Ten minutes into their inaugural episode of Stop Podcasting Yourself, Graham Clark asks his co-host, Dave Shumka, “Is this what podcasts sound like?” They had just brushed their beards against the microphones to give the audience an impression of their respective facial hair. Perhaps, he could feel the episode losing direction and grasped at some standard form to follow. Luckily, it seems the Vancouver comedy duo never bothered to establish a guideline. Spurred on by their care-free attitude, they went on to build a body of work spanning nine years, five hundred episodes and many notable guests.
Every week Clark and Shumka fill upwards of an hour of material with charming banter, anecdotes and countless improvised bits. The two are regularly joined by a single guest – often veteran comics, themselves. The trio will launch into a free-flowing conversation with only two discernible goals: crack each other up, and get through the two regular segments. One of these bits, “Get to Know Us,” is an informal interview of the guest, but it often unhinges and springs into varying off-topic subjects. For example, in “Episode 498” featuring Steph Tolev, the guest chats about her defunct car, a horrible one-night stand experience, and an anxious call made to her parents after dreaming her dog’s eye fell out. Clark and Shumka were ready to volley with jokes about ideal ages for a dog’s eye to dislodge and an anecdote or two of their own. “Overheard” is a segment that follows in which the hosts, guest, and listeners who call in share a humorous audio byte that they listened in on.
The hosts feast on teasing laughs out of each other and the guest from organic points in the conversation. However, this spontaneity has a cost. At times the show can feel like an extended moment of “Overheard,” where I am eavesdropping on a group of close friends entertaining one another. I can laugh along most of the time, but every so often, the frequent derailing and constantly shifting topics has me feeling disengaged.
In “Episode 500” the hosts perform a song commemorating the most ridiculous moments of SPY. Often slipping off-beat/note they sing lines like, “Machete, Ma-che-te, ‘Sure hope those dogs aren’t gay,’ baseball pranks, shirtless weigh-ins, ‘Treat me nice, daddy,’” over a tightly-produced tune. The song nails the spirit of the podcast. The appeal of an episode of SPY is not necessarily the wild range of topics discussed, but rather the polished balancing act happening underneath each show. Clark and Shumka put on an ostensibly amateurish front to create an intimate tone welcoming to listeners, while still flashing moments of comedic virtuosity. The best part about the act? No one really knows what next week’s show will sound like. Especially the hosts.