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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.

Jul 27, 2018

Jessica Pilot has one of the best jobs in the business. She finds stand-up comedians for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and helps them perfect their set for television. That means watching as much stand-up comedy as she possibly can, at festivals, in clubs, or, every once in a while, in a pizza shop. As I am recording this voiceover now, she is out scouting at the Just For Laughs Festival. It’s a dream job in a lot of ways, but it is still a job. There is a lot of work involved in getting a five or six-minute set together, and it can take months before a comic gets on the show. Pilot is also a writer, who has been published in Splitsider, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and other publications, and she did a video series for the Village Voice called This Is Stand-Up, which caught the eye of her eventual boss at The Late Show. We talk about a couple of things she’s got coming up – an essay for Splitsider and a new project on dangerous comedy with frequent Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Larry Charles which should be out on Netflix next year. Plus you can catch her on the second season of the CNN documentary series The History of Comedy on August 19. We also got into details about how she works with comedians, what might make a comic right for the Late Show, and how much comedy means to Pilot. It’s a barometer for mental health – if her sense of humor fails her, that’s when she knows something’s wrong. Luckily, that is not often the case. We start off talking about how not being a performer herself helps her do her job better. Find out more about Pilot on her Web site or follow her on Twitter. This week’s featured track is “El Camino De Oro” from Walter Salas-Humara’s upcoming solo album, Walterio, out August 10 on Rhyme & Reason Records. Salas-Humara leads the pioneering Americana band The Silos. If you know the band, then you likely have a long history with Salas-Humara’s mix of roots and punk, dating back to the mid-to-late 80s when the band first surfaced. If you don’t know them, then you’re in for a treat. Go back and pick up any album in their catalogue, really, but especially Cuba or the self-titled album. If you can find it, give a listen to The Setters, his collaboration with Alejandro Escovedo and Michael Hall. In those early days, the genre went by a bunch of different names – alt.country or cowpunk. The magazine that best covered the music, No Depression, used to change its tagline every issue. What a lot of those bands, including the Silos, found was the common ground between punk and country. The immediacy of a small group of people playing their hearts out. 

It helps if you’re a fantastic songwriter, and Salas-Humara certainly is that. He has constantly pushed forward in his abilities with melody and arrangement, but he has never lost touch with raw rock and roll or the sense of romance that has made that early work endure throughout the decades. You can hear that in this track, “El Camino De Oro,” which translates into “The Golden Path.” I haven’t heard the full album yet, but this is an extremely good omen.