Why We Love Hostfuls: Nerdist & Commedia Dell’arte

As Nerdist listeners, we have expectations. And those expectations are met every time Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Mira find time to record a “Hostful” episode. But because the Nerdist trinity have such busy schedules, the odds you’re going to get one have dwindled over the years. There’s something innately satisfying about these episodes — something we can take comfort in. And there’s a reason for that.

Hostful Content

The commedia dell’arte was a popular theatrical style for dramatic and comedic ensembles back in the day; it’s essentially improv with quickly-accessible, default, story lines. Europe began embracing it in the 16th Century. And American culture revived it with the moving picture.

And why not? It provided us with archetypes for personalities we encounter throughout our lives. And what’s more entertaining than seeing these sometimes absurd charactuers interact. Common comedic themes touch on the scatalogical, as well as the political. Sound familiar? In  any given ensemble-oriented sitcom you will likely find at least two of the commedia dell’arte character archetypes I’ve listed below:

Family Guy is a frequently cited modern homage to this 400-year-old art form. Stewie is arguably a mix of Arlecchino and Il Captiano, and Peter and Chris undoubtedly draw from the Scaramuccia character. The Honeymooners, The Office and All in the Family are other good examples. Probably the most obvious influence is seen in The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns; he is Pantalone through and through.

But back to Nerdist. Who’s who, you ask. In episode 409, we got to hear Hardwick, Ray, and Mira embrace characters very familiar to certain theater dorks.

Though they all pass around the Arlecchino and the Columbina mantle (wise-crackers and squares), they tend to fall back into set roles, which may or may not reflect their personalities. My guess is they’re in on the joke.

  • —Pantalone means something like “Mr. Big Pants.” He’s invariably wealthy. Hardwick drives a Jag, and wears $400 pants — “big pants” in my book.
  • Il Dottore is a smug, know-it-all professor. Mira can no doubt wax on about the minutiae of Frasier and Star Trek. The difference being, Il Dottore is truly an idiot, just pretending to be smart. Mira’s actually a brain. And I wouldn’t call him smug.
  • Ray is bit trickier — harder to pin down. But in episode 409, we were certainly hearing a lot of Isabella, one of the lovers. Isabella is prone to dramatic intensity and feigned madness. And anyone familiar with hostfuls, can attest to Ray’s affected grumpiness. It’s always awkward. And it always makes for good pod.
Hostfuls follow a traditional commedia dell’arte path.  Jokes are made at one another’s expense. Pop culture is simultaneously mocked and celebrated. Feelings are hurt. Narrative arcs are built, and laid to waste before our very ears. And all conflicts are resolved with a reassuring “enjoy your burrito.” It’s all pretty great.
—Bullshit mock theses aside, I think I speak for thousands, maybe millions of Nerdist fans who want more hostfuls. Quit holding out Hardwick. Life’s too short for Tom Hanks interviews. Winking Emoticon.

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