There’s been an emerging complaint bubbling up within some podcast-consuming circles lately — and some producers as well, I should add — about how the narrative podcast genre has become too rote. Predictable. Tired. The stories themselves may change, but the style, sound, and structure have remained fundamentally the same, as if calcified in the mold of public radio. You probably know the beats: the obvious signposting, the particular rigidity and gentleness of the narration, a performative display of wonder, and so on. The end result is what you’d get if every single new Netflix documentary followed the widely familiar Ken Burns aesthetic blueprint.
If this gripe resonates with you, then perhaps you, the jaded pod consumer, should consider checking out something called Richard’s Famous Food Podcast, which may be a helpful jolt to your feed. RFFP presents itself as a “gastro-humor” podcast, but only because elevator pitches need to be comprehensible to be useful. The description suggests a premise where the purpose is to serve up stories about food in the style of Gastropod or Dan Pashman’s The Sporkful — except with, you know, with jokes.
That’s not what’s on the menu here. RFFP is, more accurately, a bizarre, loopy, and aggressively bombastic series of vignettes that smashes two different types of shows together to create something completely different and barely explainable. On the one hand, you have a fairly standard attempt to deliver pocket-sized field stories about the history and context of various food trends. Episodes have included stories about fermentation, natural wine, bone broth, and cornichons. On the other hand, you have something approximating a Rick & Morty–ish cartoon: a recurring narrative thread featuring the adventures of an anthropomorphic mustachioed pickle and his similarly anthropomorphic pickle nephew, with the former setting out to make a food podcast without incurring the editorial wrath of the Pod God and the Podcast Police.
Like I said, a little hard to describe. Then again, it’s not like either of the podcast’s two components necessarily see themselves through. Most of the food documentary stuff tends to conclude abruptly, or simply never finishes its thought. The cartoony stuff, generally deployed as a framing device, doesn’t really have a particular plot or narrative arc. But honestly, all that doesn’t really matter, because the sum of the sounds you ultimately get is ludicrously entertaining. Each episode is a stream of consciousness that explodes with clouds of color and aural wit, peppered by an assortment of food factoids that may or may not be helpful at a trivia night somewhere.
I hope I’m not making RFFP sound amateurish or excessively messy. It is most certainly not. In fact, it’s almost the polar opposite. Despite its chaotic nature, the podcast demonstrates hypercompetence in sound design. You can’t create engaging anarchy if you’re not already somewhat fluent in the rules that you’re bending. Every effect, whether it’s a fizz or a pop or an un-transcribable mouth sound (*ppt*?) is used as a crucial building block to facilitate up RFFP’s freewheeling, psychedelic flow. The show is dense with sticky aural cues (“AAAAANYWAY”) that buy real estate in the back of your brain, earworms let loose in service of world-building. It’s the rare podcast that you can identify within seconds of hitting the play button, which is another way of saying it’s the rare podcast that sounds like almost nothing else.
Much of this, I’d argue, is a testament to RFFP being a purely independent and largely unfiltered product of one creator’s very specific vision. The creator in question is Richard Parks III, i.e. the titular Richard, who is a working food writer, radio producer, and documentarian. As a writer, he’s contributed to Lucky Peach (RIP), Taste, and McSweeney’s, and is the co-author of the chef Wesley Avila’s cookbook, Guerilla Tacos, which honors Los Angeles’ rich tapestry of street tacos. His credits as a radio producer include a collaboration with the Flaming Lips on a musical radio drama for KCRW called Wayne Coyne’s Human Head-Shaped Tumor.
Parks seems to be, in the positive sense of the word, quite eccentric, and that eccentricity is the electricity pulsing through Richard’s Famous Food Podcast. The show is long on charm, but at times it can also feel risky. Not all jokes work, and not all swings at self-referential, self-effacing cringe humor totally connect. There’s a tinge of darkness to the fun, in that edgy “how far can we take this?” vein. For some, that’s an appealing kind of danger — right up until the point that it’s not.
Which is all to say, there are some possible complications with this show. But in spite of that, and maybe because of it, I find myself in constant awe of the whole production. It’s probably not the kind of show that’s going to take over the Apple Podcast charts or make a ton of money for Parks — at least, not in the current composition of the podcast business, still in its toddler phase when it comes to making money. It’s far too strange. Unpredictable. Zany. But it’s a refreshing ball of intense energy and ideas that’s really, really fun — a reminder of what this whole podcasting thing, with its original structural premise to let more people into the creative system, was supposed to do in the first place.