Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
David Lee Roth has a curious relationship with comedy, just as David Lee Roth has a curious and complicated relationship with reality. If you were to ask Roth, who is not only the world’s biggest David Lee Roth fan, but also perhaps the all-time champion of self-love, I suspect he would tell you that one of David Lee Roth’s many, many incredible gifts is hilarity. Roth clearly sees himself as a real cut-up, a Catskills jokester, an old school vaudevillian who isn’t just the white Sammy Davis Jr: he’s also a one-man Marx Brothers, an American Benny Hill, a funnyman in the razzle dazzle package of a song and dance man.
In his wonderfully idiotic memoir Crazy From the Heat, Roth writes effusively about deriving inspiration from people like Rudy Ray Moore and writing a comedy vehicle for himself at the height of his fame that, if it had only gotten made, promised to make Being There look like a flaming pile of horse shit by comparison. When it came to directing comedy, and also when it came to being the goofball making silly faces in front of the camera, Roth seems to think he’s just a step behind Chaplin and Tati, neither of whom ever came up with a comic conceit as sublime as Roth’s “Dave TV.”
To many people in comedy, however, Roth is less a contemporary or an unusually funny rock star so much as he is someone who is a lot of fun to laugh at. Roth has spent much of his career trying to make people laugh with his shenanigans and antics and tomfoolery yet he has only succeeded in being unintentionally hilarious in his astonishing, almost pathological lack of self-consciousness and self-awareness.
As someone who has long found Roth morbidly fascinating, I was overjoyed to stumble upon something called The Roth Show on iTunes a few years back in both a podcast and video-cast form. Was Diamond Dave really joining the podcasting revolution? Had one of the all-time great characters of rock really embraced this strange new medium?
I was both disappointed and overjoyed to discover that The Roth Show is no slickly produced operation. Nope, it’s pretty much nothing but a seemingly cocaine and Red Bull-fueled Roth talking about nonsense into a microphone for an extended period of time. The Roth Show was no conversation. No, in true David Lee Roth form, it was a monologue from a man who never tires of his own voice, a man who embodies the concept of talking for the sake of talking in its purest and most entertaining and insufferable form.
Roth clearly sees himself as a jazz soloist of talking, a hep cat with a funky vibe and a lot of crazy stories all the cool cats and sexy mommies can’t wait to hear. He may aspire to be the crazy-talking Kerouac of hard rock, but on The Roth Show he cuts more of an Abe Simpson vibe, forever rambling on and on about things that don’t make a goddamned lick of sense at all.
On the thirteenth episode of The Roth Show, titled, “Alcohol & Cigarettes-A Personal History Part 1” old man Roth favors listeners with a free-associative ramble all about how as a young man he and his buddies would play this thing called “keggers” where there was this thing called a “keg” and it had lots of beer in it, and the dudes would all be trying to drink ice-cold Budweisers caused they loved to party, and also Budweiser came in a can but it was unlike the cans of the other beers Roth drank as a young man, from companies like Schlitz and Blatz, but then there was also cheap wine and that was a crazy wang-dang-doodle as well.
In a portion of the podcast no more nonsensical than any other, a possibly senile Roth starts free associating about there being a hippie girl in a commercial for Boone’s Farm that may exist or may just be a figment of Roth’s imagination and maybe you’d follow her from commercial to commercial like she was a real person, man.
Roth’s banter here suggests the confused, violently incoherent thoughts of a dying man, when the synapses are firing wildly and memories tumble forth in a dizzying frenzy, devoid of context, logic or sanity. But that actually makes the podcast sound more sensible than it actually is.
The rest of the podcast makes very little sense. Roth has given himself the role of the wise and sassy rock and roll guru dispensing crazy wisdom from a lifetime of experience but he comes across more as a man without a filter or a clue, a demented old coot descending deeper and deeper into self-parody.
Honestly, if The Roth Show were a comedy show with, I dunno, Matt Besser spoofing Roth as the quintessential clueless and grotesquely narcissistic has-been still basking in his waning fame, it could not be any crazier or over the top or sadly telling than this bizarre exercise in self-mythologizing.
Re-experiencing the madness that is The Roth Show, I found myself wondering who it possibly could have been meant for. What could this bizarre production’s audience possibly be? Who is so enraptured by David Lee Roth that they would sign up to listen to him babble semi-coherent sentiments into an open mic for a half hour, yet somehow needs to be schooled on such exotic and challenging concepts as drinking beer, keggers, parties and beer commercials?
Then I realized that the best and also only audience for David Lee Roth babbling about things of interest only to David Lee Roth is, of course, David Lee Roth himself. He’s the only person in the universe I can imagine being continually impressed by the nonsense that comes pouring out of his mouth. Podcasting is an inherently masturbatory medium, but The Roth Show lowers it to new depths of shameless creative onanism. There are porn videos that consist only of men masturbating that somehow seem far less masturbatory than listening to David Lee Roth entertain David Lee Roth with the words and memories of David Lee Roth. For David Lee Roth’s sake.
In that respect, The Roth Show feels weirdly like eavesdropping on someone else’s insane inner monologue. It almost feels like The Roth Show is a secret audio diary Roth keeps just to amuse himself that accidentally got released to the general public. The result promises to be amusing to Roth fans, as well as people like myself, who enjoy laughing at him, if not necessarily with him.
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.