Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
Live podcasts can be a tricky beast, particularly when they’re taped at music festivals, as tends to be the case these days. A studio is a controlled environment but a live taping involves all manner of weird variables. The audience could be made up of fans but it could just as easily be made up of people who’ve never heard of the podcast, or podcasting in general, and are just waiting until you leave so a DJ can set up.
Yes, live podcasts are a tricky beast. That is particularly true of something like The Dead Authors Podcast, which amuses and delights in the inimitable Paul F. Tompkins fashion but has a larger agenda to educate about literacy and raise money for a worthwhile child’s literacy program in addition to generating big laughs.
How do you get a bunch of drunk and stoned and horny Bumbershoot festival-goers interested in a podcast about a time-traveling science fiction writer’s droll interviews with prominent and equally deceased authors from throughout the centuries? Well, if you’re trying to entertain twenty-something hedonists on vacation, why not offer up Aleister Crowley, quite possibly the most hedonistic, wanton, amoral writer in history, with the possible exception of Marquis de Sade and Anton LaVey?
Yes, music festival podcast tapings are a curious beast, so it is appropriate that the droll duo of Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Gourley brought the Beast himself to Bumbershoot in 2014. Gourley plays Crowley as a gentleman pervert, a wanton slave to pleasure as history notes but also, it seems, the kind of unexpectedly helpful friend and all-around good guy who will help you move if you ask because he has a pick-up truck.
Half the pleasure in Gourley’s performance comes from the delight he takes in words, like when he humblebrags at the beginning of the chat, “Over my years I have collected a cornucopia of diseases, not limited to phlebitis, albuminuria, influenza, malaria, syphilis, gonorrhea, heroin addiction, I’ve had it all!” The other half comes from Gourley’s exquisitely eccentric pronunciation, which mines every last bit of gleeful eccentricity from these sonorous maladies.
For Gourley’s Crowley, pretty much everything comes down to sex magic, but he’s been engaged in sex magic rituals with “robes and hats and communing with otherworldly spirits and Zoroastical beings and all that” for so long that, honestly, he seems a little bored with it all. Indeed he says “sex magic” so often it loses whatever transgressive edge it might have had. “I’ll take carnal embrace with a rock, or a log, or a barn or one of those cranks that starts up a model T, anything!” Gourley’s Crowley insists with incongruous cheerfulness.
It’s almost as if “Sex Magic” is the secret word on the old Let’s Make a Deal show and whoever says it will be richly compensated every time he repeats it. The audience is among the biggest X factors in live tapings, and Gourley’s Crowley singles out a festival-goer and potential sex magic partner named “DJ” who ends up standing in for all festival-goers and hedonists everywhere.
As with other episodes of The Dead Authors Podcast, the Aleister Crowley episode dispenses a steady parade of fascinating factoids and trivia to go along with the quips and merriment. We learn, for example, that Crowley was such a bad egg even Mussolini considered him too much for Fascist society. We also learn that Crowley, despite his reputation for evil, actually worked as a spy for England (not unlike former Dead Authors Podcast guest Roald Dahl), something he’s reluctant to concede because it contradicts the whole “evil personified” thing. Indeed, Gourley’s Crowley indignantly insists, “I was a degenerate pervert and NOT a hero!” but he can’t stop humming the James Bond theme and the episode ends, improbably yet wonderfully enough, with these two simpatico comic forces joining forces for a colorful a cappella rendition of the Skyfall theme song.
When Tompkins and Gourley, in character as H.G Wells and Crowley respectively, find a good, sinister groove in this episode, the result is nothing short of comedy/podcast magic, which is not quite sex magic, but it’s not half bad, either.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.