So Long, ‘Professor Blastoff’

It’s a sad day in the hatch. The long-lived, much-loved podcast Professor Blastoff came to an end this week after 217 episodes. Hosted by David Huntsberger, Kyle Dunnigan, and Tig Notaro, the weekly podcast began with three working comedians growing their careers. The idea was to discuss an interesting topic with a guest expert; topics had a huge range, from the scientific to the philosophical and even into medicine and the arts. Its format and premise has a strange backstory where the trio stumbled into an abandoned hatch where a long-lost Professor transmitted data from space. Somehow it stuck, and they referred to the professor each week as his messages became the episode topic. Over the years the premise slowly disintegrated, but never fully disappeared. Beginning a podcast is a big commitment, especially when it has three hosts plus a guest. Making it weekly adds a whole other dimension to scheduling.

The trio hit the perfect balance of informative and humorous within the first few episodes. Each host brought their own personality, and they excellently melded together: David kept the episode on track, going back to the topic and was eager to learn, Kyle kept it humorous with random comments and characters that sprouted from a random word or phrase, and Tig balanced silliness with a willingness to learn, especially when knowing nothing about a topic.

Think of your favorite podcasts – did you listen from the very beginning in a sequential order? If you’re as neurotic as I am, you definitely did. Year one is full of excitement and getting into the groove of the format. The second year built on that momentum but also felt the pressure of a sophomore slump – continuing to keep content that is engaging and funny when listenership plateaus; except for Professor Blastoff. Year two continued through Tig’s four months of tragedy, heartbreak, and cancer that culminated in a legendary standup set and subsequent fame. Listenership skyrocketed and year three cemented itself with a solid listenership and fan base. Along the way, characters began to emerge along with recurring games and segments. Name that Punky, What’s Nuts, Top Shelf Thoughts and Boring Texts sound like amateur bands, but are actually some of the funniest podcast moments.

What happened that made four its last?

Somewhere in the last year the podcast turned from enjoyment to obligation. Each host had times where they were out of the city and country, on tour, sick, or had prior commitments. However, the episodes always came out on time and everyone did their best to be a part of it, even if someone was on through the phone or Skype.

The last episode reveals that had Tig given her four-month notice to Earwolf months earlier. It becomes that much more apparent that four months prior, the vibe in the studio/hatch changed.

On April 7th they released their most controversial episode yet; Episode #202 had guest Ross Jeffries talking about being a pick-up artist. Yes, he actually stayed the whole episode and explained what he did and why. Fans easily pinpoint this as the most awkward episode (maybe one of the most awkward podcast episodes ever, right up there with the cringe-worthy You Made It Weird: Live from SF Outlands). However, it also sparked a change in Professor Blastoff.

The mood changed. The pre-guest discussions contained a lot of references to everyone being busy, how hard it was to schedule with new jobs and commitments. It was exciting to hear about the amazing new jobs each had and their passion shined through. Kyle was touring and writing for Inside Amy Schumer, David created an animated standup special/had a new hosting gig and Tig’s documentary and specials were heading towards completion. Each host now had projects in their field and doing what they loved. The podcast moved further down the list when priorities shifted and became a bigger responsibility that could only work if everyone could keep up.

In the last few months, episodes were hosted by the forever optimistic David as Kyle and Tig phoned in and joined. The second-to-last episode, Optogenetics #216, was Tig-less. It restored hope that two hosts could still keep the comedy and informative nature of the podcast.

The newest episode dropped just like it does every Tuesday but this time with a gloomy title: Goodbye #217. Tig introduces the episode and shares the inevitable news: it would be the last episode. She reveals that she gave her notice and felt like the podcast was added stress, turning from fun to another item in a busy schedule.

Kyle speaks about considering continuing and perhaps replacing Tig, but he decided he prefers to leave Professor Blastoff as the three original hosts and starting another podcast on a clean slate. David is sadly silent for the first 12 minutes and then reveals that in the early days he was the only one reading and responding to emails and negative ones nearly made him quit. To think that he was receiving any criticism and even saying, “No one ever told me I was their favourite,” is completely heartbreaking.

Professor Blastoff is ending with high ratings, frequently finding itself on the iTunes top 10 comedy podcast chart, but with sadness in its heart. Kyle even says, “We’re ending on a high… like Seinfeld!” There is an odd feeling in the air when Tig utters the episode’s closing words knowing it will be the last time they are ever said: “Welp, that’s been podcast.”

Tig’s documentary Tig premiered on Netflix last week. Her HBO Special Boyish Girl Interrupted premieres Saturday, August 22.

Kyle is currently touring, writes for Inside Amy Schumer, and was recently nominated for an Emmy for the second time.

David is the host of the SyFy channel show Reactor, a weekly roundup of everything sci-fi.

So Long, ‘Professor Blastoff’