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Want to Try I Said No Gifts!? Start Here.

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Maybe you’ve only seen his revolting photos of shit and refuse on the streets of Los Angeles. Perhaps you read a cryptic tweet about his saga of strife with an emotionally abusive volleyball team. Or it might be that you once encountered a clip of his appearances on The Late Late Show as Craig Ferguson’s hapless intern. Wherever one first discovers the ethereal, flame-haired comedian Bridger Winegar, it is almost certainly online, where over the past decade he’s honed a devilishly clever and possibly insane digital persona caught somewhere between Andy Warhol, Emo Philips, and Rumpelstiltskin.

After going abundantly viral in the early days of Weird Twitter, Winegar pivoted to a serious career as a television multi-hyphenate with writing, producing, and acting credits on some of the funniest shows in recent memory, including Corporate, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and The Afterparty. Then, in March 2020, came I Said No Gifts!, a weekly podcast from Exactly Right Media. Each episode offers a new guest the opportunity to heed the title’s dictum lest they incur Winegar’s wrath. Naturally, everyone ignores the host’s wishes, forcing him to excoriate them for the incredible cruelty of their courtesy. The episode titles — “Sam Richardson Disobeys Bridger,” “Melissa Fumero Disobeys Bridger” — are only the first of several public lashes. Then there are the descriptions, like this one for episode 58, “Jimmy Kimmel Disobeys Bridger”: “Bridger is the epitome of grace even when Jimmy Kimmel rudely gives him a gift. They discuss RVs, clam chowder, and toothpicks.”

There is no funnier setup for a comedy podcast than this one, but it only works in execution due to Winegar, who has sharpened his imperious, easily offended little princeling character to cutthroat perfection. He slides seamlessly from curious, chatty interviewer in the opening minutes to furious host and back out again, sometimes over the course of the same sentence. The best moments in the show are when he convinces his guests to let their guards down, forcing them into paroxysms of laughter as he berates them. Only in episodes featuring colleagues such as Corporate’s Matt Ingebretson or Black Monday’s Casey Wilson, who already know his M.O., does Winegar skip over the angry conceit and jump straight into improv games like Gift or a Curse? or Gift Master.

Over its three-year run, only one guest has ever truly matched Winegar in feigned hauteur: his 19th, Dame Emma Thompson. Early listeners were stunned to see the title “Emma Thompson Disobeys Bridger” pop up in their feeds on July 23, 2020, in that it promised the rare humiliation of an insubordinate two-time Academy Award winner. But it is actually Thompson’s barely maintained veil of arrogance — as well as Aimee Mann’s tone-setting opening jingle — that makes this the series’ highlight tête-à-tête. Mann’s lyrics:

When I invited you here

I thought I made myself perfectly clear

When you’re a guest in my home

You gotta come to me empty-handed

I said, ‘No gifts’! Your presence is presents enough

And I already have too much stuff!

So how do you dare disobey me?

When the actress calls in, hair coiffed and “martini in hand,” Winegar is in shock: They were connected by Thompson’s daughter, Gaia Wise, so he had been convinced she was “a teen that was scamming me.” Thompson is offended by the suggestion, as a listener since the early days of COVID lockdown in Scotland. “Have they found a vaccine in your timeline?” Winegar asks by way of apology. “Obviously yes,” Thompson pips back, “but only for sheep.” In fact, she owns several herself and considered gifting one of their skulls for the episode. Instead, her husband boiled it “to get the nastiness off” and turned it into a lamp. “I’m fully expecting him to do that to me when I drop off,” Thompson jokes. “Every family should have one family member’s skull as a gorgeous lamp,” Winegar deadpans.

They seem to be getting on well until around the 18-minute mark, when Winegar’s tone turns cold: “Emma, I don’t want to derail the conversation, but there is something I need to talk to you about. We got in touch on The podcast is called I Said No Gifts! But something happened, and a gift was purchased for me.” Thompson has disobeyed his wishes, despite knowing better, and offers only a guilty “Hmmm” as confirmation. “Emma,” he intones. “I. Said. No. Gifts!” Despite his anger, Winegar makes an exception for her blatant disrespect owing to the stresses of the pandemic, and as a gesture of good faith, he offers to stop pouting and open Thompson’s gift anyway. She accepts: “I feel you ought — no, have to.”

Thompson’s gift arrives in a massive sack (or, as she puts it, “an appalling bag in many ways”) decorated with pictures of animals and hot-air balloons. From this, Winegar pulls out ten boxes of Tunnock’s Snowballs: chocolate-covered-marshmallow treats from Scotland that Thompson describes as “heaven” despite being her version of “crack cocaine.” Winegar eats one anyway. It makes Thompson ravenous. “I’m literally salivating right now,” she groans. Wise chimes in from off-camera: “Watching you consume a Snowball is the equivalent of Mum watching porn.” Then Winegar: “I’m going to start charging people for this.”

Not content with only one gift, Thompson also gives Winegar a box of Tunnock’s Teacakes. She describes them in a beautiful Proustian soliloquy as “a little tiny Oreo-size slight biscuit that is not very crunchy. On top of that, there is a marshmallow. Then the entirety of those two items is enrobed in chocolate.” Winegar comes back passive-aggressively: “Obviously, they have melted a little bit in the mail. And they are a little crushed. But that’s fine! I apologize for eating in front of you, but again, this is my podcast.”

For the final 15 minutes, Winegar forces his guest into a lightning round of Gift or a Curse? “Romance: Gift or a Curse?” he demands, still play-acting offense. “Oh, both,” Thompson says. “Romance is so appealing, so beautiful, so irresistible, so … invented by French troubadours in the 14th century.” But what, pray tell, does she make of vacuuming? With Winegar’s defenses down now, Thompson does not hesitate: “It’s a gift. I have a slight obsession with vacuum cleaners. I’m literally looking at one now that if you vacuumed yourself with it, it would take your skin off.” Furthermore, she says, she keeps a militia of these industrial-strength torture implements at the ready. When Winegar asks why, she starts screaming in a faux-triggered tone: “The amount of crumbs! The crumbs stuff! Crumb! And the creation of crumb! It’s incessant!”

By now, Thompson has Winegar, who can’t stop laughing, in her palm. He barely manages to sputter out “Guitar solos?,” which Thompson swats down as a gift: “One word: Hendrix.” Winegar sounds defeated. “You’ve made history,” he mutters. “No one has ever gotten three out of three here. I was hoping to just nail you, but it didn’t work out as planned. Guitar solos are a gift because even when they are bad, at least it gives you a little break from the song.”

This concession lends their battle of wits a perfectly Rocky III–esque conclusion — the drama of someone meeting their match! — but Thompson does not gloat. Instead, she reverts to sincerity, offering a message that must have been as cathartic for Winegar then as it remains for his fans three years later: “Thank you, Bridger, for putting all that wonderful, positive energy out into the world.” Winegar starts to melt at Thompson’s kindness, but not before squeezing out one last joke: “It’s been so lovely having you here. It just feels terrific to connect with somebody six-to-eight hours in the future.” He is dead-on, though: Spending 45 candid minutes with one of the most transformative performers in the world is, despite Winegar’s best efforts, a true gift.

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Want to Try I Said No Gifts!? Start Here.