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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Rumpus Radio

Posted by Maximum Fun on 4th April 2011

Vital stats:
Format: comedian, author, filmmaker, etc. interviews
Episode duration: 35m-1h
Frequency: once or twice a month

If you have any investment in the internet’s literary world, you’ll have encountered The Rumpus, which offers all kinds of stuff above and beyond its distinctive old-timey-guy-in-a-basketball-hoop logo: interviews, reviews, columns, links, and goofy-type pieces. The site contains, from what I can tell, an imposingly huge amount of content, much of it to do with books and writing, but a decent-sized chunk to do with non-book forms of culture that I assume I would know about if I lived in Brooklyn. Yet The Rumpus, masterminded by San Francisco-living writer Stephen Elliott, does not quite fall under the usual, ever-expanding category of “Brooklyn-y internet things.” I think of it as… something else, but not something easily described.

I have enjoyed The Rumpus’ sensibility enough to want to contribute to it, but every time I check their writers’ guidelines, they say that “we don’t have any money and can’t pay for writing.” This would keep me with the burgeoning Gen-Y norm of working my eyeballs out on non-remunerative projects, but I have grown tired. So very tired. (I foresee most of my generation dying young, of starvation, especially if they live in the first world.) Still, when I learned that The Rumpus had extended its non-moneymaking brand to the even more non-moneymaking medium of podcasting with Rumpus Radio, I had to check it out. I downloaded all its episodes with extra speed when I saw that they fell right into my personal wheelhouse by being long-form interviews.

Max Funsters, I return from my listening excursion bearing news of talks with comedians — Kyle Kinane! [MP3] W. Kamau Bell! [MP3] Marc Maron! [MP3] — and pretty meaty talks at that, ranging between 35 minutes and an hour. This might come as a surprise from the offshoot of an ostensibly literary site, but, as I learned from listening to this podcast, The Rumpus puts on live events in San Francisco which get comedy in your literature and literature in your comedy. Given the recent-ish rise of more cerebral stand-up comics with more unusual material — aided, I rush to assume, by podcasting itself — this mixture seems to nail a certain sub-sub-zeitgeist right on. As a writer I like once said, the interesting lies in the in-between; I don’t know about you, but I want few things more than comedians with a literary sensibility and literati with a comedic sensibility.

Though sometimes joined by a sidekick, Stephen Elliott does most of the interviewing himself. I’d thought of him as less the interviewing type than the gritty novel- and confessional memoir-writing type, but his conversational style actually sounds like it springs straight from his authorial persona. What a relief, given that, when some writers take up the microphone, they wrongheadedly ditch exactly what makes their books so compelling — themselves — and camp it up with their idea of what an “objective journalist” sounds like. Elliott makes himself, to whip out a vague term but the only suitable one, present. This sometimes results in his guests ribbing him about his troubled sexual life, but I call that a small price to pay. It makes perfect sense that Elliott talked with Maron so early in the show’s run: neither of these guys come from an interviewing background, but both succeed at it by being so very actual.

When not interviewing comedians, Elliott splits his time between authors like Steve Almond [MP3] (who has, shall we say, choice words about publishing and book reviewing), filmmakers like Blue Valentine’s Derek Cianfrance [MP3], and other cultural types of whom you may or may not have heard like “female hip-hop artist” (a say what now?) K. Flay [MP3]. All these conversations make me feel good about what we’ll all have to read, watch, and listen to in the next few decades. I wonder if anybody’s getting paid. Should we all form a 7-11 robbery collective?

[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.]