The Blog of Young America

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The Legend of Master Legend

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MaxFunPal Josh Bearman wrote an amazing feature in a recent Rolling Stone about Real Life Superheroes -- guys who dress up in outfits and fight crime. And sometimes get arrested, because most stuff superheroes do is illegal. And sometimes get evicted from their hideouts, because nothing that superheroes do pays. It focuses on one guy, Master Legend. Master Legend has a super-weapon, called The Master Blaster, which is a cannon powered by spray-on deoderant.

While you are spending time with Josh's remarkable nose for great stories, don't miss his piece on last week's This American Life, which concerns a profound and violent rift in an organization called The Amalgamated Order of Real-Beard Santas.

Podcast Coyle & Sharpe Episode 50: Graveyard Living

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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 try to convince a man to live in a grave during the day, come out at night, and join their cause in taking over Los Angeles.

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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Podcasts by Maximum Funsters to the Limit

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From Max Funster Chet_Friendly, iandividual (who is possibly the same person) and maybe a couple others comes Boiled Dinner [iTunes link], a comedy podcast of initially indeterminate genre. Indeterminate, that is to say, unless described as follows: You Look Nice Today. That's about as dialed-in as it gets, since sharing a genre with YLNT means that Boiled Dinner also shares such qualities as:

  • Three dudes
  • Goofy nicknames
  • Preposterous statements (and the deadpan utterance thereof)
  • Anecdotes about life's daily degradations
  • Strummy bumper music between segments
  • Twitter accounts

But by no means is it a slavish YLNT imitation. Unlike Merlin, Scott and Adam, Wilfred-Dale the Robot, Chet Friendly and Jesse Pruden — one strongly suspects pseudonyms — record not over a Skype conference call but (apparently) together in a physical room. And that physical room is in Calgary. Broadly speaking, though, the similarities outnumber the differences, and in listening to any YLNT-like show, one comes to appreciate just how tough it is to mine comedy gold from its format. There's got to be not just a three-way rapport between the hosts — all podcasters worth their salt have that — but an ability to strategically and consistently add Jenga blocks of humor to the Jenga tower of absurdity that grows, slowly but steadily, through each segment without collapsing into a demolished Jenga tower of scattershot meanderings and/or own-joke laughter fits. Jenga.

Though the Boiled Dinner boys do a damned respectable job of this, they don't quite hold the all-important poker faces maintained by their predecessors. (And perhaps they aren't even trying to — for all your Podthinker knows, Jesse, Chet and Wilfred-Dale may never have even listened to YLNT, though that'd make for one hell of a creative coincidence.) When one of them scores bigtime humor points — and these moments of hard-hitting hilarity come satisfyingly often — all of them tend to crack up. The effect is perhaps best described as YLNT hybridized with a standard, much more casual just-guys-chillin' podcast, which doesn't seem like an unpromising niche to fill, nor have Boiled Dinner's first six episodes constituted an unpromising start toward filling it. For days now, your Podthinker has, in solitary moments, been muttering "Pruddly! Pruddly! Pruddly!", "This is the first [x]... with a black president" or "Our son's gonna make a woman of us" and then collapsing, like a failed game of Jenga, into hysterics.

Vital stats:
Format: You Look Nice Today
Running since: November 2008
Duration: 30m-50m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all


From Max Funster HijackedFlavor comes The News Cruise, another exercise in the flat expression of the ridiculous, but with a current-events flavor. It's one of those shows that's not just a podcast, but a college radio broadcast (on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's WUAG). Your Podthinker happens to have a college radio background, and he reports with some confidence that The News Cruise is a pretty darn sterling example of what's become, in the 21st century, a badly debased medium.

Even though the full extent of their preparation seems, at times, to consist of a single crumpled sheet of lined paper bearing synopses of the week's wacky news items and a handful of unusual songs to play, at a very low volume, under comments on them, co-hosts Chris Berg and Megan Wallrichs still bring an A+ game compared to most of today's college broadcasters. Modern standards of college broadcasting excellence would appear to demand little more than showing up, jacking one's iPod into the board, hitting "shuffle" (which makes the playlist "eclectic") and then falling asleep in the lobby, but this show delivers at least half an hour of chuckle-inducing late-night chat about the world's goings-on: the cancellation of TRL, Englishmen hell-bent on proving the existence of space aliens, the ruination of the world's largest sandwich and something about an election. It wouldn't be terribly innacurate to call the material essentially Le Show stripped, mercifully, of Harry Shearer's unhealthy Dick Cheney fixation.

The program guards the flame of an all-but-forsaken sensibility of college radio, no doubt, but that's not to say that it isn't enjoyable in its own right. Whether by design or by happenstance, Chris and Megan create an entertainingly intimate sound and feel, which — here it comes again — evokes exactly what's most appealing about college radio. Your Podthinker has, alas, put college behind him, but he can easily envision himself having spent his Thursday nights ignoring classwork, flipping on his radio, dicking with the antenna (college stations' typical wattage being what it is) and settling in as these two kids read off Kwame Kilpatrick's embarrassing text messages.

Vital stats:
Format: news-themed comedi-chat
Running since: September 2008
Duration: 35m-1h10m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: none, which really bites

[Podthinker Colin Marshall is available to talk about college radio 24 by 7 at colinjmarshall at gmail. Discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Podcast Coyle & Sharpe Episode 49: The Human Leech

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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 campaign for a man running for governor, cruelly nicknamed The Human Leech, who attaches himself to people with suction cups and sucks out their energy.

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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The Dork Forest"

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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.

Vital stats:
Format: CHO
Running since: August 2006
Duration: 1h-1h20m
Frequency: weekly
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.]

Home for the Holidays

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That is the movie I am about to watch, and that is where I will be not too long thereafter.

If you live in the Bay Area, buy yourself tickets for TSOYA Live! and the Monsters of Podcasting for Christmas. YOU DESERVE IT!

If you don't, just have a great holiday! You deserve it, also!

Rob Corddry, Writer/Director/Star of "Children's Hospital" and Former Daily Show Correspondent; Interview on The Sound of Young America

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Show: 
Bullseye

Rob Corddry (above, in nightmarish clown makeup) is an actor and comedian who's appeared in many films, including Semi-Pro, What Happens in Vegas, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, and W... in 2008 alone. For four years, he was a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, cultivating a brash, idiotic persona that made him one of the most popular contributors in the show's history. His most recent project is a web series, which he wrote, directed and in which he stars, called Children's Hospital.

(Note that this episode will be podcast on Monday, December 22nd)

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If you enjoyed this show, try these:
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JJGo Ep. 84: Candy Maldonado

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Ashkon joins Jesse and Jordan to discuss Cinemax, honey-glazed hams and much more.

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Another one bites the dust...

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Our friend John Moe, host of American Public Media's "Weekend America," just twittered that the show will be leaving the air as of January 31st. This comes on the heels of NPR's cancellation of News & Notes and Day to Day. Lots of MaxFunsters are still smarting from the cancellation of The Bryant Park Project and Fair Game earlier this year. PRI's The Takeaway is still standing, but that's cold comfort, especially with that show having found limited traction on stations.

What did those shows have in common? For one thing, they were all targeted in part at people who weren't listening to public radio, yet. Public radio has saturated one corner of the market -- older, college-educated white people who want serious news. These shows tried (and try) to broaden that out a bit... to folks who are a bit younger, to folks who might want a bit more levity or a more conversational tone, to highly-educated people of color who are underserved by the Morning Editions of the world.

They also had another thing in common: they were expensive.

One of the reasons many of the staple programs of public radio -- This American Life, All Things Considered, Marketplace -- are so good is that they spend a lot of money to get that way. Producers (often independent producers) work a week or two on pieces that use 4 or 6 minutes of a two or three hour daily show. No one is paid a lot of money, but the work is labor-intensive and thus expensive, even when the wages are low.

That's a system that works for those shows because 200 stations (or more specifically, the listener-members of 200 stations) are sharing the production costs. When 200 stations carry your show, it's also much easier to get sponsors -- would Volkswagen have paid millions to underwrite This American Life if it was only on in Chicago? Certainly not.

So when the sponsorship revenue dries up (the official reasoning for NPR's recent cancellations) and the station carriage isn't there, the shows go kaput.

Of course, that leaves me thinking about the implications for The Sound of Young America. I have to edit some podcasts right now, but I'll be back later to expand this post.

Raphael Saadiq - "Merry Christmas, Baby"

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Raphael Saadiq performing "Merry Christmas, Baby" on a TV special called Christmas in Washington.

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