Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Here at Pod-Canon, I write about the very best of the best where podcasts are concerned. Yet I have devoted much of my career as a pop culture writer to seeking out the very worst of the worst. I specialize in ferreting out buried non-treasures so morbidly fascinating and preposterous that they engender cognitive dissonance.
So you can imagine how excited I was to discover during my online meanderings a hitherto unknown sequel – an official sequel mind you – to Easy Rider starring not Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda but rather a dude named Phil Pitzer and actor Jeff Fahey, whose fading, C-list star-power nevertheless allows him to out-class and out-shine his co-stars like a young Marlon Brando in a community theater production of Our Town. The story behind how Easy Rider: The Ride Back came into existence is so far-fetched that if it were to appear in a Hollywood satire it would feel wildly, even distractingly implausible.
Pitzer, you see, wasn’t always an actor. Hell, it doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration to say that before this movie, he was never an actor. Instead, Pitzer spent the best years of his life working as a lawyer and it was in this capacity that this shameless opportunist, this human embodiment of chutzpah, somehow managed to secure the rights to make a sequel to Easy Rider despite his complete lack of qualifications and experience both behind, and in front, of the camera.
Easy Rider: The Ride Back was made and released on home video quietly, but the bad moviesphere has subsequently discovered and embraced it. I wrote about it for the late film site The Dissolve, and the film has been ably and hilariously covered by How Did This Get Made, We Hate Movies and The Flop House. The Flop House featured a tangent on the film’s peculiar take on the economy of a biker bar that ranks as one of the funniest bits in the podcast’s often hilariously tangential history.
You can’t go wrong with any of the three podcasts, but I’m going to highlight We Hate Movies because the podcasters seem uniquely afflicted by the film. For We Hate Movies, this was no mere movie-going experience. No, for them, it was an ordeal to be endured. Early in the podcast they compare it to subway ads about how abortion changes you, except in this case it isn’t abortion that’s changing them but the harrowing trauma of having survived The Ride Back and lived to tell the tale.
Imagine a fourth Godfather movie shot for $300,000 by a non-professional who won the film rights to The Godfather in a drunken poker game with Francis Ford Coppola and decided, what the hell, he might as well star in it as well, despite not having acted since a poorly received second-grade performance as a tree, and you have a sense of the surreal incongruity of The Ride Back.
The film stars Pitzer, who the podcast hypothesizes sought the role out because an acquaintance long ago told him he kind of looked a little bit like Peter Fonda, as the brother of Fonda’s character, a theoretically “cool” old, leather-skinned dude who sells reefer sticks and lives a life of libertarian freedom before discovering that his cranky old man is dying.
Pitzer’s character must then make the “ride back” to visit his old man before he dies so they can reconcile and shit, but that description makes the film sound far more coherent and sane than it actually is. We Hate Movies devotes 90 minutes to breathlessly articulating the film’s almost bottomless absurdities, and it’s clear they could easily go another 90 minutes without getting to everything in the film that is hilariously, almost inconceivably wrong.
There is enormous ground to cover, but the podcast keeps coming back, again and again, to the film’s most bizarre paradox: this follow-up to a preeminent countercultural classic is filled with bizarrely incongruous, heavy-handed message about honoring the sacrifices of our nation’s soldiers, regardless of our feelings about individual wars and ham-fisted patriotism. Oh, and in what I imagine is a wholly unrelated development, it turns out that when he wasn’t riding hogs, Pitzer previously did a stint in the military.
It’s hard to know where to start with the film’s craziness, but a good place to begin would be with the film’s most spectacularly wrong decision, to have Pitzer’s narration compare the day when his saintly brother was murdered by redneck scum to 9/11. The podcast plays part of the sequence where Pitzer unforgettably, if nonsensically, intones, “My name is Morgan Williams. I had a brother Wyatt. He had this nickname: Captain America. The day after Mardi Gras, 1969, Wyatt and his best friend, Billy, were riding their bikes, heading for Florida. The sky was crystal blue, just like 9/11.”
Just like 9/11 indeed. It’d seemingly be impossible to top that opening note of tone-deaf bad taste, but the movie tops itself at every turn.The We Hate Movies fellas capture the density of the film’s miscalculations, the way it piles one staggeringly terrible idea on top of another until the film resembles a Russian nesting doll of terrible judgment and insane choices.
The podcast conveys the convoluted nature of the film’s storytelling, the way it keeps flashing back to the Vietnam era and even World War II as the story gets more and more needlessly complicated and includes everything from suicide to gang rapes of both the heterosexual and homosexual variety to a monologue about the nobility and inspirational nature of Jackie Robinson.
It’s as if Pitzer wrote five unpublished, unpublishable novels taking place over a eighty year span and after securing the sequel rights to Easy Rider, decided he would somehow incorporate all of them into a single overstuffed extravaganza, coherence and logic be damned.
We Hate Movies is so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of craziness in Easy Rider: The Ride Back that they propose the creation of an Ocean’s Eleven-style team, with each member devoted to some element of its insanity, whether it’s weird soft-core digressions or vague ecological concerns that are handled as clumsily as everything else in this waking nightmare of a film.
Easy Rider: The Ride Back most assuredly should not exist. Hell, Obama should devote his final months in office to signing executive orders keeping glitches in the matrix like this from ever happening again. But for the sake of the gleeful wiseacres in We Hate Movies, The Flop House and How Did This Get Made, as well as pop-culture rubberneckers like myself, it’s a damn good thing it does, though having both seen it, written about it, and listened to multiple podcasts devoted to articulating its wrongness, I’m still not entirely convinced that we all didn’t just hallucinate it.
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.