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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.

Aug 30, 2018

I am honored to have Guy Branum as my interview guest this week. He is an accomplished television writer, having worked on Chelsea, Lately and written for Joan Rivers, as well as one of the most consistently entertaining sitcoms of the past decade, The Mindy Project. He also currently hosts Talk Show The Game Show on truTV, on which guests get points for witty stories, just the right amount of name dropping to avoid getting a yellow card, jokes, and applause breaks. It’s a fresh and funny show and reminds me of Match Game in a way that the Match Game revival doesn’t. And he puts his pop culture knowledge to good use on the Pop Rocket podcast on the Maximum Fun network. 

The bulk of the interview is about Branum’s new book, My Life As A Goddess: A Memoir Through (Un)Popular Culture. The book shows off who Branum is at his core. It’s funny, compassionate, sarcastic, smart, and poignant. Branum tells the story of how a kid from a small but diverse agricultural town in California went from law school to the entertainment industry, how he came out and dealt with both self-loathing and the reproach of his family, and how important television was and is to him. Along the way, you can learn about pop culture, world history, and mythology, among other things. 

The goddess in the title is a reference to a particular important mythological figure in Branum’s personal history – Leto, sister and lover of Zeus and mother of Apollo and Artemis. Branum tells of how Zeus's wife, Hera, cast Leto out of Mount Olympus and cursed anyone who would give her shelter. She was forgotten and abused for nine months. The phrase that stuck with Branum comes when Leto had had enough and “Then she remembered that she was a goddess.” That is a kind of personal mantra for Branum, and we start the conversation with that idea. You can find out more about him, his tour dates, and what he’s up to at his Web site, GuyBranum.com. Look for the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever you purchase fine reading material. And watch out for notices about Talk Show The Game Show. The show is currently in between seasons and Branum is waiting to hear if he’ll get the go ahead from truTV for season three. 

This week’s featured track is “Everything” from the debut full-length by PR Newman, Turn Out. PR Newman is the solo project of Spencer Garland, the Austin-based multi-instrumentalist who, until a few years ago, had been mostly serving as a sideman in bands like Berkshire Hounds. He played a lot of the parts and wrote almost of the songs, save for “Damn, I Miss That Guy,” written by his fellow Austinite, Willy McGee. 

I got the album in the mail a few weeks ago and took an immediate liking to it. IT was hard to pick a song to feature, for a few reasons. First, there are a lot of great songs here. And second, Garland is all over the map sonically. Should I choose the cheeky “Let’s Go Meet In A Small Town,” the strange and soulful “Right Here, Yeah, Ya,” the grooving “Here Come the Rangers?” 

No single song can represent the range of the album. So I chose the Kinks-like acoustic rocker “Everything,” partly because it’s the designated single, and partly because it’s just impossible not to bob your head along with the thing and try to sing the horn line (I haven’t nailed it yet). You can find out more about at www.prnewman.com and tune in next week for my conversation with Garland.