Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
At its best, the wildly popular bad movie podcast How Did This Get Made doesn’t just analyze the worst, most embarrassing and inexplicable cinematic detritus; it celebrates it. There is a snarky joy to the glee Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, and June Diane Raphael take in unpacking movies that shouldn’t exist, and seemingly couldn’t exist, yet somehow exist all the same.
That is a perfect description of the movie that was so bewildering, so crazy, and so inexplicable that it inspired the trio to start a podcast as a mean of channeling their crazy movie obsession to productive ends. That movie is the 2009 Robin Williams/John Travolta buddy comedy Old Dogs, a movie whose existence is utterly bewildering.
Old Dogs was sold as a goofy family comedy in the vein of Wild Hogs, with which it shares both a star (Travolta) and a director (Walt Becker). But the film flies so far off the rails that it borders on avant-garde. It’s as if some desperate Hollywood hack excised the stupidest, most ridiculous and insulting subplots from 19 different mediocre-or-worse Touchstone high-concept comedies from the 1980s and 1990s and joined them all together in some hideous Frankenstein’s monster of schlocky lowbrow comedy gone awry.
Scheer is so overwhelmed by the film that he barely knows where to begin in his gleeful comedy post-mortem. This was one of the first episodes of How Did This Get Made and there’s a certain awkward self-consciousness in the early going that would dissipate as the podcast progressed. The air of informality that podcasts generally have, the sense that listener and podcasters are old buddies even if they never meet in real life, was not quite there yet. But even at this early stage, its strengths were well-established, most notably the chemistry of the three and the manic delight the podcast takes in delving deep into the world of utter trash.
Most movies have a memorable scene or two, something that breaks through the white noise of everyday life and demands to be remembered, for reasons both good and bad. As the hosts acknowledge giddily, every single scene in Old Dogs angrily demands to be remembered, dissected, mocked and honored. This includes a scene where Robin Williams’ character, who has just discovered that he is the father of a pair of seven-year-old twins he then must take care of because their mother has to go to prison, stands there awkwardly while a son who is essentially a stranger to him takes a giant shit and asks where babies come from at the least opportune time.
The podcast plays a clip from the scene that scores the kind of belly laugh most comedies would kill for, albeit entirely of the unintentional variety. This is even before the scene is “punched up” with fart sounds so loud and explosive it’s a wonder they didn’t blow out the speakers in theaters where Old Dogs played. There are sonic booms that are quieter and more subtle than the fart sounds in Old Dogs.
Scheer captures the film’s sub-Guy Fieri flavor when he describes it as “A ballet of nut shots in a world of funny faces, surrounded by a chorus of farts.” The film is so dense with moments that defy rational comprehension that Mantzoukas, Scheer, and Raphael are in a furious hurry to single them all out.
Old Dogs has so many elements that would be the nuttiest part of any other movie, but are par for the course for this fascinating atrocity, which began life as a good-sized R rated film for immature quasi-grown-ups (I say quasi because if you enjoy the film Old Hogs on a non-ironic level then you have officially forfeited the right to call yourself a proper grown-up) before it was slashed to ribbons and re-fashioned as a kiddie comedy, albeit one where simian rape plays a sizable role.
Becker’s impressively batshit comedy attempts to ring laughs out of everything from debilitating/hilarious facial paralysis, tanning accidents, jetpacks, and perhaps most insanely, a subplot involving Bernie Mac (in, tragically, his final performance) as a superstar puppeteer with a weird human-sized puppet suit that allows him to manipulate real people (in this case Williams) as if he were an enormous puppet.
The deaths of Mac and Williams should lend a melancholy air to this podcast and to Old Dogs as a whole. Mac and Williams were wonderful entertainers and legends who came together to breathe demented life into a script that plays like unintentional parody throughout. Yet there’s something weirdly liberating, even empowering, in laughing not just in the face of Mac and Williams’ premature deaths, but also at Hollywood formula gone so awry that it borders on dada.
Watching Travolta and Williams once again lower themselves for the sake of a paycheck helped what would go on to become an enormously popular find its voice, which is less snarky or mean than goofy and wonderfully enthusiastic. How did Old Dogs end up getting made? The podcast does not have an answer, but it has a blast asking the question, and that fun is infectious.
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.