A few years ago it became clear that at some point I was going to have to pull the trigger on grad school -- ie: actually graduate and start paying back all that free money that had been appearing in my checking account for the last four years that was apparently not actually free. I had two options: move in with my parents in a tiny town in Washington state or enter what the Hip Hop-types call "the paper chase." Since I was living with a really cute boy I had a major crush on at the time, the choice was obvious: I needed paper.
Luckily for me, I landed a sweet gig as a temp in the membership department right here at KQED. I say it was sweet because I was working for a place whose mission I believed in, that paid me very well for basic data entry and customer service and was three blocks away from my apartment. There was of course a downside: I was used to skateboarding around, having adventures, surfing, coming up with insane art projects, writing stories, cooking rabbits and generally living the dream with my roommate/boyfriend. Look, I don't feel sorry for me either, now, but he was out using his brain and his body and making magic while I was handcuffed by my student loans to a cubicle workstation, fixing email addresses and making sure everyone got the emergency radio they asked for.
It was at some point during this dark hour that I put out the call to my friends on Facebook for entertaining podcasts. I had already gotten to the point where I had listened to every existing Radiolab episode and now This American Life was making me cry too much to effectively do my job. I had gone through a books-on-tape phase that ended with Jeremy Irons reading Lolita into my headphones which made me feel too dirty to look anyone in the eye. It turns out that listening to things via headphones is a very intimate experience. So when my friend Mark, who is known for having the best taste of anyone in the universe, suggest a podcast called Uhh Yeah Dude, I subscribed to it on iTunes, no questions asked.
Now's the part where I have to describe Uhh Yeah Dude to you, and this is the hard part, because while I can tell you that I love it and it's perfect in every way, it is difficult to say what it is exactly. Basically, it is two dudes, Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli, talking to each other about things they find on the Internet. Jonathan is a musician and also the son of the guy from Night Court who gave him his name and Seth is an actor and comedian best known for his role in the Britney Spears opus, Crossroads.
Seth and Jonathan swear a lot and they can get really dirty. Here's a short clip of one of their more family friendly bits (note, they still swear a lot and none of this show should ever be considered "family friendly" unless there are absolutely no children in your family):
Note: Seth and Jonathan swear a lot -- I already told you that.
So anyway, I started mixing Uhh Yeah Dude into the podcast rotation. Before long, all the others had fallen by the wayside and I was "dipping into their backlog" (as they frequently suggest you do) (they've done a show every week for the last 309 weeks, so I had/still have a lot of listening to do). I started recommending them to every single person I liked at all and a lot of those people started listening too, especially the ones who were working like me, all day at jobs that seemed a little underwhelming when compared to the lines we'd been fed since preschool about how if we were smart and worked hard, we could do whatever we wanted. We were/still are in our mid-to-late 20s and following our dreams doesn't really seem to be panning out so well.
But Seth and Jonathan totally get us! They are having the conversations we wish we were having with each other but can't be, now that we are stuck behind computers and we can't spend so much money on beer and so much time on being hung over. They read Craigslist casual encounter ads out loud to each other, and that is funny enough, just like it was when we used to do that with our friends. It is like one of those hilarious nights, when you are sitting around with a bunch of friends, and everything just keeps getting funnier and funnier even though some of it is so depressing (product recalls from China, horrible parenting stories in the news) and you can't stop laughing.
But this happens every week.
Seth and Jonathan really do seem like people I know in real life, and they especially did at that point, when I was doing such mindless work and they were talking into my ears for hours at a time. They give out their phone numbers even, a land line that Seth listens to (he doesn't have a cell phone) and Jonathan's cell. They have nicknames that I use with the widening circle of people in my life who listen to them too, Jah and sometimes Sethro. We talk about them like we know them. We quote from the piece Jah wrote as a kid about summer camp.
And then one week, almost two years ago, everything in my whole life seemed to come apart and my boyfriend, who I really liked so much, moved out forever and a girl I knew, a best friend of a best friend, was murdered by someone she trusted. I was so lonely and freaked out I couldn't sleep or really do anything but curl up in a ball on my bed and cry like crazy. This is going to sound insane, but that's when Uhh Yeah Dude saved me. I could turn it on and hear the voices of these two, for all I know, genuinely nice and funny guys, talking about how absolutely unbelievably bananas the world is, joking about it. I played episodes one after another, falling asleep to their voices and waking up, freaked out again, putting on another episode.
One night, I called and left Seth a message, thanking him for that. I didn't leave my name or number and I didn't tell anyone else about it until right now, but I felt better knowing they knew.
A few months later, the crisis calmed down and I was at a bar with another UYD convert, who had taken it further than me and was listening to every single episode and planning to quit her job when she finished them all (side note, I know two separate people who made, and have since broken, this vow). They had just done a live show in LA and we were talking about how we really wanted them to come here and my friend (who shall remain nameless) said, "We should text Jah and tell them to come to SF. We could set up a show for them!"
"Yes!" I said (I get delusions of grandeur after a few drinks). "We should! But I don't have his number!"
My friend said, "Oh, don't worry, I think I have it memorized."
We texted with overblown promises (I promised him a tote bag) and he responded right away. Since that time I have had at least 4 text conversations with Jonathon. He always texts back promptly, more promptly than boys who actually know my name even. He's always nice, though when I sent him a picture of my eagle tattoo (it's a long story) he said, "Your legs are pretty skinny, bro." Which I think was a joke, as I am in possession of some overtly girly legs.
Last week, I finally made the pilgrimage down to LA for their most recent live show. My brother and his friends, who are part of what I like to consider my UYD downline, if UYD was a pyramid scheme, drove from Portland without tickets (the show sold out) and I flew in. Uhh Yeah Dude has always reminded me of my brother, since he was the original laughing dude in my life, so it is nice that it has become one of his all-time favorite things. And it turned out perfectly that my LA friend couldn't make it to the show and I got to sit there, at the Largo, in the exciting city of Los Angeles, next to my little brother, having a sort of secular religious experience, laughing our faces off while the dudes on stage talked about how terrible guys are at birthday presents, Ringo Starr, and, of course, Craigslist.
After the show we stood around and shook hands and took pictures with Seth and Jonathan, who were in real life insanely nice and present for all of us, even though they must have been tired and a little overwhelmed by the crazy fans. It turns out I am not the only UYD listener with an enthusiastic downline.
I know that a few paragraphs up I called UYD perfect, and I have to mention, before I finish, that it is not always, for everyone. After a recent episode (306, a live show in Seattle), a couple of my friends, straight and gay, complained that one rant came too close to total homophobia. Also, like I said, sometimes Jah and Seth are very dirty and sometimes, taken out of context, they can seem racist. But what I love about UYD is the way they address these things, which is honestly. They are describing an experience, their experience, and that is the experience of being white, privileged, straight and male but also being confused and worried about the implications of that status. Their tagline is: "America through the eyes of two American Americans," and that pretty much explains the whole show.
They are who they are. In fact, Jonathan's freak-out, that my friends found a little offensive, seemed to my brother, who attended the show, as more of an extended confused exploration of male sexuality, which if you've been listening for awhile, you realize is a strong theme that runs through the whole thing. In fact, if you've known any boys at all, you might say it is a strong theme that runs through everything. So when Jonathan says, in that episode: "You remove the female element from the pursuit of sex...what it leaves you with is the most disgusting thing you've ever dealt with in your f--ing life," what he is talking about is being male, and his experience of it. He isn't bashing gay guys, he is explaining how he feels about himself. His charm, and the appeal of the show entirely, comes from his honesty, and Seth's honesty too. They are funny, sure, but it is their intimacy, with each other and with their audience, that makes the show connect with so many people my age, people who are really confused about what we are supposed to be doing, how we are supposed to exist in this world of privilege while so many other people are suffering, how we are supposed to have honest relationships with each other, how we are supposed to deal with the unimaginable tragedy and magic of being alive.
At the end of his discussion about the Craigslist personals in episode 306 Jonathan says: "It doesn't get better. It gets weirder." And this isn't a slogan, it's just the truth, which is really the only thing that is going to help any of us get through this grown up real life thing that it turns out we all are living anyway.
Listen to Uhh Yeah Dude. Tell your friends.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED