Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
For fans of morbidly fascinating podcast trainwrecks, there is nothing quite like the anger and acrimony of a walkout. The walkout represents the ultimate breakdown of civility, when a podcaster and a guest stop being polite and start getting real.
I’ve written here about the notorious episode of WTF where Gallagher stomped off in rage after Marc Maron dared to challenge him. To this pantheon of exquisite podcasting awkwardness we can add Bob Zmuda storming out of an interview with Greg Fitzsimmons for Fitzdog Radio in a fit of unmistakably Tony Cliftonesque rage, cursing up a storm and vowing not to sign the release form he’s convinced Fitzsimmons will need in order to release the episode.
Zmuda’s anger is so blustery and over the top and theatrical that it almost feels like his walkout is a bit, just another make-pretend blowup in a career devoted to what Zmuda refers to as the “humbug,” the prank, the goof, the elaborate put-on. The episode ends with the host and guest cursing each other out but opens with Fitzsimmons being effusive in his praise for the work that Zmuda did with Andy Kaufman as his writer, best friend, and creative soulmate. Zmuda still seems to think he’s the smartest, hippest person in the room when he’s actually a doddering old fool with a conception of gender and sexuality hopelessly stuck sometime in his 1970s/1980s heyday, if not decades earlier.
Fitzsimmons eventually calls Zmuda on his shit, leading to the episode-ending blowout, but first he affords the controversial comedy legend/human parasite plenty of rope to hang himself with. Zmuda is, as always, a hopeless name-dropper, gossip, and braggart, endlessly recycling old beefs and crowing about long-ago triumphs. He’s intriguingly unselfconscious when he tells a long, rambling, profane anecdote about how Henry Kissinger wanted to have dinner with Jim Carrey around the time Man on the Moon, the Andy Kaufman biopic Zmuda consulted on, was being made. Zmuda encouraged Carrey to “just start drinking and talking pussy” with Kissinger and he’d be fine. More specifically, he encouraged Carrey to ask the Nobel Prize winner if it was true that Hillary Clinton was, in his words, a “dyke.” According to Zmuda, Kissinger chucklingly replied that Hillary “had more interns” than her husband did but Zmuda is too much of a gentleman to reveal what gender these interns were, or whether they were there for their boss’ sexual needs or to acquire valuable real-world job skills.
Fitzsimmons lets Zmuda embarrass himself talking about “hot babes” and bragging endlessly about the eighty million dollars he’s helped raise for charity through Comic Relief. Things begin to take a turn when Zmuda shares a charming anecdote about tricking a zaftig chorus girl into having sex with him by pretending to be Andy Kaufman. It says a lot about Zmuda that this rapey anecdote about tricking a woman into having sex with him by pretending to be someone more famous, attractive, and desirable is a whole different story than the anecdote about pretending to be Jim Carrey so he could have gross sex with a Playboy Playmate in the Playboy Mansion that figures prominently in his second cash-in book about his relationship with Kaufman. That story affected me so deeply, and says so much about the way powerful men view and treat women, that I wrote a blog about it for my website.
Fitzsimmons responds to Zmuda’s story by asking if his actions didn’t represent the lowest form of rape. Zmuda answers, obliviously, “Probably. It was fun, though,” as if “but I enjoyed it” somehow makes sexual assault okay. Zmuda goes on to say that the woman he tricked into sex, possibly in a criminal fashion, was so stupid she didn’t realize she was having sex with two different men even though Kaufman was circumcised and Zmuda is not.
Things get really tense when, after fifty fairly cordial minutes, Fitzsimmons calls his guest out on cynically pretending his dead best friend is still alive for the purpose of money, selling books, and getting attention. Zmuda doesn’t help his case by angrily insisting that anyone who doubts his story about helping pull off the greatest prank of all time by faking Andy Kaufman’s death grab a hoe and shovel and dig up Andy Kaufman’s grave and open his coffin to make sure that the right person is in there.
With defiant pride, Zmuda describes how Elayne Boosler described him and his co-author Lynne Margulies (Kaufman’s longtime girlfriend) as “maggots feasting on Kaufman’s dead body,” leading Zmuda, ever the sensitive soul, to protest that since Kaufman is not dead, there’s no dead body and consequently no maggots devouring it.
Zmuda gets so mad at Fitzsimmons that, in a line that instantly hurls itself into the Hall of Fame of Accidentally Unforgettable podcast banter, he angrily challenges Fitzsimmons, “You’re probably in cahoots with Elayne Boosler!”
This episode should be of interest to the many people Zmuda talks shit about here, most notably Danny DeVito, but you don’t need to be in cahoots with Elayne Boosler to find this exploration of one of comedy’s sleaziest, sketchiest minds queasily compelling and all too revealing.
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.