Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Girl on Guy

Posted by Maximum Fun on 21st November 2011

Vital stats:
Format: one-on-one conversation, usually with guys, sometimes about “guy stuff”
Episode duration: 1-2h
Frequency: once or twice per week

What do I know about Aisha Tyler? Not a whole hell of a lot, though I do know she’s spent decades as a comedian, which, through the prism of my own special brand of comedy fandom, means I’ve heard a lot of her on the radio and on podcasts. She became a favorite Loveline guest of mine by coming to the show with interesting things to say, unlike almost everyone else in that rogue’s gallery of, as Adam Carolla remembers it, “drunken rockers, stupid actresses — a who’s-who of retards.” The age of podcasting has dropped the means of audio-entertainment production straight into the hands of most of the cut-above Loveline regulars, and their shows usually reveal, as Tyler’s does, that they can do more than I thought.

I would say that Tyler’s podcast, Girl on Guy [RSS] [iTunes], reveals that she can host, but it seems the world already knows that. From what I can gather from what she says about her career, she seems to have done time in the hosting trenches already, working the sort of television gigs where she had to add comedic or intellectual value to segments of clips of, er, questionable value themselves. I could be wrong, though; she could have easily gotten experience with richer host-y projects than that, since she drives her podcast not just as a presenter, but as a conversationalist.

How to distinguish genuine conversationalists from garden-variety clip-plumpers and list-goer-downers? The latter, for one, won’t sit down with their guests and get in-depth for an hour, for an hour and a half, for nearly two hours. Which topics make up the meat of these heartily meaty conversations? The show’s branding, from its logo image of a suited Tyler smoking a cigar to its description as “a rant about stuff guys love: video games, action movies, comic books, fast machines, sex, small batch spirits, bar fights, and blowing sh*t up,” suggests a certain specificity. And to an extent, Girl on Guy does function as a forum for Tyler to discuss her less-girlish pursuits — brewing beer, watching expensive classic cars race each other, inheriting her dad’s Kawasaki Ninja, fearing reproduction, playing Fallout 3 — with a suite of highly dudeish dudes. This concept appeals to me in the same sense that I enjoy eating, say, Chinese food at restaurants that cater to Lebanese customers, but her mission hasn’t taken long to broaden (as it were).

When fellow comedians and entertainment-industry people like Chris Hardwick [MP3] or the non-guy Jackie Kashian [MP3] come on, for instance, the talk takes frequent turns toward exactly what it’s like to hone one’s on-stage persona, or exactly what it’s like to get buffeted around by the windy whims of the film-and-television executive class. Yet Tyler seems motivated mainly by curiosity to hear how exactly her guests got to where they are in life; when she talks with Adam Carolla [MP3], she drills down into the specific means by which a dirt-poor, semi-illiterate young carpenter from the Valley goes about capitalizing on his sense of observational humor. By the same token, when she brings wounded Army Corporal Jeremy Kuehl on the show [MP3], she wants to know about every step of what he went through in wartime.

Tyler gets ahead of other long-form interview shows by, consciously or unconsciously, asking only questions whose answers she actually wants to hear. (As 101 a skill as that might seem, it turns out to be surprisingly rare in this game.) This might come as a by-product of inviting only people she knows she can get pumped about interviewing, whether because of friendship, because of pre-existing creative or social connections, because of let’s-compare-notes experience in career and/or craft, or because of pure fandom. As an example that hits a few of these points at onc, I recommend Tyler’s conversation with Questlove [MP3] — or “?uestlove,” whichever’s cooler. For well over 90 minutes, Tyler engages Quest/?uest with an established rapport, a working knowledge of the scenes they both run in, and a hell-of-a-lot-better-than-working knowledge of his music. I know almost nothing about the Roots upon pressing play on the interview, but I think listening somehow allowed Tyler to transmit her enthusiasm right over to me. I think I’ll go listen to it again now.

[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.]