(The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for the World SF Blog. It is about the technique of writing the experimental comedy podcast. Since all links have changed, here it is again.)
About a year ago, I began an online comedy project called The Voice of God. The Voice of God was a daily podcast, usually two to three minutes long. This was its premise: God is drunk, bitter, and has had it up to here with all of us. And so He begins a daily podcast in which He tells us what He thinks of us, generally rants and lets off steam, and answers readers’ comments and mails. As a comic background, God (portrayed by Bobby Lax) spoke in an impressive and respectable British accent, but his words were American street-speak.
Here is The Voice of God website. The last entry features a summing up of the best podcasts. Feel free to browse.
I began this as an experiment into comedy, to see how far I could push the envelope. These were the directions of my experiment: a) I wanted to see how quickly I could get readers from where they are (the normal place) to a place as far away as possible from that normal place, as quickly as possible; b) Could I create audio slapstick?
I’m going to share my experiments with you, and you can check the results for yourselves.
Audio Slapstick (Aural Slapstick)
Slapstick is visual form of comedy. Remember farces in which people rush in and out of doors? When the Marx Brothers fill a tiny room with 20 people constantly moving? When people strike each other so fast it’s too hard to follow? In all these examples of slapstick, human behavior suddenly turns into a visual machine that keeps pumping from its own inertia. Human behavior becomes machine-like, visually. That is slapstick.
How would this be represented in sounds?
This is how I tried to do it. I wanted to bring God (the character) to a place in which He said syllables that in any other context would sound completely random or meaningless. And yet the character must be brought to that place by way of a reasonable and logical path. In that way, even though God pronounces something ridiculous, the audience understands exactly what He is saying and how He got there.
Here are a few examples:
In Podcast #46, called simply ‘Meh’, God is going through a miserable and somber mood. He has nothing to say. Halfway through the podcast, He is so morose and so out of words, He begins a monologue of syllables, because He has nothing real to say and no energy to make something up. He begins with ‘blah’ and ‘meh’ and climaxes with ‘bring ding ding’. Further on, He gets even more desperate for wards, and begins another monologue consisting only of the word ‘plop’. The reason the ‘plop’ monologue works is because we understand His state of mind and the logical way by which He got to where He is. Check it out here.
In Podcast #67, called ‘For Shizzle’, God adopts the ‘for shizzle’ vernacular, which is American street-speak. Its users replace the endings of certain words with ‘izzle’. For example: ‘for shizzle’ means for ‘for sure’. In this podcast, God, wanting to appeal to a new demographic, retells the opening story of Genesis by translating it into street-speak. After explaining the language, what He’s going to do, and why, He begins: “In the begizzle there was nizzle [in the beginning there was nothing]. Nizzle and nizzle and nizzle everywhere you looked. Now, in the begizzle, except for nizzle, there was only Gizzle – that’s me. And the spirit of Gizzle flew all around the emptizzle, until it grew tiredizzle. And so Gizzle said, ‘let there be lizzle’! And, snappizle!, there was lizzle!”
Later on, Gizzle invents nightizle, which happens during the dizzle (dark): “And then He played with the lights witch all the time: lizzle dizzle, dizzle lizzle, lizzle dizzle, dizzle lizzle.” Now: even though that line has no known words, you understood it perfectly, didn’t you? That’s aural slapstick.
Another time, God introduced the word ‘tippity-tippity-too’, which He defined as the act of moving down or up the stairs quickly. He asked us to use it often, thus creating a butterfly effect that would save the universe. However, after that podcast, He discovered that He forgot to carry the minus sign. The new computations revealed that the use of the word would destroy the universe. And so, embarrassed about asking us to take it back, He spoke in Pig Latin. Pig Latin is a children’s ‘secret language’, which takes the first consonant of a word, puts it at the end of that word and adds an ‘ay’. Thus ‘nix’ is ‘ixnay’ and ‘amscray’ is ‘scram’. This led to the following introduction (Podcast #88): “Ixnay on the ippit-ippity-too-tay ing-thay.” (Nix on the tippity-tippity-too thing). He goes on, messing up Pig Latin itself: “Ast-lay ime-tay I asked you-tay to start using a new ord-way. Mainly, ‘tippity-tippity-too’ so as to form an utterfly-bay fect-fay on the universe.” This podcast, again, is mixed with aural slapstick. When I asked Bobby Lax, before recording, if he understood the text when he read it for the first time, he said “No. Because I didn’t take any drugs.”
Other experiments in aural slapstick were when God tried to adopt a Texan accent, or when God tried to institute new holidays.
Then there is the ‘regular’ sort of aural slapstick, the one in which the character simply makes ridiculous sounds. In the following case, God, constantly trying to improve His standing in the community, held a referendum, asking us to help Him choose a trademark laughter. A month later, He asked us to help Him choose a trademark battle cry.
A Stretch of Imagination
One of the points of art, and certainly what I try to do whenever I write, is to improve people’s ability to think outside the box by leading them there without them noticing the path. In testing myself and testing the audience, I tried to see how far I could bring the audience from point A (the normal, everyday place) to point B (as far away from point A as possible), and to see how quickly I could do it. Of course the audience must understand and like what they heard. Every podcast had to have at least one line that forced the audience to go to a new place fast and quickly.
Here are a few examples:
In Podcast #13, ‘Memories’, God is bored out of his mind, and can’t stop thinking and thinking about the old times. “You know the two things I really miss? I miss the Gilmore Girls. And also slavery.” Then he proceeds to reminisce, constantly getting those two confused in his mind. In this case, I brought the audience from point A (missing the Gilmore Girls) to point B (slavery and God’s Biblical role in it) in a few short sentences.
In Podcast #20 God talks about how humans are such a disappointment. “You were my first experiment. You were my test bunnies. I was a God virgin before you. You are the first beings upon which I tore my God hymen.”
My guess is that God’s hymen was not an image you had in your minds when you began to read that paragraph.
Podcast #56 begins like this, with God sounding quite impressed: “Hello, folks. God here. And I’ve just discovered eBay. Wow. What a site! People will buy any sort of crap you put out there.” God then spends a few seconds talking about how much he needs money, finishing the thought with: “Anyway, I just put a pair of my balls for sale on eBay.”
My task, in each of the podcasts, was to cause a stretch and a leap inside the mind of my listeners. Hopefully, it worked.
Now, to see how far a podcast can really be taken, try the marshmallow Jesus podcast.
Naturally, any podcast featuring a drunk and bitter God would have satirical content in it. The Voice of God took on political correctness many times. Some of the more extreme were when God mentioned bad words, like the N-word, or the C-word (from my perspective, at least, it seems that it’s not words that hurt, it’s context that hurts).
When God explains the ‘for shizzle’ vernacular (see above), in particular, his opening line is “For shizzle my nizzles, this is your Gizzle speaking,” In trying to explain the language as well as his introduction, He says, “ ‘For shizzle’ means for sure. See? It’s simple. ‘My nizzles’ means ‘my friends’ or ‘my bosom buddies’. Or, as the Americans say it, ‘my niggers’.”
In podcast #59, God, bereft of His followers for a few hours, realizes that He is a cunt, a word that literally means ‘vagina’, but is a very dirty word in English-speaking countries. In this podcast, He succeeds in calling Himself the C-word about twenty times. And that’s not the crazy part. Check it out to see if you can handle it.
Moving on from political correctness to political issues.
One time, God tackled abortion. In podcast #92, God speaks of how people keep stopping Him on the street and asking Him, “Hey, God, what’s your stance on abortion?” And so God takes this opportunity to explain his stance: “My stance on abortion? It’s okay. As long as it’s not the woman’s right to choose.”
In podcast #108 we are introduced to blind faith exercises. Blind faith, like every muscle, if not exercised regularly, degenerates into doubts. Faith in God must be blind, and so God institutes blind faith exercises. Blind faith exercises are sort of like ‘Simon says’, only it’s ‘God says’. However, these simple exercises were not enough for God, and so in podcast #109 He instituted extreme blind faith exercises. Since homosexuality is a choice (a lifestyle choice, in fact), according to many true believers, God plays ‘God says’ with homosexuality and heterosexuality: “God says be a homosexual. God says be a heterosexual. God says be a homosexual. Be a heterosexual. A-ha! God didn’t say!”
One time I introduced myself to a certain internet group, saying I’m an author, a playwright, etc. And then I referred them to the The Voice of God podcast, which was then ongoing. The reaction of some people was extreme. Some wished for my complete failure, some for my roast in Hell. I quickly realized that the best way to tackle such reactions was to have God take their side. Here are the three podcasts in which God tackled The Voice of God.
In podcast #101, God learns that a certain blog called The Voice of God is making fun of Him and that some actor is claiming to be Him. He was glad to find, however, that brave heroes have leapt to His defense. In podcast #102, God, still ired, reads some of the heroes’ responses and finds two new best friends. In Podcast #103, God reads more responses, and concocts punishments for me, the writer of the blog.
These three podcasts are labeled under ‘my glass jaw’, because in the eyes of the offended, God is extremely sensitive to insults.
The Future of The Voice of God
After five months, and almost five hours of comedy, I finished work on The Voice of God. When I began, it was an experiment, and I was happy with joke per podcast. But as the podcasts continued, I created more jokes per podcast, and made the structure of the podcasts more complex. The last podcast, in fact, was a Doctor Seuss podcast. Whenever Doctor Seuss, who is now in Heaven, comes to visit God, God can’t stop rhyming for seven whole days. And so He did an entire podcast in the Doctor Seuss style.
The more complex the podcasts were, the more displeased I was with the fact that it was a daily podcast. A daily podcast meant that most podcasts although hopefully containing good material, were rarely perfect in form.
Since I like to take my time and do things as perfectly as possible (at least by my own standards), I eventually decided to leave The Voice of God, and return to it in album form. Hopefully, there are many comedy albums in the future. I already have plans for a five-minute aural slapstick monologue that will come at the end of the first album.
I hope you enjoyed this trip into the mind of a writer from the rim.