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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume


Vital stats:
Format: long-form phone-style conversations, often in extended cycles
Episode duration: 10m-3h45m
Frequency: 5-10 per month

Each podcast has its own ideal listening strategy. You Podthink about a different podcast every week, you learn that. Sometimes you listen new episodes to old episodes, sometimes old to new, sometimes at random, and sometimes with an eye toward maximizing variety. But A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume [iTunes] gave me trouble. So many guests! So many conversations! So many hours! What sample of all this talk could give the Podthinking mill just the right grist? No organizing principle seemed forthcoming, but then one appeared as if by providence: D.C. Pierson.

You may know D.C Pierson as a two-time guest on JJGO!, or maybe you’ve heard him on Get Up on This, or maybe you’ve heard him The Anytime Show, the podcast of his Derrick Comedy-, Mystery Team-, and room-mate Dominic Dierkes. Even without a podcast of his own, D.C. Pierson shows up on iTunes as having appeared on no fewer than fifteen different shows — many of which I happen to have downloaded — and that’s just the ones that spell his name right.

But whereas listening to D.C. Pierson on any of those other shows might take an hour two or three over a couple episodes, listening to D.C. Pierson on A Bit of a Chat demands nearly ten hours over four episodes. The format stays pretty rigorous that whole time, too: host Ken Plume calls up the actor/comedian/novelist on Skype and they talk about old-time radio announcers, Snood, box-set rock-rarity compilations, grandparental high school theater attendance, the difficulties of imitating everybody except Rip Torn, F for Fake, early Nickelodeon programming, the myriad disappointments of NYU, the myriad disappointments of the more recent Star Wars films, existentialist Pokémon, and Ed Wynn.

Ignore all the podcast trappings, and you soon realize that Plume and D.C. Pierson are doing exactly what you do on two- to three-hour phone conversations with your friends: tellin’ tales, crackin’ wise, brainstormin’ ideas. In other words, bullshittin’. The inherently voyeuristic quality of this kind of listening separates this show from others in the one-on-one conversation category, and the fact that certain guests reappear so often and at such length almost makes it feel like it has a different form entirely. If you like Paul F. Tompkins, you can get an hour of him and Ken Plume in January 2009, another hour in August 2010, and another hour on top of that from last month. Or maybe your poison’s Tom Scharpling? In that case, get ready to hear over five hours of him talking to Ken Plume over the past couple years.

Listen to the guests that turn up most often — five visits from Molly Lewis, four from Cassie St. Onge, four from Mike Phirman, four from Rebecca Watson — and you develop an ear for the particular shapes, patterns, and themes that recur in their conversations. Ken Plume’s talks with D.C. Pierson, for example, tend to inevitably work they way back to the stories of D.C.’s high school relationships that went awry. But since you get different details, jokes, and fanciful tangents about these failed young courtships every time, you kind of start to feel like those proverbial blind men collectively feeling out the shape of an elephant, but through earbuds.

So who is Ken Plume, anyway? I still don’t really know. I gather that he produces SModcast — one of those shows that hasn’t featured D.C. Pierson — that he’s probably in his mid-thirties, and that he has no inhibitions about displaying his thorough knowledge of wonky details about mainstream movies, music, and television of the late seventies and early eighties. (You may have encountered this type of personality in podcasting before.) If you want to hear his skills put up against longtime celebrities, why not listen to his less epic one-offs with guests like Ricky Gervais [MP3], Paul Feig [MP3], and Ernest Borgnine [MP3]? Is it realistic expect Ernest Borgnine to return to A Bit of a Chat several more times and gradually pour his heart out by way of ill-fated dating stories? Yes it is.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]

Interview: Jon Ronson


Filmmaker, author and humorist Jon Ronson just released a fascinating new ebook about ordinary individuals who are trying to live extraordinary secret double lives: they are donning extreme costumes and taking to the streets to fight crime as real-life superheroes. The book, The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones: And the Less Amazing Adventures of Some Other Real-Life Superheroes is available for download from Amazon and other ebook retailers. It is a quick-paced and engaging read that I know you folks will enjoy.

Jon was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the book and the superheroes he encountered during its creation.

Rebecca O’Malley (RO): How did you first become aware of the real-life superhero movement?

Jon Ronson (JR): It was Twitter. There was a flurry of tweets about Phoenix Jones. Someone from Seattle tweeted about how proud they were of their city that it could create something as fabulously insane as Phoenix.

So I watched a short CNN segment about him, and kind of knew that I was destined to go on patrol with him. He just felt like someone waiting to be written about by me. He was a mix of genuinely inspiring, mysterious, awesome, but also kind of absurd. I really liked that combination.

RO: How difficult is it to track down and gain the trust of someone who is trying to keep his identity a secret?

JR: It was tough. I had to go through an emissary, Peter Tangen, whose own origin story is amazing. Peter is a Hollywood studio photographer. He shot the movie poster for Spiderman. When he learnt that there were people doing in real life what Tobey Maguire was only pretending to do on a film set, it unlocked something profound in him. He became compelled to become their official photographer and media advisor. So whenever I wanted to talk to Phoenix, I had to approach Peter Tangen.

RO: You’ve written about psychology before, so I’m sure some of your expertise in that area must have influenced how you viewed the real-life superheroes. What do you think motivates these individuals to create these identities and seek out danger? Boredom? Altruism? Swagger? Or just a need for excitement and attention?

JR: All four of those things!

RO: Do you have a personal opinion as to whether it is appropriate for these individuals to attempt to intervene in situations that are normally kept solely in the realm of the police?

JR: Well, I'm a liberal, so I'm instinctively against the idea of what's basically a form of libertarian vigilanteism. But you can't help falling for Phoenix when you hang out with him. He's so goofily charming and inspiring and charismatic, your sagacity goes out of the window a little. You kind of fall in love with him.

RO: Do you believe that they are actually making the streets safer?

JR: I think they perform acts of derring-do that improve people's lives, yes. But I also think they're so addicted to doing good, they'll sometimes leap into a situation that they oughtn't. One time Phoenix tried to give a taco to a drunk driver to sober him up. The drunk driver refused it. Phoenix insisted. The drunk driver got violent. Phoenix pulled out his taser... So sometimes things will inadvertently escalate.

RO: There were a few times in the story when the would-be superheroes seem very disappointed that their evening patrol did not result in the discovery of any ongoing crime. What did you make of that? Does it expose something about their desire for either excitement or notoriety?

JR: Yes. It's a bit of a worrying character trait. One time they started hassling some wizened old addicts at a bus stop at 3am in Seattle. I was thinking, "Leave them alone. They'll be gone by the time the daytime people arrive."

In the middle of my adventures with Phoenix I had dinner one night in New York with Ira Glass. I was telling him all this stuff, how I thought they should leave the crack addicts alone, but I was probably mainly thinking that because I'm scared of confrontation, and Ira said, "Your position obviates the need for superheroes."

I don’t want to obviate the need for superheroes! But I do think they should be careful out there.

Movie version of "Sleepwalk With Me" to Premiere at Sundance


Some stories have such great charm and relevance that they can be told over and over again in many formats - and still win your heart. Certainly that's true of your traditional fairy tales or the Shakespeare classics; but there are also a few sweet modern tales that hold up well in multiple formats. One such story, in my view, is Mike Birbiglia's delightful "Sleepwalk with Me". It's a timeless story of one man's fear of love and maturity; but it is told - with terrific humor and stark honesty - through a chronicle of his struggle with a strange and dangerous sleepwalking condition.

I first heard Birbiglia tell the story on a 2008 episode of This American Life called "Fear of Sleep." If you haven't yet heard that episode, you must obtain it immediately. It will do nothing less than restore your faith in the power of solid storytelling.

The story later become so beloved that Birbiglia adapted it to a one-man show and then into a book. Now, with help from Ira Glass and This American Life producer Alissa Shipp, Mike is bringing the story to film.

Birbiglia directed the movie, and wrote it with Seth Barrish (who directed the stage version), Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass. The film stars Mike, Lauren Ambrose, Jim Rebhorn and Carol Kane and was produced by Jacob Jaffke.

I've never been to Sundance - and probably won't make it this year - but I've never been more jealous of those who will be there. This film is going to be terrific.

Judge John Hodgman Episode 44: The Bedding Crasher

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Chris and Emily bring a case against their friend, Pat. Pat has asked to stay at one of their small apartments while visiting their area. He says he's willing to sleep on the couch. They say that he has a good-paying job, they have a small apartment, and he shouldn't have put them in the awkward position of turning him down.

Is it appropriate to ask to crash on the couch when you could reasonably afford a hotel?


Ice Cube on the Eames

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Ice Cube presents a defense of Los Angeles architectural aesthetics and an appreciation of Charles & Ray Eames.

Yes, Ice Cube.

Also of note: he declares traffic on the 110 freeway to be "gangsta traffic." Good to know.

Stop Podcasting Yourself - Fake Reality Show Names


Dave Shumka & Stop Podcasting Yourself present: Fake Reality Shows

Fan Art - Judge John Hodgman


We Love Fans.
We Love Art.

But every once in a while there's someone like ERIN MCGRATH who so craftily puts two and two together and totally completes us.

Thanks, Erin! This is all kinds of Awesome!
(even though Jesse's expression says otherwise)

Also, the venerable Judge John Hodgman has put together a few suggestions on how to have your day in court.

Read it and heed it.

New Hodgman Print & T-Shirt!

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Are you a Deranged Millionaire?

Have a hard-to-shop-for Deranged Millionaire on your Christmas list this year?

Whatever the case may be stuff some silk-lined stockings with the Hodgman print or t-shirt this holiday season from the MaxFun Store.

T-shirt $20 (pre-order)
Poster $14

The Fugazi Live Series


Between 1987 and 2003, Fugazi played over 1000 concerts and more than 800 of them were recorded by the band's sound engineers. Now, for a small fee, you can download many of these recordings for your own library. Adding to the fun for discerning and nostalgic fans, the archive will also list available photos, flyers and miscellaneous show info associated with each performance. Only 130 shows are available now, but they will continue to release more monthly until the archive is complete.

The process is also a collaboration with the band's fans. They are actively welcoming the contribution of photos, recordings, corrections, and any additional info that may be missing from the record of specific shows.

This is a fascinating way for the band to take control of both its legacy and its body of work. I'm really curious to see what fans think of it.

Jackie Wilson Said


Probably my favorite song by a white person.

Also: who knew that Fred Wesley toured with Van Morrison?

Yeah, you better give Fred Wesley a solo.

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