Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Preeminent comic genius Andy Daly specializes in playing either the evilest nice guy you will ever meet, or the nicest exemplar of pure evil you will ever encounter. During his bravura appearances on Comedy Bang Bang, Scott Aukerman (often with Jason Mantzoukas) deliriously explores the dark, twisted depths of Daly’s morbid imagination like Danny Torrance riding his Big Wheel through the haunted corridors of the Overlook hotel, encountering fresh new horrors and grotesque imagery at every turn. Daly’s All-American psychopaths have the cheery, breezy exterior of Ward Cleaver and the deranged interiors of Charles Manson or the Marquis De Sade.
Daly’s genius for combining upbeat peppiness with total insanity makes him the perfect choice to play L. Ron Hubbard for an instant-classic episode of Paul F. Tompkins’ The Dead Authors Podcast, a brilliant romp through literature’s past that makes learning about deceased scribes fun and hilarious. Tompkins and Daly got so much wonderful material from the endless fount of colorful insanity that is L. Ron Hubbard and his Scientology empire that their conversation spread over two essential episodes.
The premise of The Dead Authors Podcast finds Paul F. Tompkins’ H.G Wells (the author of The Time Machine and, within the cosmology of the podcast, sworn enemy of arch-rival Jules Verne) traveling through time and interviewing non-living authors of note about their lives, careers and novels in front of a live audience at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Los Angeles. Underneath the podcast’s irreverence lies an idealistic mission: the podcast is all about raising awareness for 826 National, a network of tutoring centers co-launched by Dave Eggers as well as educating listeners about literature, albeit in a decidedly impish fashion.
The second half of the L. Ron Hubbard episode is clearly rooted in the revelations of Lawrence Wright’s muckraking Scientology expose Going Clear, which was adapted into a much buzzed-about documentary by Alex Gibney. Daly’s Hubbard says the craziest things with the breeziest matter-of-factness. Over the course of the podcast, he repeatedly contradicts himself. At one point, while reading a series of insane “affirmations” taken directly from Hubbard’s own writings, Daly’s Hubbard says that it’s okay to masturbate and that everyone does it. This is followed almost immediately by an equally sincere “affirmation” that he never masturbates. One of Daly’s great gifts as a performer and an improviser is his total commitment. He commits to every thought and idea with his whole being, even when it completely contradicts a thought or idea he had previously just committed to. In those instances, which are quite common in this particular episode, he somehow commits even more fully.
Part of the genius of devoting two episodes of The Dead Authors Podcast to L. Ron Hubbard is that nothing Tompkins and Daly can come up with in their vivid imaginations could be crazier than the actual tenets of Scientology, or the stories that Hubbard made up about his life and work that he astonishingly expects acolytes to believe as the objective truth. Sometimes the incongruous juxtaposition of Hubbard’s breezy delivery and the craziness of what he’s saying is so inherently funny that the podcast doesn’t even need jokes, like during a section devoted to Hubbard’s real-life stint as part of a satanic commune run by a brilliant and insane scientific genius named Jack Parsons when Hubbard says that he and Parsons wanted to create a “moonchild” (a satanic baby) with the casual cheerfulness most folks would employ to say that they’re starting a company softball team.
In the episode a devastating satirical portrait emerges of a megalomaniac whose stated mission was to liberate humanity from illness, insanity, addiction and the inveterate shortcomings of being human but whose actual mission revolved around stealing people’s girlfriends, and convincing them to sell their homes so he could take all their money as well. Behind the lofty pretensions of saving humanity and single-handedly kick-starting the next phase of evolution lies a man whose ambitions and desires aren’t too different from the average caddish middle-manager: he wants to get laid, he wants money and he wants the kind of power that will aid immeasurably in getting laid and getting more money.
This episode has an additional significance in that Paul F. Tompkins’ genial H.G Wells’ is ending The Dead Authors Podcast as an ongoing monthly entity, although it may return for occasional installments in the future. The second half of the podcast’s chat with Hubbard could very well be one of Tompkins/Wells’ final turns as a host. While the future may be uncertain for Dead Authors Podcast, the podcast is still in top form with a standout episode that is edifying, entertaining and electrifyingly eccentric in equal measure.
Nathan Rabin is the former head writer of The A.V Club and the author of four books, including Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and, most recently, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.
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