Original comedy and drama pretty much disappeared from the airwaves here in the US as many of its popular programs and stars made the transition to television in the 1950’s. Over the years, as TV became less of a novelty, nostalgia, along with younger writers and performers becoming drawn to the concept of using words and sounds to created images in listeners’ heads, resulted in shows like The National Lampoon Radio Hour, NPR Radio dramatizations of the Star Wars films airing of popular BBC radio comedies like the Goon Show, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and of course Garrison Keillor’s hugely successful Prairie Home Companion. The mid ’80s also saw the legendary radio comedy team Bob & Ray return to the airwaves for three highly popular public radio series.
Tightened budgets have pretty much killed the highly produced drama and comedy on National Public Radio, however those golden days of radio continue inspire writers and performers in the new media era. An excellent example of this is The Thrilling Adventure Hour. This show was conceived in writer Ben Blacker’s living room during a script reading for the comedy space western he co-wrote with Ben Acker called “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars.” The high quality of the performances during that reading inspired Acker and Blacker to create a stage performance patterned after the great old-time radio shows in which performers acted while reading from the script in front of a live audience.
That show, launched in 2005, became The Thrilling Adventure and Supernatural Suspense Hour, a monthly series of live shows held at the M Bar in Hollywood. It later moved to Largo at the Coronet, and the name was shortened to The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Acker and Blacker began podcasting the show in 2011, billing the show as a “new style podcast in the style of old-time radio.”
Along with the performance style, the show’s various segments are also inspired by the radio shows of the ‘30s and ‘40s, including a Flash Gordon parody “Captain Laserbeam,” Nazi fighter “Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer” and “Beyond Belief,” featuring the mystery solving mediums Frank and Sadie Doyle (played by Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster). The live show features several of these segments along with advertisements from fictional sponsors like Workjuice Coffee. The show’s regular cast, the Workjuice Players, includes along with Tompkins and Brewster, Craig Cackowski (Arrested Development, Workaholics), Busy Philipps (Freaks and Geeks, ER, Cougar Town) and John DiMaggio (the voice of Futurama’s Bender). The list of guest stars is equally as impressive. Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle), Patton Oswalt and Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, Raising Hope) are among the film and television actors that have appeared on the show.
Each of these segments, which run approximately 30 minutes, are featured on their own in the podcast version of the show. Acker and Blacker’s scripts aptly capture the spirit of, and at the same time splendidly parodies, those oldtime radio shows. The actors get into the fun with some comically scene chewing performances, too. Nathan Fillion displays some fine comedic chops in the role of Cactoid Jim, King of the Martian Frontier in the latest podcast “Mayor’s Retreat.” The most recent “Beyond Belief” is one of the best, with Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster turning in some especially amusing performance as they played against the hysterically fickle feline cat goddess, Bast, played by Jamie Denbo. These performances are accentuated nicely by some great music from the Andy Paley Orchestra.
Acker, Blacker and the Workjuice Players have lately been joining forces with the creators of Superego, Matt Gourley and Mark McConville for War of Two Worlds, a partially written/partially improvised sci-fi comedy that shows the same high-level editing and post-production skills Gourley displays with Superego. Not only that, but also the current episode sees the return of Paul F. Tompkins as Cake Boss!
Tuning in might not be an option, but I’d definitely suggest setting your iTunes or RSS feed to this weekly dose of old-time fun.