“We’re always on, always wheeling and dealing,” says Tristan Wheeler. Beside him, his co-host, Jack Lamming, points out the relevance of the name ‘Wheeler’ in this light. In unison, they give out with a sardonic “aaahhh” of revelation. Although this interview takes place in a cramped Kitsilano kitchenette rather than CiTR’s soundproofed booth, they easily convey the chummy chemistry of their Friday evening show, Radio Pizza Party.
Since March 2017, Lamming and Wheeler have been putting out weekly installments of semi-improvised character comedy, with topics ranging from styles of radio voices to musings on the province of Ontario. In-character, Wheeler remarks, “We like hearing the sound of our own voices and we like it when other people hear that too.” With a chuckle, Lamming adds, “Basically, we just like talking and bullshitting.”
The two met as first-year roommates at the University of Victoria and transferred to UBC-Vancouver after one year, arriving at CiTR in September 2017. (“We just didn’t like the island,” says Lamming.) They had experimented with pitches for the show, although its presentation and tone would change significantly before its on-air debut seven months later. The show’s title, Radio Pizza Party, is a misnomer, considering CiTR’s no-food-in-the-studio rule.
Originally, the show’s topic was to be chosen from a hat and discussed with in-studio guests, but Lamming and Wheeler quickly realized that the discussion tended to meander into personal anecdotes. While these diversions were an issue for a talk show format, they recognized the potential for comedy: “A lot of the time it would just be free-associated conversation, which was just not that fun to listen to. There’s enough of that out there,” says Lamming, adding, “We decided to go with [the personae of] college radio DJs who are really bad at their jobs, and just come up with dumb ideas every week.”
However, for two full-time students — Lamming in History, Wheeler in English — coming up with the sort of slyly silly prompts for Radio Pizza Party is more demanding than it sounds. The show’s format has grown to emphasize improvisation and bringing in a new topic every week was challenging at the outset, with the first few months putting strain on Lamming and Wheeler to keep the improv material cogent.
“As the show has evolved, we’ve been able to find a format that is really malleable and one that we can adapt to nearly any topic quite easily,” says Lamming. Wheeler adds, “Sometimes we’d go for weeks where we wouldn’t have really planned that much and the show would suffer for that reason.”
Radio Pizza Party’s cheerful absurdity hinges on the self-aware awkwardness of improv comedy, with many featuring an idiosyncratic ‘guest,’ usually portrayed by friends Nick Morgan or Ben Flynn.
Segments are usually introduced with brief and surreal theme songs, described by Lamming as “15 seconds of a Flight of the Conchords song” created by Wheeler and Morgan on Audacity, open-source audio software. Wheeler jovially remarks that “a lot of segments exist just to do the theme song for them.” Another running gag is their news segment, where the two bandy around a headline in a parody of self-important commentators.
Wheeler, who credits the podcasts, Comedy Bang! Bang! and R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? as influences for the tone of Radio Pizza Party, describes the humour as “post-juvenile.” A fitting example is their self-described strangest prompt, “That’s Gross.” The theme for the segment combined the sound of mac n’ cheese being stirred with a Harrison Ford soundbite from Star Wars: The Force Awakens — at that point the highest-grossing movie in history — as a preface to a series of riffs on various unsettling things.
Future ambitions for the show are modest, with both hosts expressing an interest in a reporter-on-the-street segment, although for two undergraduates on the verge of their fourth year of university, the time it would take to record and edit this segment has left the project still unrealized. Over the next year, at least, they will continue their Beckettian bonhomie on the airwaves, welcoming the weekend with Friday evenings full of twisty, erratic and sonically surprising humour.
You can tune into Radio Pizza Party every Friday from 6-7:30pm on CiTR 101.9FM in Vancouver or online at citr.ca. Visit past episodes at citr.ca/radio/radio-pizza-party.