An Ode to "Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast", My Favourite Discovery of 2018

As anyone who knows me for longer than a day knows, I believe Comedy Bang Bang to be the closest thing we have to perfect episodic entertainment these days, and I for one crave that kind of creative curious unpredictable communal chaotic joy when we live alongside cynical people and suspicious people and closed off people and people using other people for their own gain and other kinds of people that I’m not overly fond of, but of course let’s not forget that I disparage these types of people because I’m reminded of parts of myself that are sometimes amplified when I’m not being all that great a version of myself.

I digress. This is about my favourite entertainment things of the year. I'm ashamed to admit that I’m pretty lazy when it comes to getting into new kinds of entertainment; I approach streaming TV the way I approach taking a bath - after a day of work I want to be comfortable, I want to immerse myself in something familiar that I know will satisfy me. This laziness is why I haven’t seen a lot of new movies or shows or read new books this year. When it comes to this list of my favourite entertainment things of the year, I initially got into these things due to ease of immersion and because they had that warm bathwater familiarity to them: the social media comedy of Demi Adejuyigbe (his Will Smith rap parodies and September 21 videos) and Gabriel Gundacker (Zendaya is Meechee is my jam of the year), Letitia Wright’s performance as King T’Challa’s little sister Shuri in Black Panther, Donald Glover’s work on Atlanta and the "This is America" video, stand-up specials from John Mulaney and Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette”, D’arcy Carden’s performance in “The Good Place”, and Janelle Monae's “Dirty Computer” album.

I brought up Comedy Bang Bang at first because the reason I got into “Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast” was due to the latter’s thematic and contextual proximity to the former, except with the added element of shockingly impressive spontaneous musical theatre skills. So, essentially, my favourite show but moulded in a way to make it even more relevant to my tastes. The first episode I checked out was its 1st anniversary show, that featured some of my favourites like Paul F Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, Paul Scheer, and Eliza Skinner. Right off the top of the episode, and right off the top of every episode, the two hosts, Zach Reino and Jessica McKenna, shoot the shit and figure out the vibe of the room until they stumble upon the topic of the first song. Then Scott Passarella (king of pianists, pianist of kings) begins playing a repeating melody and drummer Dana Wickens finds its rhythm, and Zach and Jess find some lyrical inspiration in seconds and begin to sing along to this newborn accompaniment.

In this episode, you hear the sounds of up to ten people stifling their laughter as people are singing, and it’s as charming as you think it is. The first song came from Zach referencing how there are so many engineers in the room, wonders aloud what kind of engineers they are, and then 6 of the ten performers in the room get a verse about the specific kind of engineer they are (custodial, train, space, love, coffee, and animal). As I’m typing this, I’m aware that I’m writing about a comedic thing that made me laugh in a way that’s very dry and descriptive which always wrings the life out of the idea, so don't worry, reader, I'm annoyed by this kind of writing too. We're on the same page!

I’m describing this in detail partly because I want to know, for myself, exactly why this song made me happier than any other entertainment thing prior to or after in the Gregorian Calendar year. I can pinpoint a few factors: it was unexpected, it was on my way to work in the morning on a packed streetcar, a beautiful relationship was ending at the time and I needed a win, I was feeling exhausted and sad about the world after looking at twitter for five minutes, and then this song comes on, and it didn't have to be full of things that gave me such life and light but there it went and did just that. As the episode continued, hearing these performers do quadruple duty of improvising content, being funny, coming up with rhymes, and singing on-key was transfixing. As well, the entire room was so joyful and you can tell everyone wanted their colleagues to succeed due to how many set-ups and supportive assists were handed out between them.

Admittedly, this was the wrong episode for me to experience first. Imagine never seeing a game of hockey and the first one you see is the All-Star game, and you see the very best athletes in the game playing all at once. That’s how this episode was for me; it wasn’t the most spontaneous of shows because so many characters and bits were pre-established from the guests’ earlier episodes. So I dug deeper and listened to other episodes, and to my delight, every episode is a minor miracle. Zach and Jess are the perfect hosts due to how goddamn talented they are, how goddamn funny they are, and, most importantly, how supportive they are of each other and the guests on their show. In a nutshell, the motto of the two of them is “let’s put on a show, gang!”

To that point, it’s the closest thing we have to The Muppet Show. Furthermore, I declare that it’s more Muppet-y than any show or movie that’s featured any character from the Henson creature shop since A Muppet Christmas Carol in 1993.

Since we're nearing the end of the essay, time to awkwardly tie this together with some serious shit! We need invention today, we need communities today, we need curiosity today, we need open-mindedness today, we need vulnerability today, we need bravery today, we need creativity today, and we need each other today. Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast is my favourite entertainment thing of the year because it’s the silliest goddamn show that, to me, is the antithesis to the moments when people made the decision to be selfish, ignorant, dismissive, and brutal to other people in 2018. More curious dorky awkward vulnerable communal creation in 2019, please.

26 minutes until I board

“Something something something maybe something important you can pick it up in Denver.”

Well, now it’s 24 minutes until I board.

34 minutes, really. I’m actively trying to be better at time management.

My rich uncle has this saying: “if you’re 5 minutes early, you’re ten minutes late.”

Which is a roundabout way of saying “be 15 minutes early.”

So here I am, typing some words, hoping I create some magic from myself to you.

15 minutes now.

I spent the last 19 minutes concocting an instagram post about narcissism and self-love, but if I had to be real I would say I was using those two as entry points for me to sound thoughtful but in the end my mission is to get a few yuks from you.

Though, to my credit, I want the yuks that I elicit to be more on the thoughtful side.

I don’t want to make you laugh because I’m putting down something. I want to make you laugh because I want us all to take a look at the world around us and say “holy shit, we’re all living in this insane thing, it’s terrifying so let’s laugh instead.”

Now I’m thinking of a cool ex-girlfriend of mine who would laugh at this kind of absurdity with me.

I digress.

12 minutes, and my phone’s at 50%. It’s a short flight, but I’d prefer it if my phone were at a kickass 65.

11 minutes.

My Favourite Thing of 2017

"I guess I just like liking things."

- Abed, Community

I wanted to share my favourite entertainment thing of 2017 with all y'all: a 1 minute and 24 second fragment of the How Did This Get Made podcast where the hosts listen to and love a fan-submitted song for their show. https://soundcloud.com/rockandrollcoolbeans3100/i-second-that-opinion-from-how-did-this-get-made-by-jake-moore

Context:

- "How Did This Get Made" is a podcast starring the very funny Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and personal favourite Jason Mantzoukas (who enters every live show like a wrestling villain and lovingly greets his booing fans with a "what's up, jerks!")

- The podcast looks at bewilderingly bizarre / awful movies and has the hosts dissect them

- Every episode has a section called "Second Opinions", where Paul reads out 5 star reviews of the movies from Amazon.com

- Fans can share their own "Second Opinions" opening music themes, which are played on each episode

Reasons for this being my number one entertainment thing of the year (beating out Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Rick and Morty, Master of None, Review with Forrest MacNeil, Dear White People, Masseduction by St. Vincent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Good Place, Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, The Disaster Artist, The Big Sick, The Last Jedi, Lady Bird, American Dream by LCD Soundsystem, Melodrama by Lorde, DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, Drunk by Thundercat, Episode 2 of S-Town, and Episode 500 of Comedy Bang Bang):

- Some things are so perfectly appropriate for their context that it makes you think "oh, obviously that had to be created, how could it not?" and so HDTGM fan Jake Moore made the perfect theme song, a hilarious and beautifully sung parody of "I Second that Emotion" called "I Second That Opinion"

- You hear the hosts (especially Jason) loving every second of it. A chuckle of appreciation can be heard in the opening seconds as one of them realizes that it’s a parody of the Smokey Robinson song (which, let’s face it, is the best Motown song period)

- The ending is a cacophony of bliss and praise

I love it so much because it is refreshingly antithetical to some of my least favourite things of the year, namely all the bullying, abuse, bigotry, entitlement, and across-the-board glib/smug condescension found in every corner of the Internet. Instead of people trying to one-up and put down one another, here we have a moment from a show where the hosts (people that, by my count, haven't been exposed to be anything other than decent people in addition to being funny entertainers) are showing their love for something that a fan of theirs made. It's a cycle of silly joyful people appreciating one another's work.

(Fittingly, this "Second Opinions" section of the podcast is devoted to taking a break from making fun of something to focus on appreciation. Albeit, the section is often devoted to making fun of the appreciators, and the irony is not lost on me.)

It's so much fun to like things and to create things. This dumb, silly, perfect little podcast fragment is a celebration of liking and creating, two things the world needs a lot more of in 2018. That's what's up, jerks.

* HNYFM *

YES / AND

Hi, I'm Mike the camera / other things person.

I'll use this area as a place to say things.

I'll start off with a manifesto of sorts (even though that word is really over the top) that has my mission statement found therein.

This is taken from an email that I sent a friend of mine:

~

YES

||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Those are all the things that have happened in your life so far.

They are all the same, in their elemental form. Things that have happened.

Some things are bigger than others. Thicker. More noticeable.

These are important, pivotal things that stay with us. Memories of friends and family and life-changing events.

These stay with us, but these live in the past.

These live in the past.

Which means they are dead in the present.

We are alive in the present.

We say YES, all of those things have happened.

AND.

And is being at peace with your past and using all of the YES as foundation for the rest of your life. What’s stronger than things that have actually happened? Build upwards from truth.

~

Here is the wrong way to look back.

\/\/\/\////\/\/\/\///\/\/\/\/\\/\/\/\/\\/\\\\/\/\/\//\\\\/\/\/\\/\\\/\\/\\\/\\/\\/\

We give certain memories greater, more substantial shape than others. Then, when we look back, this is all we can see.

Since this is all we can see, it carries tremendous influence on the present.

This shouldn’t be. No memories should produce an inappropriate level of impact. It no longer lives. You do.

Since they live in the past, they shouldn’t dictate and operate in the future because they don’t exist right now.

Only we do. We have agency and can make a tangible impact. We can invent right now. I am a generally happy and delighted person because I see that in any moment, I can invent and create something. I can think, I can learn, I can assess, and I can choose what to do next.

~

Your past is a pool of water.

Tidal waves are created based on our emotional mood shifts.

Waves are powerful and scary and they can swoop in and take us away. Sometimes we wholly submit to the physical force of the wave. A wave of sadness comes in and it controls our navigation. A wave of happiness blinds us from the reality of the situation. A wave of fear or anger causes us to be untrustworthy, antagonistic, and on the constant defense. We deflect and we avoid.

We need to temper the past and understand it for what it is now.

Yes, the past affects us, because right now is a product of everything has happened in the past.

Which is why the past NEEDS to be respected. But the past does not guide the ship.

We move forward with what we’ve learned from the past and act as we feel is the best way towards continued positive living.

We, in the present, are the navigators and captains. We've encountered all kinds of waters before, and we are wiser and better captains for it.

ConsBEERacy Theories Conspiracy Podcast. Listen to it, you.

Far and away, my favourite beer-fuelled conspiracy themed podcast is the ConsBEERacy Theories Conspiracy Podcast, hosted by my good mates Eric Bourque, Dave Proctor, Matthew Winkler, Will Prosper, and features good mates such as Callum McPhee and Jason Parker Quinton. Also me.

CTCP Hosts Eric, Dave, Matt, and frequent collaborator Callum

CTCP Hosts Eric, Dave, Matt, and frequent collaborator Callum

Click on this and subscribe: http://consbeeracytheories.podbean.com/

The two episodes I've been on:

http://consbeeracytheories.podbean.com/e/shakespeare/

(Where I discover a lost chapter in Romeo and Juliet where Shakespeare blatantly reveals "his" true identity)

http://consbeeracytheories.podbean.com/e/episode-003-big-faxe-10-big-foot/

(Where I discover a lost chapter in Moby Dick and find the true origin of Bigfoot. I discover a lot of lost chapters of things. Not to brag or anything.)