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Joell Ortiz - Project Boy


Now that's rapping. DJ Premier on the beat.

Royce 5'9" on Flow v. Subject Matter


Above: Royce the five nine talks about "flow" vs. "subject matter" in the craft of emceeing. He thinks flow is more important, and I'm inclined to agree.

Flow is the part of hip-hop that I find the most non-fans don't get. They can tell you why the positive message of a Jurassic 5 song is great ("it's like poetry!"), but they don't understand this core principle of emceeing.

Flow is all the parts of what a rapper does that aren't the content of the lyrics. It is the style, the aesthetic experience. It's why I think Missy Elliott (whose lyrics generally amount to: "I'm having fun! You should too!") is every bit as great an emcee as the much denser, more "contentful" Talib Kweli. The former is a part of the music, sometimes following, sometimes soloing. The latter often seems like he's having a fight with tbe song.

I think that it goes back to the idea that hip-hop is poetry set to music. It isn't. It's music made with words. A rapper doesn't use (much) melody, but that doesn't make him a poet any more than it makes him a novelist or a writer of technical manuals. At the core of hip-hop is the aesthetics of the rapper's voice. Lyrical content counts, too, but not as much as style, tone, timbre, rhythm. The rapper is making music every bit as much as the producer who made the beat is - his instrument is his voice.



From MaxFunster Dan, who understands that the customization craze extends far beyond your Honda CRX.

Bonus: Stop Podcasting Yourself with Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson
Dave Shumka
Graham Clark

A special treat for Jordan, Jesse, Go! subscribers: a show from our newest MaxFun affiliate, Stop Podcasting Yourself. This one features our old pal Scott Simpson from You Look Nice Today. Enjoy the show, and subscribe to SPY in iTunes!

American: The Bill Hicks Story: Interview with Steve Hicks and Matt Harlock on The Sound of Young America

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Steve Hicks
Matt Harlock

Matt Harlock and Steve Hicks on The Sound of Young America from Jesse Thorn on Vimeo.

Matt Harlock is one of the directors of American: The Bill Hicks Story, a documentary about the legendary rebel comic which screened at South by Southwest. Harlock talked with us about the film in Austin, along with Hicks' brother Steve.

The film tells the story of Bill Hicks, one of the most influential and incendiary comics of the last 25 years. Hicks started performing comedy as a teenager, but found his voice in his mid-20s. Inspired by a group of comics working out of the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas, Hicks was fiercely personal and fiercely political, as well. He struggled against drug and alcohol addiction, getting sober in the early 1990s. He became a major star in the UK (Harlock and his co-director Paul Thomas are English), but never achieved the national impact he'd like to have achieved in the United States. In late 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with cancer. He kept the diagnosis secret from all but his closest family. He passed in early 1994 at the age of 32.

Vimeo is having some trouble at the moment - video of this episode will be up as soon as possible.

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Superego


Vital stats:
Format: improvised, disturbed character-based sketch comedy
Duration: ~20m
Frequency: monthly
Archive available on iTunes: only the most recent season, but you can buy for the previous one

I suspect I shouldn't bury this in the middle of the text: Superego [RSS] [iTunes] is, without a doubt, the funniest character-based sketch comedy podcast I've ever heard. Despite whatever objections I might later raise or room for improvement I might later identify, nothing else in the subgenre gets within striking distance. As a weathered podcast reviewer, I have undergone the intensive training required to rarely crack a smile, but this show made me laugh. Out loud. Several times.

The podcast's creators, billed as "Drs. Jeremy Carter, PhD and Matt Gourley, PyT" (I can assure you that that gets less amusing each time), approach the eternal dilemma of the sketch show — how and how much to unify so many chunks of thematically distinct and more or less content-disconnected material? — in an unusual way. They bill each sketch as a "profile in self-obsession," which is to say, a case study of a particular stripe of solipsistic-y psychological disorder. "Borderline Personality Disorder," for instance, might be presented in the form of a beleaguered love-doctor soft-rock radio host, a priest working the confessional who's probably not a technically a priest or a dysfunctional hearing test. "Schizotypal Personality Disorder" might be exemplified by an aggressive, manly housewife, a pack of teen ne'er-do-wells dicking around in the basement with a ouija board while their parents try to make babies or a faith healer who can never quite pull off the hucksterism as intended. "Narcissistic Personalty Disorder" is, of course, represented by the dissolute national broadcasts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Most if not all of Superego's comedy arises from the mismatch between the assumptions and worldviews of its central, recurring, disturbed characters and the anonymous, substantially more coherent supporting cast with whom they collide. Woe betide the slightly-too-old trick-or-treaters who turn up at the home of the aforementioned androgynous shut-in, the customer who gets inadvertently locked inside the timed doors of the pathetic sociopathic shopkeep's engraving joint, or the desperate 911 callers connected with (a personal favorite) the girl who responds to their pleas for help with recitals of what sound like selections from her Women's Studies 101 papers. And then demands applause.

You'd be right, at this point, to assume that this setup could really go either way. Basing projects on wacky characters and society's failure to understand them has put an untimely end to the careers of many a promising Saturday Night Live alum. But somehow the dubiously-credentialed Carter and Gourley, along with a pair of "Resident Specialists" and a handful of guest stars Southern California comedy people will probably know, usually pull it off. They do this first by putting what sounds like even more energy into the editing than into the (energetic) performances. Though the segments run about two or three minutes, they're clearly cut together from much longer recording sessions. Many of the splices are conspicuous and some don't even try to mask the improvising performers' cracking themselves up, but you know what? It works.

Why this works must have something to do with the show's absurdist tone, which often shades into the surrealist. The closest stylistic analogue would have to be the public-access grotesqueries of Tim & Eric; Superego keeps an equally straight face, at least most of the time, as its players utter ever more bizarre non sequiturs to the frustrated normals attempting to communicate with them. If Tim & Eric rate an eight on the tenscale of surrealism, this show clocks in at about six. But I'd like to see it bumped up to seven. The less sane moments, such as "Wilford Brimley" announcing a series of increasingly hostile and nonsensical PSAs about diabetes ("die-a-beat-us"), happen to be the best.

It must be said, though, that whatever the advantages of this super-short form, it can grow a bit maddening to listen to after a while. When you're hit with a total character- and subject-change every couple minutes — especially if you listen for, say, three hours in a row — you can't help but feel like you're contributing to the decline of Western culture. How soluble this problem is remains open to question, since distillation via the virtual razor blade down to only the most hilarious of the hilarious improvised moments is where much of the show's strength lies. I continue to erupt in laughter, yet, as the podcast grows more and more successful, I fear this model being followed too closely and too widely. How much of our precious time are Superego's imitators, and there will be many, going to waste?

[Got a podcast to suggest for Podthoughts? Got any suggestions as to how to take Podthoughts to the next level, no matter how wild? Send it all, without hesitation, to Podthinker Colin Marshall at colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Is God's Pottery Offensive?


The guys above are God's Pottery. They're comic characters created by two New York comedians whose names I won't reveal, since they prefer to immerse themselves completely in their comic personae. The characters are sweet, idiotic Christian folk singers who sing inane and sometimes awful songs about morality for young people. Their intentions are good, their implementations are consistently horrible. The duo been very successful in clubs, they were nominated for a "Best Newcomer" award at the Edinburgh Fringe, they have an EP on Comedy Central Records, they appearead at the Montreal Comedy Festival, they even did a lengthy run on NBC's Last Comic Standing. When they released a book, I was happy to have the chance to record a few guest "commentaries in song" with the duo.

Last week's Sound of Young America featured the first of three segments we recorded, on the subject of adoption, and as you can see from the comments on the blog, it has not been universally acclaimed. I got about half a dozen email complaints, as well. Now, about 100,000 people listen to a given Sound of Young America episode, and 15 or 20 out of 100,000 is not a huge portion of that audience. It is, however, more complaints than we usually get. Did the segment merit the criticism?

Comedy is inherently subjective. Some people find some things funny, some people don't. In my mind, though, there are two questions here: A) was the segment funny and B) was it offensive. In my book, reasonable people can disagree as to the former. As for the latter... it seems clear that some people were offended, but I stand strongly behind the segment.

In the segment, God's Pottery describe adopted children as "God's little lost socks." The refrain of their song reminds adopted children that "you're just as special as a normal child." People objected to this on several grounds.

Some of the criticisms seem to have failed to parse the segment as a joke at all. I don't really know what to say to those people - the whole segment is pretty ridiculous. So, I agree with those people, I guess. If God's Pottery were real people then yeah, they'd be pretty awful. I gave them the most flowery and absurd introduction I can think of, and previewed the segment by mentioning their Last Comic Standing credit. I didn't explicitly announce it as humor. Saying, "this is a joke" would have sucked the funny out of things completely. So to those folks I say: sorry you were confused, but if you can't recognize a joke as a joke, then there isn't much I can do.

Some folks understood it was a joke, and didn't think it was funny. Well, I thought it was funny. Not sure what else I can say about that. I think if a joke has a 70/30 or 80/20 funny to not funny ratio in its audience, it's doing pretty great. Not everything's for everyone. That's the life of a humorist. Hopefully you'll find the future segments funny, or find other humor on the show funny.

A third group understood it to be a joke, and also found it offensive. I have a fundamental disagreement with these folks. They seem to assume that because God's Pottery are profoundly ignorant on adoption (and theology), their joke targets the adopted. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's like saying Fred Willard hates dogs because he said so much idiotic stuff about dogs in his role as an ignorant dog show announcer in Best of Show. It fails to distinguish between the point of view of the piece and the point of view of the fictional characters.

Usually folks in my position just say, "it's satire!" and leave it at that. Is the piece satire? Not really. It's closer to farce. It isn't magnifying real life to show its flaws. It's a series of disastrous failures, each more colossal than the last. God's Pottery are exploring a classic comic trope: characters with exceptional confidence, even arrogance, and exceptionally poor ability. Characters whose idea of themselves is out of line with reality. It's every character Will Ferrell or Chevy Chase ever played. The subject of the joke here isn't the foibles of the adopted, it's the foibles of two profoundly ignorant characters whose good will cannot help them dig themselves out of a hole that's growing ever deeper. God's Pottery are idiots who don't know they're idiots. That's the joke.

No one, ever, in a milllion, billion, trillion years could sincerely espouse the position that the adopted are less than normal and expect to get a laugh from it. Not even Andrew Dice Clay. But satire is not the only form of humor that can be pointed, or have a point of view.

The joke of God's Pottery isn't about the adopted, and it isn't even about Christian folk singers. The God's Pottery perspective is a pointed joke about living an unexamined life. That applies to faith, yes, but it also applies to plenty of other things. (I don't think the joke is about Christianity any more than it is about the adopted.) It is, of course, ironic that for some of the folks who wrote to complain, their misunderstanding seems to come from a lack of examination on their own parts.

Now, jokes require a combination of comfort and discomfort. Some folks might hear the word adoption, and decide they're not on board for any jokes at all which involve that idea. That's too bad, because they're closing themselves off from humor and even insights, but it's totally understandable as well. There was another joke in the same episode, an off-hand (and clearly absurd and fictional) remark by Ian Roberts about euthanizing a dog. I'm a dog lover, with an adopted rescue dog at my house, and I thought it was hilarious. Some folks wrote me to say they didn't - and I came to understand the comedy screenwriting principle that people care more about a dog getting hurt off screen than a person dying on screen.

I talked to the guys from God's Pottery about this, and they were horrified. They'd been performing this song for years, and had never had a reaction like this. One of the guys' father is adopted, and this is one of his favorite songs of theirs.

Of course, there are always things that I think we here at TSOYA and MaxFun can do better. One of the most important is providing context for humor. It's important both for the joke and for the audience. I tried my darndest to come up with a way to put this interview out that signaled it was humor without deflating said humor. Crediting them as having been seen on Last Comic Standing was what I came up with. If you have a better idea, by all means, let me know. I also think we could have included a warning beforehand that it might offend or confuse some listeners. I had intended to include one, but we produced this episode the day we came back from SxSW, and it slipped my mind. There are things we could have done differently.

I was a Culture Studies major in school, and I care very much about humor as a form of discourse. I believe strongly that humor can lead to social change, and I certainly feel that humor can reasonably cause offense. I will also challenge material that I think has an offensive point of view. You can listen to my interview with Jimmy Carr, who differs with me and eloquently defends his position that the joke is more important than its content, for evidence of this. I will not, however, hold material back which I think is funny and has a sharp, smart point of view because it may offend some people.

I'm looking forward to airing two more segments with God's Pottery over the next month or two, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Lemmy on The Sound of Young America: The Outtakes


I've posted one outtake from our interview with Lemmy on the Monsters of Podcasting Tumblr, but I thought I'd save this one for the MaxFunBlog.

We did the interview in the basement bar of Stubb's in Austin; they were sound checking on the stage about 50 feet away. This outtake's called "Genuine Motorhead Feedback."

Podcast: Coyle & Sharpe Episode 82: Elevator Repairman


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 & Sharpe try to solicit the assistance of an elevator repairman.

Holy moley, Elna!


Elna Baker just made mincemeat of all competitors in the Jordan, Jesse, Go! hat contest... and I DON'T THINK SHE EVEN KNEW SHE WAS ENTERING IT!

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