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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.

Jun 6, 2018

For this week’s episode, I sat down with Jonathan Katz in his home in Newton, Massachusetts to talk about his career in stand-up comedy and Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, his popular Comedy Central show which is now an audio series on Audible. Season Two of the new incarnation is coming up this summer, and Katz gives the complete rundown of new guests, plus a preview of what’s happening with Dr. Katz, his son Ben, played by H. Jon Benjamin, and his receptionist, Laura, played by Laura Silverman.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan and his partner in Dr. Katz, Tom Snyder, about how they originally pitched Dr. Katz to Comedy Central. The story was, they were both new to television at the time, but stuck to their vision for the show, which turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. A lot of that story never made it to print, so I’m glad to have it on the record here. You can check out my interview with Snyder way back in EP10 of the podcast.

We also spoke about Katz's early experiences touring with Robin Williams. It’s a strange bit of Katz’s history. He was Williams’s musical director, writing songs for the act and playing guitar onstage. One of those songs was “This Heart Is Closed for Alterations,” co-written with Katz’s college buddy from Goddard, David Mamet. If that’s not an intriguing enough mix, Williams once performed that song on Mork & Mindy with his opening act, The Rick and Ruby Show. Toward the end of the conversation, we also spoke about Multiple Sclerosis, how that has affected his performing, and one way he’d like to connect with the MS community. I also inadvertently ruin a great joke in that segment. My apologies to Jonathan. You can keep up with Jonathan's work on his Website at JonathanKAtz.com, and look for new episodes of Dr. Katz: The Audio Files on Audible later this summer.

The featured track this week comes from Matt Dorrien off his new album, Songs In the Key of Grey on Mama Bird Recording Co. I’m always impressed by anyone who can write songs in a classic, American Songbook style and do it well. Plenty of people try, and plenty of people slog through the classics and it sounds perfunctory at best or schlocky at worst. But there are people like Randy Newman and Joe Henry who can write songs that sound both timeless and modern. And that’s the territory Dorrien works.

The song I’m about to play is an obvious example of that. It’s called “Dayton Ohio, 1983.” If that title sounds familiar to you, you might be thinking of the Randy Newman song, “Dayton Ohio, 1903" from his 1972 album Sail Away.

In Newman’s vision, Dayton is a quaint, quiet town where people are nice to each other, sitting for Sunday tea. In Dorrien’s update, the narrator is a kid who grew up in Dayton and finds it quiet. And boring. He dreams of moving out to LA and having a fling with a dancer. And maybe getting into a little bit, or a lot of trouble. Listen to the song on the podcast, then head back hear and listen to Newman’s vision of Dayton. Find out more about Dorrien at MattDorrien.com and Mama Bird Recording Co. at MamaBirdRecordingCo.com.