What, exactly, is a dork, and what's a geek? Urban Dictionary, the arbitrator in debates of this stripe, currently defines dork as "someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times," while it defines geek (a few unsatisfactory definitions down) as "an outwardly normal person who has taken the time to learn technical skills [ ... who ] has normal a social life as anyone, and usually the only way to tell if someone is a geek is if they inform you of their skills."
Grammatically questionable, sure, but as clear a laying-out of the dueling quasi-insults as one's likely to run across. Dorks have unusual interests, geeks have unusual skills. Geek podcasts are a dime a dozen; geeky podcast listeners — wags, feel free to rhetorically ask if there's any other kind — need only dip their hand into the iTunes directory to satiate their own particular sub-subcategory of geekery: programming, triathlons, filmmaking, what have you. (Your Podthinker, for instance, often banners himself as a film geek, which variety of geekdom's only real requirement is not asking how to "get rid of those black bars on the screen" when watching DVDs.)
But The Dork Forest [iTunes link] is, as yet, the only dork podcast to have made a name for itself, or at least a name that actually contains the term. It's part of another genre as well, one that, like the TTWGBAC, only becomes apparent after one has spent hundreds of man-hours submerged in the podcast world: Comedians Hanging Out, or CHO for short, which is exactly what it sounds like. Never Not Funny is the best-known example of the CHO, though the recently-Podthought-about I Love Movies is one too.
Each week in the Forest, Jackie Kashian, a sort of female Mike Schmidt, hangs out with a handful of other comedians, asking them about their own specific region of dorkdom. These include Rick Overton's enthusiasm for conspiracy theories (and, like other true conspiracists, his denial that he's into conspiracy theories), Ryan Niemiller's penchant for pro-wrestling fan fiction (yes, really) and Kashian's own habit of reading incredibly unappealing fantasy novels. And there are so many more trees in the Dork Forest, tended to by comedians and non-comedians alike: chess, news, paganism, mixed martial arts, Christmas. Why, there are as many varieties of dorkage as there are dorks to engage in them.
As fascinating as it can be to hear about unheard-of varieties of dorkulous experience, there's a limit to how much good material one can get out of dorkiness as opposed to geekiness. Back in his days on Loveline, Adam Carolla observed that funny people essentially trade every other ability in for their funniness, that they can make a crowd laugh but, in exchange, can't perform any other real task. If he's right, maybe that's why they're dorks rather than geeks; dorky hobbies aren't particularly skill-based nor particularly consequential. Typically, the comedians on hand will drift quickly from the dorkage, sometimes into territory listeners would probably just as soon have them steer around. (Politics, for instance. Yes, this was an election year so perhaps it was to be expected, but hearing comedians talk politics is just brutal.)
Unusually for a podcast, The Dork Forest is webcast live during recording, opening the opportunity for call-ins and audience participation via an associated chat room. (Remember chat rooms?) But this is a double-edged sword: the setup, for whatever reason, results in unbelievably atrocious sound. Would that the quality was as good as AM radio, or even as good as the telephone; it's really more like listening to an AM radio broadcast held up to a telephone. Or perhaps the show is laid down on an original Edison wax cylinder prior to uploading — a nod to anachronistic electronics dorks, naturally.
Running since: August 2006
Archive available on iTunes: six months or so
[Podthinker Colin Marshall reviews podcasts, so dork, heal thyself. E-mail him at colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]