Everyone has a morning show they watch or listen to, regardless of how accurate the words before that comma truly are. Part of the waking routine for the living can vary – coffee, a shower, blowing your nose and lighting a cigarette, wildly scrambling a fresh corpse from your bed then calling your dad’s lawyer, and possibly listening to a radio show. Radio becomes more and more a relic of younger years, podcasts taking the torch for the now generation, and likely later for my children we’ll have the holographic inter-mind QR10 nasal implant. Years ago for me it used to be Todd & Tyler in the Morning on Z92 – a couple of classic rock jocks that ate up assistants like I eat up the something something salad bar joke. I didn’t follow their antics too closely, never cared for the music (though they didn’t really play any) and wasn’t an official member of the fan cadre. I grew attached though, maybe because they weren’t the wacky “Fatty Mike and the Loose Goose Gator” with sound effects and fart noises. Semi-mature, chatty, and funny. Admittedly I can’t remember much of if anymore, it’s been years since I’ve heard an entire show. When I’m back in that area of our geography though, I turn the station right to them – comforting imaginary friends who share a similar mindset on how to sanely approach the stuff of today.
I theorize that everyone has a show like this – likely now these things we call a podcast – that keeps them tightly in whatever loop to which they’ve grown accustom. Part of my thought-up-on-the-toilet theory states that you may not even love the show – disliking certain guests, languages, themes, or catch phrases. “Oh good, it’s a so-and-so day,” the episodes you look forward to. “Ugh, not the guy who blows out candles with his ass again,” the episodes you reluctantly skip. Other people rarely relate – another slice of the theory. Like minded humans you associate with on the regular probably have their own shows – and can’t understand the appeal of yours. This is where the common “fan gatherings” occur – those who tap into the same veins of information you do, those who know the inside jokes, have already caught up to your point on the track, never to judge your neck-beard and catch-phrase t-shirt. Sashaying up to a possible fellow mind, you lean in and speak: “Party,” you begin softly, a bead of sweat gathering on your brow. They wait a beat, then reply… “Super party.” The ritual is complete, may his house be yours and yours, his.
My personal flavor is a podcast titled “Keith and The Girl.” Helmed by the venerable Keith Malley and Chemda Khalili, former lovers and part-time kids party clowns – now co-wranglers of a podcasting dynasty that’s firmly seated them in the annuls of iTunes. Malley, the Pennsylvanian author and stand up comic (once every year on his birthday) always wanted to get into radio, and with his then-girlfriend and co-author slash musician, the half Iraqi half Iranian all sexy-voiced Khalili, they launched into this stuff we’ve all come to know as uncensored internet radio. I first discovered the show back when the website Digg used to categorize podcasts in a special section – and Keith and The Girl was near the top of the list for “comedy,” where the very writings you’re reading or hearing right now (formerly known as You Suck at Web Design) had also been listed, albeit much further down the page. I snorted just a taste, mainlined a few more episodes, and now I’m all jittery if I miss my medicine. This is not safe for your grandmother’s tender heart valves – their “explicit” tag is one well earned. I’ve been listening to their show for four or five or math is hard years now, and it’s become part of my routine.
It’s a talk show, at the core of things. I’m not going to try to explain the guests or themes or what it’s guts look like – there’s too much history here and I have a policy on such talk. In my book it’s similar to people attempting explanations or reenactments of a funny commercial they saw on television – it never works, and the bit ends with them waving their hands around laughing – when they see your stern mug they sully off with a defeated “Well you’ve got to see it, it was really funny, the baby was talking about the stock market. A baby for God sakes.” KATG is people talking – Keith, Chemda, and often comedians you may or may not have heard of – sometimes just friends of the show or people they’re interested in chatting with. Students of comedy, Keith’s best work is on the show in his element, a laughing Chemda sitting back in her chair struggling to breath while Keith pushes her closer and closer into a stroke. I think of them as my imaginary friends, we’ve never met of course – but I know more about them than others who are close enough to grope. My wife is an infrequent fan of the show, but not quite the daily devotee that I’ve molted into. When we saw comedian Mike Lawrence on John’ Oliver’s New York Stand Up program, I pointed to the television, but had no words other than “I know that guy.” I don’t know that guy, but, I kinda do.
What resonates with me is the way Keith views others. He’s a people watcher. Human nature, for one – the interpretation of body language and the questioning of what people are thinking – a favorite of his is the U.S. criminal justice system and what it must take to defend those seemingly guilty of demonstrable crime. “He killed a child and ate her? Sure, let’s put him behind bars and rehabilitate him – he might, you know, cure cancer one day.” Keith votes for the most capital of punishments for even minor offenses (known as the one-strike law), and while I can’t totally agree, I find it difficult to argue with the sentiment when I’m sitting in packed traffic and debating if I should start hurling fresh soda cans of my own piss across the lanes. Often he’ll react to a news story making headlines and verbalize what was going through my mind like that – his manner of speech and explanation is something I relate to and have difficulty explaining. There are limits, however, to our similarities – cutting the sleeves off of my shirts and listening to Mötley Crüe for recreation is pretty far down on my list.
In his autobiography, “The Great American Novel” – that I’m admittedly only half-way through my fancy signed copy of – his writing style streams out in a familiar way:
“When you see crazy people on the street yelling and talking to an imaginary person, why are they always yelling? Why are the two people – who are just like us except one is totally insane and the other simply doesn’t exist – always angry? You hardly ever see a crazy person turn to his imaginary friend and say, ‘Y’know, that is so true,” and start laughing. “Oh man. You are so funny. High-five!’ I mean, come on! Being happy all the time is the whole point of being crazy!”
Occasionally I must skip a show – something about it just starts driving sewing needles into my balls. A disrespectful guest, a visitor that always rubs me the wrong way, or a crazy woman yelling “Apopa!” into the microphone for five minutes – I’m moving on and I’ll pick back up with the weirdness tomorrow. Tomorrow, as it stands, is the best time to listen after you’ve skipped a show – it’s time for the pair to disseminate exactly what went wrong, and feed yesterday’s monster to the internet alligators. You aren’t alone in your pain with the lesser of the shows – there’s an army of fans heating their forums to a sizzle, and they’ll address it for certain. I’ve never written in to the boards or the show feedback – but my wife and a close friend have, and there’s still that fun little twang that runs from your ass to your scalp when they read your comment “on air.” It’s like being eleven years old and hearing your name on the radio for winning the science fair, only now you’re thirty and it’s a comment about bodily function read out by semi-sober adults several states away.
They leave the shock jock thing where it belongs, back in 1996 with my white jeans and C&C Music Factory cassettes, and they’re mercifully neurotic over the quality of their audio – the best I’ve heard of any podcast. In more than six years they’ve gone from a part time project to a juggernaut of digital radio – running events, stand up, cruises, and live shows all over the map. I’ve been exposed to new comedians that now host the long holiday road trips my wife and I make each year, and it fills those fourteen hours on the road with more laughter and less razoring my arm just so I know that I’m still alive. If you’re in New York city and you’re getting into stand up comedy, look for the dark haired gal in the audience with a cough in her name, and be on your best behavior, she’ll be a kingmaker before long.
They’re my imaginary friends, my buddies there to remind me that we’re all floating along on the same rock. We remember trapper keepers and the breakfast cereals of the 1980’s, and we’ll be here to talk to you about them when you start to think it was all a dream. You know that bizarre thing that all the kids are doing these days – I know, right? We’re going to be old people together, and we’ll all reminisce about the times when you could actually order a pizza and they’d bring it right up to your door – just for dialing the telephone. They open each show with a prayer – done for the kitsch value as opposed to any spiritual overtone, but there’s a charm there, anyway, that’s comforting. To Keith and The Girl, to your daily routine, l’chiam, to life.