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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "This Way Up"


Your Podthinker humbly submits that this is the best time to be alive, ever. The list of reasons why the 2000s rock stretches toward infinity, but surely the average consumer's ability to listen to radio from across the globe at their leisure rests nowhere near the bottom. As recently as the turn of the millennium, filling up an MP3 player with hours upon hours of a "programme" like Radio New Zealand's This Way Up [iTunes link] and then listening to it whenever and wherever would, especially as an American, have been unthinkable. No longer.

First, an apropos rule: smaller countries' national public media organizations will, for the most part, create more fascinating content than those of larger countries. (Call it the "Podthoughts Law of Inverse National Media Goodness". Just rolls off the tongue.) Note that the size referred to is of population rather than square mileage, so whereas Great Britain's BBC, serving a nation of 58 million, puts out some genuinely cool stuff but too often gets mired in its own tics, psychodramas and entrenchments, Canada's CBC, serving a nation of 34 million, plays it much more laid-back and experimentally, which is all to the good. And when populations reach, oh, 300 million, well, er...

In any case, New Zealand, a nation of fewer than five million, can get just about as quirky as it likes. Which is not to say that This Way Up is some sort of festival of eccentricities, but it does provide certain bits of content not made readily available by larger national broadcasters. While ostensibly a program about "the things we use and consume", it's really more in the get-out-there-in-the-world vein of public radio that could always use more mining. Host Simon Morton goes around to unusual places (at least by my Yank standards) and chats with the inhabitants. Recently, he's been to a toy swap meet [MP3] (those old dudes really love their die-cast cars), a bustling food market [MP3] and an old-school rubber plant [MP3]. The show seems to allot more time (and thus depth) to Morton's explorations than would be typical on other stations, resulting in a solid feel of engagement with the world.

But the title isn't Simon Morton's Peregrinations; there's more to it that simply the exploratory pieces. The show broadcasts for two hours each week, and each of the five-or-six-ish segments gets handily uploaded as a separate podcast. The best part about the non-excursion features is how eminently practical-minded they are, which is a quality decidedly lacking in the programs put out my some larger public media carriers one could name. When not buying food on the street or discussing Matchbox '69 Chargers, Morton's getting the downlow on which laptop to buy [MP3], figuring out how best to consume leftovers [MP3] or shopping for refrigerators [MP3]. Such pragmatism refreshes. (There's even an ongoing series on how to do one's own beekeeping.)

Naturally, This Way Up also cranks out a share of garden variety hey-would-ya-look-at-this public radio pieces, though smaller than its fair one. (Admittedly, some of them, like the one on the anarchic availability of medicine in Mexico City [MP3] and another on Japan's essentially vestigial legal defenses against the Yakuza [MP3], aren't bad.) Above all, the program makes your Podthinker want to visit New Zealand — so who's up for a Kiwi Max Fun meetup?

Vital stats:
Format: assorted public-radio culture pieces
Running since: Oh, a long time, surely
Duration: 2h per week of 3m-30m segments
Frequency: variable, typically weekly, though a new schedule is in the offing
Archive available on iTunes: ~10 weeks

[Remember the not-that-reverent book club podcast Podthinker Colin Marshall mentioned a few weeks back? It's now a thing. Get him at colinjmarshall at gmail or discuss Podthoughts on the forum here. Submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Podcast: Sandra Tsing Loh, author of Mother On Fire


Sandra Tsing Loh is a writer, solo performer, actress and radio commentator. Her radio work includes contributions to This American Life, a commentary series, The Loh Life, and a science series, The Loh Down on Science. Her most recent book, Mother On Fire: A True Mother*(&ing Story About Parenting, concerns her efforts to get her daughter into "the right school," a road which ultimately ended at the neighborhood public elementary school.

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Man, MaxFunster Hampton Catlin really outdid himself when he created It's a fan-created index of Jordan Jesse Go episodes. I should emphasize here that I had nothing to do with this, other than giving Hampton permission to use our logo. That said: I think it's totally amazing and I'm so grateful to Hampton for creating this super cool thing. Anyway, check it out, tag some episodes, marvel at Hampton's ingenuity and industry.

Jordan Jesse Go! Episode 80: Uhh...Fine.


Jesse and Jordan are joined by singer-songwriter and beardman, Jonathan Coulton. They discuss childhood toys, school yard bullies, and Keith Olbermann. They also name a burlesque

Click here to download Jonathan Coulton's hit song "Chiron Beta Prime."

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LA: See Culture Clash Thursday for Half-Price

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Culture Clash are a San Francisco-born, LA-bred revolutionary comedy theater group. They formed in the Bay Area when I was a kid, in my neighborhood, The Mission. One of them worked at La Raza Graphics, down the street from my house. One was in grad school with my mom at SF State. They even had a series on FOX, briefly, back when FOX's outrageousness wasn't confined to outrageous awfulness. Their hilarious, insightful agitprop is one of the best things you can see on a stage.

CC are performing their signature show, Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, at USC Thursday night, and you can get tickets for just ten bucks. I'm going to be in Las Vegas for The Comedy Festival, but if you're in SoCal, this is a night not to be missed.

Location: USC's Bovard Auditorium
Date & Showtime: Thursday November 20, 2008 @ 7:00 PM
Ticket Price: $20 General Public
SPECIAL NOTE: Mention "Culture Clash Fan" over the phone and get the ticket at half price!

The show is documentary sketch comedy. Over the past ten years or so, the group has taken residence at theater groups around the country. Wherever they are, they interview people in all walks of life about their communities, and put together evenings of comedy theater based on those interviews. This show is a sort of greatest hits of those shows. I've seen it twice and can recommend it heartily. It's sweet, incisive and really, really funny.

Raphael Saadiq, Soul Singer, Songwriter and Producer Interviewed on The Sound of Young America


Raphael Saadiq is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer whose new album, "The Way I See It," was recently released by Columbia. Saadiq was a founding member of the groups Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl, and has produced for artists like D'Angelo, Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige. His new record borrows the soul sounds of the 1960s, with a bit of the '70s thrown in for good measure. He talks with Jesse about growing up in Oakland, touring with Prince and Sheila E, his days with the Tonys, and more.

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Hodgman Sings!


Me, Lonely Sandwich and Rob from Kasper Hauser had such a wonderful time at John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton's show in LA last week. Undoubtedly the highlight for me was the unexpected closing number, in which Hodgman revealed his true solution to the problem of Coulton abandoning him mid-tour. The duet (later joined by John Roderick) was genuinely touching, as we saw two great pals who have found this amazing creative success in their mid-30s, and were sharing it in an absolutely goofy way on-stage.

Above: the closing number from their Seattle show, again with Roderick, plus Sean Nelson.

Via our pals at BOINGBOING


Katt Williams hospitalized for "exhaustion"


This is what the New York Times is reporting:

The comedian Katt Williams, right, is “incredibly fatigued” and has sought medical attention and canceled a performance in Las Vegas, his publicist, Yvette Shearer, said in a statement. The Item, a newspaper in Sumter, S.C., reported the police there responded to a call on Friday morning that Mr. Williams was behaving suspiciously at a motel. Mr. Williams later made two visits to the office of Garryl Deas, a lawyer; during the second visit, Mr. Deas told The Item, Mr. Williams’s family members arrived seeking an order to have him undergo a mental evaluation. The Sumter County Sheriff, Anthony Dennis, told the newspaper that his deputies arrived at the office to transport Mr. Williams to a hospital.

Here's the statement, according to MTV news:

"Following an arduous 300 shows and an 18-month touring schedule that left him incredibly fatigued, Katt, a veteran of MTV's 'Wild 'N Out,' felt compelled to be with his family in an effort to deal with his stress," read a statement from Yvette Shearer. "While doing so, he is under a doctor's care."

All I can offer is best wishes to Williams, who's a very funny guy, and according to a friend who's his DJ, a really decent guy as well.

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