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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 16, 2017

I’ve been a fan of comedian Billy D. Washington for a while. He’s a smart comic, talented in a lot of ways. He can work clean, he can do political satire, he can write from a more observational aesthetic, and he plays a mean piano. Last week, a post he made on Facebook caught my attention. He said he’d been watching all these new stand-up comedy specials, the gold mine frenzy we’ve had lately, and he’d decided to “compete” again. I got in touch with him immediately to see what he meant, and he said he’d been concentrating on making a living to raise his kids. They’re out of the nest now, and he was looking to be “relevant” again. To get the call when CNN is looking to find out about the comedy business. To get on late night again.

That’s something I think happens frequently to comedians. Maybe they start out with that dream of fame and fortune, but practical concerns get in the way. They either quit or find a way to make it work from a financial perspective. Washington never stopped doing comedy, but he stopped chasing the fame and fortune dream. What he’s looking for now may be a little different. Something in between. Opportunities to show a broader audience what he can do.

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I hadn’t spoken to Washington since he came to Boston probably a decade ago. I hope I don’t go that long before I speak with him again. He brought up some aspects of stand-up I had never heard before, like the demise of the “non-celebrity” black comedian. We spoke about how the fact that he can do so many kinds of comedy may have meant he became less identifiable. He’s not the ace satirists, the music parodist, the clean comic. He’s all of those things, depending on the bit, which makes it harder to brand him.

When the conversation is over, stick around to hear “Get Away,” the debut single from Brooklyn band <a href="https://allbirds.bandcamp.com/" target="_blank">BIRDS</a> from their album <em>Everything All At Once</em>, out Friday August 18 from <a href="http://greenwayrecords.storenvy.com/products/20391842-birds-everything-all-at-once-lp-cass-pre-order" target="_blank">Greenway Records</a>. It’s great fuzzy pop, something to prop you up a little bit.