The First Episode of ‘Hard Nation’ Is a Relic of a More Hopeful, Less Terrifying Era
Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time
Here at Pod-Canon, we like to commemorate endings and/or milestones by traveling back to the very beginning to the kick-off episodes that launched some of our favorite podcasts. Sure enough, Earwolf’s wonderful political talk radio show Hard Nation appears to have ended its run after two years and 104 episodes with a star-studded extravaganza bringing back a lot of the podcast’s most popular guests. So much has happened culturally and politically that its very first episode, which dropped April 6th, 2016, already feels like a period piece, a fascinating relic of a more hopeful and less despairing time. Trump’s presidency seemed inconceivable at the time — who could have been pessimistic enough to imagine that it was actually inevitable?
The podcast kicks off by introducing its hosts Mark Hard (Mike Still) — who boasts of being a “proud conservative…I believe the government should be small, guns should be available, and abortions should be done in secret in closets with hangers” — and Pete Hard (Paul Welsh), who “was raised in Santa Cruz, California by a professor of white wine studies and a soap maker.” Mark began as a cuddlier version of Rush Limbaugh — a Limbaugh who actually was a big old teddy bear and not merely a man with a roly-poly physique — before evolving into a fascinating, weirdly likable amalgamation of a conservative blowhard, a Christopher Guest-wannabe artist, and a clueless spiritual seeker/self-styled “wokeservative.” Mark has emerged as one of the funniest and deepest characters in Earwolf history, whereas Pete began as a prickly, contrarian progressive and inveterate hater and has pretty much stayed the same. He’s a perpetually disgusted, annoyed straight man to his half-brother’s daft, well-intentioned, but hopelessly misguided man-child. The more likable Mark has become, the more Pete despises him, but in the first episode at least that anger is more professional than deeply personal.
Mark and Pete are posited as longtime Washington DC radio fixtures who broadcast anywhere between seven and fifteen hours a day but are just breaking into podcasting with an episode featuring guest Hillary Clinton. Nicole Byer of Loosely Exactly Nicole fame plays the former Secretary of State not as the robotic, calculating uber-politician of the public imagination but rather as a foul-mouthed, oversexed, sexually rapacious vulgarian. With Hard Nation, as with The Dead Authors Podcast, realism isn’t as important as strong, funny takes. Nobody will mistake Byer’s foul-mouthed Hillary, who brags that “Fucking” is literally her middle name, for the real thing, but that doesn’t make the performance any less funny or outrageous.
For a political talk radio parody, Hard Nation is remarkably dirty. Sexual boundaries are transgressed about as often as they are in porn films. It’s appropriate that the podcast’s name is a bit of a smutty pun, because it’s graphic in its raunchy sexuality right out of the gate. Sure enough, Byer’s insatiable Clinton wastes no time propositioning Mark despite their political and ideological differences, and Mark almost instantly devolves into a puddle of jelly in the face of her intense sexual hunger. It isn’t long before he’s helplessly, apologetically asking his ostensibly political opponent, “Benghazi! What’s the deal? You did everything you could, right?” and licking guacamole all over the then-Democratic front-runner’s body.
The first episode of Hard Nation only lasts about 36 minutes. Later episodes would be longer, but the show never fell victim to the two-hour bloat that afflicts so many veteran podcasts. The Trump presidency that has cursed our nation and the world in so many ways proved a blessing for Hard Nation in that the people who worked for Trump tended to be, like their boss, insane human cartoon characters rather than conventional political operatives.
Trump and his evil minions were as good for Hard Nation as they are bad for society, so it’s unfortunate that we won’t have this consistently hilarious podcast around to help make Trump’s nightmare reign a little more palatable. If nothing else, Hard Nation helped us find the dark comedy in the free-floating horror of Trump’s America. If The President Show — which serves a similar function and with equal brilliance — is not renewed, I will be seriously pissed.
It’s a bummer that we won’t be hearing Pete and Mark bicker weekly going forward, but there’s certainly something to be said for going out on top. Besides, if Roseanne can come back as a show about a Trump supporter decades later, then the door should forever remain open for the battling half-brothers’ return.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.