Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
On Instagram recently, Scott Aukerman shared what appeared to be the first page of a script he had co-written with Comedy Bang Bang staff writer and frequent collaborator Neil Campbell. The draft was dated 10/10/2016 but Comedy Bang Bang/Earwolf die-hards could be excused for experiencing a distinct feeling of deja vu over the show’s title: Mike Detective, as well as the episode’s title, “I Heard It Through The Grape-Dying.”
The script listed the episode number as 101, or the beginning of the very beginning, but the character of Mike Detective has been rambling around the Earwolf universe since 2011. In a pre-Howl era, Rob Huebel starred as the title character, a shamus who knows his way around a simile, in a cult classic mini-series that indulged Aukerman’s love of terrible movie-themed puns to a perverse and surprisingly hilarious degree.
Listeners’ enjoyment of the Mike Detective saga consequently relies heavily on their love of groan-inducing wordplay. So if a line like, “The day started off like an over-baked cookie: crummy as hell” or “The weather was like the film It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: overcast” inspires eye-rolling and tortured sighs instead of guffaws, the 90 or so minutes that constitute the Mike Detective saga will be closer to an endurance test than a delightful romp.
If you can’t get enough movie-themed wordplay and exquisitely tortured similes, however, then Mike Detective isn’t a guilty pleasure so much as it just pure pleasure. As I wrote earlier of the comedy of Harris Wittels, particularly his Foam Corner universe, the jokes in Mike Detective, which feel like they could have been written by Wittels, inspire a sort of joyful double laughter. You laugh at a joke that’s too ridiculous almost to even qualify as a joke, and then you laugh at yourself for finding something so unbelievably silly so funny.
As the title suggests, Mike Detective is an extended riff on hardboiled detective radio dramas, the kind where tough guys talk in staccato bursts of insults and come-ons and the women are all femme fatales, dizzy dames, or long-suffering secretaries, invariably with legs to die for and bodies that can stop traffic. Yet in a clever subversion of hard-boiled cliches, women are, surprisingly, the only thing the title character encounters that he doesn’t feel obligated to talk about in the most simile-laden and convoluted terms. No, Mike Detective admires women’s figures here, but that’s because they have “great tits” and “a great ass” and consequently look hot because of them.
Like most hardboiled fiction, Mike Detective has a lot of plot, pretty much none of it essential or even particularly important. The plot is mostly irrelevant and involves unlicensed, uninsured gumshoe Mike Detective investigating the disappearance of the sister of client Stephanie Client (the characters here tend to have last names that double as their professions/identities) at the hands of heavy Kelsey Grammer. Yes, that Kelsey Grammer, of Frasier and Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show (featuring Paul F. Tompkins) fame.
The supporting cast is fleshed out by pretty much everybody you imagine would be in an early Earwolf miniseries lovingly brought to anachronistic life by Aukerman and the gang. Guest stars include such ubiquitous Comedy Bang Bang all-stars as “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter, Andy Daly, Aukerman himself (in multiple roles, most memorably a doctor/old-school informant), and Zack Galifinakis, who breaks the fourth wall (does the fourth wall exist in purely audio formats?) to explain that his performance is distractingly, yet amusingly flat and affectless because he’s literally reading the lines for the first time and has no idea how his role fits into the bigger picture.
Mike Detective’s plot doesn’t follow a straight line so much as an endless series of left turns and crazy digressions involving everything from cannibalism to the Dancing Itos to a strange segment in the final third where Mike Detective abruptly vanishes and the protagonist briefly becomes Mike Detective’s equally hard-boiled Priest brother before Mike Detective returns to finish things out.
Neil Campbell handles announcing duties and the narration functions as a handy vessel for delivering absurdist comedy and as a character in itself. Mike Detective represents Aukerman’s aesthetic at its most pure. Various catch-phrases from Borat, the Prince song “Party Man” from the Batman soundtrack, and “Do The Bartman” all figure prominently and the movie Taken is referenced and joked about so extensively that audiences could be forgiven for assuming that this whole preposterous endeavor was ultimately just viral marketing for the popular Liam Neeson action movie franchise.
You would imagine that a mini-series that relies as extensively, if not exclusively, on the same kind of simile and wordplay-based humor over and over again would wear out its welcome very quickly but Mike Detective somehow never does. It’s as consistently inspired and hilarious as the early Zucker Brothers/Abraham classics (movies like Airplane! and Top Gun! but even more so the television series Police Squad!) it often resembles.
I don’t know if something this silly needs to be resurrected in another form, but I have faith in Aukerman and Campbell and their instincts. In its initial form as a transcendently silly exercise in tomfoolery, Mike Detective, is like the transcript of a terse owl: a hoot.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.