In The Podcast Review, Jessie Borrelle reviews some of the highlights and lowlights in the international podcasting spectrum.
You Look Nice Today is the sound of Twitter on tape. The three hosts stumbled upon one another in the social media platform’s infancy, and were encouraged by another tweeter to document their conversations in a more substantial medium.
By their own admission, ‘You Look Nice Today is an audio program that has been prepared by and for ‘adults.’ As a Journal of Emotional Hygiene, our program tackles many of the painful issues typically encountered by persons of this awkward age. Consequently, an uncontrollable level of candor and seemingly non-stop tsunami of profanity may be encountered by listeners. Please do not present this material to non-adults.’
The journal is staffed by Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies), celebrated for his profound contributions to the productivity movement through the development of GTD software (literally, Getting Things Done); Adam Lisagor (@lonelysandwich), a blogger, developer and video producer; and the lesser-known Scott Simpson (@scottsimpson).
The YLNT trio drive a conversation that doesn’t observe the natural laws of physics, but there is an internal logic to their exchanges. Sequences of a larger unstructured, conversation are edited into discrete passages. A ukulele-and-hand-claps melody valets the listener from one section to the next, with aural ‘subheadings’ or segues that manifest in the computerised voice of one ‘Dr Nguyen’. Dr Nguyen dispenses unrelated and inexplicable sentences: for instance, ‘awkward cake’, ‘do you have a question for the sandwich’ and ‘let’s have breakfast for dinner’. Parts of the discussions are sometimes punctuated with sonic loops, samples and other ephemeral sound effects.
The podcasts are irregularly scheduled and are usually 30 to 40 minutes in length. In one episode their satirical analysis can consume topics as expansive as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the global labour market, allergies, negotiating skills, Stanley Kubrick, packing boxes, self-loathing, Corey Haim, reservations about public transport, Orson Welles, the possible benefits of perforating money in order to detach smaller denominations, and scaling currency so its value is in proportion to its size.
Lisagor, who edits and produces the show, says the journal was a natural conclusion of an immediate and complementary camaraderie, and explains that the output, often described as ‘disappointingly inconsistent’, is the unfortunate consequence of time poverty and existential anxiety. ‘There’s nothing to really make you face your demons like having to listen to yourself say questionable things on mic for eight hours and try and make yourself sound better than you are, it’s really not a fun process for me.’
The title of each show is typically named after a key theme in the conversation. In their inaugural podcast, ‘Morning Powder‘, they discuss a demographic profile of their listenership, revealing not just male-dominated audience: ‘we skew anti-female’. In the episode, they sport a self-conscious irreverence and seem uninterested in rationalising their appeal to a male audience. Rather, they address the presumption of offensiveness to the lady race with a tongue-in-cheek brainstorm about the potential for product sponsorship that would ameliorate any sweat-inducing sexism. This kind of thing is their bread and butter. And they paste it on thick.
‘The Tux Age‘, an episode from 2010, wiggles through plagiarism, online identity theft, internet etiquette, old-timey radio announcements and cynical pick-up strategies. Discussion of the latter results in an appreciative critique of the allegedly ‘classic’ technique of selecting a dance partner who isn’t aesthetically burdened in order to solicit respect for assumed integrity, ‘You dance with an old lady, or a baby, at a wedding, and everybody loves you. The men are jealous and the women are wondering how fast that cummerbund will come off.’
‘The Tux Age’ hears the YLNTers speculate about the difficulties of communicating in pre-modern life, before bleeding into the disarming hypothesis that the industrial revolution was prompted by the need to mass produce miniature tuxedos to clothe a class of baby butlers. Mann, Lisagor and Simpson often quickly exhaust topics and subjects, so the secret history of America lasts only long enough to service their whims.
Hyperliterate, educated, articulate and fluent in Western pop culture, the team’s references are often expressly American and culturally niche, lending an obscurity to the show that may result in a finite appeal. The three YLNTers are also a little self-congratulatory. You might find it irritating, obtuse and insensible, but don’t let that stop you from listening to it.
Their banter is acerbic, with no fixed tempo, and isn’t always explicitly ridiculous. The guys move between farcical hypothetical, opinion and commentary with a humour so athletic and politically agnostic that everything from domestic violence to environmentalism, diet, class, gender and humour itself is sacrificed in the course of a conversation. If you believe jokes trivialise and sanction political inequality, YLNT is not funny. If you believe jokes don’t have to behave ethically, it’s funny. But either way, it’s satire.
Originally from New Zealand, Jessie Borrelle is a Melbourne-based writer, editor and an executive producer of the antipodean podcast Paper Radio.