If any theme has emerged over the last year of Podthoughts, it's that the podcast medium has limitless possibilities. If any other theme has emerged over the last year of Podthoughts, it's that the podcast medium's possibilities remain insufficiently explored. Every once in a while, though, a show emerges that casts new light on what podcasting can be. At the risk of making too grand a claim, The History of Rome [iTunes link] is one such podcast. (Subject obvious.) Its execution is simple and straightforward; its listening experience is strangely, almost unsettlingly enthralling.
What do you get from The History of Rome? Well, the history of Rome, start to finish, wall-to-wall. To promise anything else would be a lie, though in the podcast's purity lies its strength. Aside from very, very rare pieces of technical administrivia, host Mike Duncan utters essentially no non-Rome-related words, and he doesn't deliver the ones that are Rome-related in any sort of theatrical inflection. His voice, in fact, is remarkable only in its unremarkability. This may well be the first podcast to contain only one thing of note: Rome's history.
But boy oh boy, does it ever contain it. Duncan recites the history of Rome — "recites" seems to be the word, since it sounds like he's reading a text rather than speaking extemporaneously, so it's a bit like a long, serial audiobook — in rich detail, including everything even that one "cool" young history lecturer you had in college neglected to mention in favor of those racy asides, ancient double entendres and vomitorium anecdotes he thought would keep the class awake. Refreshingly, Duncan hews away from the Caligula model of history lecturing and simply assumes that Roman history, served straight up, is as fascinating as it is. Allowing the material its proper dignity does wonders for the tone and engagingness (to coin a term) of its conveyance.
One could, potentially, learn the history of Rome from The History of Rome, but to your Podthinker's mind, taking such a pedestrian approach misses a superior listening opportunity. Better, it seems, to use The History of Rome to inhabit the history of Rome, letting yourself be immersed in the wash of battles, societal experiments and political machinations and Duncan's impressive erudition about them all. Your Podthinker has already spent many a happy evening enveloped by spoken stories of the Roman Empire's many vicissitudes, from the three Samnite Wars to Pompey's conquering of Jerusalem to Antony and Cleopatra's flight to Alexandria. The experience isn't so much an informational one — though it's well equipped to be — but a textual one. It's a historical podcast, sure, but it's also a pure, blissful sonic setting, one that delivers as much education as the listener feels like absorbing, and that listener need not face scantron nor blue book when it's all over. History 117B was never like this.
Format: history (of Rome)
Running since: December 2007
Frequency: weekly, roughly
Archive available on iTunes: all but, inexplicably, the first three
[Podthinker Colin Marshall would have gotten this to you all sooner if not for lousy Amtrak's lack of wireless. Bark at him about it colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]
As you may have heard, every year for our annual pledge drive we create a limited-edition Maximum Fun shirt for donors, and every year that shirt is designed by listeners.
We had you vote for your favorites in the semi-finals. Well, the people have spoken, and we have five finalists. These finalists will now be put before our blue ribbon super-panel to be evaluated and judged accordingly.
This year's esteemed super-panel is:
Comedian Extraordinaire Tig Notaro
Standup Superstar Al Madrigal
Cartoonist to the Stars Ariel Schrag
Ultrablogger Merlin Mann
Charming Quipster Paul Scheer
and Jesse's mom Judith Thorn.
The winner will be announced at the beginning of our pledge drive on May 1st.
Here are the finalists.
Jane Lynch is an actress who got her big break as part of Christopher Guest's comic ensemble in the film Best in Show. Since then, she's turned in brilliantly funny performances in films like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Role Models. She's currently featured in the Starz series Party Down, and she stars in the upcoming Fox sitcom Glee. We talk about getting her big break twenty years into her career, why she's never been quite famous enough to come out, Ellen Degeneres-style and much more.
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 use their Sounds of San Francisco series to ask a man about a home observation project they would like to conduct with him.
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Jesse and Jordan and later Brian interview sketch comedy power duo Eric Slovin and Leo Allen of Slovin and Allen. Top notch episode: all killer, no filler.
Jesse and Jordan are joined by Jonathan Goldstein, author of "Ladies and Gentlemen... The Bible!" and host of the CBC's Wiretap.
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Our theme music: "Love You" by The Free Design, courtesy of The Free Design and Light in the Attic Records
My aura's positive - I don't promote no junk.
I saw Tribe a couple years ago and it was fucking live.
The best descriptor for this podcast is unlikely. It's a show where two white guys bullshit about the culture, yet it's not exactly an according-to-Hoyle TTWGBAC. The hosts reside neither in their twenties or thirties but in their forties and fifties, and if we're talking about literal residences, they broadcast not from Mom's basement but from their palatial manors in London, San Francisco and Port Angeles. One host happens to be podcasting entrepeneur and former VJ Adam Curry; the other happens to be tech pundit John C. Dvorak. And they do it live. Twice a week.
The result is a program that on some level resembles a thousand other podcasts out there, but on others isn't like anything else at all. Two-dudes-chatting, a format as basic as they come, is how No Agenda [iTunes link] [stream] started out, but over time and with the aid of Curry's persistent internet gearheadedness it has evolved into a streaming, intercontinental, parodic, paranoid extravaganza. Whether this will be any given listener's thing seems a roll of the dice, but Curry and Dvorak's conversation darts in so many direction that it's almost difficult not to find something compelling in it.
It also helps that, as the first paragraph may have hinted, these aren't your garden-variety podcasters. While — let's admit it — most podcasters are eccentrics, a refreshingly different set of eccentricities afflict Curry and Dvorak. When not tinkering with internet stuff or piloting around the world with his 60-year-old Dutch pop star wife and teenage daughter in tow, Curry, nicknamed "Crackpot", weaves elaborate conspiracy theories out of information triangulated from, say, a sketchy Russian newspaper, three seconds of CCTV footage and a panicked call-in on Muskogee AM talk radio. (The "New World Order" is his pet theme.) Dvorak, nicknamed "The Buzzkill", alternately looks askance at (some of) Curry's wilder conjectures about the global power structure and grumbles about such ultra-curmudgeonly topics as how kids don't have paper routes these days. (For a figure so central to the last couple decades of technology culture, he also seems to have odd technological habits: refusing to use headphones while recording, for instance.)
An accurate encapsulation of No Agenda's topical range proves elusive; suffice it to say that the show's recent overarching preoccupation appears to be, broadly speaking, surveillance and information security. Still, Curry and Dvorak have time for more general global geopolitical topics as well as personal-scale stuff, like whether one should order Cliff Richard's wine while vacationing in Portugal. Perhaps the least resistible element of the program — for your Podthinker, anyway — is its satire of that quintessential fish in a barrel, commercial radio. The show is streamed during recording before it's podcasted, and Curry uses this close-enough resemblance to terrestrial broadcasting to poke a good deal of fun at it. One segment of the intro, for example, introduces "Crackpot and The Buzzkill in the Morning", and Curry lets fly with the series of sound clips he's rigged up whenever he or Dvorak says something particularly morning zoo-y. (This is much funnier than it sounds.)
With this barely-describable yet surprisingly entertaining mixture of qualities, No Agenda has gathered a sizeable and, more important, impressively devoted following. Your Podthinker admits that he's come to enjoy it much more than he ever expected to, though not quite enough to code expressly No Agenda-themed web apps like some of the true devotees have. That requires a lot more concern about the World Order, New or otherwise.
Format: streaming, intercontinental, parodic, paranoid TFWGBAC
Running since: October 2007
Frequency: twice a week, Sunday and Thursday
Archive available on iTunes: all
[Podthinker Colin Marshall is kind of interested in IP law, though. Discuss it with him at colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]