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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 20, 2018

This episode is an interview with author Mike Vago with new comedy from Shawn Carter. Vago is a talented writer and humor columnist. You may have seen his Wiki Wormhole feature, which has run for the past five years in the Onion’s A.V. Club. Or you might have seen his debut novel, Selfdestructible, about super heroes who have to deal with real-world problems. 

A teenager discovers he can set things on fire when he’s angry, and the part he’s most excited about, at least at first, is that he gets to be homeschooled and doesn’t have to deal with the other mean kids. A twenty-something has super powers, but it’s debatable that she’s a super hero. Her parents were definitely celebrated super heroes and protectors, but they’re dead now, and when she goes on a bender to drown her sorrows, she finds she has to move back home to Buffalo to avoid the tabloids. It’s not a winking satire, although there is a strong sense of humor influenced by comics like The Tick and Ambush Bug. Vago explores these fantastical things with a more practical eye – what would it be like it people actually had these kinds of powers, and what would they do with them? 

If you like super heroes and comic books, if you’re interested in self-publishing, of Vago’s column, or even why I yell “Neil Young!” to end every episode, then this is the episode for you. I should also disclose here that I’ve known Vago for more than twenty years. We met at the University at Buffalo, both of us working at the campus radio station and magazine. He’s the one who introduced me to The Tick, for which I am eternally grateful. So this is also a conversation between old friends. 

From an amiable author to an amiable comedian, Shawn Carter. Carter is Boston comedian, and I’ve enjoyed his work for the past several years here. He’s got a new album, 100 Problems, which you can find on your iTunes and such. Carter is a clever joke writer. On this track, “97 Cats,” he will challenge your deeply held notions that anyone can own “outdoor cats” and what makes good bird feeder food. You can find out more about him at and his Twitter handle is @shawncarters.