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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The Dork Forest"

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What, exactly, is a dork, and what's a geek? Urban Dictionary, the arbitrator in debates of this stripe, currently defines dork as "someone who has odd interests, and is often silly at times," while it defines geek (a few unsatisfactory definitions down) as "an outwardly normal person who has taken the time to learn technical skills [ ... who ] has normal a social life as anyone, and usually the only way to tell if someone is a geek is if they inform you of their skills."

Grammatically questionable, sure, but as clear a laying-out of the dueling quasi-insults as one's likely to run across. Dorks have unusual interests, geeks have unusual skills. Geek podcasts are a dime a dozen; geeky podcast listeners — wags, feel free to rhetorically ask if there's any other kind — need only dip their hand into the iTunes directory to satiate their own particular sub-subcategory of geekery: programming, triathlons, filmmaking, what have you. (Your Podthinker, for instance, often banners himself as a film geek, which variety of geekdom's only real requirement is not asking how to "get rid of those black bars on the screen" when watching DVDs.)

But The Dork Forest [iTunes link] is, as yet, the only dork podcast to have made a name for itself, or at least a name that actually contains the term. It's part of another genre as well, one that, like the TTWGBAC, only becomes apparent after one has spent hundreds of man-hours submerged in the podcast world: Comedians Hanging Out, or CHO for short, which is exactly what it sounds like. Never Not Funny is the best-known example of the CHO, though the recently-Podthought-about I Love Movies is one too.

Each week in the Forest, Jackie Kashian, a sort of female Mike Schmidt, hangs out with a handful of other comedians, asking them about their own specific region of dorkdom. These include Rick Overton's enthusiasm for conspiracy theories (and, like other true conspiracists, his denial that he's into conspiracy theories), Ryan Niemiller's penchant for pro-wrestling fan fiction (yes, really) and Kashian's own habit of reading incredibly unappealing fantasy novels. And there are so many more trees in the Dork Forest, tended to by comedians and non-comedians alike: chess, news, paganism, mixed martial arts, Christmas. Why, there are as many varieties of dorkage as there are dorks to engage in them.

As fascinating as it can be to hear about unheard-of varieties of dorkulous experience, there's a limit to how much good material one can get out of dorkiness as opposed to geekiness. Back in his days on Loveline, Adam Carolla observed that funny people essentially trade every other ability in for their funniness, that they can make a crowd laugh but, in exchange, can't perform any other real task. If he's right, maybe that's why they're dorks rather than geeks; dorky hobbies aren't particularly skill-based nor particularly consequential. Typically, the comedians on hand will drift quickly from the dorkage, sometimes into territory listeners would probably just as soon have them steer around. (Politics, for instance. Yes, this was an election year so perhaps it was to be expected, but hearing comedians talk politics is just brutal.)

Unusually for a podcast, The Dork Forest is webcast live during recording, opening the opportunity for call-ins and audience participation via an associated chat room. (Remember chat rooms?) But this is a double-edged sword: the setup, for whatever reason, results in unbelievably atrocious sound. Would that the quality was as good as AM radio, or even as good as the telephone; it's really more like listening to an AM radio broadcast held up to a telephone. Or perhaps the show is laid down on an original Edison wax cylinder prior to uploading — a nod to anachronistic electronics dorks, naturally.

Vital stats:
Format: CHO
Running since: August 2006
Duration: 1h-1h20m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: six months or so

[Podthinker Colin Marshall reviews podcasts, so dork, heal thyself. E-mail him at colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Home for the Holidays


That is the movie I am about to watch, and that is where I will be not too long thereafter.

If you live in the Bay Area, buy yourself tickets for TSOYA Live! and the Monsters of Podcasting for Christmas. YOU DESERVE IT!

If you don't, just have a great holiday! You deserve it, also!

Rob Corddry, Writer/Director/Star of "Children's Hospital" and Former Daily Show Correspondent; Interview on The Sound of Young America


Rob Corddry (above, in nightmarish clown makeup) is an actor and comedian who's appeared in many films, including Semi-Pro, What Happens in Vegas, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, and W... in 2008 alone. For four years, he was a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, cultivating a brash, idiotic persona that made him one of the most popular contributors in the show's history. His most recent project is a web series, which he wrote, directed and in which he stars, called Children's Hospital.

(Note that this episode will be podcast on Monday, December 22nd)

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JJGo Ep. 84: Candy Maldonado


Ashkon joins Jesse and Jordan to discuss Cinemax, honey-glazed hams and much more.

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Another one bites the dust...


Our friend John Moe, host of American Public Media's "Weekend America," just twittered that the show will be leaving the air as of January 31st. This comes on the heels of NPR's cancellation of News & Notes and Day to Day. Lots of MaxFunsters are still smarting from the cancellation of The Bryant Park Project and Fair Game earlier this year. PRI's The Takeaway is still standing, but that's cold comfort, especially with that show having found limited traction on stations.

What did those shows have in common? For one thing, they were all targeted in part at people who weren't listening to public radio, yet. Public radio has saturated one corner of the market -- older, college-educated white people who want serious news. These shows tried (and try) to broaden that out a bit... to folks who are a bit younger, to folks who might want a bit more levity or a more conversational tone, to highly-educated people of color who are underserved by the Morning Editions of the world.

They also had another thing in common: they were expensive.

One of the reasons many of the staple programs of public radio -- This American Life, All Things Considered, Marketplace -- are so good is that they spend a lot of money to get that way. Producers (often independent producers) work a week or two on pieces that use 4 or 6 minutes of a two or three hour daily show. No one is paid a lot of money, but the work is labor-intensive and thus expensive, even when the wages are low.

That's a system that works for those shows because 200 stations (or more specifically, the listener-members of 200 stations) are sharing the production costs. When 200 stations carry your show, it's also much easier to get sponsors -- would Volkswagen have paid millions to underwrite This American Life if it was only on in Chicago? Certainly not.

So when the sponsorship revenue dries up (the official reasoning for NPR's recent cancellations) and the station carriage isn't there, the shows go kaput.

Of course, that leaves me thinking about the implications for The Sound of Young America. I have to edit some podcasts right now, but I'll be back later to expand this post.

Raphael Saadiq - "Merry Christmas, Baby"


Raphael Saadiq performing "Merry Christmas, Baby" on a TV special called Christmas in Washington.

Celebrity Guests


The AV Club thoughtfully included my pick for favorite movie of the year (Role Models) in their round up of "celebrity" picks. If you're interested in picks from people who saw more than five movies, you should check out their editors' picks here. If you feel bad because they seem too smart and together, you can check out their guilty pleasures here. Apparently, Nathan Rabin actually likes Boat Trip.

Celebrity Guests


The AV Club thoughtfully included my pick for favorite movie of the year (Role Models) in their round up of "celebrity" picks.

Tom Lennon at the CDR Christmas Celebration

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Our pals at Comedy Death Ray had their Christmas-time blowout super jamboree this week, and SUPERCOMEDIAN Tom Lennon was wearing a GREAT LOOKING t-shirt. I wonder how you could get one for yourself?

Thanks to Liezl for the photo -- you can find more, including many other SUPERCOMEDIANS, on her Flickr stream.

Randy Newman - The World Isn't Fair


Randy Newman performing "The World Isn't Fair," performed in Stuttgart in 2006. You can see the whole show in this guy's YouTube channel.

I've had the Newm on my mind since Scott McCloud engaged me in a Randy Newman convo, after listening to the Ben Folds interview I ran last week. I love Randy Newman, and you should, too.

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