The Week in Radio: American podcast The Complete Guide to Everything is banal...and brilliant
There comes a point, usually in the dead of winter, when one is forced to look further afield for one's listening, preferably to a place where the presenters don't sound as though they have lost the will to live or, conversely, as if they are trying to batter you to death with their joie de vivre.
Lately, I have been listening to the US podcast The Complete Guide to Everything (tcgte.com), and it has cheered me up in more ways than I could have imagined. It's a weekly show made and presented by Brooklyn's Tom Reynolds and Tim Daniels, two friends who both have day jobs and for whom podcasting is a sideline that has unexpectedly taken off, so much so that lately they've branched out into live tours.
As the title suggests, it's about everything (hangover cures, drones, posh suits, personal finance) and yet it's about nothing much at all. You might even say it specialises in the banal.
It's almost impossible to describe it in a way that does it justice, which is unfortunate as that is clearly one of the functions of this column. In the past, the presenters have explained it as "two idiots sitting around bullshitting for an hour", and I'm not sure I can better it. Here's a sample:
Reynolds: "I go through a lot of hot sauce."
Daniels: "It makes anything taste good."
Reynolds: "Yeah, pretty much. And that's why I get through a lot of it. I might order some Mexican tonight."
Daniels: "This is compelling to the listener, I'm sure."
Reynolds: (idly mumbling) "I'm just weighing my options here. Yeah, I know where I'm going to get it."
Like I said, on paper it stinks. But there's a warm listlessness in Tim and Tom's conversation, along with a gentle infusion of sarcasm, which is both natural and hugely listenable to. It shouldn't work but it does.
Their latest recording is ostensibly about the story of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, two American figure-skating rivals who became key players in a soap-opera-style scandal 20 years ago, except that it took our hosts 15 minutes to get to the point due to such pressing matters as the iniquities of stale tacos and crap waiting staff.
Eventually, in meandering style, they mulled over the hired hitman who drove around the US in pursuit of Nancy Kerrigan, and eventually caught up with her in the locker room at the US Figure Skating Championships and clubbed her in the leg.
It was subsequently revealed that Tonya Harding's husband orchestrated the attack, though his wife, later stripped all of her medals and painted in the press as the arch-villain, alleged that she knew nothing of his plans.
There were further deviations into the OJ Simpson trial and a period spent weighing up who is worse: Sting, Sid Vicious or Rod Stewart. Which, of course, sounds incongruous given the topic of the show. But then the themes in The Complete Guide to Everything are as random as they are insignificant. And since the more I try to describe it the worse it sounds, I'd suggest that you listen for yourself.
Last year, I came across another improbably good podcast, this one Canadian, which single-handedly restored my faith in radio comedy. I am now a faithful listener of CBC's Wiretap (cbc.ca/wiretap) and can rarely contemplate sleep without presenter Jonathan Goldstein's quizzical tones in my ear, reflecting on subjects such as sloth, courtship and, in the case of this week's progamme, our final minutes on Earth.
Goldstein's parents arguing over what music they'd play during the apocalypse was a particular treat, though if I had to select a soundtrack to accompany the end of space and time, I'd choose Goldstein himself.
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