Welcome to Podlaffs, a periodic sample of the best comedy podcasts (and perhaps other online audio). This feature is to help new listeners find quality episodes in a dauntingly rich comedy landscape. Did you hear something particularly funny this week? Hit me up on Twitter @michaeleoneil with a link!
Comedian, writer and some-time Star Wars voice-actor Greg Proops is recognizable to many as one of the regulars on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the short-form improv show that originated from the UK and first achieved cult status with American viewers in the early 90s via Comedy Central. Drew Carey brought the format to ABC in 1999, where it ran for eight years and was revived for the CW in 2013. Proops has performed on all three of the TV versions of Whose Line and joins the group for live tours.
The Smartest Man in the World Proopcast provides a concentrated dose of Proops’ tipsy, improvisational virtuosity and raconteur-ship in a weekly series of monologues recorded live before comedy club audiences across America. In a recent interview with Proops on the podcast Sklarbro Country, Smartest Man In the World was described as reminiscent of Proops’ days holding court with a table of comedians late at night after shows, dispensing rapid-fire erudite wisdom and razor-sharp observations.
It’s a perfect description of the Proops style, which makes me think of Dorothy Parker as portrayed in the 1994 Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, if you replaced Parker’s wanting to die all of the time with a relentless curiosity for every sphere of life, but kept all of the drinking.
You could call Greg Proops a metrosexual (if we were still in the mid-2000s), but it would be more accurate to say Proops is the Deathless Eldritch Metrosexual God from which all metrosexuals have spawned and owe fealty. His breathless extemporaneous comedy gives a window into a life spent interested in nearly all aspects of high and low culture, a steel-trap retention of such, and the ability to call any random allusion up on a moment’s notice.
But what’s more impressive than Proops’ interest in everything is his ability to make anything seem interesting, by his recounting of it. I have no interest in baseball. Sports have never ranked at the top of my interests and baseball was always at the bottom of that field. And yet I am endlessly amused by Proops’ stories about Satchel Page, smoking weed in the lawless Candlestick Park, or this episode’s recounting of Nolan Ryan’s near-sociopathic zeal for beaning the batters who faced him.
Similarly, this episode contains a jag on Magic Mike, specifically Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Magic Mike and his man-handling of Channing Tatum. In the moment of hearing Proops’ astonished description of the film’s committed cheesiness and intensity, you are convinced that your life has a giant Magic Mike-shaped hole in it, and this must be rectified immediately.
There are a couple things about the Proopcast that might be off-putting to first-time listeners, but they are well worth barreling through. First, as the podcast is recorded before an audience at a club, it contains the occasional sight gag. Greg Proops is not going to stop his flow and rapport with the audience to explain a sight gag for the listeners at home, so you will just have to deal with never knowing what that joke was.
Second, like Comedy Bang! Bang!, The Smartest Man in the World Proopcast has a rich inner life of running in-jokes, callbacks and spirit animals. Just roll with it. To go back to the Algonquin Roundtable analogy, this podcast is like being welcomed into an intimidatingly witty, booze-soaked conversation where your initial confusion is outweighed by the infectious good time in the room and, more importantly, the pleasure of quickly becoming someone who is in on the jokes.
(And if you are looking for a primer, Proops’ new The Smartest Book In The World, which is an extension of the podcast’s weltanschauung, is on sale now.)
Finally, one of the most distinctive elements of the podcast and Proops’ voice in general is his commitment to the progressive cause against sexism, classism, racism, war and the violation of civil liberties. The show always includes Proops riffing on news articles or eulogizing a recently-passed hero of social justice, in which he lets his political flag fly. It is at least a little courageous that “the guy with the glasses from Whose Line” uses his time on stage to stump for the pardoning of Chelsea Manning, single payer healthcare, taxing the rich, abolishing the USA PATRIOT ACT and ending all wars.
Leftists, however, might find his “progressive” politics coming up short of an actual commitment to change things, and smelling of affluent, feel-good self-indulgence (especially in the audience’s applause, which could be construed as for their own righteousness as much as Greg’s). Proops’ feminism, for instance, has motivated him to repeatedly endorse Hillary Clinton for President because she is a woman, despite her record as a schill for Wal-Mart and war, and pro-corporate policies that disproportionately hurt millions of women. Anyone politically to the right of Proops will emphatically agree with his referring to that segment of the show as “the boring preachy part” (or call it worse).
However, to someone who is largely-but-not-entirely in tune with Proops’ political outlook, his opinions are obviously the product of a lot of thought and care, and he is pretty good about citing where he is getting his information from and allowing for good-natured disagreement. And it is impossible to overstate Proops’ wit and charm, so even if you disagree with what he says you may enjoy how he says it. And if all else fails, just skip over the segment. But you might miss out on learning something.
The Smartest Man In the World lives up to its name as a glimpse into the mind of a seasoned comedy star, a modern Renaissance man, a libertine who loves liberty and the strange, sexy panoply of history and culture that the world has to offer us. This podcast will brighten your week and tickle your brain.