Earlier this month, I took a break from winter and headed off to San Francisco for a few days. While I am always in San Francisco to visit my best friend from high school, the timing of the trip was such so that it coincided with SF Sketchfest, a comedy festival in the city. While there were a lot of great events at the festival, I was primarily revolving my trip around the live show for one of my favorite podcasts, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. In fact, I bought tickets to the show first, since they were selling quickly, and then worked out the rest of my logistics later; thankfully, my friends were more than accommodating and I got to spend a lot of time with them and see the show. A win-win.
As I wrote in my recent post about my favorite podcasts, The Thrilling Adventure Hour is done in the style of an old-time radio show and is a recording of a live stage show that the Workjuice Players do every month, primarily at the Largo in Los Angeles. After hearing mention of the podcast for a few years, I finally gave it a listen in October and quickly caught up on all 190+ episodes. I basically mainlined them, listening to a few episodes every night before I went to bed. I just loved the various shows within the show – they were smart and funny and made me ridiculously happy. I was very bummed when they announced at New York Comic Con that the monthly live shows would be coming to an end; after ten years of doing them, it was just time to do something a little different. That meant that if I wanted to see The Thrilling Adventure Hour live and in person, I’d better get to it and figure out a way to get myself to the West Coast. The show being in San Francisco was kismet – the perfect opportunity to see the show and justify the expense of a cross-country voyage by combining it with a visit with my dear friends. Listening to the podcast, it always sounds like the audience is having the time of their life and I was curious what I was missing from the Thrilling Adventure Hour experience by only listening to the shows; at least once a show, the audience seems to be laughing at something that the listener at home isn’t privy to. God forbid that I was missing out on something.
The show started at 10 pm in San Francisco, which meant that I was going to have to get myself there and back by taking BART into the city. I’m an old pro at the NYC subway system, but even though I have taken BART before I was still a little nervous; it’s been a while since I navigated the system and it’s always a little intimidating to use public transportation in a city that you are unfamiliar with, especially alone at night. Thankfully BART is pretty easy to navigate and I got to the Mission district without incident. I left early in case I had any problems and had also built in some time to get a burrito at La Taqueria, recently voted the best in a nation by ESPN’s FiveThrityEight. It was while I was snacking on my burrito – very good, by the way – that I realized that the theater was not quite as close to the BART stop as I had anticipated and that I was going to have to walk more than ten blocks to get to my destination. Ten blocks isn’t that far, but it was ten blocks away from the more bustling night life on Mission Street. After I encountered my first person that was homeless and/or had mental health issues and who was yelling at and chasing people (thankfully he mostly ignored me), I couldn’t get to the theater fast enough. I am not quite as badass as I like to think I am. Apparently getting to the theater was a thrilling adventure in and of itself.
Once I finally took my seat in the theater, my anxiety levels momentarily plateaued – after all, I still needed to get back to the BART station at an even later hour – and my excitement for the show kicked in. While I was looking forward to seeing all the Workjuice Players, I was particularly delighted that I was going to hopefully see Busy Phillips. I’ve liked her since her days back on Freaks and Geeks through her current run on Cougar Town; for whatever reason, I just connected with the actress and really enjoy everything that she’s done. Hearing that she and Paul F. Tompkins were involved with The Thrilling Adventure Hour was half the reason that I decided to give the podcast a listen, so I hoped that scheduling didn’t prevent her from appearing. While she plays one of the main characters, due to the serialized nature of the stories not all the actors appear in every episode. So while I fully expected to enjoy The Thrilling Adventure Hour regardless, I let out a small sigh of relief when I saw her walk out on stage. I would have been a little disappointed to have traveled all this way and have missed her.
The live show is pretty no frills – just the actors at microphones, with scripts in hand. There are no sets and for the most part, the actors don’t really move from the microphones. They’ll add some movements here and there to add to the stories, but it’s a fairly minimalist production. The one thing that I had not anticipated, which in hindsight I should have, was that the live shows are ahead of the podcasts. This obviously makes sense, since the live shows are then released as the podcasts, but I was still a little surprised when the more serialized segments were picking up at a point where I wasn’t sure how they had gotten there, despite the fact that I was current with the podcast episodes. The lag didn’t appear to be two great, but there was still half a second where I was a little confused and wracking my brain to see if I had forgotten part of the story. I look forward to filling in the blanks with new episodes of the podcast.
The show kicks off with a song, which is not part of the podcast but that I was aware of from reading other blog posts about the live show. There was then a brief word from the show’s “sponsor,” Bucatino Business, which I typically skip when listening to the podcast. Of course, seeing the show live I didn’t have that option and the brief skit was actually much more amusing than I expected. Perhaps I’ll have to start giving them more of a try on the podcast. The two constant segments of The Thrilling Adventure Hour that are part of every show are Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars (a space western) and Beyond Belief (a supernatural comedy), with a rotating third (and occasionally forth) segment sandwiched between them. This show, the middle segment was Phillip Fathom, Deep Sea Detective (no Moonshine Holler – Boo!). It was really cool to finally put faces with the voices that I’d been listening to for the past few months; some of the actors I had looked up, so I knew what they looked like, but it was still a different experience to have the visual of the show added in. There were a few flubs by the actors, but the others on stage ad libbed comments so that the occasional mistake actually earned a laugh as well. Beyond Belief even had a baseball themed story line, which couldn’t have been more down my alley if it tried. Since I don’t really know anyone who listens to the podcast, it was nice to be in a room of like-minded people who were having as much fun as I was singing along with the Sparks Nevada theme song or laughing at recurring jokes. These were my people.
The Thrilling Adventure Hour often features special guests in addition to the regular cast members and the show in San Francisco was no exception. Jason Ritter (Parenthood), John Hodgman (The Daily Show), Scott Auckerman (Comedy Bang! Bang!), Scott Adsit (30 Rock) and Adam Savage (Mythbusters) all popped in to play. Before I knew it, the show was over; I’d been laughing so hard and having so much fun that the time had flown by. The cast came out to dance and do an impromptu version of the Captain Laserbeam theme song and then it was time to make the trek back to BART. Perhaps it was buoyed spirits after such a fun performance or the fact that I was following some other people leaving the show, but the walk back to the BART station felt a little less scary.
I’m so glad that I was able to see the live show at least once before they become much more sporadic; the podcast itself is great, but watching it performed added a whole additional layer to the stories. It was definitely a worthwhile experience and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to do it. The icing on the cake was when I tweeted about how much I loved the show, I got a response from none other than Busy Philips:
There are not many things I would contemplate a cross-country trip for, but The Thrilling Adventure Hour justified the trek.