Podcast review: Call Chelsea Peretti, episodes #3 & #5
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Call Chelsea Perretti is a weekly call-in podcast produced by the Feral Audio Podcast Cooperative. Each week, Peretti, a veteran stand-up comedian and former writer for The Sarah Silverman Program and Parks and Recreation, takes and makes calls and listens to voicemails while debuting a variety of songs, sound effects and other comedy bits.
Peretti’s take on the call-in format harks to both AM sports and political talk radio and the more experimental free-form DJ driven shows found on 1960s and early 1970s independent radio. Though the show is edited, she does appear to take calls without much prejudice while directing callers according to her whims. However, the show is not a straight recasting of call-in radio with some new focus standing in for sports or politics. Call Chelsea Peretti is more fundamental. It is simply about the humor wrought from a professional comedian’s improvisational interactions with people from all over the country. In this way, Peretti’s podcast is reminiscent of Tom Scharpling’s 3 hour podcasted radio show, The Best Show on WFMU where he wrings humor from callers both real and those staged with his comedy partner Jon Wurster.
Still, at their essence, most call-in shows operate under the premise that authentic interactions with real people make for interesting radio relying on the host to shape the tone and content of those interactions.
That is no less true for Call Chelsea Peretti. Peretti’s style is peripatetic as she constantly shifts topics employing a mean girl inflection that implies she is too busy to stay on the line even during the most interesting calls. However, her sarcastic attitude has a purpose. Perretti uses her quick wit and improv skills to make humor out of the most banal calls while mocking those daring to do their own hacky, ill-conceived comedy bits. It is a fine sieve straining out those callers to get to real interactions about everything from coffee and bad manners to bear attacks and the meaning of life.
And those unexpected interactions are what make the show both funny and poignant like talk radio at its most fascinating and profound. Two moments from the first five episodes reflect this potential and solidified my continued interest in the show.
In episode 3, “Raccoons, Donkeys, Soup,” Perretti cycles through callers with random questions and topics until she strikes oil. She asks the caller from rural Canada if he likes soup one of her go-to topics. While answering, the wail of a animal can be heard in the background. The caller reveals he has a miniature donkey to protect his pygmy goats from coyote attacks. The moment is so strange and surreal that you can’t help but be intrigued. Peretti pounces these asking the questions both she and the listeners want to know.
“Did you ever hurt a donkey’s feelings?” Turns out, yes, he did leading to a lot of donkey pouting.
“How does the donkey defend the pygmy goats?” They use their front hooves like sledgehammers. He calls them high performance animals.
“Could a donkey protect you from another human?” Yes, he can sense friend from foe.
I include the exchange at length to demonstrate the potential of the show to exemplify the best of talk radio–funny, informative, strange, and unpredictable.
The second moment comes from episode 5, “Grandfathers, Makeup, Bubonic Plague.” 1980s superstar singer and songwriter Richard Marx calls in and talks about his professional partnership with Luther Vandross and sings an improvised song about Moo Goo Gai Pan. Though Peretti and Marx are something between friend and acquaintance, the call still seems fresh and informative allowing the listener to understand Marx in a playful manner that otherwise seems unlikely on the modern media landscape. Both the oddness of his appearance and the conversational tenor of the call speak to the strength and potential of the podcast.
Being part of the Feral Audio Podcast Cooperative brings a professionalism to the sound of the show including Peretti’s use of a variety of sound drops and effects that are often so hamfistedly deployed that they must be a parody of morning radio disc jockey antics. This level of production also allows Peretti to create new effects and music based on her obsessions including her song about coffee called “Coffee Cranking Through My Sys.” The high level of production and Peretti’s singular take on call-in radio help her show standout in a world of largely male voices gabbing about pop culture.
Though sometimes disjointed and idiosyncratic to the point of annoyance, the show is often delightful, direct, hilarious, and intimate mixing the right amount of snarky cynicality with a dollop of wide-eyed belief in the humor and humanity of the everyday.