Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Improvisation is largely a matter of making choices in the moment. This can be exhilarating as well as terrifying but the nice thing about playing noted chauvinist pig Tom Leykis is that the path before you is clear: the only real choice is to say the single most disgusting, repulsive and obnoxiously sexist thing that comes to mind, and then sit back while other people process your over-the-top awfulness.
Comedian and impersonator James Adomian delights in playing alpha males who exude toxic levels of machismo and swagger even when it becomes clear that they do not know what they’re talking about and have clearly experienced a clean break from the reality the rest of us inhabit. Adomian became podcast-famous channeling the bottomless paranoia and convoluted thinking of wrestler turned governor turned professional conspiracy theorist Jesse “The Brain” Ventura on Comedy Bang Bang and other podcasts but he discovered an even juicier subject for his ridicule in the bloated and bloviating Leykis, a shock jock who embodies the gross misogyny of the oft-mocked format in its purest and most disgusting form.
Admonian as Leykis does not show up on the hilarious 176th episode of Comedy Bang Bang until about twenty minutes in. The other guests on the show include Jason Mantzoukas, who has such an easy and natural rapport with host Scott Aukerman that on Comedy Bang Bang he often comes off more like a second host than a proper guest, and Amy Poehler, who as a famously staunch feminist and icon of strong, empowered femininity, is the perfect comic foil for Leykis.
The episode gets off to a strong start with Poehler and Mantzoukas discussing their weirdly precocious adolescent viewing habits, and specifically their deep shared investment in the happiness of the cast of angst-ridden middle-aged suburbanites on Thirtysomething. This is followed by a game of “Speed Round” where Aukerman asks Mantzoukas incredibly easy questions and Poehler unbelievably complex, heady and cerebral questions about the nature of existence and reality that she answers with lightning-fast aplomb.
But the episode really kicks into high gear with the introduction of Adomian’s Leykis. Adomian’s Leykis completely dominates the conversation from the moment he arrives. He incorrectly assumes that he’s hosting his own call-in show instead of guesting on someone else’s and immediately establishes the tone of his charming personality when he proclaims that he’s “taking calls and putting bitches in their place.”
Adomian plays Leykis as a man so hopelessly in love with the sound of his own voice and so terrified of silence that he fills every spare moment with nonsensical shouts of catchphrases like “You know what I’m talking about!” and “Blow me up, Tom!” and endless, ritualistic recitations of his own first name. Adomian’s hilarious burlesque of Leykis depicts his virulent, zealously cultivated hatred of women as a form of insanity. Early in his appearance, for example, Leykis insists that Poehler – a slender woman seated at a table alongside him – is a woman caller whose “shrill, shrieking” tone clearly indicates that she’s a “porker” and a “big one.”
Sometimes Leykis’ boasts are delightfully nonsensical to the point of surrealism, like when he crows that in his zeal to be “signing racks and porking butts” he started a “factory farm” to create more butts for him to pork. Adomian nails the creepy, trolling privilege of Leykis, the way he calls women “Dear” in such a condescending way that he might as well be saying, “You poor, dumb woman” and calls men “Son” in a similar attempt to establish his superiority and authority over them.
Poehler plays the situation perfectly. At first she recoils understandably from Leykis’ verbal diarrhea, attributing his leering, loutish sexism to deep-seated insecurities and past heartbreak but after a certain point she seems intrigued, even attracted to Leykis as the ultimate bad boy just waiting to be saved by the right woman when he starts calling her a dirty little “piglet.”
The podcast has big, big laughs but some of the funniest moments are among the most subtle, like when Aukerman replies to Leykis’ comment about women poking holes in condoms in a desperate attempt to ensnare hapless men in their man-traps via babies and trickery, and Aukerman earnestly replies that he and his wife have been genuinely trying to have a baby for the previous fifteen months.
Leykis seems like an extraordinarily fun mindset to inhabit and Adomian clearly loves slipping inside the radio personality’s oily skin. Adomian’s Leykis wasn’t the marquee attraction on this particular podcast – that would be American treasure Poehler – but he made sure that the character would never be forgotten, for the right reasons as well as the wrong ones.
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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