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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.

Sep 21, 2018

I was lucky enough to see Summer of ’84 a few weeks ago in Salem, Massachusetts, not far from where Matt Leslie grew up in Ipswich. I had not heard of the film before, but it was sponsored by the Salem Horror Fest, and I trust the tastes of the folks who run that, so I went into it with no hype, knowing virtually nothing about it. I greatly enjoyed the film. It has the same vibe as movies I enjoyed, oddly enough, as a teenager in the mid-eighties like The Lost Boys or The Goonies.

Davey, a suburban teenager, thinks his neighbor, Mackey, might be a serial killer. One night when he’s out playing a game with his three best friends, Davey happens to see a kid in Mackey’s kitchen. That gets Davey’s conspiracy theorist mind working. Kids have been going missing lately, and when the next one looks like the kid he saw through Mackey’s window, Davey is convinced. But who would believe him? Mackey is a cop and by all outward appearances, the perfect suburban neighbor. Naturally, the only people he can turn to are his friends – the nerdy Farraday, rebel Tommy, and the good-natured big kid, Woody. The first and possibly most important thing that got my attention is how natural the kids seemed together. This kind of movie lives and dies by the chemistry of its cast, and that worked for me. So did Rich Sommer from Wet Hot American Summer, Mad Men, and GLOW, who plays the neighbor, Wayne Mackey. He has to be likable enough to cast doubt on Davey’s theory and creepy enough that Davey doesn’t seem insane, and Sommer walks that line well, into the third act when things change dramatically. The major story arc was well-plotted, providing just enough doubt to keep the mystery going. 

Leslie co-wrote the script with Stephen J. Smith and also served as a producer. We kept the conversation mainly spoiler-free for the first half, but there were some elements we needs to dive into, so if you haven’t seen the film and want to avoid spoilers, stop when I mention that in the conversation and please do come back and finish after you’ve seen it. Look for Summer of 84 streaming on Amazon Prime and Vudu or pick it up on BluRay now. You can find out more about Leslie’s work, as well as Smiths, at www.smithandleslie.com.

The featured track this week is “Social Stuff,” from Jo Firetone’s new stand-up album, The Hits, out now on Comedy Central Records. It’s a fun album, a live recording that includes occasional, seemingly spontaneous musical interludes from Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. Firestone has a gentle demeanor that belies a sharper wit and a constant agitation over dealing with the outside world, which is what this track is all about. It’s the minor tragedies of social interactions, from farting in an elevator to saying dumb thing in public. My favorite line in this is the frustrated, “I don’t know how to get smarter, you could read, but, I mean, who cares?” Firestone is a staff writer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and hosts the Dr. Gameshow podcast on the Earwolf network. You can find out more about her at www.jofirestone.com or follow her on Twitter at @kingfirestorm