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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.

Sep 21, 2017

When I started reading Nate Dern’s new book, Not Quite A Genius, I was expecting a collection of comic personal essays, that being a popular format at the moment. I got that in pieces about being a minor reality television star and hipster vegetarianism, but I also got strange stories about insomnia and dream killers, a piece about the lifespan about a computer becoming self-aware and having an immediate existential crisis. Some of them are silly, some of them are political and pointed at subjects like anti-vaxxing and global warming. At times in Genius, Dern will open in first person, and you have to wonder if he’s writing as himself or if we’re going to find out a few paragraphs down that the narrator is a robot or a vampire. And it makes for a wonderfully disorienting transition from piece to piece.


Dern is a writer first, a senior writer at Funny Or Die, but he’s also an actor and a director – he’s had walk on parts in Gossip Girl and Boardwalk Empire, and he directed some short films to promote the book as he was writing it and appears in some Funny Or Die shorts. You can see one of those next month in the Department of Tangents Second Annual Daily Horror Film Fest. Dern is also a stand-up comedian and an improviser, and was formerly Artistic Director at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. He’s been a lot of things, but before starting work on the book, he was not a personal essayist. In this interview, he mentioned how he wrote these essays at the request of his editor. Now he’s hooked, so don’t be surprised if you see more of that from him in the near future. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can ask to read the dissertation he’s working on at Columbia, part of his plan to eventually land a teaching job.

After the interview, stick around for a new track from Corin Ashley, next week's podcast guest, from his new album Broken Biscuits. Ashley recently stopped by the newly constructed Podcast Kitchen in Lynn, Ma to talk about the album and his experience as a stroke survivor. The track is called “Magpie Over Citadel,” and you can find the album on iTunes and wherever you buy good music.