12 Dec WALKING THE ROOM
I’ve done enough eulogizing about the comedians we lost this year. It’s depressing. So this is a eulogy for a podcast. Except its passing has a happy ending. You’ll see.
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One of my favorite comedy albums of all time is Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Derek and Clive (Live). They were both comedic geniuses, known for their precision and playfulness. Read their printed scripts sometime, especially Cook’s errata. Nasty, literate, and as honed as a pub dart.
Which is why Derek and Clive (Live) is so bracing, and was so shocking to fans of Cook & Moore’s work in Beyond the Fringe. Because, for 40 minutes plus, they are unfiltered id – racist, sexist, disgusting – seeing what it feels like to say every single awful thing that comes to us in our sloppiest moments. Go on YouTube, listen to any track. Just listen to the first track, and imagine the thousands of outraged Tumblr think pieces that wee chunk of comedy would birth were it released today.
Another favorite album of mine is Shut Up, Little Man! More a sociological document that a “comedy album”, it’s a series of secretly recorded conversations between two elderly, alcoholic San Francisco roommates, sharing a fleabag apartment and drinking themselves to death. One of them, Peter Haskett, is a snippy queen, a surviving specimen of the self-loathing gays that lived through the oppressive horror of America in the late 50s and early 60s. The other one, Ray Huffman, is a muttering, homophobic mini-ogre who “despises all queers” and constantly threatens to kill Peter. If only he could get out of his chair. Their back-and-forth screechfests (and occasional drunken monologue) sound like Samuel Beckett writing a two-man suicide note. I’ve probably heard the album fifty times. I used to play it, very low, while writing screenplays, imagining it was real passion and hatred bleeding through the walls of the sterile, eerily silent apartment building I lived in all through the 90s.
Which brings me to this video. I commissioned it from Brian Musikoff, who did the superlative adaptation of my “Christmas Shoes” bit a few years back.
This video is a segment I did on a podcast called Walking the Room.
Podcasts are the best thing to happen to comedy since George Carlin and Richard Pryor finally broke through the language and subject restrictions that – even a decade after Lenny Bruce spiked himself off of our planet – still held sway. They freed things up.
So did podcasts. Not in terms of subject matter or censorship, but in terms of access and connection. Comedians – or writers, or performers, or anyone – can get in front of a mike and spit whatever they want. There’s a lot of froth, chaff and dross in the podcast world, but there’s also: WTF with Marc Maron, Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo, the anarchic bliss of Comedy Bang Bang and SuperEgo, the exquisite, jewel-box perfection of Welcome to Nightvale and The Pod F. Tompkast, the bitchy brilliance of Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week, the gone-but-will-return-like-the-phoenix Best Show on WFMU, the sputtering, exhausted exasperation of The Jimmy Dore Show and The David Feldman Show, and scores more. Voices, viewpoints, sheer creativity and hilarity, all (mostly) for free, all at your fingertips.
And then’s there’s Walking the Room which was, in my opinion, the closest thing podcasting had to Derek and Clive (Live) and Shut Up, Little Man.
Hosted by Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony, it was a sometimes unpleasant, always real window into two imperfect comedians and writers, living in Los Angeles, raising families, and dealing with the fact they seem to have a low-level mutant power which, for lack of a more elegant term, make them both no-fail shit magnets.
Walking the Room dropped 205 episodes and then ended on September 29th of this year. If you listen from the beginning (which I highly recommend – it’s like starting a sprawling, improvised novel) you’ll get the history of podcasting itself in microcosm. The first ten episodes? Horrible sound, echo-ey, Greg and Dave finding their voice, hammering out the format. They deal with Dave’s trainwreck of a father getting wind of the podcast. With Greg’s nightmare fall-out from being the guy who wrote He’s Just Not That Into You, and trying to re-start his career as a touring stand-up in rooms full of people expecting relationship advice. With Dave’s nightmare, hilarious low-rent neighbors. With Greg’s nightmare, hilarious high-rent neighbors. All the while there are threats, revelations, scatological side-roads, weird, ongoing in-jokes (there’s an online glossary for the show, which explains terms like “hobotang”, “hotdogging”, “griffon”, and the thousand other closed-universe code words that spilled out of Greg and Dave’s mouth.
The video (which could NOT BE LESS SAFE FOR WORK) is an excerpt from Episode 81, “Patton Oswalt and Drop Some Bass.” Greg recounts his having attending, a few nights ago, a performance at the Roxy by Camp Freddy. It’s a perfect distillation of what made the show so great – genuine delight and empathy with awkward, sometimes tasteless and bizarre elements of show business, fame, and the wider world.
There won’t be any more Walking the Rooms. In a terrific Facebook post, Dave describes, honestly and calmly, how they both outgrew the show. How the podcast served its purpose, and that it’s time for them both to move on. The “state of grace” of the show – Greg and Dave in a walk-in closet (hence my reference to one of Greg’s shirtsleeves clinging to my face) sometimes welcoming a guest, usually not – is gone. Greg – more than a decade sober but struggling – had one of the most hilarious relapses you’ll ever hear of (Episode 144, “A Very Special Episode”). Dave’s writing career and podcast side project (The Dollop) took off, making it impossible for Dave to devote the time needed to Walking the Room.
Over the summer, Greg did a massive, seven week tour of Australia. Walking the Room is, incredibly, massive Down Under, to the point where they’ve done live, sold-out theater shows and have a rabid online fan base. Dave was accepted to do his one-man show at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and his online Kickstarter raised the funds to send him in under 24 hours. A podcast as real and honest as Walking the Room – which was essentially about two comedians struggling and failing – would become the pinnacle of dishonesty if they continued with it in light of their recent successes.
So watch this clip, then download all 205 episodes and brace yourselves.
I love precision, wit and grace in comedy. But only if there’s a salty, take-out bag of Id to go with it.
(*Two notes on the video: The reference to The Reigning Monarchs is Greg’s instrumental surf/ska band, which Dave constantly makes fun of. “Linus” is the name Dave gave to his insufferable, hipster upstairs neighbor – an aspiring “scene” photographer with zero talent and colossal, sniffy attitude. If you were a Cuddlah – what fans of WTR call themselves – you’d know all of this. Of course.