Comedy  |  Features

The Half Light: Uhh Yeah Dude

April 17, 2012  |  1:22pm

In 2006, two friends—Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Laroquette—began the first episode of a podcast called Uhh Yeah Dude with a heavy sigh and the words, “12:14 am, February 10th…10th? 11th. As of now. As of 14 minutes ago.”

Laroquette is the son of the famous actor who shares his name, and Romatelli is an actor (retired or erstwhile) who appeared in the movie Crossroads with Britney Spears. In the six years since that first night, they’ve released new installments on a weekly basis. The archive now totals 319 episodes, and the longevity has paid off; Uhh Yeah Dude has become one of the 10 most popular comedy podcasts in the world, and, by some measures, one of the 100 most popular in any category. They sell merchandise, perform sold-out shows, and make at least a little bit of money in a field where even marginal profit is a rare exception.

The format of their show, which typically lasts anywhere between 60 and 80 minutes, is simple: after a musical intro, one of the hosts introduces a segment by reading the first paragraph from a news item. Laroquette and Romatelli get a lot of their material from medical and psychological journals, but they also touch on pop culture, topical news, and random bits of minutiae that happen to pique their interest. “Mind pops,” Laroquette said in episode 317, in a typical example of the latter. “Mind pops—I’ve never heard this term before—they are the little thoughts, words, images, or songs that suddenly pop into your mind at unexpected times and are totally unrelated to your current activity.”

The two then discuss the item, exploring connections and diversions and mind pops of their own, until the subject is exhausted. At that point, in the rare specks of silence punctuating the pair’s great chemistry, the next topic will be introduced. They don’t bother forcing a segue or make it sound like anything but a complete shift in gears; instead, there’s a mutual understanding of when to move on, and it doesn’t take long before the listener adjusts with them.

The one prerequisite before you can reap the psychic benefits of Uhh Yeah Dude is that you have to join them on their wavelength. Laroquette is the more “normal” of the pair, given to comic rants and opinions grounded in reality. His talent is observational and emotional, while Romatelli is the savant, the one whose brain works in an odd and delightfully misfiring way. He can take a conversation from its straight and narrow track with a single associative reference that technically makes sense, but also skips several steps in the thought process. It’s surprising and hilarious, and while he maintains a flat effect for most of the show, his memory for details and his synaptic speed give the show its unpredictable edge. Take this example, also from episode 317:

Laroquette: April, the month of April, is Keep America Beautiful month.

Romatelli: Yes! Yes. I mean, we don’t need it. You’re not gonna tell us. That’s all we do. Keep America beautiful. This is America through the eyes of two American Americans, trying to just be beautiful. You know how we do that? How we make America beautiful? We start with ourselves. You know how I’m going to make America beautiful, baby? I’m going to be beautiful.

Laroquette: Starting with me.

Romatelli: Let’s start with this body. I look at myself in the mirror, I’m going to start with this body first. Let me start with this face first. Let’s get something beautiful going on here. And then Mother Nature, and Uncle Sam, and all the rest, the Statue of Liberty, it all falls into place. Everyone’s looking good. Everyone’s taking care of themselves, looking good.

Romatelli is able to build comedic concepts very quickly and with just the slightest inspiration (in this case, Keep America Beautiful = make myself beautiful, and America will follow), and the twists and turns of his brain are fascinating to follow. Which depths, for instance, did the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam arrive from? They refer to the original theme of America, which is obvious in hindsight, but the fact that Romatelli got back there, after his odd detour, proves that he’s in possession of all his comedic faculties. Even—especially—when it appears he’s lost.

In moments like these, Laroquette is rendered almost helpless with laughter. The opposite never happens, even though Laroquette is very funny himself; Romatelli always seems to be playing a character—one whose thoughts arrive at a careening speed with a built-in satirical quality—who may be faintly autistic. He never responds the way you’d expect, and he’s always bushwacking new paths with a well-timed tangential association. But one thing he almost never does is take the time to laugh. Once you accept him at his level, and realize that Laroquette is the perfect foil, it can be an immensely hysterical journey.

Despite their disparate approaches, what brings the two together is the old comedy element tenet called “yes-and.” I’ve described that philosophy before in this space, and it essentially means that in any comedic transaction, you must agree with the premise of your partner and add new information. Romatelli and Laroquette take that philosophy to the extreme, and their use of the technique is unconcealed, provided you know where to look. Sometimes they’ll repeat a line or a concept back and forth, like a Meisner acting exercise. This is the “yes” part of the yes-and equation, and they’ll keep it up until the “and” emerges. Since they’re so good, that transition never takes very long, and it never sounds anything but conversational. With ‘yes-and,’ the two are in constant connection through a commingling stream of thought. This is their chemistry, and it never fails to bolster the humor.

Podcasting, even with all the right comedic pieces in place, is a tricky skill to master. There’s a lot of freedom built in to the format, but most practitioners either don’t make use of it—they treat it too formally, like an FCC-governed radio show obliged to appeal to a very broad audience—or they let themselves get a little too free. Uhh Yeah Dude is a perfect mix of the anarchy that makes podcasts such an exciting alternative to the legions of cloying radio hosts, and the organization to keep the whole thing from collapsing in a chaotic heap. It’s an incredibly difficult balancing act, and the only way we know they’re pulling it off is that it sounds so damn easy and so damn funny.

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