Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Dave Hill’s Podcasting Incident

Posted by Maximum Fun on 19th March 2012

Vital stats:
Format: Dave Hill talking to comedians and other people he knows, bracketed by Dave Hill talking (or shredding)
Episode duration: 45m-2h
Frequency: one or two per month

I feel the time has nearly come to define a new genre of podcasting: comedians interviewing their friends and, if they seem entertaining enough, their acquaintances and friends-of-friends. Marc Maron’s Los Angeles-based WTF became a notable early example of this, though he’s found even more success by widening his mandate to include people he doesn’t much like or simply has a curiosity about. More recently, Pete Holmes gave the idea his own peculiar spin with You Made It Weird, and Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week transplanted it into rich New York City soil. A couple years back, comedian Dave Hill launched a similar project from his own NYC base: Dave Hill’s Podcasting Incident [RSS] [iTunes].

Then again, “comedian” doesn’t quite cover it. The man also writes articles, contributes to This American Life, and plays guitar or bass in a bunch of current, former, and semi-fictional bands. He also maintains a faintly Wildean personal style, on display when he hit fashion week as a correspondent for Put This On. Hill, in other words, has made himself into a man of many skills. This would have gotten him all kinds of traction in, say, the eighteenth or nineteenth century, but in our debased modern era, this sort of thing seems to drain one’s notoriety rather than boost it. But I suspect this very range has allowed him to cultivate such a striking podcast guest list: accompanying the comedians like Tig Notaro [MP3] or Rob Delaney [MP3], we’ve got New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell [MP3], no-longer-uptight (so he claims) musician Moby [MP3], and charter Culture Club member Boy George [MP3]. See a mix of names like those, and you more or less have to download a few episodes, just to hear what could possibly be going on.

Additional intrigue gets stirred up by the occasional negative reaction to Hill mixed in with all the star-burstingly positive ones. “Most Annoying Man Ever,” reads the headline of one iTunes review. “Dave Hill is so deeply cloying, so far down the hipster ‘hands off’ irony hole, so removed from his own insincerity, that the only solution, it seems, is to hasten the destruction of the world, and everything beautiful in it, just so that Dave Hill no longer exists.” Scroll past dozens more breathless accolades, and you find someone declaring Hill “a boy playing a man” whose “detached, worldly style and fashion sense aren’t earned.” I quote these lines partially out of jealousy, since they’re just the sort of extreme reactions I myself have longed and failed to provoke, but also to underscore a point: if you either love or hate the monologues at the top of Julie Klausner’s show, the ones at the top of Dave Hill’s will force you into an even starker polarity.

The monologue, you see, has become as characteristic of the comedian-as-interviewer podcast as the interview itself. Before he cuts to his chat with Moby or Malcolm Gladwell or whomever, Hill talks solo into the microphone about this and that. He might fire off a few runs on his guitar or answer listener mail. Sometimes this runs on for a truly astonishing length relative to the interview, which is maybe what bothers those two iTunes reviewers so much. If you want to enjoy these segments, you first must get a handle on Hill’s monologue persona, which, like Marc Maron’s or Pete Holmes’s or Julie Klausner’s, doesn’t quite match the conversational one. Read Dave Hill’s Podcasting Incident’s episode descriptions. Observe the phrases used: “Part 1 of two incredible parts that most people can’t even handle,” “we are both from Cleveland and how fucking sweet that is,” “Cancel everything as I unleash episode 31,” “Have a super day.” If you cannot handle these — and especially if you cannot handle them spoken in the style of a mid-period Matthew Broderick character — step carefully.

Perhaps I don’t need to say any of this to real Max Funsters; they probably know Hill well already from his appearances on The Sound of Young America and Jordan, Jesse, Go!. But if they don’t, they can always use Hill’s conversation with Jesse [MP3] as a gateway into the Podcasting Incident. It will give them a sense what separates this comedian-as-interviewer show from the others. Hill conducts what I would call “low-momentum” interviews, which sounds like a slam, but which I only mean as a description. Only podcasting allows a gentle meander like Hill’s, and only such a gentle meander yields moments like the interviewer getting up to use the bathroom while the interviewee sits alone, speaking into the recorder about the orange box his newly released DVD comes in. That interviewee’s name? Dick Cavett.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]