Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Former MTV personality Jesse Camp is the ultimate Warholian cult celebrity. At one point Camp had the profile and popularity to command a million-dollar recording contract for a hair metal debut featuring appearances from Stevie Nicks and Rick Nielsen and produced by Rob Cavallo despite possessing a wandering, wobbly, weak little warble of a voice. When that album flopped, surprising no one, Camp more or less disappeared, popping up every couple of years in some strange context, and at the party for the final TRL Live, or, as I call it, the real the Day The Music Died.
Camp’s disappearance from the pop culture landscape was made somewhat easier by the public’s more or less complete disinterest in his current whereabout and doings. Yet a small group of obsessives like myself never stopped being morbidly fascinated by the towering hair metal scarecrow with the hypnotic, sing-song hipster-doofus drawl. I wrote up Camp’s famously poor-selling debut, Jesse & The 8th Street Kidz. When Camp returned to the live stage as a bassist and backup singer for hair metal revivalist Green Denim in a nearly empty Chicago venue a few years back, I was there to cover it.
So when I saw that, as part of his gradual re-emergence into the public sphere, Jesse Camp had made an appearance alongside a G.G Allin associate on a podcast called Going Off Track, I was predictably intrigued. Bear in mind, I was not familiar with Going Off Track. Like a young, ambitious Susan Sontag, I was strictly in it for Camp.
And boy was I not disappointed! During the episode’s introduction, the hosts seem to still be processing what happened during the podcast recording. That’s understandable, because Camp is manic and intense to an overwhelming degree. There’s just so goddamn much of him spurting out in all directions that it’s almost impossible to process it all at the time, or even after just listening to it once.
Heck, I’ve now listened to the episode twice and I still feel like there’s probably still a lot of weirdness I’m not fully digesting. All that the only thing I, and the soft-spoken podcasts hosts, seem to be sure of is that a hurricane of a human being named Jesse Camp tore through their podcast with a grizzled dude who used to perform alongside G.G Allin, and then departed, leaving them to try to figure out what in the hell just happened.
The hosts start out by talking about the “pure invasiveness” of Camp’s presence, something that comes through even in audio form. The hosts chucklingly concede that while the podcast’s ostensible purpose was to figure out what Camp’s up to these days, they somehow feel like they ended their two-hour-plus conversation with Camp knowing even less about that then they did going in.
The podcast is full of weird bits of information, like the fact that Camp makes a point of hanging out with the current cast of Saturday Night Live, whom he guilelessly describes as the coolest cast ever, conveniently forgetting both the Kazurinky and the Cleghorne eras. Saturday Night Live isn’t the only thing Camp is a superfan of. He seems to be a fan of being a fan, as evidenced by the way he peppers the podcast with gushing praise for its hosts, its hosts’ musical endeavors, and the podcast itself.
Camp’s positivity is endearing, if a little overwhelming. He doesn’t talk so much as he rambles in long, stream-of-consciousness blurts. He monologues. Camp says “long story short” repeatedly but none of his stories seem even remotely abridged. He starts doing shtick and long, involved, self-indulgent bits right out of the gate, teasing non-existent appearances on the podcast from folks like the eye-patch-wearing “violin player from Kansas” and a new cookbook collaboration with Paula Deen.
Camp seems just as shocked that for one year he was all over MTV and had his own major label debut. That’s understandable. What’s slightly less understandable is that Camp seems to know just as little about what Jesse Camp has been up to in the post-fame years as everyone else does, but – and I hope you’re sitting down when you read this, so you don’t faint in shock and surprise – drugs seemed to have played a role in his downfall. Now Camp is back and full of projects to promote, albeit many of them on the joking, fake side. Now Camp is off the drugs (except pot), although from his manic, motormouth rhythms, you could certainly be forgiven for imagining that Camp did a fat rail of cocaine, immediately followed by ten or fifteen more lines of cocaine, to prepare for the show.
Camp has “Robin Williams in the 1980s” energy, which is otherwise known as “coke energy.” At a certain point in the podcast the dynamic reverses and Camp starts interviewing one of the podcast hosts about their musical career. It’s not clear whether Camp is just hamming it up, auditioning for work as a DJ/VJ (the one field he’s kind of qualified for) or just talking for the sake of talking but Camp’s energy never flags, even as it seems to exhaust everyone around him. Hell, I was getting tired just listening to Camp talk.
The walking punchline occasionally says accidentally insightful things, like when he calls G.G Alin the David Allen Coe of punk rock (although I would argue that Coe had the talent to back up all that shock and self-promotion, whereas Allin does not). Camp clearly knows something about music and knows some weird, interesting people, so deep into the podcast Camp is joined by Mike Denied, a grizzled punk-rock survivor whose resume includes playing with G.G Allin towards the end of his life and with The Whores of Babylon, a supergroup involving Dee Dee Ramone, Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders.
Being a longtime The Best Show fan, it’s surreal to hear G.G’s brother/writer Merle Allin talked about as a real person from Denied’s past and not a weird character from Scharpling & Wurster bits. Denied remembers Allin fondly as the kind of dude who would tell you he was going to shit on your couch and steal your TV, and then you’d wake up the next morning to discover a steaming pile of feces on your couch and your television. He was a man of his word, in other words. His strange, strange, provocative, often intentionally disgusting words.
Enjoyment of this episode is directly dependent on your tolerance for Camp and his shtick but if you’re willing to hop onboard Camp’s crazy train with an open mind, it’s filled with freaky, funky, almost indescribable delights.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.