It was clear in reading through the comments section of the first Guide to Comedy Podcasts that I had inadvertently ignored a lot of tenderly beloved podcasts. In an effort to rectify the oversight, I’m now taking a weekly look at which of these are worth your valuable time and which ones needn’t have bothered trying. This week’s featured podcast is The Lavender Hour.
The short version is that yet another pair of comics have joined the podcasting fray. It’s beginning to sort of feel like when all the broken-up bands began reuniting five or six years ago – after a while, the question shifted from “Who will be next?” to “Who is even left?” Fortunately, though, the comics in this case were smart enough to tweak the formula a bit and the result is a show that handily justifies its existence.
Duncan Trussell and Natasha Leggero are sometimes described to as a comedy power couple, which would be an accurate descriptor if it weren’t a terrible, oxymoronic way to describe something. They are a pair of thriving stand-ups who’ve been in various shows and short films, although Natasha is a bit more high-profile these days, with a network pilot on the way from Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. Regardless of who is more visible, together they seem to know just about everybody who is funny, and their podcast features some great, atypical guests. On The Lavender Hour, they talk Twitter politics with Steve Agee, discuss Cuba with The Office’s Oscar Nunez (who tells a story about getting screamed on by Oliver Stone), and instigate Tim Heidecker’s evisceration of Saturday Night Live.
The reason Duncan and Natasha claim they started recording a podcast (besides broadening their fanbase, duh) is that they loved the idea of having a weekly salon for some intellectual stimulation, something which they apparently used to do off-air but have since lapsed on. Funnily enough, it’s quickly revealed that this weekly “salon” was how Duncan wooed Natasha – by inviting her over for heavy discussions involving wine and pot.
Duncan is an awesomely bizarre individual who was somehow not on my radar until recently. He seems to know about everything weird that has ever happened or is yet to come. Astral projection. DMT. Conspiracy theories involving Lady Gaga and the Illuminati. Every now and then Natasha will ask Duncan a broad question that will get him talking (“What’s a planet?”), just to see where he’ll go with it. Sometimes it’s not at all apparent what the hell he’s talking about, but who cares when it ultimately leads to a sentence like this: “If someone killed your mother, would you want to put them in a pantyhose egg and lather them down with LSD?”
As you can probably tell from the above sentence, the subject matter of the show is fairly open. The meaning of “celebrity” is a recurring theme, and the hosts make their position known from the very first episode, entitled Professional Assholes. “Kim Kardashian burps advertisements,” Natasha says, and sort of proves it by reading a series of Ms. Kardashian’s tweets regarding Carl’s Jr. She and Duncan talk about whatever is going on in the world (the BP oil spill of last summer) and what’s going on in their lives (the search for a new home is an ongoing thread.) The house-hunting talk also lead to a great recurring segment wherein the guest would read aloud a series of Craigslist apartment ads for $50 a month or less. These always entailed a bunch of gross requests for the potential roommate, which is a clever way of highlighting the quiet desperation of the people who move to LA to get famous.
The element of the podcast that really stands out is that the hosts are constantly cutting away to “commercials.” These cuts are a chance for them to take a break in recording, but they fill the air in these moments with either fake commercials or plugs for their upcoming performances (the lineup for their ongoing Comedy is Dead show at a graveyard makes me want to move to LA.). The fakes sometimes have Natasha slipping into a Southern accent to parody KFC and other times they will be self-referential, like a Lavender Hour Update announcing changes that would be made to the show based on listener complaints. My favorite fake was an ad for A Special Thong – a place where friends can go to discuss alternative thongs (“The Tweety-Bird on that thong doesn’t even look like Tweety-Bird. It looks like a Hieronymous Bosch character crossed with Glenn Beck.”) These pre-recorded bits help liven things up if the talk ever gets too far away from being funny.
The romantic relationship of the hosts colors the show in a variety of ways. A discussion about sex as a commodity, for instance, leads to an uncomfortable place when Duncan inevitably asks, “What exactly is the commodification of our sex life?” The candid nature of such conversations is probably calculated – after all, it could have been edited out if they didn’t want listeners to know too much about their private life – but it’s definitely interesting in a rubbernecky way. This is the kind of thing that happens when there are no guests: discussion devolves into mock-accusations of who helps whom write jokes and whether Duncan is lusting after Yolandi from Die Antwoord.
The domesticity of the hosts distinguishes the podcast, though, in that often the guests will be other couples who work in comedy: Jen Kirkman and her husband, Neil Mahoney; Paul F Tompkins and his wife Janie Haddad; Andy Kindler and his wife, Susan. If you’ve ever heard a comedian talking candidly on an interview and wondered how his or her significant other would react, The Lavender Hour answers that question in real time. On these episodes, when Duncan and Natasha entertain another couple of funny people over dinner, the show achieves its stated objective of creating a salon-like atmosphere.