OM85 - Disco Demolition

Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 (OM85)

John and Ken have spent a considerable amount of time educating the far future about the importance of world’s fairs end expos and (when they recorded live at Bumbershoot 2018) this is the first time they have performed their historical duty on an actual World’s Fair ground, a World’s Fair that was the idea of John’s great-uncle Al who has been dead for 30 years. Al Rochester had been a Seattle City Councilman in the 1940s and 1950s and had the spark on inspiration that brought the world’s fair to Seattle. This was back in the day where the City Council people were like ”Let’s Go Seattle!” instead of ”Seattle! Into the ocean!”, which was John’s campaign slogan.

Q&A after live-show at Bumbershoot 2018 (OM85)

This is only their second public appearance. Ken never leaves his read-out and John lives deep in his bunker. They mean public appearance recording a podcast, because Ken was on TV for 75 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy and John left the house last night and got a Chicago style stuffed pizza at University Village, the real kind of pizza.

Did they ever get to see Ken Griffey Jr at the King Dome?

Both John and Ken have seen Griffey Jr and Sr in the same lineup at the King Dome. John went with his dad to see the Seahawks play against the Wisconsin Green Bay Packers, which was the last thing John went to do at the King Dome. Many packers fans that had come in RVs and were all wearing their cheese head hats. It was a middle-of-the-day game with two teams that weren’t in the contention and yet there were 40.000 people watching this dumb game. The biggest Rock concert in the world couldn’t get 40.000 people to a thing and John realized he had chosen wrong.

What is the process of picking topics? How long is their list?

Ken and John spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of dumb stuff. When they initially conceived of the show, they tried to come up with an idea that would appeal to people and Ken wanted something that wouldn’t constrain them at all. He wanted to be able to talk about whatever he thought was interesting, because that is the best kind of white privilege. ”Something just occurred to me. I feel like I should talk about it for an hour! This is what the world needs: Me, a white guy talking about something I thought of once!” Their initial idea was to have a show called ”The Worst”, where they would pick the worst example in every kind of thing they could think of, stories of famous failures and bloopers and whatnot, which is basically what they are doing now, but they just don’t characterize it that way.

They were sitting next to each other on an airplane to Atlanta and every stewardess who came by wanted a picture with Ken because that is right in his demographic. They were thinking up ideas for The Worst, some silence went by and then John asked Ken if he liked this idea and Ken didn’t. It seemed like a bummer! The only upside would have been that they could have said at the beginning of every show ”I’m John and I’m Ken and this show is The Worst”, like on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. They wanted to do a show that fits with them, they picked a name that 90% of the people in America won’t know what it means and they started brainstorming ideas that were exactly the kind of show they do now.

The research they do is largely just driven by their own interest. Ken’s list has about 80 ideas, including "Ted Danson in Blackface", which he cannot wait to do. People do send them ideas, but it is mostly just himself thinking of something weird or reading something weird. John wanted to do the Church of the SubGenius, but it has taken him 8 months to even learn enough about them, he has lived with it his whole life and still doesn’t understand it.

John’s daughter: What was John's favorite episode?

John’s seven year old daughter had a question because she cannot be at a show without making herself the center of it. Her mother Ari wonders where she got that from! John encourages her to shout it out and not use her mother as a proxy. She asks what John’s favorite episode was.

Ken had a neighbor ask him that last night who was leaving and wanted to get a podcast recommendation. The first thing he asked when Ken talked about this show was ”What is it rated?” and Ken didn’t know. Maybe PG? John says that every podcast is rated 4.5 stars because the rating system is totally meaningless. Ken did not have a good answer for which episode to start with. Ken and John both bring different topics to the show. A lot of the time Ken’s ideas are new to John and he learns a lot and vice versa, creating a dynamic that is interesting every single time.

Ken ended up recommending the Boysenberry episode to his neighbor because he had just asked what it was rated and that is a show about a classic Americana fruit, fruit stands, theme parks and California in the 1960s. The second show they ever did was about the Defenestrations of Prague and that might still be one of John’s favorites because he got to talk about something he can’t talk about at home. No-one wants to hear it and he gets stopped right away, which is true when he tries to talk about it on busses, too.

Are there any common architects, themes or people that may link what they have talked about?

Every one of their topics roughly suggests a future apocalypse and is a tiny little element that takes them closer to the fall of civilization on John’s Infowars chalkboard at home. These are not just crazy bloopers or Ken’s amazing trivia facts, but they are little elements where things have gone awry, either events in history, ideas or places, and they wonder if they can look back at it and see that it foreshadowed where they are.

The initial idea was that this would be a time capsule that would be preserved after the apocalypse. Also, world’s fairs and Nazis come up a lot. John will bring them up if you let any silence go by and in this episode they didn’t bring it up until now. This whole podcast is mostly Ken trying to keep talking so that John doesn’t say ”When Herman Göring took over the Luftwaffe…”

John’s sister Susan: How much is off the cuff and how much is prepared?

None of the back-and-forth is prepared. When Ken has a topic, he usually sends it to John at 11pm the night before and John lays in bed with his phone and starts to think about it, but generally they know the basic ideas of everything they talk about. It is very unusual that one of them will send the other a topic where they don’t have some familiarity with it. They don’t have to google it to know what it is. John doesn’t tell Ken his topic before he is sitting in front of a microphone. Usually they do two shows in a day and after they have done Ken’s show, he will ask John about his topic and John will say ”Hitler?” - ”No!” - ”Hitler’s dog?” - ”No! We cannot do Hitler’s dog every time!”

Tuesday shows are the ones led by Ken and Thursday shows are led by John and you can start to see a through-line of their different interests and world-views, which Ken becomes most aware of when John chooses a topic Ken doesn’t know much about, like John’s expertise about hardware of all kinds, not just military hardware, but also guitars or 20th century cars where Ken doesn’t feel he has any expertise and that is when he has to do some googling. Ken likes to do things that he doesn’t know anything about, like Math: ”Let’s talk about 11-dimensional math” - ”Do you know anything about that?” - ”Not really!” This is a great way to sell the show to people: "Listen to this podcast about 11-dimensional math!"

How did Ken and John meet?

Ken and John met at a brunch during Bumbershoot at Maria Semple and George Meyer’s apartment which is just a few blocks away. John Hodgman was in town, who is a friend of John’s and he got invited to a brunch that Ken was at. Ken was chatting with John Hodgman and at the last minute when he was on his way out he chatted briefly with John who was on his way into the party. John knew of Ken from the time in American culture when he was ubiquitous and they were writing about him in the newspaper like ”Can you believe this guy! He looks exactly like you would think!” John was surprised that Ken also knows a ton about Rock’n’Roll, bands, culture, film etc, but he was unfortunately not familiar with John’s band. He went immediately and listened to all the albums and became a super-fan. Ken had heard John’s band on KEXP, but he was not a fan with the albums.

From that point on ever time they saw each other Ken would sit in John’s lap and take a selfie. He really liked John’s professorial air and a few months later Ken called John and asked if he would be in a book video for him. He just wanted him to have a white jacket and a clipboard and be a fake scientist, which Ken didn’t know was John’s main skillset. They have been friends ever since.

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