The Week in Radio: WireTap is a classy comedy that doesn't need canned laughter

 

I might, in the past, have mentioned my struggles with radio comedy. In writing this column, I have put myself through immeasurable torture – that is, listening to a parade of stand-ups bleating about traffic wardens, missing socks and sagging genitalia in the late-night slot – in the hope that somebody might cajole my face into something approximating a smile.

I have waded through any number of daytime sitcoms and sketch shows hoping they might raise my spirits but, to the ire of Twitter users for whom life is evidently one non-stop LOL-fest, I have remained unmoved. It's been tough, let me tell you.

Lately, though, I've made a discovery. Admittedly, it's one that a few million people thousands of miles away made several years ago, but what can I say? This show goes out in Canada and I don't get out much. My point is that it's comedy and it has restored my will to live.

WireTap, on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is the brainchild of Jonathan Goldstein, who is a novelist, a former producer of Ira Glass's hit US radio show This American Life, and the show's host. This weekly programme, which can be downloaded by overseas listeners, is structured around themes such as sloth, legacy and courtship. In between his own deadpan reflections, Goldstein seeks out the opinions of friends and family, or rather "friends and family", since it is often suggested that the show is partly scripted and his contributors are actors. If this is the case – and it probably is since no one person can have this many friends – their naturalism is astonishing.

Then there's Goldstein himself, a thoughtful and charismatic host, unflappable in the face of his babbling guests and yet permanently on the verge of an existential crisis. Goldstein revels in the sad-sack role – in the past he has debated with friends to see exactly who has had the most pathetic life experience – without ever crossing into the realms of neediness. There are no punch lines here and – hallelujah! – no canned laughter. It is, in its simple discussions of universal anxieties, gentle, intimate and clever.

Last week's show focused on appearance and how "it is the window through which the world decides what to make of us". Goldstein asked a selection of people to sum up their sartorial style and the answers ranged from "ageing Lolita" and "Estonian mushroom gatherer" to "colour-blind hobo" and "Little Women meets Cher". He reflected on his own hapless relationship with fashion – "It wasn't until my late thirties that I learned a belt did not in fact make all (trousers) one size fits all." He then phoned up his mother, who I still want to believe really is his mother, who said she gave up worrying about her appearance when she got married. Now she alternates between two trousers-and-T-shirt combos and is as happy as a clam.

This week, Goldstein explored the concept of discomfort, and invited his "friend" Jason to share an epic tale about trying to impress a girl while needing to pee. It started at a children's piano recital, with Jason trapped in the midst of a row of parents all filming their little darlings, continued in the bathroom, which it turned out was being used as a children's changing room and moved out into the street where, by now dishevelled and in considerable pain, he tried and failed to find a secluded spot to unburden himself. It ended with him in a police holding cell finding "relief and release" in front of "two benches full of dudes... and, y'know, it was kind of empowering".

I don't care if it's not true. I'm still laughing.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders