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Monday, December 6th, 2010

A Fairly Comprehensive Guide to Comedy Podcasts: You Look Nice Today

It was clear in reading through the comments section of the first Guide to Comedy Podcasts that I’d inadvertently ignored a lot of tenderly beloved podcasts. In an effort to rectify the oversight, I’m now taking a weekly look at which of these are worth your valuable time and which ones should take a sabbatical forever. This week’s featured podcast is You Look Nice Today.

Although the three hosts of You Look Nice Today claim on their website that they met on Twitter, one suspects otherwise. The first thing you will notice upon listening to the show is that much of what’s said is comprised of deceptively sincere-sounding jokes, rendering You Look Nice Today unsuitable for gullible listeners. From the title to the hosts’ names to the tagline — “A journal of emotional hygiene” — almost everything you hear is a put-on. Which is awesome.

The overriding style that You Look Nice Today has perfected could be described as Deadpan Conversational Improv. The hosts will start in on a topic in a completely serious way, and end up going off on extended surreal tangents without ever changing their tone at all. A discussion about raising awareness for various causes leads to a convincing case for how ‘mouth breathers’ are the most unfairly maligned of all groups. Eventually the population has been divided into Noseys and Moutheys, with heated speculation about whether celebrities like Ed Begley Jr could potentially be “outed” in the mouth breather magazine, GAPE. Sometimes these flights of fancy even end up in slyly satirical commentary, as when a description of suburban life in Los Altos quickly turned into an acerbic riff on the global labor market. It doesn’t matter if the points they make are even valid; whether the hosts have any idea what the hell they’re talking about or not, it always at least sounds like they do.

The most well-known of the three is Hot Dogs Ladies, whose given name is Merlin Mann (a name which presumably instilled a sense of humor and distrust for adults in early life.) Hot Dogs is a funny guy whose joke-saturated Twitter feed I’d been following long before I realized he had any kind of podcast. Outside of YLNT, he stays busy with the Lifehacker-lite website, 43 Folders, a forthcoming book, and a thriving consulting and corporate speaking practice, which explains why business jargon like ‘verticals’ and ‘silos’ get thrown around from time to time on the show. Not much information is readily available for the other two hosts, Lonely Sandwich (real name: Adam Lisagor) and Scott Simpson (who doesn’t have a nickname, but it feels like he does since he is always referred to with his full name.) You can pick up enough about the hosts from listening, though.

Instead of being professional comedians, these three are working professionals who just happen to be hilarious as one of many side-ventures. They are, on average, in their late-30s, married, and with children that they talk about irreverently, Louis CK-style. They also share Louis’ charming lack of vanity, which is evident in that they do not at all mind coming off as having once been the kind of person who rifles through another roommate’s stuff, or has a small penis (though to be fair, that second topic is [mercifully] never discussed to any significant length.) While they are all firmly entrenched in adulthood, these guys clearly have traces of Peter Pan syndrome and a penchant for talking about little boy stuff.

They also seem to know full well who their audience is. Although I’m sure there are plenty of female listeners out there, it’s a fairly masculine podcast with an abundance of conversations about male grooming and gross sexual tidbits. For instance, an entirely reasonable discussion about vanity license plates includes the sentence ‘I Felch Screech’, which still gives me shudders, and poo is very much a recurring motif. On one episode, they even discuss (presumably facetiously) the difficult quest to get sponsors. Not only does the research show that listeners of the show tend to skew male, but they tend to be “anti-female”. The episode this bit was stated on was recorded in 2008.

“We are in deep Larry David territory here,” Scott Simpson announces during one episode, and in their dissections of common annoyances and domestic miscellany, they do occasionally dwell there, but they are by no means confined to it. More often they are hard at work exploring odd universal truths like the desire to grab the gun out of a cop’s holster on line at Starbucks, or the experience of forming a “band” in high school that is more of an opportunity to just come up with a cool name and hang out with instruments. Sometimes the hosts have discussions that force the title of the podcast to make sense, assuaging insecurities prompted by conversation starters like “God, I wish I was Ralph Macchio.” Mostly, though, the title just seems to be something they found privately amusing.

The show is put together really well. A jaunty ukulele-and-hand-claps theme starts things off and recurs in interstitial breaks. An answering machine beep and an announcer’s voice then introduce each segment with nonsense titles like “Awkward cake.” The only segment title that actually make sense comes toward the end, when the voice announces “And finally”. (Although the website lists the announcer as one Dr. Nguyen, whoever it is sounds suspiciously like John Hodgman). The hosts also have a great sense of when to end a segment. A discussion about body hair will have just about fizzled out when, after the first second of total silence, Adam states as plainly as possible that he has a very hairy ass, and then in comes the ukulele to punctuate the joke and close the scene.

The length of the show is always under an hour. Although the format is quite loose, the content is tight. You get the feeling that anything that isn’t at least a little funny or interesting gets edited out. The hosts indeed make great use of post-show editing: various clips and noises drift in to accentuate what’s being discussed as it’s being discussed. This is a podcast where anything can happen. A discussion on the possibility of a song comprised entirely of the Good Parts from other songs culminates in a reveal, at episode’s end, that the hosts have made such a concoction. The result is like a parallel nerd-universe version of a Girl Talk album (I laughed out loud when the sad little horn from Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up” drifted in.)

The only unfortunate aspect of You Look Nice Today is its irregular schedule. When the show started in early 2008, it was a weekly. After about a year, it slowed to a monthly, and now, well, the November offering was the show’s first since mid-summer. However, there is a rich back catalog of podcasts ready to be downloaded, and even gullible listeners are encouraged to get cracking on that. You may not be able to distinguish exactly when the hosts are joking or not, but you’ll be laughing enough that it probably won’t matter so much.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a Tumblr.

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  • Carleton Atwater

    So glad to see this show get some love. If tumblr ever returns checkout my embarrassingly nerdy catalog of all their bits/segments http://sostark.net/ylnt

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Arnold/868815106 Ed Arnold

    Adam Lisagor works in the movie and TV industry check his IMDB page and Scott Simpson works for Apple in the podcast section of iTunes. Also, they actually did meet on twitter.