First, three overarching questions: why isn’t this show huge? Why isn’t it in the pantheon of podcasts to which everyone insists you must listen? Why isn’t its creator a big star?
The Bat Segundo Show [iTunes link] is an interview program where “young roving correspondent” Ed Champion, creator of the litblog whose current iteration is called Reluctant Habits, roams New York with a portable recording studio and converses with authors of all stripes. He talks to them in diners, in lobbies, in apartments, wherever. Champion’s pure hustling ability impresses me; he not only keeps tabs on where authors will turn up in the city, but also goes to them, lugging recording gear all the way, which on the subway must be no mean logistical feat.
A focus on literary fiction means that the show’s guests tend to be writers of it. Some favorites include Cynthia Ozick (who seems like such a delightful old lady) [MP3], Nam Le (whose sheer coolness convinced me to read his work) [MP3], William T. Vollman (the intensity of whose writing and life is matched only by the laid-backness of his demeanor) [MP3, first appearance] [MP3, second appearance], and John Updike (who probably needs no parenthetical detail) [MP3].
And since it’s the Max Funsters I serve, I’d be remiss in not highlighting a few of the Maximum Fun-y (“Maximum Funny”?) Segundo guests as well: you’ve got your Amy Sedaris [MP3], your Neal Pollack [MP3], your Austin Grossman [MP3], your George Saunders [MP3], your David Hajdu [MP3], and your Grandmaster Flash [MP3].
Plus, there are the wild cards: eccentric filmmaker David Lynch [MP3], world’s best documentarian Errol Morris [MP3], semi-relevant but entertainingly outspoken Senator Mike Gravel [MP3], and crackpots like Naomi Klein [MP3] and Nicholson Baker (who became one so gradually, I didn’t even notice) [MP3].
But enough with the linking; how’s the podcast itself? When introducing The Bat Segundo Show to friends, I always find myself using the construction “As soon as you get used to x, you’ll like it”, where x is almost any element of the program. The host, for instance. Champion asks detailed, probing, observation-laden questions — that, unlike those of certain very-long-time public radio interviewers who shall remain nameless, indicate he’s actually read the book in question — and sometimes takes his guests to the mat when he disagrees — which indicates that he, unlike some very-long-time public radio interviewers who shall remain nameless, knows that conversation is a two-player game. But he does this sincere questioning with oddly insincere-sounding inflection, the kind you usually only use while nudging your interlocutor in the ribs; he’s a cross between Bookworm‘s Michael Silverblatt and a deep-cable game show host.
For another instance, well, you’re probably wondering why it’s called The Bat Segundo Show. Until recently, almost every interview was introduced by the titular character, a washed-up, tequila-swilling radio DJ played by none other than Champion himself, doing a voice simultaneously sleazy, bombastic, and somewhat effete. He’d introduce the “young roving correspondent” only after first being introduced himself (in what one iTunes reviewer called a “Spanish shouting theme tune that almost defies the listener to keep listening despite its glass-shards-in-the-eardrums assault”) and giving a short monologue about his recent activities, such as being arrested for masturbating in a video store or desperately trying to arrange a tryst with his ex-wife. Yeah.
So that’s hugely divisive, which might explain the character’s recent “disappearance”. I’ve heard that Champion has pitched the show not-quite-successfully to radio stations, and while I’m not totally against Bat Segundo himself — hell, I just friended his Facebook page the other day — I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s what’s been holding the program back. In his absence, other goofy (though, admittedly, well-produced) introductions have occupied his stead, but they still feel a tad out of place. This might be a case where less is more; some people get by just fine with “Welcome to the broadcast.”
But my point is this: Ed Champion should be on public radio. He finds stellar guests, and his interviewing skills are on the top tier of the podcasting world. For me The Bat Segundo Show comes second only to The Sound when I’ve got the interview podcast jones. And since the show has been in a spot of trouble lately, it needs your fandom. That is, if it’s the sort of thing of which you’re a fan.
I will now do the program the ultimate honor of making it a drinking game:
- When Bat Segundo references a sexual misadventure, drink
- When Champion starts an interview with the word “okay”, drink
- When a guest breaks down and admits they “don’t understand the question”, drink
- When Champion bases a question on an assumption about the author’s intention and the author flatly denies having that intention, drink
- When you hear a cement truck, a cop car, gunfire, or a Top 40 song in the background, drink
- When Champion bases an entire question on a single written word, drink
- When a waiter comes to the table and diverts the guest from the interview, drink
- When a guest shows surprise at the fact that Champion has done, like, research, drink
Format: cultural interviews
Running since: October 2004
Duration: 30m to 1h15m
Frequency: slightly more than weekly, but may go monthly
[Freelance Podthinker Colin Marshall accepts all his 419 scams at colinjmarshall at gmail. Discuss Podthoughts here, or submit your podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]