This Sunday, I hopped on a train to New York City to catch a live show of one of my favorite podcasts, Doug Loves Movies. This was my second trip that revolved around going to see a podcast – I went to San Francisco to see The Thrilling Adventure Hour in February – so I’m on a bit of a podcast streak lately. Like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Doug Loves Movies is a West Coast-based podcast that calls Los Angeles home base; unlike The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Doug Loves Movies hits the road very regularly so I didn’t have to plan a trip across the country to see it. I did, however, have to contend with the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, which meant that my early departure time was even earlier. Losing an hour shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but when you love sleep as much as I do and you are in no way a morning person, it was a tough haul. But I managed to drag myself out of bed and get to the city in time for brunch with a friend, which is something of a minor miracle.
Doug Loves Movies is a podcast hosted by comedian Doug Benson, who you might recognized from his frequent contributions to VH-1’s Best Week Ever. He also had a show on Comedy Central (The Benson Interruption) and has numerous comedy albums. While he has multiple podcasts, Doug Loves Movies is focused on his love of going to the cinema and features movie-themed games. His guests are mainly his fellow stand-up comedians, but he does have a variety of people on the show – Jon Hamm, Chris Evans and Set Rogen have all made appearances as well as Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings. Hamm is actually the way that I discovered the podcast; I heard that he was on an episode with Grantland founder Bill Simmons (another favorite) so I decided to check it out. I was instantly hooked and have listened to the show since. There is little continuity on the episodes, so it’s an easy podcast to jump into. I’ve found a lot of comedians that I really enjoy from the podcasts and because the show features a lot of funny people it’s always entertaining to listen to even when I’m not very good at the games that they play. And I’m pretty abysmal at the games.
There are a lot of different games that the guests play on Doug Loves Movies, but the Leonard Maltin game is the main focus. In this game, contestants are given the year that the movie came out, a few brief lines from Leonard Maltin’s review of the movie (which are usually so vague as to be little actual help), and how many stars that Maltin gave the movie. The category selected also provides some clue – recent categories have included movies where someone has asthma, the movies of Benedict Cumberbatch or Michael Fassbender, movies with a number in the title, etc. – and contestants bid Name That Tune style as to how many members of the cast that they need to hear listed to get it right. The trick is that the names are removed from the top down, so the highest billed actors are removed first. I’m always impressed at just how good some people are at this game; I’m no slouch in the movie-going department but I rarely can name the movie in the number of names given.
Doug is always great and the games in and of themselves are fun, but the podcast really lives and dies on the guests. An entire episode of the podcast can be derailed if the guests aren’t into it. They don’t even necessarily have to be good at the games to be entertaining; if they are willing to joke around and at least seem to like movies in general it can be a good podcast (though, as a listener, it drives me batty when the guests aren’t even marginally familiar with the games that are going to be played). It’s also not great when one guest tends to dominate the conversation and no one – Doug included – is able to get much of a word in edgewise (Jeff Garlin – I’m looking at you). The best episodes are when the guests are all reasonably good at the games and when they have good chemistry with each other and the audience.
Walking in to the show at the Gramercy Theater – at 4:20 pm because Doug is a stoner – I had no idea who the guests were going to be. Doug typically doesn’t announce beforehand who is going to be on any given show and while sometimes it leaks on Twitter, there had been no clues as to who I was going to see. That was both exciting and a little terrifying. I don’t necessarily like surprises and I was going to be a little bummed if I made a whole day out of going to see the show and the guests weren’t up to par. I’m not really as familiar with the NYC scene and there are fewer actors/actresses that are East Coast based that might be on the show, so I didn’t even have any idea who might pop up. I was secretly hoping that Jon Hamm might pop up, since he does spend time in NYC and has something to promote, but that was really nothing more than wishful thinking. As we were waiting for the show to start, I heard other people in the crowd speculating as to who might appear, but the general consensus was that it really could be anyone. As we clapped and sang along with the podcast’s theme song, the anticipation of who was going to walk out on stage only enhanced the experience.
Doug Benson came out first to welcome the crowd and it was cool to finally see someone in person whose voice has accompanied me on many a road trip. Doug Loves Movies has helped keep me awake on many a late night drive home after a Yankee game and has kept me focused on the long, boring trek across Western New York. So in some ways, it feels like I know Doug even though we’ve obviously never met. It’s a weird feeling to feel connected to a stranger. After a brief greeting, Doug informed us that this episode of the podcast would be a tournament of champions episode, which meant that all three contestants would be previous winners. That was good news because that meant that these people would not only know how to play the Leonard Maltin game, they were also good at it. No matter who came out on stage, we were likely to have a fun show (and I also saved some money since Tournament of Champion episodes are premium episodes). That also meant, unfortunately, that my dream of being in the same room as Jon Hamm was dashed because Hamm had already advanced in the tournament to the final round (he already won a tournament of champions and was now in the super duper tournament of champions). I made my peace with that and looked forward to seeing who in fact was going to take the stage.
The contestants would up being Geoff Tate (comedian), Rob Cantrell (comedian) and John Hodgman (podcaster, comedian and The Daily Show regular). I had to laugh when John Hodgman walked out, not only because he was wearing a Judge’s robe (a nod to his podcast Judge John Hodgman), but because he was also a surprise guest when I went to see The Thrilling Adventure Hour. If he and I turn up at the same place one more time, I’ll have to assume that he’s following me. I knew Rob and Geoff from their previous appearances on the show and it was nice to finally put some faces with names. I remembered them both being funny, and I know that Hodgman is hilarious, so this was shaping up to be a very fun evening. My only concern was that tournament of champions episodes tend to run really long and I’d been hoping to catch the 6:17 pm train home. There were other trains, of course, but the hour of lost sleep was taking its toll and I had work the following day. So I was hoping that it would be a good competition, but a speedy one.
I got my wish – while there was time for joking around about a possible bat in the theater (it was a fan) and other shenanigans (including a rant against the game Bananagrams),*spoiler* was able to jump out to a quick and substantial lead over his opponents and cruised fairly easily to a win. Doug and the panelists were all hilariously funny and I even knew the answer in the first two rounds, so this was really my best case scenario for seeing the show. The crowd was enthusiastic, but respectful, and the 90 minutes just flew by. My face hurt from laughing and I’m going to seek out Geoff Tate and Rob Cantrell’s stand-up to familiarize myself better with their work. I had a great time and I’d absolutely consider going to see the show again. I’d fallen behind on listening to Doug Loves Movies in my attempt to catch myself up on The Thrilling Adventure Hour and now after seeing the live show my commitment to staying current has been refreshed. If you like movies and you like silly games, Doug Loves Movies is a podcast worth checking out.