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My Brother, My Brother and Me 39: Peepum's Nastygum


If the focal points of this episode were represented in stock market terms, then you might want to sell your shares in "providing any legitimate wisdom or advice," and buy up all the "taking cheap shots at Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2" that you can get your hands on.

Suggested talking points: Scoop up the Bute, A Little Bit of Zatarain's, Three Snorks, A Musical Mystery, Together/Alone, Grandpa Names, Through the Yarn, That Hudson Heat

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Writing Excuses


Vital stats:
Format: long-form genre fiction writing advice
Episode duration: ~15m
Frequency: five or so per month
Archive available on iTunes: last 35

Being deep in several writing and editing projects, I guess I sit in the prime seats for a podcast like Writing Excuses [RSS] [iTunes]. At first listen, it seems as if almost anyone into writing stands to gain from the show’s topics: getting the first paragraph right [MP3], avoiding melodrama, [MP3], writing what you don’t know [MP3]. These episodes offer deeply practical advice which no novelist in their right mind should ignore.

Notice I said “novelist.” When this podcast claims to be about writing, it means it’s about writing long-form fictional narratives. Something, probably insufficient research, led me to assume the show would focus on generally applicable principles and mechanics of English prose, but its mission turns out to be narrower. Perhaps hosts Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler, two novelists and a comic writer/artist, are simply sticking to their areas of expertise; for them, writing equals writing long-form fictional narratives. I can’t begrudge them that, since, for all the last couple centuries’ hand-wringing over its supposedly imminent demise, the long-form fictional narrative retains an unmatched power to enchant.

But listen longer and Writing Excuses purview shrinks further still. If you know Sanderson, Wells, and Tayler’s names, you probably know their work. If you don’t, no explanation I can offer will put you in its proximity. I’ve looked up their projects, but since my brain processes their titles as an endless procession of meaningless compounds, I’ll just make some up: HawkBane. Murdero. Brokenwind: Bringer of Eternality. Space-O-Crat. Killed By Darkest Death. SpellFelcher. Scratch “long-form fictional narrative” and make it “long-form genre fictional narrative” with heaping, melty scoopfuls of fantasy and science fiction on top.

You either like this stuff or you don’t. I myself tend to find most of what’s offered under the wide banner of “speculative fiction” brutally unappealing, which brings me to the first grand quotation of this review: “A book can either allow us to escape existence or show us how to endure it.” That’s Samuel Johnson, and I don’t think he’d look any too kindly on the heaving mountains of raw escapism fantasy and sci-fi presses pump out with the grim determination of juggernauts. The world-building inherent in these forms strikes me as somehow both pedantic and garish, and, worse, essentially in service of opiate production.

Not that fantasy and sci-fi serve uniquely anesthetic functions (in several senses of the word “anesthetic”); the problem lays in genre itself. Hence this review’s second grand quotation, from Walter Benjamin: “All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one.” Writing Excuses admits no great works of literature. Willfully or not, the hosts and their guests display little engagement with any fiction outside genre. In the middle of each episode’s writing discussion comes a regular book-of-the-week feature. One recommendation shone amidst all the SkullWinds and Frustrumworlds. The book’s author? Dean Koontz.

In my defense, I’m not one of those cranks who insists all literature ought to proceed from The Unnamable. (But to look at the novelist primers I write for The Millions, I’m getting there.) I appreciate Sanderson, Wells, and Tayler’s obvious enthusiasm for and dedication to their craft. If you do the work of generalizing their recommendations out and away from their convention-bound home turf (in several senses of the word “convention”), you’ll find they know their game and then some. This emerges most clearly when they perform three-way line-edits on concrete examples of prose. Sure, they might well be editing prose about a dragon battling a pegasus, but in that context they’ve got what moves and what drags down cold. Sometimes they even show flashes of recognition that, really, you don’t need to write about a dragon and a pegasus at all. Ironically, that’s when you stop caring so much about all the dragons and pegasi.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to be the host and producer of public radio’s The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], the blogger of The War on Mediocrity and the writer of The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project.]

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein of "Portlandia": Interview on The Sound of Young America

Fred Armisen
Carrie Brownstein

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein write and star in the new sketch comedy series Portlandia, an affectionate skewering of the young people's bohemian paradise that is Portland, Oregon. Fred and Carrie began making web videos together as the group ThunderAnt.

Fred Armisen is a longtime cast member (playing many beloved characters) on Saturday Night Live. He started his entertainment career in the late 80s, playing in the punk band Trenchmouth. Carrie Brownstein also comes from a musical background, as a guitarist and vocalist in the highly acclaimed (and Portland-based) indie rock group Sleater-Kinney.

Portlandia airs Fridays at 10:30pm on IFC.

JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guests on the program are Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. They’re the co-creators and stars of the new IFC sketch comedy series Portlandia. Fred Armisen is, of course, well known for his sketch comedy work; he’s been a cast member of Saturday Night Live for many years now; Carrie Brownstein, not so much. She was one of the founding members of Sleater-Kinney, the indie rock group of the 1990s and 2000s. It turns out Fred Armisen has his roots in music as well. He had a ten year music career before he even tried his hand at comedy. Their new show is an affectionate look at Portland, Oregon; that refuge of the creative and place where people go to not have jobs. Here’s a clip from a sketch on the show that’s almost a thesis statement for it. It’s a song called “The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Portland.” In this scene Fred and Carrie are discussing Portland while standing on the streets of Los Angeles.

JESSE THORN: Fred, welcome back to The Sound of Young America; Carrie, welcome to The Sound of Young America.


FRED ARMISEN: Thank you for having me and us.

Click here for a full transcript of this interview.

Judge John Hodgman Ep. 10: The Cone-Tractual Dispute


The manufacture of a food truck awning leads to a Portland-infused nightmare. Judge John Hodgman decides what the best compensation is for 40 hours of sewing, and teaches us what's really important: friendship.

To view the evidence in this case, click here.

Steve Dildarian's "Angry Unpaid Hooker"


This short film, which is very NSFW, was the genesis of HBO's "The Life and Times of Tim."





Jesse Visits Sklarbro Country


This week I visited one of my favorite podcasts, Sklarbro Country. It was my second appearance as the Sklars' Fantasy Analyst. Since the major sports networks have pretty much cornered the market on fantasy baseball, football and basketball analysis, we venture a little further afield. This time around, it was fantasy antiques.

Podcast: The College Years: RIP Hedberg

Al Madrigal
Marc Maron

The College Years is a look deep into the vaults of The Sound of Young America. Take a journey with us every week as we post a new program from our salad days.

Today's theme: RIP Hedberg

In this episode, Jesse begins by announcing the unfortunate passing of comedian Mitch Hedberg. After reflecting a moment on Hedberg's work as a comedian, Jesse speaks with Al Madrigal about Hedberg's influence on the world of comedy. Madrigal then talks about his upcoming feature at the 826 Valencia Comedy Benefit.

Then we hear from radio host and comedian Marc Maron. He speaks about his role in "alternative" comedy and work as a radio personality. Maron also looks back on Hedberg's life and talks about how the passing of some comedic role models affects comedy as a whole.



The Sound of Young America Live! on Saturday with Steve Dildarian, Bobcat Goldthwait, Baron Vaughn, Kasper Hauser and John Vanderslice.

The Monsters of Podcasting on Sunday with Jordan, Jesse, Go! and You Look Nice Today.

Buy your tickets now, chumps.



Stop Podcasting Yourself in The Canadian Press


Our thanks to Elianna Lev, who wrote this lovely little piece about the international partnership between MaxFun and Stop Podcasting Yourself. It ran in the Canadian Press, which is like the AP for Canada.

One note: when I said "humour," I spelled it without a "u."

Somewhere in Vancouver

| 1 comment

Somewhere in Vancouver. Night.

A clash of swords.

A glint of metal upon metal.

A new t-shirt, for Stop Podcasting Yourself.

Only in the MaxFunStore.

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