I’ve never considered podcasting to be an enterprise particularly connected to community or relationships. I was pleasantly surprised to learn in the extremely entertaining and enlightening documentary Ear Buds from podcasters Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood that people create intense connections through listening to and interacting with podcasts.
I’m not an avid podcast consumer myself (though after watching this movie that may change). I check out Dan Savage’s Savage Love most weeks, and Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist now and again. I’ve heard a couple of movie review podcasts but none of those really appeal (that said: the first episode of the new FilmThreat Podcast with Chris Gore and Anthony Bench is a lot of fun, but I might be biased.) In Savage Love Dan holds forth about politics and takes listener questions on relationships and sex. I used to listen because weird and kinky. Now I’m so jaded to all the (no longer) bizarre behaviors that come up that I try to see if I would give the same answer Dan does. I never once thought of hitting the Twitters to chat with the other pervs on Savage Love, but apparently there are shows where people really come together as long distance friends.
There is no one more qualified to guide us through the culture of podcasting than Chris and Graham who do a podcast called Comedy Film Nerds. From their website: “Stand-up comedians, authors and filmmakers Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood are the Comedy Film Nerds. Their weekly podcast is devoted to the newest movie releases, classic film, major features, independent film and all things movie-related! Each and every week Chris and Graham welcome a guest to talk anything and everything comedy film nerd related! We’ve had actor/comedian/author Kevin Pollak, SNL alum Janeane Garofalo, comedian Chris Hardwick, WTF host Marc Maron and best- selling author Stefanie Wilder- Taylor! They offer insight and stories with people in the entertainment industry. “
One of the best encounters in the film is with Sanae Narita from Japan, affectionately known as Sandy “Big Fan Japan.” Sanae is a regular and well known follower of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast, though she had not met any of the other fans or the podcasters. Sanae had a crisis during the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami where she was cut off and terrified. All communications were down for a time except for Twitter, and podcasters and fellow fans alike helped to reassure her. Chris and Graham went to Japan to meet her and there were tears and hugs. She later came to the US to meet some of the podcast listeners who’d supported her during her most anxious moments.
There’s a really intense “group talk therapy” aspect to some of the the podcasts mentioned in the film. Paul Gilmartin with Mental Illness Happy Hour, and Jimmy Pardo with Never Not Funny and Mike Schmidt with The 40 Year Old Boy talk through some fairly heavy personal shit very openly. Mike Schmidt is one intense dude. Listeners are interviewed saying the podcast helped them through emotional predicaments in their own lives.
The intimacy of podcasters talking about their lives and their own issues and inviting the listeners to talk with them as well sets the stage for the communities that come together around the podcast. It turns out there are also Podcasting conventions and events people can attend and meet the podcasters and other fans.
This film is a whole lot of feel good which is pretty wonderful in what’s turning out to be a dark start to 2017. Big props to Elwood and Mancini for pulling this off. The pace of the film, the layers weaving around each other, the explorations of the personal events and connections, the cinematography, even the music is pitched just right. The soundtrack is especially noteworthy. This is a really well done film and a great experience.
I’m generally not a big documentary fan, The docs I’ve enjoyed have been things like Sound City about Dave Grohl’s history of a vintage mixing board and the studio it was rescued from (because I’m an audio nerd) but generally speaking I try to avoid reality in film. In this case I found myself engaged and deeply moved by Ear Buds.
From Chris and Graham: “As podcasters ourselves, we’ve gotten to know the fans, often personally, and they have gotten to know us. People have told us we have helped get them through rough times, even though on the surface we are just talking about movies. So there is a connection there that we are humbled by. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because at its digital heart, podcasting is about human connections.”
Ear Buds: The Podcasting Documentary (2017) Directed by: Graham Elwood. Written by: Chris Mancini & Graham Elwood. Starring: Chris Hardwick, Marc Maron, Aisha Tyler, Doug Benson, Joe Rogan, Welcome to Night Vale, Freakonomics Radio & more
9 out of 10