Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time
When Sha Na Na founding member Dennis Greene died recently at the age of 66, most people fuzzily remembered him as part of a silly nostalgia novelty act that lucked into participating in two bona fide generational touchstones when they performed at Woodstock and later appeared in Grease.
But fans of Andy Daly and Comedy Bang Bang know Sha Na Na as something more. In Comedy Bang Bang’s alternate universe, Huell Howser teamed up with Jesse Ventura to investigate life’s mysteries, Garry Marshall hunts the Loch Ness monster and is involved in a May-December romance with a gold-digging, hard-partying Gillian Jacobs and Sha Na Na is a band that coldly rejected the attempts to super fan Wolfman Hot Dog (Daly) 49 times in 49 different states.
As Matt Gourley and Andy Daly acknowledge in their introduction to “Rockin’ and a Rollin’ With Wolfman Hot Dog”, one of the standout episodes in the mini-series The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project (quick, say that five times in a row!), a project they put together to help promote the first season of Review, Hot Dog is more innocent than most of the characters Daly plays, if only because he’s not murderous, criminally insane or a Satan-worshipper. They concede, however, that despite his fundamental childlike innocence, Wolfman Hot Dog’s life may not entirely be devoid of killing.
On Comedy Bang Bang, Daly’s demented coterie of characters are guests in someone else’s show and universe. The genius of The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project was that it allowed Daly to build the rich, surprisingly textured worlds of his characters by making them the stars of their own show (albeit ones that only last a single pilot episode) and then fleshing out that universe with supporting characters that speak to their obsessions and delusions.
In the case of Wolfman Hot Dog, the Sha Na Na obsessive and devoted waterskier Daly memorably inhabited on multiple episodes of Comedy Bang Bang, that’s an actual former member of Sha Na Na in the form of Slammin’ Oliver, a crusty rocker-turned-academic played by Sean Conroy of the brilliant and underrated podcast The Long Shot.
But before Wolfman can talk to one of his heroes, he first shares what he imagines it’s like to be part of Sha Na Na. In his feverish imagination, the fellas all live in a giant mansion and sleep in beds the shape of musical notes and live lives equally devoted to keeping the flame of classic American rock and doo-wop alive, brotherhood and attending to the sexual needs of the many topless teenage girls who flock to them.
There is some funny stuff early on about the war between surfers and water-skiers and a waterskiing friend and colleague of Wolfman Hot Dog who chose to be in a coma for a solid decade but the episode really hits its tragicomic stride when Wolfman Hot Dog brings on Sha Na Na alum Slammin’ Oliver and learns that life in Sha Na Na is anything but the Eisenhower-era waking daydream he envisions.
Wolfman Hot Dog’s faith in his beloved Sha Na Na is so strong and so unshakeable that he somehow manages to hold onto his delusions about their perfect lives even after he is violently disabused of them by Slammin’ Oliver in the strongest, most explicit terms. For example, he somehow manages to retain his belief that Sha Na Na scores 10 million dollars a gig even after being informed that a group member’s take-home pay was $125 a night and a $30 per diem, reasoning that the group obviously must take home a fortune for each show, albeit one they then distribute in a deeply unfair, shamefully disproportionate manner.
And when Slammin’ Oliver hilariously informs Sha Na Na’s biggest fan that when their television show was canceled by television executives who coldly informed them that they had used up their potential, at which point fan favorite Bowser started openly weeping as he fretted about how he would be able to feed his family, Wolfman Hot Dog chooses to ignore this inconvenient truth. In a Herculean act of self-delusion, Wolfman instead imagines that Bowser flexed his giant biceps, stuck his fist in his mouth and then punched the television executive so hard that the force of the blow caused him to rocket out of his clothes like someone in a cartoon, at which point, the Sha Na Na show ran for eighteen more years.
Just when it seems like the world of Sha Na Na cannot get any sadder or more tragic, Wolfman Hot Dog brings out Veronica Melcher (Maria Bamford) a female friend and fellow Sha Na Na super-fan whose enthusiasm for the group led her to have a one-sided sexual relationship with Slammin’ Oliver.
The window we’re given into the tortured relationship of convenience between this sad, unhappy man and a woman willing to settle for much less than deserves is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. Because the cast are such fearless and inspired improvisers, more than willing to swim around in dark and dangerous waters, “Rockin’ And A Rollin’ With Wolfman Hot Dog” generates an awful lot of pathos and genuine sadness as well as humor out of a half-forgotten joke band and two of its saddest and most dedicated fans.
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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