It was clear in reading through the comments section of the first Guide to Comedy Podcasts that I inadvertently ignored a lot of them. In an effort to rectify the oversight, I’ll now be taking a weekly look at which ones are worth your valuable time and which ones not so much. This week’s featured podcast is Comedy and Everything Else.
Because the intro is recorded last, Comedy and Everything Else starts with host Jimmy Dore reading off a list of notes co-host Stef Zamarano made during the taping of what we’re about to hear. Jimmy and Stef are comedians on different career arcs and they’re also a long-term couple. After the title of the show is announced, it’s followed by the tagline “Where American citizens get their news.” It’s your first hint that the “…And Everything Else” means “and politics.” Next, we’re told that the show is supported by listener’s generous donations, and also some not-so-generous donations which, we’re assured, they like too. “Donate now and be a great person,” Jimmy beseeches. Not only does this tacky appeal probably dissuade many potential donors, I can see how it would make one actively search for a way to divert others’ donations to a more worthy cause (basically any cause).
At the top of the show, there’s also an audio gallery of past guests stating their names, like a deli that collects headshots of its most famous patrons. Jimmy Dore must have a decent reputation in the comedy world, because he books headlining shows and has a steady stream of quality guests for his podcast. David Spade ended up being a really compelling interviewee, and how could Joan Rivers’ story not be worth hearing? Sometimes there are playful bits with guests, where it sounds like everyone is having fun, but at some point each episode undergoes a tonal shift. The slide from stories about comedy to opinions on day-to-day news feels abrupt every time. As long as Jimmy and company don’t get too carried away they tend to make some interesting points, but the hostility that eventually emerges must be off-putting if the listener isn’t 100% on board with the philosophy behind it. When guests seem to feel uncomfortable agreeing with the partisan opinions Jimmy tries to goad them into endorsing, you just might find yourself squirming.
Between the hosts and guests, laughter is used as a currency. It rarely sounds like it comes from a natural place of finding something funny. Instead, it’s a tool for voicing approval, or it’s wielded contemptuously to indicate that something is “so wrong it’s laughable.” Jealousy and resentment are frequent topics on the show, and considering that Jimmy Dore is a 20-year veteran who isn’t more widely known, it’s also an underlying theme. When anyone younger mentions a movie role they’d won or someone famous they hung out with, Jimmy calls him or her a “big shot,” unintentionally reinforcing the age divide by using a word no young person would use. Former co-host Todd Glass even admits he has a hard time watching shows of younger comedians’ who are blowing up because he wishes it was him.
Todd and Jimmy frequently toured together, and as you can imagine, there were some clashes and toe-steppings between them. They bust each others’ balls on air, pretending to be just messing around when obviously they’re annoyed about something for real. Considering that Jimmy and Stef are a couple, you might correctly assume that their relationship is a source of on-air tension too. Words are exchanged every now and then that will clearly be brought up later in private, and it gets a bit uncomfortable. On the older episodes, the hosts just sound like three people who spend way too much together, and you sort of feel compassion for the poor guest who has to get in the middle of all that drama. It’s easy to imagine those guests leaving the show, relieved to get the hell out of there. Mirroring that sentiment, Todd quit in late 2009 and producer Matt Mira later defected to the Nerdist podcast.
Stef makes the occasional solid point and with her day job as a high school teacher, she scores laughs by talking about the hypocrisy of certain parents. She rarely throws in her two cents, though, beyond agreeing with Jimmy or the guest’s point of view. Sometimes she’ll just slowly repeat what was just said, as though the profundity of it were self-evident. When Maria Bamford came on, Stef conducted most of the interview for a change, and she unwisely decided to use the moment as a chance to impress Ms. Bamford – who is The Queen – with her own personal wacky voices collection. Needless to say, the effort was a colossal failure, and Stef was often the only person laughing at her jokes.
Everything that is unpleasant about this podcast finds its zenith in an August 2010 two-part interview with comic Kyle Cease. The back story to the interview is that Kyle runs a comedy boot camp with no less than Louie Anderson, which was the source of some controversy this past summer. Apparently the boot camp was a target of ridicule and scorn among comics even before Doug Stanhope wrote a vicious, scathing dismissal of it on his blog. Over two episodes of Comedy and Everything Else, Jimmy Dore interjects himself into this thing that doesn’t involve or affect him directly, and the self-professed political junkie’s attempt at gotcha journalism couldn’t be any clunkier. His agenda is way too obvious and he lacks any finesse in getting to it. Over and over again, he levels a charge at Kyle by saying, “Some people would say that you’re ripping these guys off,” or “What do you say to the people who think no great comedian has ever taken a comedy class?” It’s an interview tactic famously mocked in the anti-Rupert Murdoch expose, Outfoxed. Instead of just coming right out with what he finds repugnant about this ridiculous Tony Robbins-inspired enterprise, he poses his accusations as hypothetical or coming from unnamed others.
Jimmy goes over damn near the entire comedy boot camp infomercial scrounging for talking points. When a voice on the infomercial promises boot campers will learn marketing strategies they can’t learn anywhere else, the challenge is: “What would you say to people who think it’s kind of misleading to say you can’t learn these strategies anywhere else?” Jimmy Dore clearly lacks the self-awareness to realize how sympathetic he makes Kyle Cease look by behaving like such a cowardly asshole.
It doesn’t help that Cease remains calm the whole time and refuses the bait. No matter how many times Jimmy fake-laughs obnoxiously or cuts his guest off, Kyle acts unfazed. At two hours and 16 minutes in he finally tells Jimmy, “That’s not what people say—that’s what you’re saying right now,” and you want to reach through your headphones and give him a high-five. When he follows up by calling Jimmy out on the Fox News-style way he’s hiding behind ‘people say,’ Jimmy responds by calling him a motherfucker in an agitated voice that is working overtime to sound like it’s just joshing around. He then cuts abruptly to a break.
It’s annoying that Jimmy Dore acts like he’s being a selfless crusader for the comedy community when it’s obvious he hoped this would be good for ratings. (It was.) That’s not the grossest part of the interview, though. What is? Maybe it’s when Kyle Cease asks Stef if she really agrees with her co-host/boyfriend’s assessment, and Jimmy interrupts: “Do you really think she’s gonna disagree with me?” Perhaps it’s at the end of the interview, when Jimmy laments in all apparent seriousness that his listeners will bust his balls for going so easy on Kyle. Never mind, the worst part is that although Jimmy repeatedly states that no great comedian would ever take a comedy class, and refuses to accept Cease’s hearsay that Bill Hicks once did so, he conveniently forgets that on an earlier episode of his own show, Jim Gaffigan discussed at length the time he took a stand up comedy class. (For the record, Jim Gaffigan is unequivocally great.) In the end, no matter what anyone thinks about comedy classes, I really don’t see how someone could walk away from this episode wanting to hear more from Jimmy Dore.