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 examples of the format. 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 should be put out to pasture. This week’s featured podcast is Walking the Room.
Greg Behrendt is a strange case in the comedy world. He’s a 20-year veteran of the standup circuit, but he wears some other hats too: he’s a longtime musician, most recently with his current band, The Reigning Monarchs; he’s worked as a “consultant” for a couple of TV shows, one of which was Sex and The City; and most famously, he’s a bestselling author and self-help guru, having written He’s Just Not That Into You. That massive, hit book, and the movie it inevitably inspired, may have made Behrendt millions, but it broke his reputation. New fans seem bewildered as to why a women’s self-help guru would “try his hand” at stand-up comedy, while his old fans wonder why a comedian would ever try branching out into Carrie Bradshaw territory. It’s a classic case of a person being haunted by their own freak success.
Dave Anthony is a comedian and writer who’s been on the verge of making it for a long time. While Dave and Greg both started out alongside a group of comedians that included Patton Oswalt, Dave’s path diverged from Greg’s and the rest of the group’s when he apparently picked the wrong time to move to New York. (They’re all still friends, though, and Patton is a friend to the show – texting in jokes frequently.) Suffice to say that, both of these guys have a lot to prove these days, which seems to be the unspoken motive behind the podcast they co-host, Walking the Room.
The tagline for the show is “Kind of a podcast”, but a more accurate line would be “The most existential comedy podcast.” A great deal of airtime is devoted to the concept of podcasts and what it means to have one. When the hosts are not jokingly slagging off the quality of their own show, they are opening up and detailing sincere-sounding thoughts on how the ubiquity of podcasts is a good thing. They call it a new frontier for entertainment, and make comparisons to Radio Free Europe. They argue each episode about the viability of the theme song. It’s a dark, auto-tuned, grungy sort of thing and it’s been suggested could serve as a litmus test for what readers are willing to put up with in order to hear the podcast that follows.
The main thrust of the show is that these guys are mostly concerned with what is happening with their lives right now at every level. Lucky for them, they’re able to do so in way that is funny. Both Greg and Dave are middle-aged parents and they work pretty hard at hilariously deglamorizing the lifestyle of aging comedians. They talk about aging a lot – about having to deal with it in general, but also dealing with it specifically as a comedian. They realize that they are now the people who have to tell the neighbors to keep it down because their kids are trying to sleep, and they are also comedians who might conceivably have to pack it in pretty soon if they can’t find a way to play to more packed venues.
These guys always seem to have something to say about getting in shape and keeping in shape, whether it’s Greg talking up the PX90 workout – which offers the very specific promise that it makes you look as though you’ve been lifting weights in jail – or the merits of a raw food diet. On the other hand, Dave’s contributions to these conversations tend to revolve around how fat he considers himself, and the size of his man-boobs. It’s a study in contrasts.
A Marc Maron-esque runner on the first few episodes of Walking the Room dealt with how Dave’s father’s alcoholism contributed to his becoming a comic. It all started when Dave was actually on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, and his father heard what Dave had to say about his alcoholism and unsupportive nature and later sought Dave out via email to complain. This discussion eventually became sort of an ouroboros of podcasting drama when, on the next episode, it turned out Dave’s father had also heard that subsequent conversation about the whole deal on Walking the Room – back and forth forever. The whole thing was very reality TV, and self-reflexive, but it also was sort of compelling. Since then, they’ve mostly steered clear of drama, only getting into it with topics like whether Dane Cook stole a joke, and possibly a whole persona, from Greg, and Greg’s continual efforts to distance himself from the advice guru label – especially the short-lived eponymous daytime television show he and Dave once both worked on.
That wasn’t even their first job together; Dave and Greg go back a long ways. Their interplay is funny because although they clearly are great friends, they often express it by pretending to hate each other and confessing how much they want to hurt each other – ‘I want to slap you in the face so hard right now.’ ‘I want to just slice your nose off.’ They slam each other’s careers a lot, and always seem to take it as good fun, even when it doesn’t sound like good fun. Dave will attack Greg’s self-help dispensing career, and Greg will attack the supposed lack of a career in Dave’s case, and both will laugh about it. They make each other laugh a lot, actually which can be infectious usually, except that Dave Anthony has perhaps the most cackling, wheezy laugh I have ever heard, and sort of takes me out of whatever I was potentially going to laugh at sometimes.
Walking the Room is enjoyable enough, and hardly ever takes itself seriously. The hosts refer to the show as a ‘podcuddle’ instead of a podcast, if you want an idea. Since the show has started picking up steam, apparently more people have gotten on board with its Insane Clown Posse inspired audience-cultivation techniques. Greg and Dave have taken to referring to their fans as Cuddlaz – merging the podcuddle idea with the rabid ICP Jugallo fanbase – and have even coined their fans’ slogan for them: Clown From the Neck Down. I’m not sure exactly what this is supposed to mean or why it’s happening, although I get the feeling that’s sort of the point. If all goes well, though, the plan is for Greg and Dave to take Walking the Room on the road and bring it directly to the Cuddlaz next fall. I’m sort of looking forward to hearing them talk on the podcast about how the tour affects their careers and/or their diets (seriously!).