Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: CB Radio

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Vital stats:
Format comedian interviewing comedians (but in Austin!)
Episode duration: 12m-45m
Frequency: twice weekly

Cameron Buchholtz interviews comedians. This places him alongside several well-known podcasters, including public radio’s own Jesse Thorn (and public radio’s nearly nobody else). Cameron Buchholtz also does comedy, which places him alongside several well-known comedian-podcasters, including Marc Maron, Pete Holmes, Dave Hill, and Julie Klausner. He sets his own podcast apart in three ways, first and most obviously by giving it the delightfully punny name of CB Radio [iTunes]. (You’ll also notice its site’s sweet design.)

Second, he tends to record interviews in Austin, Texas, his city of residence. You might assume that this choice would limit him to marginal if nevertheless funny interviewees, but nope; for better or for worse, Buchholtz talks with a great many of the same comics that Los Angeles or (to a lesser extent) New York podcasters do. By catching them when their circuit — or, less often, a to-do like South by Southwest — rolls them by, he’s interviewed the likes of Jimmy Pardo [MP3], Doug Benson with Graham Ellwood [MP3], Paul F. Tompkins [MP3], Jackie Kashian [MP3], and even fellow comedian-interviewers like Pete Holmes [MP3]. I don’t need to tell you about these comics’ conversational skills; if you’ve listened to podcasts for any time at all, you already know. Holmes, in fact, somehow gets Buchholtz to publicly admit his schoolyard nickname: “Crammin’ Buttholes.” Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.

When not taking things in that direction, Buchholtz’s guests, most of whom are just passin’ through on their way out from or back toward their New York or Los Angeles homes, comment on how “cool” or “great” or “awesome” they’ve always found Austin. Sometimes they even wistfully express a desire to live there. You can tell that none will make the move, of course, unless they get pregnant or their careers hit the skids. High-profile visitors to an Austin, or a Portland, or a San Francisco — or even a Santa Barbara, which I left for Los Angeles — can’t stop drinking in the good vibes of these places, but they know in their heart of hearts that, if they actually lived in them, the world would assume they were just “dicking around.” They won’t move to Austin or Portland or wherever because it would seem like they cared more about living in a “chill” place than honing their craft. Is this a shame? Maybe it is; I don’t really know. The fact that the Onion can’t even move to Chicago without taking a death blow to its writing staff speaks volumes, though.

Yet given that he started out in Oklahoma City, Buchholtz’s move to Austin looks like a more boldly advantageous career choice than any of us have ever made. I doubt he’d have gotten a convenient chance to record with Maria Bamford [MP3] in his old hometown. Yet I wonder: does the world of podcasting really need one more conversation with Maria Bamford? Now, I relish any and all opportunities to hear Maria Bamford speak and always will, but something inside me wouldn’t mind hearing Buchholtz really get down into it with Oklahoma City’s funniest. There remains much I don’t know about that town — and almost as much I don’t know about Austin, for that matter — and I’d jump at the chance to learn more. This would necessitate a dramatic re-framing of a show like CB Radio for accessibility’s sake, since an episode title simply announcing a guest like Joe Oklahoman outwardly promises little — yet it contains the possibility of so much.

Nearly as often as they express their frustrated admiration for Austin, Buchholtz’s guests express amused surprise at his young age. In his early twenties, he doesn’t strike me as freakishly precocious, though his consistency and prolificacy do exceed that of his podcasting peer group. Though he’s probably had a birthday or two since, I’ve heard episodes where he tells inquisitive interlocutors that he’s 22. Clearly smart and a practiced performer, the man could pass on the air for, oh, 34. But just as I’ve felt my curiosity fired up to hear him use CB Radio to embrace and express his particularly Oklahoman (or Austinite-by-way-of-Oklahoman) perspective, I feel it fired up to hear him do the same with his particularly 22-or-maybe-23 perspective. Buchholtz sets his podcast apart in a third way, by usually limiting his sit-downs to under 30 minutes — and in podcasting of any kind, that is freakish — but he holds the power to become much more interestingly different still.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]