by Rob Callahan
In no particular order, here is a sort of hierarchy of live entertainment:
First, there’s what I do: I’m a writer. Sometimes people come out to hear me read what I’ve written. I call it talking to people, but others call it storytelling. There’s also acting. (Or what I don’t do.) It’s still mostly just talking to people, or talking to people in front of other people, but it’s a lot more demanding and requiring of a higher skill set than mere storytelling. Next, there’s musicianing. (Also known as singing/songwriting, or what I do very poorly after a few drinks.) Musicianing only involves a lot of talking when rappers get involved. There isn’t so much talking among the other flavors of musician, but it does take a lot of writing. It’s not just writing words but making them rhyme, then making music for them, then memorizing it all and teaching it to your bandmates. Then you have to recite it all while jumping around under hot lights for an hour or so. Far more demanding.
Standup comedy is next. (It’s also known as telling jokes to miserable, angry drunks.) Comics pour their lives into writing the most clever jokes the world has ever heard. The world never hears them, though. The world is too busy at the bar, buying drinks for someone it hopes to bone later. In terms of patience and self control, this is perhaps the most demanding form of live entertainment there is. And finally, there’s improv. (Improv is pretty much all of the above, but only some of the time.) Improv could be just about anything that happens on a stage before a live audience and, if done well enough, without thrown produce.
But all these really pale in comparison to talk show hosting.
Talk show hosting combines improv with all of the above, which is a little scary since improv is already all of the above. So, what it’s really doing is combining all of the above with their own concentrated collective essence. Or something. The Venn diagram on this one will need a staff of logicians to understand it. Then they’ll need a marketing firm to translate whatever it is they’ve just understood into plain English, so those of you who don’t speak Set theory know what they mean. Then we’re all gonna need sedatives.
Naturally, talk show hosting isn’t for everyone. For every Conan O’Brien, there are a million Chevy Chases out there. That’s why I’m a bit awed by the number of good local live talk show guys we’ve got per capita in the Twin Cities. From Ian Rans to John Moe and Andy Sturdevant, the list goes on. And now we can add to that list Joseph Scrimshaw, producer and host of “OBSESSED” at the Bryant Lake Bowl.
I sat in the audience on Friday for the Jeremy Messersmith/Lauren Anderson/Randomly Drawn Third Guest taping. After having watched the show and having taken the weekend to reflect, I can say that this show lacks one thing that most other taped live shows have: The part where they fix it in post.
For those of you who’ve never had to sit through this, let’s just say that this is the part at the end of the show where they go back and retape whatever they couldn’t get right the first time. These moments can grow long and awkward. Imagine sitting in the audience at Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! while Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca tell the same joke back and forth seven times. Imagine having to laugh each time like that’s the first time you’ve heard it. Imagine having to do another take if you don’t laugh just right, or if they think of a new punchline on the fly, then that punchline isn’t actually any good so it’s on to take nine, and so on. (ed. note: he’s probably exaggerating.)
So there are none of those, which is nice. It’s also genuinely good live entertainment. Scrimshaw has a way of coaxing jokes out of regular people, or at least coaxing out straight lines to set his own jokes up. He invites engaging guests and delivers ridiculous opening monologues. All these things are requisite to a successful live talk show, so I’m going out on a limb here and saying that OBSESSED is going to be a success.
If you wanted to hear about Lauren Anderson’s obsession with elephants, Jeremy Messersmith’s obsession with mushroom hunting, or Courtney McLean’s Mom’s obsession with Elvis, you should have gone to the show last week. Since this article hits the internet before the show’s podcast, I am sworn off on spoilers. You can, however, hear about Virginia Corbett’s obsession with Stand By Me, Clarence Wethern’s obsession with Peter Gabriel and various other horses’ stories straight from their own mouths via the podcast archive.