A Chat with Cole Stratton of “Pop My Culture”

Pop My Culture may cover ephemeral subject matter, but this “weekly-ish” podcast, hosted by comedians Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland, manages to simultaneously nail funny and topical every time I listen.

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Recently, one of the hosts, Cole Stratton (also co-founder of SF Sketchfest), answered a few questions for me about his show and why he does what he does.

How’d you and Vanessa meet?

Vanessa and I met doing improv at the Westside Comedy Theater (then the Westside Eclectic) in Santa Monica — we were on a house improv team called “Ladies and Gentlemen” which later became “Bruce.” We still improvise together there in a monthly show I run called “Pretty, Pretty Pony” where we do an armando with a special guest celebrity monologist. Always love getting on stage with her!

How has your sketch background served you on the show?

I think both our sketch and improv backgrounds come into play a lot — the show is super conversational and tangental, and we’ll often riff on an idea that comes up randomly, assuming characters and fleshing out a premise on the spot. Our pop culture topics are really just jumping off points to go on silly asides. We try to balance that along with good anecdotal career stories from our guests, so you get some inside info as well as just some funny games and goofy talk.

How’d you wind up on the Nerdist channel?

I’ve know Chris Hardwick for a long time — I’m one of the three founders of SF Sketchfest, the San Francisco Comedy Festival, which Chris has done many times. He was also engaged to my sketchfest co-founder (and often comedy and writing partner) Janet Varney for like seven years. Once Nerdist was putting together a network of shows, I simply asked Chris if he’d be interested in adding us to the roster, and he immediately accepted. We were already fairly established at that point, having done 63 episodes (our first episode with them was #64 with Ethan Suplee), and having been picked by Rolling Stone a year or so earlier as the #2 Best Comedy Podcast of the Moment. Joining Nerdist really did a ton for us — our numbers tripled and it felt great to be part of a family of shows.

What ’80s movie can you deliberate on most effectively?

I can talk 80s movies til the cows come home. It’s hard to just pick one — there’s a few that I’ve seen a billion times and can quote pretty much all the way through. Midnight Madness is one that comes to mind — it’s about an all-nighter scavenger hunt in LA with college teams and features David Naughton, Stephen Furst and Michael J. Fox in his first role. And Paul Reubens as a daft employee at a video arcade. I also have unabashed love for Cloak and Dagger, The Last Starfighter, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, The Last Unicorn, The Pirate Movie and all those great John Hughes movies of the decade.

When was the last time you talked to someone about global warming? Tort reform?

I never talk about those things. I fill my life with trivial water cooler stuff. I just see so many people get bent out of shape about politics, the environment, religion, etc. What do they say — ignorance is bliss? It’s not that I don’t have opinions about those things, it’s just that I refuse to let them put any stress into my life.

What episode generated the biggest reaction?

Hard to say — we did just release our 150th episode with Patton Oswalt, which got a good amount of attention as well as an iTunes feature and had us charting as high as #7 on the iTunes comedy charts. There’s certain guests that have definitely gotten the lions share of downloads — Felicia Day, Weird Al, Paul F. Tompkins and our year end multi-guest episodes spring to mind. Oh, and our live big panel shows — like the Legends of Voice Acting with Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Phil LaMarr, Tara Strong and Cree Summer, and our TGIF panel with Reginald VelJohnson, Jodi Sweetin, Stuart Pankin and Bryce Beckham. We’re always looking to find fun angles for guest groupings, as well as guests that don’t do the podcast circuit — I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones who have had Eddie Deezen and William Zabka on!

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast

I’ve heard stories about comedian Gilbert Gottfried — it seems, in reality, he’s a far cry from the manic nails-on-a-chalkboard character he’s made a living off of for 40-plus years. He’s said to be meek, polite, subtle, and low-key. That’s the kind of the guy I wanted to hear on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast. But what I got was a slightly nicer version of the same cloying character we’re all ready to put to in the nostalgia bin.

Having cemented a reputation as being the “too soon” guy, (he made 9-11 jokes before the tower rubble was done smoldering, and lost a lucrative contract as the Aflac duck for making “insensitive remarks” about tsunami victims) I was ready for the human being behind the button pusher. Shocking gets boring. Human continues to intrigue. I kind of wanted mundane. I wanted to hear this guy:

But I just got more of the same from what I assume to be an insightful and intelligent entertainer. The guests are all there. Paul Shaffer was on the episode I listened to. And the model’s podcasty enough. (Gottfried does the show from his New York apartment.) But an interviewer Gottfried is not. In between the occasional funny story, it sounds like the host is ticking off a list of topics, and forcing novel subject matter on the listener. Hopefully, this is just the training wheels phase of this seasoned comedian’s admittedly spanking-new vehicle.

You are Not So Smart – Episode 25 – “Enclothed Cognition”

A friend of mine tipped me off to this one, folks. So much obliged, Wayne. Good call on Boing Boing’s You are Not So Smart.

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The popular website Boing Boing started as a zine in the late ’80s by Mark Frauenfelder and his wife, Carla Sinclair. The tagline, “The World’s Greatest Neurozine,” was telling of the role the publication/site would play in cyberpunk subculture. The podcast, hosted by David McRaney, is another animal altogether.

I was introduced to this delightful hour-plus show with episode 25, Enclothed Cognition.

“Clothes are charged with symbolism,” McRaney succinctly primes the audience in the intro, which follows a brief introductory act – not a unique model, but a tested and effective one nonetheless.

Hajo Adam, a professor of management and a researcher at Rice University’s School of Business who pioneered the sociological and psychological phenomenon of Enclothed Cognition, took over from there.

They talk about the correlation between comfort and productivity as regards the casual Friday phenomenon. They talk about the symbolism behind the suit and tie as a sign of legitimacy. The “fake it ’til you make it” approach to dress is covered. It’s all very interesting.

What’s not really mentioned, and could’ve enriched the subject matter in this episode ten fold, was that this isn’t necessarily a new discipline of study. It sounds a lot like semiotics, the study of meaning-making. It’s an academic field devoted to signs and sign processes, designation, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. The difference I guess is that semiotics is thought of a subgenre of linguistics. But maybe clothes are some kind of communicative currency like the mobile phone or the personal computer – more than status signifiers (as noted in the episode). Food for thought.

This show hits all the right notes: A novel intro segment, followed by a more cerebral middle act, and a finale designed to make you chew on the subject matter long after the earbuds are out. It really does keep on giving. I will certainly critique tomorrow’s clothing selection (mine and others’) after listening.

One last comment on this new favorite of mine: The host sounds a lot like Paul F. Tompkins — great dresser by the way.