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Listening Pleasures

Sam Fragoso, Gilbert Gottfried, Frank Santopadre and Studs Terkel’s broadcasts have provided me with entertainment and enlightenment during this pandemic.

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Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Abbott and Costello’s surreal brilliance was discussed for nearly two hours by a panel of experts including Leonard Maltin on a recent episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!. Stacy Keach, Carol Kane and Malcom McDowell in a two-parter, have appeared lately. Have you thought of John Byner in a long time? Well, he’s alive and was an hilarious guest.

Recently, I’ve seen articles by writers listing their favorite podcasts. So, I’ll expound on three of mine that I discovered in 2020. Weeks into the pandemic and ever since, many hours have been spent lying on the couch with my dog listening to these entertaining and often enlightening broadcasts.

As a theater critic during this era without live presentations to review, I’ve watched many Zoom and taped stage productions. In April, I was enthralled by playwright Jeff Cohen’s Holocaust drama, The Soap Myth starring Ed Asner and Tovah Feldshuh. I then searched for interviews with Mr. Asner and came across his May 19, 2015, appearance on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!. Asner was playfully gruff as always. The hosts were a revelation.

I was vaguely aware that Gilbert Gottfried has a podcast, but never sought it out. Utilizing his trademark harsh loud voice, this Brooklyn-born renowned comic genius opens each show with a fabulously over the top introduction of the guest, listing their every single credit, laced with gushing superlatives, that goes on and on. “I’m exhausted listening to that…” while laughing is a typical reaction of the subject. In addition to being funny, Mr. Gottfried is also an adept interviewer.

Crucially, the podcast isn’t just him. Prominent comedy writer and the show’s producer, Queens-native Frank Santopadre is Gottfried’s co-host. Well-prepared with voluminous research, the personable Mr. Santopadre grounds the show, maintaining pacing with his easygoing manner and shrewd questions. The delightful rapport between themselves and their guests sustains the often lengthy episodes. Numerous of these have caused marathons of me laughing out loud at home, providing a welcome distraction from daily bad news.

Gilbert Gottfried, Peter Fonda and Frank Santopadre

Flawless impressions of Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon, James Mason in A Star is Born and an elderly Groucho Marx (“Chico needed the money…”), are among the riotous running gags in Gottfried’s repertoire. These get repeated no matter the guest, year after year, along with some hysterical salacious supposed factoids. I was aware of the infamous Danny Thomas glass coffee table rumor. I knew Cesar Romero was gay, but was unaware of his kinky predilection involving orange wedges. Who knew that mid-20th century wealthy women bought chimpanzees that had been specially trained to perform a sex act on them?

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast! premiered on June 1, 2014, with Dick Cavett as the first guest. The title fondly references the 1957 American International Pictures’ low-budget sci-fi flick, The Amazing Colossal Man. Indeed, Gottfried are Santopadre ardent admirers of the pop culture of their youths, and their show is devoted to preserving memories of it. Roger Corman, Larry Cohen, Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara, and Bela Lugosi Jr., are among the hundreds of figures who have appeared. Mondays are joyous occasions as that’s when the latest installment of Gilbert and Frank’s laugh fest airs.

As a long-time Fran Lebowitz devotee, I Like her Facebook page, and so I received the notification in late July that she’d be a guest on the podcast Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, which I’d never heard of before. Predictably, Ms. Lebowitz was brilliant, witty and cantankerous. The host was awesome. Some months later, this interview was released as a vinyl record. This was a cheeky nod to the fact that Lebowitz doesn’t partake of contemporary technology and would have no way otherwise to hear it.

Created in 2016, by the Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Sam Fragoso, the show is “…a series of intimate, long-form conversations with filmmakers, musicians, activists, writers, and performers. It’s where people sound like people.” New episodes debut Sunday mornings.

Many participants such as Ms. Lebowitz, are noteworthy cultural figures. Major names to have appeared include Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, Alan Alda and Matthew McConaughey. Particularly revelatory about his career and personel life was Vincent D’Onofrio. In addition, Mr. Fragoso speaks to a diverse contingent of emerging talents.

Sam Fragoso

“How are you doing?” Fragoso has often asked guests during the pandemic. He has been so eloquent and philosophical while grappling with this crisis since March. If ever the adjective dulcet applied to someone’s voice, it does to his. His soulful tones are so appealing and entrancing. The breadth and scope of his knowledge which he articulates with flair is tremendous. That he is 26 years old distinguishes him as a prodigy. His youthfulness often infuses the program with a special dimension, such as when he conversed with 98-year-old Norman Lear.

Two quite special episodes were Fragoso separately interviewing his mother and father who divorced shortly after his birth. Hearing their odysseys from poverty to becoming a lawyer and a teacher respectively, were moving and uplifting. There was also the candid family dynamics between them all. Those are among the many stimulating pleasures to be had while listening to the impeccably produced and edited Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso. The program is accompanied by composer Dylan Peck’s glorious modern jazzy interludes, making it all spiritually and aurally enriching.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, blacklisted performer and Chicago institution, Studs Terkel (1912-2008), hosted an hourlong weekday radio show on station WFMT for 45 years, from 1952 to 1997. Created in 2014, The Studs Terkel Radio Archive has digitalized many of his 5000 interviews, continuing to do so. The vast majority of these haven’t been heard since their original airdate.

Mr. Terkel was a beloved American presence to many, so in the long ago days of national book tours when authors traveled around the country to chat with local talkshow hosts, everyone who passed through Chicago spoke to him. Whoever the guest was, Terkel obviously read their book or saw whatever they were promoting from his specific references to it. With his vaunted folksiness, he often launched into passionate and sincere exchanges on the state of the nation from his noble old-time liberal perspective.

Studs Terkel

For arts enthusiasts these conversations are endlessly enchanting. There’s the usually tough, guarded and pontificating Lillian Hellman relating a creepy story of killing a snapping turtle to make soup for her and Dashiell Hammett. Reviled for naming names during The Black List, Elia Kazan is warmly engaged for a discussion of his latest novel and of the arts. In two episodes, we’re reminded of what a vivacious raconteur the eccentric Robert Morley was. “Oh, Studs…” British detective novelist P.D. James cheerily intones during her several appearances over the years. In 1963, 22-year-old Bob Dylan reluctantly performed “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on air after Terkel pleaded with him to sing it. Dorothy Parker’s sparkling 1959 interview with Terkel is highly likely to be the only one recorded of her. Mike Nichols and Elaine May chatted about their careers in 1958.

Hearing Kenneth Tynan speaking about contemporary theater, is among the highlights of Terkel’s 1962 trip to England that yielded a number of scintillating episodes. Peter Hall, Joan Littlewood, Emlyn Williams, Michael Frayn and Jonathan Miller all were recorded. A comically strange bit is when after a minute or so, a confused John Gielgud nervously erupts, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and leaves! Terkel is flabbergasted but keeps talking. Famously interested in ordinary people, Terkel also talked to London cab drivers and construction workers. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive is truly a vault of riches.


Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (773 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for

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