RW198 - Formed Out of the Mud

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • John’s recent birthday trip to the Oregon coast (Currents)
  • The weather in Texas (Geography)
  • Joe Rogan’s new podcast studio (Podcasting)
  • Dan interviewing Weird Al (Dan Benjamin)
  • John doing a talk radio show called Talk Soup in Spokane during college (Early Days)
  • TV talk shows, the last sophisticated talk show (Movies)
  • John looking for the right bathroom-tile (follow-up) (New House)
  • House update (New House)
  • John only being able to tell the story after the fact (Personality)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Trying to find the right bathroom tile (New House)
  • How to not sweat the details of your relationship? (Relationships)
  • Has the coronavirus situation changed John’s understanding of war times? (COVID)
  • John teaching his daughter to punch (Daughter)

The show title refers to Joe Rogan’s place in the talk show host landscape.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John’s recent birthday trip to the Oregon coast (RW198)

John just woke up. Another day in paradise! Happy birthday! John took a little trip. He never likes to celebrate his birthday from the time he was probably 16 on. Dan as well. John finds it embarrassing to be fetted (?) in that way for no good reason, nothing you did, but just because it is your birthday. John always avoided it, but when you have a kid you can't avoid things like your birthday because kids are interested in those things and John’s family likes to celebrate birthdays.

They have made it a tradition in recent years that they go somewhere for John’s birthday as a family. They settled on the Oregon coast as the place, and John likes the Oregon coast. This year the fires were raging and although the Oregon coast was not the most dangerous place to be in the country, it was polluted and it was a bummer, but they had a house on the coast and they all hunkered in there, John’s mom and sister, and they did the thing that John has been doing for six months now, which is just hunker down and make food all day.

It is hard to say that John needs to relax more because his life isn't exactly full of hard toil, but he did find it relaxing. Dan thinks that everybody could always use to relax more. There is always a formulation in John’s mind judging whether or not he deserves nice things, so any time he gets something like relaxation or even a nice meal he has to run the numbers on it if he earned this or deserved this. It is one of the major topics of all of his shows why that is and how he can do whatever work is necessary to stop thinking that way.

It is very upsetting that the fires are raging out of control in the Northwest, although it is not unprecedented. They used to do this in the 1960s, but it sucks. In particular this point in the 21st century timeline: Do we need another thing? It has been shitty to feel like: ”Can't have nice things!”

The weather in Texas (RW198)

In Texas it has gotten much cooler. It was pretty warm for a little while and all of a sudden it got cold, which meant it went into the 60s and and then it stayed in the 80s and is about 82 degrees (28°C) according to the new widget on Dan’s iPhone running iOS14 now, and it is going to have thunderstorms. Anything that keeps it below 90 degrees (32 °C) is good. If it stayed in the 70s all year round, imagine that life! Speaking of relaxing and feeling good! Dan doesn’t need it to be warmer than 75 (24°C) or colder than 70 degrees (21 °C).

There is a place where that is possible called Santa Barbara, California, but the problem is that everybody wants to live there and so it is expensive and also intolerable because of the humans beings there. Some are nice, but not most of them. The older Dan gets, the more he realizes that most of the stuff he wants is the same that everybody wants. He used to think, especially before we had the Internet and Twitter and Instagram, that the stuff he wanted was unique and no one else knows about it.

Joe Rogan’s new podcast studio (RW198)

Now everyone wants to live in Austin. They got Joe Rogan, they got a $2 billion Apple campus, they got Tesla, they all want to be here and it is getting worse and worse and worse in Austin. Dan has been there for almost ten years and he knows it pretty well now. Joe Rogan is the latest one and he is the big news. Apparently he bought some house out on Lake Travis and converted one room of it into his new studio, and it is the worst looking studio Dan has ever seen, it looks like a bunker, which could be cool. Who wouldn't like a bunker? But it looks like the inside of an airplane, the walls curve right into the ceiling, and it is painted red, but not a good red either.

The most amateur TV or film student would tell you that the closer the person is to the background, the more flat the shot is going to look. Even a basic YouTuber understands that you want the background to be blurred and the way you get that is by using a certain kind of lens and being a certain distance from the background behind you, which creates that effect where the background is still visible, but it is softened. The cameras that he is using are more the camcorder kind of camera that don't give you that beautiful look that a DSLR will give you.

It is not a money thing, he could have any equipment he wants, he is freaking rich, but he is using this equipment that almost makes it look like cable access TV. Dan is so disappointed because Joe had this amazing opportunity to do something that really looks amazing and put all the rest of us to shame, but there are YouTubers with an $800 budget that have a better set up than he has. It is ponderous!

Either a friend of John’s or somebody that he read about in a magazine made a bunch of very professional graphic art signs that were meant for panhandlers, like: ”Please give!”, ”Anything helps!” ”Just trying to get some room in a shelter tonight!”, but done really beautifully. It was probably from a magazine, because if it had been a friend John would have interrogated the artist’s motivation pretty hard. It is a pithy art, maybe this was John’s friend Sean Wolf?

He went around and gave these signs out to the panhandlers who stand by the freeway entrances and exits, traded their scrawled signs and replaced them with these fantastic ones. For not very long the panhandlers in question stood there with these signs and very quickly they flipped the signs over and scrawled a similar message in chicken scratch because they found that the beautiful signs were not working, but the scrawled desperation-looking signs, the graphic elements played a role. It was messaging!

If Joe Rogan built a studio in his house that was professional and tasteful and useful and made him look like the Bujji media person that he surely has become in his heart and soul, it is going to really send the wrong message to his legions of herpaderps who are like: ”Meh, there aren't even any TVs in there!” It is messaging. He has to look right, and for Joe Rogan to look right it has to look wrong. John might be on to something, but Dan thinks he is giving him too much credit.

The panhandlers who threw away the nice signs and scrawled some old ones were not media experts, but they were working on instinct, and that is probably what is happening with Joe Rogan, too. There was some consultant who said: ”We will put in some nice sound board, we will make sure the sightlines are good, we will set up a reality where if you are doing video, why do we all have to have headphones on and be talking into RE20 microphones, there has got to be a way with all the money in the world and this super confined space and these super low expectations that we could actually create a talk show that doesn't look like somebody standing there with a handycam at a morning drive DJ booth!”

Dan interviewing Weird Al (RW198)

Dan sends John a picture of it. John thinks it is a Winnebago, but it is in a house. It is a failure to communicate, a failure of the imagination. He is doing a talk show and he built a teenage boys version of what would be a cool place to be a disc jockey, but Joe Rogan could have totally pivoted to the Johnny Carson show with a desk and couches. Dan once interviewed Weird Al Yankovic. His friend who started the company New Relic that all the developers in the audience will know, and they were part of a conference called the Open Stack Conference, a super nerdy, geeky conference in San Francisco, and they needed someone to come in and moderate and run a couple of their panel discussions, so they asked Dan and Dan loved to do that.

A few days before Dan got there, they said: ”By the way, we got Weird Al and he is going to be doing a private concert for the attendees!”, which was awesome because Dan loves Weird Al and he started listening to him on the Doctor Demento show in the 1980s. He was Dan’s lifeline, he and Mark Mothersbaugh and Devo spoke his language and of course meeting Weird Al would be amazing. They said he can do an interview on stage, they paid for that and didn't even know that we are getting that, but they needed Dan to interview him, which was the dream and who wouldn’t love to interview Weird Al!

Dan told them that this will have to look like The Tonight Show with a wooden desk and two chairs, and the chairs have to have a little table in between them. This has to look right, like the real thing. Somehow they pulled out the stops and made this happen, and there is this wonderful video that Dan is not allowed to share from the Future Stack conference of him doing an interview with Weird Al. This was just for this audience and it can't be shared or distributed. The people that Dan knew at the company are no longer there, so he can't actually get any information if he is allowed to show it now, but probably not. It is super frustrating!

Why would Joe Rogan not have done this? It is not a budget thing, he could have any desk that he wanted to have! He was formed out of the mud in an era where that is what media looked like and it would be impossible for him to have the imagination. This is the problem with The Carson Show set, which is what we dream of. John wanted to host the Carson show, but there is no reason that it needs to be a desk and two chairs. Every single person in media right now could be doing their show from Victoria Falls, if they could get a visa, which they can't, but we could be doing the show from anywhere, even from inside a moving car.

There is no reason why John is sitting at this desk other than that he hasn’t used any imaginative power to put himself and this show into a different context. How much background noise would be acceptable to our listeners if the payoff was that John did the show while he was walking. He could do 6 miles every week during Road Work, not that he would be breathing hard, but there would be some background noise, some birds, passing cars every once in a while. Would that sound to the listeners unprofessional? It probably would! It would not sound as good, they wouldn't be appearing in their ear holes in quite the same way, but people watch the Joe Rogan show.

John doing a talk radio show called Talk Soup in Spokane during college (RW198)

Dan didn’t want to be a DJ when he was little, but he wanted to host a TV talk show. Dan majored in RTF (Radio, TV Film) for part of college, because that is what he wanted to do. There were two different times in John’s life when he actually was taking radio and television production in high school and in college where he felt like maybe that could be his major. It never was, but he took some steps down that path, he actually went to radio stations in Anchorage and in Spokane with his resume and applied for jobs as a DJ, thinking that that was probably the greatest job that you could have as a college guy.

Dan didn't want to do music, but he wanted to do a talk show, like he is doing with John right now. John ended up having a talk show on the radio in Spokane called Talk Soup. John didn't name it, it existed already and they needed a host, it was college radio, John did Talk Soup and he was thinking that there wasn't a better world than Talk Soup. It pushed the boundaries of John’s imagination for his life at the time. It was a late night show and it was basically this, he would go sit in the radio station and they had bits and they would have people come in for interviews.

John was terrible at it and it was terrible, but it set the stage in a certain way and John got accustomed to the idea that there was a whole branch of media that was just people sitting around an unlovely environment, which every radio station booth is, it is never nice in there, you are surrounded by machines, you are wearing headphones, there are mics on booms, all radio stations looked the same, the ones where people try to decorate them or make them comfortable, they look exactly the same except worse.

TV talk shows, the last sophisticated talk show (RW198)

John asks what the Joe Rogan show is and how it fits into the architecture of the modern world. Dan doesn’t really listen to or watch the show, except there is a YouTube channel called the Joe Rogan Experience, JRE Clips, where they will show a clip from an interview with an interesting person and Dan will occasionally watch those on YouTube and it will show the highlights of the interview with Elon Musk when he came on or whatever. The dude that used to be the sidekick to the dude that was the sidekick to Ben Stein when Ben Stein had Win Ben Stein's Money. It was Jimmy Kimmel, he was Ben Stein's sidekick, he was great on that show, it was top shelf Jimmy Kimmel, and then Jimmy Kimmel started a show with some other dude where girls jumped on Trampolines, The Man Show, and then that dude, second sidekick dude was Adam Carolla and then he got some radio show. He also was on Loveline with Drew Pinsky for a long time, for like 10 years, where they were giving love advice, mainly from Drew Pinsky.

Dan gets all of his politics from John, which a lot of people should do.

As far as those dudes and what kind of media that is and what they represent. They present themselves as fun friendly dudes. Marc Maron, and John has never heard any of these shows, but as Kye Russell likes to say: ”Just because I don't know anything about it doesn't mean I won't talk about it!”, but Maron presents himself as grouchy from the start. He doesn't pretend to be likable, whereas the other two dudes, Carolla and Joe Rogan do that fake edgy thing, but they really just want to be liked, your fun friend who is not afraid to say how things really are.

The world now is populated by media figures who are trying to be your fun friend, which was probably what Carson was, and all we wanted to do when we watched the Carson show was hang out with those guys and have Don Rickles ash his cigarette in our bourbon drink. The difference is just that Carson was our sophisticated fun friend and there are no sophisticated people anymore. Who was the last sophisticated person? Conan O'Brien is very definitely, although probably personally a sophisticated person at some level. The appeal of his show or what he thought was the appeal of it was that he was not a sophisticated person and it was not a sophisticated show.

His shtick was: ”We are on cable TV and this is just this joke kind of thing!”, even though you could tell he took it very seriously and he takes it very seriously. He was very self aware of the fact that he had had The Tonight Show and was fired from The Tonight Show and was now doing a late night talk show on cable TV, but that gave him the freedom to do the wacky, funny, silly, weird things that he had done on The Late Show, couldn't do on The Tonight Show, but now could do even more because this was his playground. He was sophisticated in real life, but was able to play a role where he isn’t.

Jay Leno’s version of The Tonight Show was that he was an unsophisticated guy and this was going to be just plain folks having plain folk unsophisticated talk. Dick Cavett did not at all pretend to be a regular guy. That version of television and that version of American culture was one where the people on screen… even Dean Martin who was drunk was witty and well-dressed and clearly occupying a world that was not regular or plain or just folks. Even Don Rickles, who was not sophisticated in the sense of taking the stage and say: ”Come with me on a journey to a faraway place!”, but he was very rooted in the here and now.

At the same time he was not presenting himself as a working class hero. Don Rickles’ humor was not: ”I'm so relatable! I'm just a regular guy who is just like you!”, but all the humor then, even when it was low brow, was aspirational in a way. And Letterman was not pretending to be a downtown guy, his whole thing was like: ”I'm an anarchist from Indiana!” He wasn't trying to be your friend. You wanted him to be your friend, but he wasn't trying to be your friend. The great thing about the Letterman show was: You wanted Letterman to be your friend. He did not want to be your friend. And that was exactly the vibe of Carson, too.

With Carson you felt like maybe he could pretend to be your friend in a way that Letterman never would, but post Jay Leno you got all these guys… He is the fountainhead of this genre of media dudes. Joe Rogan actually wears a car mechanic jacket. If you think about Jon Stewart, you also want him to be your friend, but he doesn't want to be yours. Jon Stewart is sophisticated, he got sophisticated humor, he is not trying to be your bro at all. Until recently there were still media figures that weren't just trying to make us feel less lonely, and so many of these dudes are just like: ”Hey man, will nobody talk to you? I'll talk to you, bro! Pull up a chair and I am just going to talk about the things that you want to talk about!”

It is an unprecedented genre, at least in John’s lifetime, that that would have even been identified as a demographic that wasn't already catered to with sports. That is what sports are supposed to do: ”Hey man, do you want to just relax and just talk about some stuff? We are going to talk about getting this ball over the end zone!” It is the sports culture that isn't about sports, somehow. That is what John always felt watching The Jay Leno Show: ”Can we just stop pretending that we are talking about anything but sports and just talk about sports here?” because Jay Leno talking to a starlet about her new movie, he just wants to be talking about sports or cars!

Dan is not a big Leno fan, really, but now there is no Leno anymore and he is splintered into Joe Rogan and the other guy Adam Carolla and all the many, many others. There is just not enough of an audience for whatever version of talking about sports Dan and John are doing. It is not scratching a wide enough itch and they need to find a way to widen the itch they can scratch. Maybe they are personally off-putting to most people? There has to be a reason, it is not like their show is hard to find. People listen and a lot of people go: "Oh no, just the sounds of their voices… I can't! These other people have nicer voices!” Dan disagrees. He thinks John has an excellent singing voice, so maybe he should sing instead of speaking.

John looking for the right bathroom-tile (follow-up) (RW198)

John realized something last week. They talked about John’s house project and John described this problem in finding tile. They have a lot of feedback about the tile for the post show. John didn't say that after months and months of this very difficult road he has recently found tile, made the decisions, he had already turned a corner on it, and after they did that show last week John was just inundated with responses from people, not responses like: ”Hi, here is a link to Home Depot!”, but people with tremendous resources, people saying: ”Hi, I am an architect and an interior designer!” or: ”Hi, I also was on a years long mission to find the right tile!”

A couple of people wrote from Europe, saying they have these tiles and they could probably source them for John and links and links and links, resources that were all very thoughtful and a lot of people prefaced it by saying: ”I don't want to be the person that is sending you a link to something that you have already seen!” and some stuff John had seen, but a lot of stuff that was like: ”Wow, what a good idea!” There was somebody that said: ”Why don't you buy unglazed tile and go to the University of Washington and talk to the ceramics professor and get ceramicist graduate students who can't attend class right now to make your own personal tile?” These are amazing ideas!

John realized that he didn't tell the story of the tile when it was ongoing, but he told it later because… he has been thinking about this a lot all week because he keeps getting these emails and these messages from people and… he is not disappointed. The tile that he ended up getting was tile that he had custom made by a tile company that makes custom tile for vintage style and it was expensive and it was excruciating and it wore him down, so all these links that people are sending to him and all these ideas, John is having that thing where he is just slapping himself on the face because he ended up going with Home Depot tile and now he got 50 people showing him the way.

John did pursue a path where he spent a lot of money and got the tile that he wanted, so he is super grateful to everybody, but he realized a couple of things, one of them is that we have a great diversity of listeners, and if John were capable of coming to the Internet with his actual problems in real time and saying back in January: ”Oh man, I want this kind of title, I can't find it. I have tried a few places and it doesn't exist. I wonder if anybody has any resources!” and then was able to deal with the 50 emails he got and pick a path, that would have been very different and a very different relationship to the audience and the listeners, a very different way of thinking about what they are doing as broadcasters, like: ”Crowdsource this for me, everybody!”

John realized is that he couldn't have done that in January or February or March because he was embarrassed by his indecisiveness and embarrassed by the emotional tangle he was in and would have been ashamed to talk about it and to go on the Internet and ask for help. It was only after it had gone through its personal arc in John’s life, after it had wreaked havoc throughout his life, having conjured the orb of this problem and the orb floating through electrocuting things, he was only able to talk about it after it had converted into a story because it only became a story when the end was clear, and the end was only clear when he had finally ordered the tile and the tile had started to arrive, because then he could cast back on it and try and learn from it or tell the story with him as the dupe at the center of it.

John can only think of episodes like that in his life once he has lived through them and storified them. In the present moment of them he is way too emotionally raw. If he had talked about it in June and had gotten those 50 emails from people, he doesn’t know if he would have opened them. The problem is so much more convoluted than just that he couldn't find the link to the thing. This whole process of the past week of opening these extremely helpful emails where people are very generously tiptoeing around him, like: ”Hey, just wanted to say I am not trying to fuck with your head and I hope that this is cool, but it made me think of this or this is how I solve the problem or have you thought of this?”

John doesn’t feel that taken together they are some group of people, as much as each one of them is an individual person who is trying to help him and he is incredibly grateful and he doesn’t know how to respond because he wasn't asking for help, but he was telling the story of something that he could only tell after he was past the point where anybody could help him.

House update (RW198)

What is going on right now: The lead carpenter quit four days ago, quit his job working for the main contractor and the company that made the stone that the bathtub needs to sit in, which was never John’s design idea, but was a thing that everyone insisted was necessary, relocated during the process of cutting the stone from one place to another and in the relocation their business has come off the rails and no-one can get them on the phone. John has paid them and they have the cut stone waiting somewhere, but the installers can't be found and the people aren't answering their phone.

John’s contractor is bad at managing, and after the main guy quit he had one of his employees come finish some plumbing and that employee installed the tub and plumbed it without the stone being there, and you can't put the stone in after the fact because the tub sits on the stone. Picking the stone and waiting for the stone has been also a months-long process. Now John finally picked the stone, he had forced the contractor to go with him to the stone yard and stand there: ”You come with me! I am not going to just go pick a stone out of 500.000 stones!” and John paid for it, he got it cut, and then his guy installs the tub with no stone there, so now he has got to take the tub out in order to install the stone, but the company that made the stone is AWAL (?).

John only being able to tell the story after the fact (RW198)

That is where John stands today. Maybe he is going to get emails from people that are: ”I am actually a stonemason and a tub installer!” It is entirely possible, but John can barely talk about it, he can barely get that out because he doesn't know the end, and if he doesn't know the end he can't tell the story. It is not about entertainment, but he doesn’t know another way to process his own experience and life, other than to adopt the role of the narrator, retelling the quest with himself as the protagonist that is kind of a dope.

John is not sure why that is the interface and why is that how he thinks of his own life. He is not doing it for the sake of podcasting, the reason he podcasts is because this is how he already was processing his own experience, and always was. He was a good storyteller in 11th grade, and it was because he was already processing life this way. Everything he saw, everything he read, every conversation he had, they were all inputs that went into this machine that was trying to make sense of the world by converting it into stories and songs.

It wouldn't be noticeable if it weren't for moments like this, where he told that story as though it were two and a half months ago because the bathrooms aren't actually finished, the tile isn't actually here, it is all on order, it is sitting on somebody's workbench somewhere, it is on pallets, but John is past the decision. It is very weird to realize that he is processing his experiences in a certain way, and he is not sure what it would be like to not think in terms of story. There are people, his daughter is one, who is just living in the now, not thinking about how it all fits together.

Is there a way to modify it somehow so that it is a more successful program? Is there a way to live better? If John was able to ask for help! He got a lovely message from Tiffany Arment, Marco's wife and better half, who said. ”Hey, I also am a real stickler for tile and I worked real hard to get the tile right and here is a picture of my incredible bathroom where I just decided that I was going to do everything, instead of making the choice between 15 different tiles I was just going to use all 15!” It looked fantastic and it was very individual and very her, and John wishes that he for the last six months had just been talking to her about it, like: ”Tell me more about your tile journey!” That is really what he wanted to hear from people!

John said to his mom the other day that the only stories he wants to hear from people right now are stories of how hard it was for them to fix their house. He doesn’t want to hear stories of people's success, and last thing he wants is to hear stories from people that had a great experience with their contractor and it came in early and under budget. He just wants to hear fix up your house nightmare stories from people who are on the other side of it now and are doing great. The people are like: ”For a year and a half I was in hell and now I am in my house and it is great, but it cost way more than I thought it was going to, and it was totally a nightmare, and let me tell you all the terrible things that happened!” John wants to commiserate and he wants to not feel like such a dummy.

When John’s house got broken into (see The Burglary) however many years ago because he thought there was a possum in the wall and John talked to Merlin about it, he only talked to Merlin about it nine months later after the whole thing had resolved itself (see RL176). For nine months John walked around every day, convinced that there were burglars scoping his house and that somebody was using his passport, and he could never have talked about it with Merlin because it was an open wound. To the listeners he just sounds like he is just normal John, having a normal day that whole time, just like he has been with Dan for the past nine months, just dealing with the coronavirus or whatever, and as soon as he gets off the computer he is back in this hell of trying to figure out how to fix his house and how to get it going.


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