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The Department of Tangents Podcast

Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Oct 12, 2018

This week’s episode is a minicast, an interview with Paula Finn, author of Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy. It’s a collection of interviews with some of the finest writers in television history, including big names like Reiner, Lear, James L. Brooks, Larry Charles, Phil Rosenthal, Mike Reiss, and Al Jean, and some important figures lesser-known outside of TV nerd fandom like Treva Silverman, Leonard Stern, and husband and wife team Austin and Irma Kalish. 

These people contributed foundational work in the art of television. Reiner wrote on Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour and created The Dick Van Dyke Show. Lear is responsible for more great sitcoms than you can count, including All In the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Maude, and One Day At A Time. Brooks co-created Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Rhoda, and The Simpsons. Silverman wrote for Mary Tyler Moore and The Monkees, Stern for Get Smart, The Honeymooners, and The Phil Silvers Show. Austin and Irma Kalish had a wide-ranging career writing on everything from F Troop to All In the Family.

I could spend this entire introduction giving you credits, and it would read like a list of every show you’ve ever loved. Luckily, I don’t have to do that because Finn has written the book, and you can pick that up on Amazon or wherever fine books about comedy are sold. And Finn has a particularly interesting vantage point from which to write about television. Her father, Herb Finn, was a sitcom writer who worked on The Honeymooners, The Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island, and others. I caught up with Finn by phone to talk about the book, television, and growing up with a funny father.