into bizarre schemes and surreal stunts. These original recordings are from the Sharpe family archive, which is tended by Mal's daughter, Jennifer Sharpe. You can learn more about Coyle & Sharpe on their website or on MySpace. Their recent box set is These 2 Men Are Imposters.

On this episode: Coyle and Sharpe attempt to convince a man to exchange his innards with complete strangers.

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Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick on "Coraline", an interview on The Sound of Young America

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Neil Gaiman is an award-winning writer in a number of forms. He broke ground in the world of comics with his 1980s series Sandman, which followed the god of sleep through a series of beautiful and sometimes terrifying adventures in the world of dreams. His books of prose include the acclaimed adult novel American Gods and the recent Newbury Medal-winning young adult book The Graveyard Book.

Gaiman's 2002 novel Coraline is the basis of Henry Selick's film of the same name. Selick is the master of stop motion animation behind the films The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, as well as the animated sequences in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He filmed Coraline in 3D, and talks about creating the movie's immersively beautiful visuals, and about adapting the book for the screen.

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If you enjoyed this show, try these:
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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Bookworm"

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Certain Max Funsters unfamiliar with the program under discussion may remember it from an evocative verbal picture painted by Jordan on one episode of JJGO!. The Boy Detective described driving around L.A. on production assistant assignments, listening to KCRW, when, all of a sudden, a midcentury TV children's song about books would start up. An aggressively earnest voice would then break through the tinkly strains, announcing that the day's book "revolves around themes of sexual molestation in 19th-century Asia." Jokes about 19th-century molestation promptly followed.

The program's theme song is "You Are a Human Animal", originally from the Mickey Mouse Club. (That itself counts as an achievement, considering the hellish usage issues surrounding anything remotely Disney-connected.) The earnest voice belongs to host and well-known acute reader Michael Silverblatt. The show is Bookworm [iTunes link], a weekly one-on-one literary discussion that's just about the finest novel-centric forum on all of public radio. And like all smart public radio shows, it's a podcast too.

We all had a good laugh at Jordan's impression of the program, but to associate Bookworm only with 19th-century molestation would be a shame indeed. It's about all kinds of things, within the context of contemporary fiction; Silverblatt always makes sure to widen the discussion well beyond the scope of the text alone. His way of thinking about books is unusual, but it's delightfully conducive to mentally stimulating radio conversation. As with some of the works he discusses, it may be better to quote directly than to attempt summary or paraphrase. Thus, to choose one of Silverblatt's questions at random, here's his opening salvo in dialogue with Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, author of Ms. Hempel Chronicles [MP3]:

The book came as a complete surprise to me because I read that it was about a teacher in a middle school and I thought, yes, I do like novels about teachers. The inevitable names come up: Ms. Jean Brodie or Mr. Chips or the woman in the short story by Charles Baxter, a story called "Gryphon", or all kinds of teachers, but this is completely different. What you forget when you're in high school, reading about Ms. Jean Brodie or Mr. Chips, is that they seem ancient, tottering. But an actual teacher in a middle school is a young woman who identifies more with her students, perhaps, than with the other teachers — certainly than with the other, older, seasoned teachers — and it feels absolutely mysterious and terrifying to her to find herself at what feels like the rest of her life teaching in a school and identifying with the children more than with the colleagues and wondering what life is like. So what Ms. Hempel is is in a period of transition, and that's what teaching is seen to be in this book. How did you come to write a novel about a teacher?

As a bigtime enthusiast of the interview form and a broadcaster of interviews himself, your Podthinker bows down before that question. Bear in mind that, even though reading a transcription such as the above might give a feeling of scriptedness, that's not at all the case in the actual show. Silverblatt's clearly formulating his questions as he speaks them, not just rattling them off from a sheet. (Or at least, if he is reading off a sheet, one can only conclude that he's a Patrick Stewart-tier actor as well.) Just to drive this point into the ground, here's another randomly-selected first question, this time from his conversation with the impulsively adventurous (or adventurously impulsive) William T. Vollmann about his Riding Toward Everywhere [stream]:

This is a book about train-hopping, and it kind of amazes me: I've been reading reviews of this book and the reviewers seem not to notice that the very senteces of the book are like a train-hopping experience. They speed up, they slow down, they go unpredictable places, they take you places where you hadn't expected to go; tracks meet and shift and so sentences go off in the opposite direction from the one in which they started and I wanted to talk to you about that style, because it is very different than the more naturalistic style of your recent work.

So, yes, Silverblatt is god, literary-interviewily speaking. This sort of question aesthetic could, given time, easily start coming off as simply more-in-depth-than-thou, but what stops things from reaching that unsavory point is the man's raw enthusiasm. In every interview, Silverblatt's unbridled love for literature and the reading of it, his unquenchable thirst for the sweet juices to be wrung from a novel's pages, shines through. Books are his passion, authors his friends. Were it any other way, could he have hosted the show for two decades straight?

It is thus with a heavy heart that your Podthinker announces that this interview style doesn't feel fully compatible with the stubby thirty-minute length. If ever a host was born for the long form, it's Silverblatt — and certainly the uncommonly intimate atmosphere of his show could sustain any runtime — but alas, to so many watch-tapping program directors out there, a mere half an hour is long form. Free Bookworm from its temporal chains; free it now.

Vital stats:
Format: literary interviews
Running since: 1989
Duration: ~30m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: ten weeks only, but all streamable

[Podthinker Colin Marshall receives e-mails at colinjmarshall at gmail, but opens only earnest ones. Discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

JJGo. Ep 87: The Desert Bluff

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Jesse and Jordan discuss the Darkish Teal Ribbon for Maximum Fun Awareness, the Townie, and much more.

ACTION ITEMS:
* How will you display the Darkish Teal Ribbon for Maximum Fun Awareness?
* What should the weird pickup style Jordan described be called?
* What's the strangest interaction you've ever had with a "townie?"
* How will you end our nation's economic crisis?

CONTINUING ACTION ITEMS:

* Review the show on iTunes.
* Do you have a dispute Judge John Hodgman can solve on a future broadcast? Email it to us! Put Judge John in the subject line.
* Need advice? ASK JUANITA!
* Have personal questions for Jesse and Jordan? Call 206-984-4FUN and tell us what they are!
* Would you like to play Would You Rather with us on a future episode? Email us or give us a call at 206-984-4FUN.

Call 206-984-4FUN to share your thoughts on these ACTION ITEMS.

Subscribe in iTunes / Podcast Feed

Hear This Episode Now

Download This Episode (MP3 Link)

Our theme music: "Love You" by The Free Design, courtesy of The Free Design and Light in the Attic Records

Scott McCloud on Understanding Comics at TED

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Recent TSOYA guest Scott McCloud tells the folks at TED about how to understand comics.

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