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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.

Mar 27, 2019

This week's episode is a conversation with Michael Gerber, publisher and editor of humor and satire magazine <em>The American Bystander</em>. There are hundreds, maybe thousands or more places to get satire and humor online. But <em>The American Bystander</em> is the one place dedicated to it in print. You can subscribe to a PDF version, but everything flows from the print version – its design and construction are part and parcel of its identity. It’s a throwback, most recognizably to <em>The National Lampoon</em>, but in a long tradition that included magazines like <em>Punch</em> and <em>Spy</em>. This is the vision of the magazine’s publisher and editor, Michael Gerber.

Gerber and I spoke about this long tradition, and the Bystander’s impressive array of contributors, including Michael Ian Black, Al Jean from <em>The Simpsons</em>, Merrill Markoe from <em>Letterman</em>, Drew Friedman from <em>MAD</em>, M.K. Brown from the <em>Lampoon</em>, and even former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. You can probably tell from that list that the Bystander isn’t established on the sense of humor of just a few people controlling everything. It casts a wide net in terms of format and sensibility. That’s something Gerber believes will make it more durable and not seem quite as dated as its predecessors when, somewhere down the road, we look back on these early years of its existence.

Of course, Gerber had a life before <em>Bystander</em> as a humorist, author of many books including the <em>Barry Trotter</em> series of <em>Harry Potter</em> parodies. We talk about his own history, and even touch on his changing attitude towards horror as a former fan, and how similar humor and horror can work in a mechanical sense. That’s mixed up in a discussion of the difference between your comedy brain and your regular, every day brain, and how the comedy brain can be more reductive and in some cases, even cruel. Gerber has a lot to offer, and the conversation skitters into a lot of different corners. This likely won’t be the last time we speak for this podcast.

You can subscribe to and support <em>The American Bystander</em> through its Patreon account, which you can <a href="https://www.americanbystander.org/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">find at www.americanbystander.org</a>. Start looking for issue ten next week, and you can keep up with the latest American Bystander news on their <a href="https://www.facebook.com/americanbystander/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/bystandertweets" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/theamericanbystander/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Instagram</a>.

This week’s featured track is “Como Minimo” by next week’s guest <a href="https://micropixie.bandcamp.com/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Micropixie</a> from her upcoming album, <em>Dark Sight of the Moon</em>, out April 9. Micropixie, an alter-ego of Neshma Friend, is an outsider character, an alien come to Earth trying to understand why we treat each other so poorly. I say “an” alter-ego instead of “the” alter-ego, because Neshma also inhabits Micropixie’s Earthling counterpart, Single Beige Female, a woman trying to grow and prosper amid her own struggles to understand her fellow humans. We go in-depth on these characters on next week’s episode, and she explains this much, much better than I do. I would strongly suggest listening to all of Micropixie’s music with a nice pair of headphones so you can get the full effect of the layered sound, and so you can catch everything she has to say.

This particular song is a good example of that. “Como Minimo” translates to “at the very least,” or “at the minimum,” and the message is “yes is the minimum.” In other words, fellas, you need to do more. As Micropixie sings, if the mantra is “boys will be boys,” that will eventually turn into “men will be creeps.” But it’s just locker room talk right? Which is boorish at best. The Department of Tangents Podcast with Micropixie is out next week, and the album <em>Dark Sight of the Moon</em> is out April 9th. ‘Til then, enjoy this preview.