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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 31, 2017

If you are like Mike Sacks, somewhere in the murk of your childhood memories, you have the remnants of some cheesy movies from Sunday afternoon TV watching. Might be rubber monsters battling over plastic model cities. Or a machine-gun-toting muscle freak saving his friends from dubious foreigners with ill intentions. For Mike, the movie that stood out featured a guy named Stinker and his pet chimp commissioned to get some precious cargo to the president before… well… something. Probably something bad. There was also a dim-witted trucker friend, a kid who can’t help but use profanity every other word, and a woman who loves a man with stuff in his mustache.

It was called Stinker Lets Loose!, and for a while, he doubted its existence. There are no traces of it anywhere on YouTube, and not even a tattered Beta copy in a thrift store anywhere. Sacks is pleased that his latest project is the novelization of that movie, presented in time for the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release. The name credited on the jacket for the novelization is James Taylor Johnson, and there are a few other names of those responsible for the film. It is silly and dated and offensive and a metric ton of fun.

I wanted to talk to Sacks about that, but we also have something common, in that we have both interviewed comedians as a job. Many of Sacks’s interviews are compiled in his two books, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers and And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers. We spent most of the conversation on Stinker, but got to talk a bit about comedy and interviewing, as well.

After the conversation, stick around for “See You Through,” a new track from Ian Randall Thornton from his debut album Lineage, which he released last week. Thornton’s got a deep, rich voice and the song has a propulsive energy. You can find out more about Thornton on his Web site.