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For the uninitiated, it might seem odd to dive into the 25-episode U Talkin’ U2 to Me? with an entry devoted to the Bush-era mope rock band Staind. But no episode better exemplifies, while slightly subverting, the bit-heavy, irony-drenched humor of a podcast that purports to be the “comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things U2.” That tagline is said by co-hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott with a wink, but it’s not totally untrue.
In nearly every episode, the Scotts dive into a U2 album or tour (or wild side project like the Broadway bomb Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) with the meticulous critical analysis that can only come from two obsessed superfans. But this podcast wouldn’t be a comedy nerd favorite if it only appealed to fans of the band, especially since the internet determined in 2014, when the first UTU2TM episode premiered, that giving everybody a free album was akin to cyber terrorism. When not focusing on the lighter sides of the Dublin band — such as the rumor that Bono enjoys bicycling incognito as a Hasidic Jew — the hosts persistently deviate from UTU2TM’s premise with sub-podcasts about anything but U2. There’s one about Turtle from Entourage, one about deductibles, one about films, and another where they review that same film sub-podcast. Each is more inane than what preceded it, and sub-podcasts within sub-podcasts are born from misspeakings and catchphrases. It’s like Inception, if your subconscious was infiltrated by two men demanding that Bono personally send them free T-shirts.
One of those catchphrases, “It’s Been Awhile!”, sung like the refrain from the hit Staind song, led to a desultory chain reaction that produced the show’s best episode “Staind Glass” with their guest, comedian Todd Glass. And puns aside, Glass is the ideal guest for an episode that, nearly two hours in, gets to a track-by-track breakdown of Staind’s 5x platinum album Break the Cycle. The stand-up describes himself as someone who “appreciates music, but doesn’t know anything about it,” a characterization as understated as “Bono dabbles in charity work.” What does that mean, exactly? Well, when Glass throws parties in his backyard, you’ll find a live drummer playing alongside his iPhone playlist with the reverb cranked to 11 (the increased reverb is non-negotiable). But Glass likely won’t know what song is reverberating because he can’t tell the difference between U2 and The Fat Boys/The Beach Boys’ cover of “Wipe Out.” He’s a guest on a music podcast who knows as much about the last 50 years of pop music as a coma patient. It makes no sense, which makes perfect sense for UTU2TM.
Remember, this show is a product of Scott Aukerman, whose podcast oeuvre can best be described by a modified Winston Churchill quote: “If you’re going through a bit, keep going.” So when Glass asks Aukerman to play him a U2 song just to see if he can recognize it, we are privy to a cavalcade of decidedly-not-U2 tracks that leave Glass in total exasperation and the Scotts in tears. It’s arguably the funniest moment in the podcast’s 25 episodes, but when they finally get to Break the Cycle, it’s the hosts’ rare showing of candor that reveals the root of UTU2TM’s appeal … even if it’s earnestness by guys holding back an Ernest Goes to Camp joke.
Unsurprisingly, neither the Scotts nor Glass care for Staind’s breakthrough album. It hasn’t held up well, even compared to other bands from the Family Values Tour era. But posited by the empathetic Glass, who came out of the closet in response to seeing an uptick of LGBTQ suicides, they reach a conclusion that what’s unbearable to them might’ve saved some depressed kid’s life in the early aughts. In fact, if you watch the music video for “It’s Been Awhile,” you’ll find comment after comment of Staind fans using that song to mark their third year of sobriety or honor the memory of their dead child. It’s as tonally different from UTU2TM as you can get, but obsessive fandom is universal. We just have different ways of expressing it.
Like U2 — a band that could go from overly serious political anthems to calculated self-deprecating mega tours and somehow make it work — what makes this podcast so damn engaging is its ability to vacillate between the sincere and the tongue-in-cheek. They don’t drop their guard often, but it’s that droplet of empathy in a pool of comedic detachment that makes “Staind Glass” such a great entryway into this podcast. You’re still getting the hours of silly bits and sub-podcasts about “fuck styles” that make UTU2TM so ludicrously funny, but you’re also seeing a side of the Scotts that they don’t often show in the episodes leading up to this one. And it’s much more enjoyable listening to them rag on Staind and goof on U2 knowing there’s an underlying heart, like the one beneath Bono on the Elevation tour. In the end, they don’t like Staind. That’s okay. When you finish listening to every episode of UTU2TM, you probably won’t call yourself a fan of U2. But like Todd Glass, you’ll appreciate them, albeit without all that added reverb.
Note: Episodes of U Talkin’ U2 To Me? are listed in Spotify and Apple Podcasts under R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? as the Scotts have moved on to covering the discography of another alternative rock favorite of theirs, R.E.M.