Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Champs
Format: two white comedians and a DJ interview black guys, a pornstar, and Jose Canseco
Episode duration: 45m-1h35m
Frequency: 2-5 per month
Moshe Kasher, a comedian I’ve seen here and there in Los Angeles, wrote a memoir and became one of the very, very few nonfiction authors to appear for an interview on KCRW’s Bookworm. This alone got me interested in his other projects, a group which includes a podcast called The Champs [RSS] [iTunes]. He hosts it with fellow comedian Neal Brennan, known as the co-creator of Chapelle’s Show, and someone named DJ Douggpound, who seldom verbally interjects but fires off many a sound clip — “drops,” as the radio industry calls them, or called them long ago when the technology was a novelty — using his iPad. So you have these three guys, and then they’re doing an interview show, questioning a different guest each week and everything. While none of these qualities sounded particularly innovative in and of itself, they all combined to give me reason to suspect something… alive in this podcast. Something spirited.
Downloading episodes, I found interviews with quite a few creators, celebrities, and other public figures I don’t normally hear dropping by podcasts: Hollywood Shuffle director (and Meteor Man himself) Robert Townsend [MP3], noted Eddie Murphy sibling Charlie Murphy [MP3], genre-defeating electronic musician Flying Lotus [MP3 1] [MP3 2]. David Alan Grier [MP3], whose every appearance on Adam Carolla’s show I download, and The Roots’ Questlove [MP3], whom I still remember enjoying on Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy, also grabbed my attention. All guys with brains worth picking, and Kasher, Brennan, and Douggpound do a sharp and energetic job of it, but for a while I just couldn’t see the unifying concept.
Then — after the second or third time one of the hosts pointed it out — I realized that all of those guests are black gentlemen. The meeting of white hosts and black guests seems to have provided a founding concept for the podcast, though not one stringently adhered to. The guys try, though; when retired adult film star Sasha Grey, as white a lady as I’ve seen in the past decade, takes a turn in the guest chair, she takes a turn in a guest chair. Flying Lotus occupies the other one, providing the recommended episodic allowance of blackness (and composing a track on the fly). Though white, Kasher and Brennan often allude to their ties with certain elements of black culture, or others allude for them. I don’t know how seriously to take these claims, though Kasher’s mean-streets-of-Oakland childhood has become a prominent enough aspect of his public persona that Douggpound gives him a regular ribbing about it. They do summon what sounds like a respectable depth of knowledge when the moment comes, and it often does, to discuss “black issues.” Still, a comedy-doing, podcast-recording white man who declares any kind of position relative to the black race walks into a more daunting minefield than I could ever bring myself to.
This gets into a question of nontrivial importance for any interviewing podcaster who, like me, endures regular, bitter communiqués about how few women and people of color we bring on: to what extent can you invite guests for what they are, rather than simply what they do, before grossing yourself out? Having grown up in the nineties, bent under pressure to never think about race or sex, I now find myself at the business end of e-mails demanding I explain why I’ve failed to consider race and sex. Yet nothing could make me feel like more of a White Male Supremacist than looking for guests with the thought, “Lessee, I just had a woman, so now I need a black.” I would imagine the Champs boys put no small amount of thought into stuff like this, though you wouldn’t necessarily have expected comedians to do so before now. Kasher, especially, strikes me an odd new breed, a libertine who we’d probably also have called “politically correct” (or at least a “male feminist”) back in those good old nineties. He seems to do well with it, though. I’ll let you know how absolute unreconstructedness works out for me.
None of these cultural burdens weigh on the format-breaking episode featuring a certain former Major League Baseball player by the name of Jose Canseco [MP3]. In a startlingly candid conversation not just about steroid use — it’s also about the abundant, almost aggressive sexual opportunities available to the Oakland As of the mid-eighties — Canseco proves considerably less nuts than either his public persona or his Twitter persona, aside from an absolute conviction that he’ll live to age 130. Few racial topics surface; it’s just Brennan, Kasher, Canseco, and Douggpound’s array of sounds — his divisive, divisive sounds. “The stupid radio DJ noises are too much,” says one iTunes review. “The sound effects made it impossible to listen,” says another. “Extremely obnoxious noises constantly,” says another still. Yes, Douggpound’s drops often come off as distracting, bizarrely un-apposite, or simply confusing. But when I laugh out loud at something spoken on The Champs, more often than not, Douggpound spoke it. Figure that out.
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[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes], which is Kickstarting its second season right now! Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]read more