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

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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.]