Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
The ingenious premise of Comedy Bang Bang favorite Lauren Lapkus’ namesake podcast With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus finds Lapkus perpetually filling the “guest” role while a rotating cast of professional funny people serve as the “host” of a constantly changing roster of faux-podcasts. It’s a loose structure that plays to Lapkus’ versatility while also ensuring that every episode will be different. Podcasts often thrive on ritual and repetition and on that note, it’s probably smart that every episode of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus is linked not just by Lapkus’ presence, but also by the participation of Traci Rearden, one of Lapkus’ best-loved creations, an eccentrically pierced young woman with an unusual moviegoing history who may not be the funniest podcast character around but might just be the most ingratiatingly sweet.
Because With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus changes dramatically from week to week, Lapkus’ role on it changes accordingly. On “Sorry I’ve Been Catfishing You,” an uncomfortably gut-busting standout episode of this consistently funny podcast, for example, Lapkus is cast against type in the straight-women role.
The episode is often hilarious in bracingly dark ways, but Lapkus never goes for laughs or for jokes. No, she plays the dark, tricky, complicated emotions of the episode completely straight and the podcast is much funnier for it. As the title suggests, “Sorry I’ve Been Catfishing You” is a podcast hosted by Kim (Claudia O’Doherty), an almost creepily pleasant Australian who has been catfishing her first, and almost assuredly final, podcast guest Susie (Lapkus) for ages, by pretending to be a male model/architect online when she’s actually a female stenographer engaged to another stenographer.
Lapkus plays the target of the host’s deceit, a true romantic who loves handsome men and buildings and is expecting to be interviewed about her patisserie when she discovers that her ostensible finance and the love of her life is actually an Australian woman with a penchant for cheerfully uttering unbelievably dark, disturbing, and insulting things in the breeziest possible way.
The beauty of this particular podcast lies in the knowing, novelistic details, like the shattered guest and obliviously cruel host recounting how they first came together online in a cheese forum where they agreed that brie was the best cheese. Kim would seem like a sociopath even if she didn’t concede, with disconcertingly casual matter of factness, that she doesn’t really feel “remorse” or “guilt” or any of the things non-psychopaths experience.
“I’m Sorry I’ve Been Catfishing You” travels down a number of dark alleys, with a smile on its face and a cheerful ditty on its tongue. We learn, for example, that the photograph of a handsome man that Susie thought was corresponding with actually belonged to the host’s brother, who died after a bus drove over him. This means that whenever Susie masturbated thinking about the man she thought would someday be her husband, she was masturbating to a dead man, something that creeps her out more than it probably should. As the posthumous cult of Marilyn Monroe proves, there are a whole lot of folks who don’t mind masturbating to the image of a dead person, but it’s less creepy if the dead person is a celebrity.
Kim proves her bona fides as a sociopath in other ways as well. Inspired in some strange way by Geena Davis – Mensa member, archer and sometimes-actress – as a twelve year old, Kim decided she would try her hand at archery by shooting at a donkey. She succeeded in shooting the donkey in its eye, but alas, as Kim relays, it took “so long to die”, something she seems to see primarily as an unfortunate inconvenience in her own life.
There are layers upon layers to the cruelty of O’Doherty’s catfishing host. She tells her hapless guest that she arranged this podcast revelation in part because she’s really engaged, to an actual man who exists in the world, and wanted to straighten things out before she permanently settled down with a man she really loves.
So Kim is partially there to shatter her victim’s hopes and dreams by revealing that the home-designing hunk she thinks is her romantic future is actually a woman devoid of a conscience. But if Kim is there partially to disabuse the guest of her romantic delusions, she seems equally intent on stringing her along even further.
Despite making unkind comments about Susie’s “milky eye” and “dead tooth,” Kim further confuses the issue (and the woman she’s been peppily tormenting) by kissing Susie during a break and experiencing “electricity” when their lips touch. Of course, it’s impossible to pin down Susie on anything (her slipperiness borders on preternatural), so she goes on to explain that the electricity she experienced kissing Susie was “bad electricity” but that doesn’t keep her from wanting to explore that bad electricity further, perhaps because concepts like “bad” and “good” don’t have a whole lot of meaning to the clearly insane.
“I’m Sorry I’ve Been Catfishing You” travels a rollercoaster of emotions in less than an hour. It’s alternately painfully awkward, uncomfortably funny, and charged with strange psychosexual tension. Part of the appeal of With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus lies in its talented star continually coming up with new characters and new scenarios, but the world that she and O’Doherty create here is weird and vast and interesting enough to merit a second installment of a fake-podcast specifically designed to be a one-off, in more ways than one.
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.