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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Mental Illness Happy Hour

Vital stats:
Format: mental illness-centric interviews with comedians, podcasters, and podcasting comedians
Episode duration: 50m-1h20m
Frequency: weekly

You hear cracks about how only the mentally ill would seek a fame-propelled career: in movies, in broadcasting, in writing, in the media, in comedy, in what have you. I’ve chuckled at these before, but always in a hollow, not-quite-comprehending kind of way. Most of the people I admire, after all, have these careers, and lacking any directly marketable skills, I have no hope but to obtain one myself. Sure, given greater sanity, maybe we’d land steady jobs as systems analysts and build stable family lives or something. But c’mon — can we all really suffer from malfunctioning brains?

Listening to Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Illness Happy Hour [RSS] [iTunes], I get the sense that... maybe we do, though to varying degrees. Gilmartin himself seems to have endured an especially nasty streak of mental illness; I don’t know the full story, but he hints at troubling enough aspects of it in this show that maybe I’d rather not get the whole picture. He certainly didn’t reveal it on Dinner and a Movie, the film-with-interstitial-cooking program he hosted from 1996 until nowish on TBS. I remember enjoying it as a kid, but I had no idea the man showing me how to prepare a Short Circuit-themed casserole struggled with such fiery personal demons.

The freedom to lead a less Road House chicken bake-oriented life has, for Gilmartin, meant the freedom to come forward about mental health, his own and others’. Running The Mental Illness Happy Hour as a straightfoward interview show, he brings on friends and acquaintances from “The Industry”, broadly defined, to talk about how they’ve coped with the conditions afflicting themselves and those close to them. Having built his career on speaking comedically about his many issues, Marc Maron makes an appearance [M4A] that, while you’d perhaps expect it, turns out no less rich and funny for it. When Gilmartin talks to Adam Carolla [MP3], he asks not just about the’ crushing depression of Carolla’s hippie parents, a fount of stories belovedly familiar to all Carolla fans, but his own illness/superpower of “hypervigilance” as well.

In fact, if we can go by this show’s first eight episodes, mental illness affects most high-profile members of the comedy podcasting community, or at least enough people near them that they can talk incisively about it. Jimmy Pardo [M4A], for instance, would seem like the picture of mental health. And he may be, but that doesn’t stop he and Gilmartin from digging deep into the motivations that can simultaneously fire up and shut down a comedian. Battleship Pretension (esteemed predecessor Ian Brill’s review here) host Tyler Smith [M4A] has a conversation with Gilmartin about his depression that both reveals specifics the condition I didn’t know about and lays out certain details that feel discomfitingly familiar to me. All that self-loathing... that’s — that’s not normal?

Gilmartin has points to make with The Mental Illness Happy Hour, but he comes right out and makes them explicitly, and they don’t seem particularly bothersome, as points go. I mainly notice him making the point that, if you think you need some meds, see a professional about getting some meds. I have no skin in this psychopharmacological argument, but his viewpoint seems sound. More broadly, he announces on the regular his one main Michael Jacksonian message to the listener: “You are not alone.”

This strikes me as healthy, whatever the context; if I suffered from full-blown depression, compulsive competitiveness, bad parenting cycles, anxiety, panic attacks, or hypervigilance, I’d rejoice at hearing from successful people who’d labored under the very same crap. As it is, I recognize elements of my own tics, twitches, and unhelpful impulses in Gilmartin and his guests’ bigger problems, and I’m glad I do. You could treat this as a plain old interview program featuring more-personal-than-usual examinations of all your favorite podcast-y and comedy types, but you’ll get much more out of it if you face the fact that, hey, we’re all at least a little mentally ill.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]

New Comedy from Tig Notaro


Fans of our friend Tig Notaro, wait no more for her comedy in album format. She's releasing her debut album later this year but if you'd like a preview now, she's offering a free track on her website. You might know her from The Sarah Silverman program, her stand-up set on The Sound from Bumbershoot, or her appearance on Jordan, Jesse, Go! Mark your calendars for the release of Good One on August 2nd.

My Brother, My Brother and Me: Real Talk Live: Face 2 Face 2

06/12/2011 - 20:00 - 22:00
Cincinnati, OH
Venue Name: 
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Theater

Fresh from their live debut at Chicago's Second City, the brothers McElroy are traveling to the Queen City. You've listened to their beloved podcast on the internet, and now, we're climbing out of your iPod and right onto your face (well, not literally, although that would be a pretty impressive show) with a live recording from the stage of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Tickets are $10, available now, and expected to sell out pretty quickly. Grab 'em soon!

Judge John Hodgman Episode 24: The Bedroom Three-way


College pals Corey, Tyler and Caitlyn are moving into a new apartment in the coming school year at Ball State University. The apartment has three bedrooms: two small, one gloriously spacious. Who deserves the biggest room? Corey, the eldest; Tyler, the musician; or Caitlyn, one of the current occupants?

You may view the evidence after the jump, and as always, you may subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or through this RSS feed.

Jordan, Jesse, Go! Episode 174: Black Bart Simpson with Dominic Dierkes

Dominic Dierkes

Dominic Dierkes of Derrick Comedy joins Jesse and Jordan for a discussion of Snoop Dogg, sports-loving children, arcade obsessions and more.

The MBMBaM Sampler


In the tradition of the Whitman's Sampler, our friends at My Brother, My Brother & Me have created The MBMBaM Sampler. It's a delectable little ten minute slice of MBMBaM that you can share with your friends across America.

Want to know what MBMBaM is? Try this out.

Grab that embed code! Share it on a blog! Facebook like this page! Tweeter it! Let's go!

Sarah Vowell, Author and Humorist: Interview on The Sound of Young America

Photo credit Bennett Miller
Sarah Vowell

Our interview with Sarah Vowell on her new book, Unfamiliar Fishes, was taped in front of a live audience at All Saints Church in Pasadena in March 2011.

Sarah Vowell is an author who writes about history from her own perspective, which includes not just the facts but her own running commentary on the people and events that make up our history, and is sprinkled with anecdotes of her own experiences while exploring the subject.

Unfamiliar Fishes follows the history of Western intervention in Hawaii up until the annexation of the state, and is out now.

JESSE THORN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm Jesse Thorn. My guest on the program, at least in public radio circles, barely needs any introduction at all; it's Sarah Vowell. She's made a career for herself as a very particular kind of popular historian. She doesn't so much write as a historian, presenting what Werner Herzog recently called to me “The accountant's truth.” Rather, she writes from her own perspective, a perspective that is very contemporary and very funny.

Click here for a full transcript of this interview.
Click here to stream or download the podcast!

Stop Podcasting Yourself 165


No guest joins us this week as we talk about kilts, torpedoes of truth, and Mr. Bean. Also, Don't Get Me Started.

Download episode 165 here. (right-click)

Brought to you by: (click here for the full list of sponsors)

Put This On Episode 5: Tradition

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Here's the latest from my non-Max-Fun project, Put This On.

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture


Vital stats:
Format: One Presumably Thirtysomething Black Comedian and and One Fiftysomething Black Rock Star Bullshitting About Culture
Episode duration: ~1-2h
Frequency: erratic

Am I even allowed to review this podcast? When Max Funster Andreas “Duus” Pape — “mentioned at Min 30 sec 41 of Episode 162 of JJGO,” according to his e-mail signature — suggested I Podthink about The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture, my first impulse objected on grounds of my lack of qualifications: “But that’s not for white people!” My second impulse revealed the silliness of the first one. “Think of all the nerd-stuff podcasts you’ve written up,” it said. “If you can listen to two hours of discussion on Ringworld, you can damn well listen to a podcast with Negro in its title.”

It helps that this particular podcast with Negro in its title comes from two of the most likable fellows I’ve ever heard speak through an RSS feed. I already suspected I liked one of its co-hosts, comedian W. Kamau Bell, after hearing his JJGO appearance, which included a discussion of this very podcast in which Jesse brought up, with astonishment, the identity of its other co-host: Vernon Reid, guitarist, founding member, and “main guy” of the band Living Colour. As often as I deride the dominant podcasting format of Two Twenty/Thirtysomething Guys Bullshitting About Culture, hearing One Presumably Thirtysomething Black Comedian and and One Fiftysomething Black Rock Star Bullshitting About Culture comes as a veritable breath of fresh air.

Despite the early reservations about my suitability to review Bell and Reid’s program, I don’t actually buy the idea of a sharp cultural divide between “stuff for white people” and “stuff for black people.” I wondered if The Field Negro Guide would insist upon such a divide, but it actually does its part to muddle things up. Some think of space operas and comic books as white people-oriented, but damned if Bell and Reid don’t get into deep discussions of Star Wars and Spider-Man. Some think of rock music as white people-oriented, but damned if Living Colour isn’t a rock band and, if I can go by what I’ve heard from them, one hell of a rock band.

A career like Reid’s naturally generates all kinds of gripping stories — hopping on a plane moments after a show to secretly play on Mariah Carey’s debut album comes to mind — but so, even with fewer years racked up, does a career like Bell’s. For my money, their best moments come when comparing notes about the nature of performative careers, coming at performance as they do from two different angles. I’d normally prefer this, with infinite vastness, to analyses of Batman, but Bell and Reid at least do them with enough intelligence that the subject matter almost becomes irrelevant. You might expect this degree of sharpness from Bell, but Reid’s oratorial bombs impress me even more. I mean, who expects guitar geniuses to do just as well verbally? How did he find the time?

None of this is to say that these guys don’t get racial, especially as pertains to black presidents and black rock bands. All well and good, since I consider U.S. politics a branch of space opera anyway and, without the super-sized episode of Fishbone [MP3], I wouldn’t know much about Fishbone. I mostly just don’t understand a lot of it. I get what black is and what white is and all that, broadly speaking, but I find too few commonalities within those vast swaths of humanity for claims about “black people” and “white people” to resonate with me. So I wind up not feeling racial anxiety about all this, but anxiety about my absence of racial anxiety. (And if that reasoning seems tortured, wait until you see me review the other podcast “Duus” suggested.)

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]
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