12:14 am, February 11th 2006 is when Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Laroquette sat down to record Episode 1 of Uhh Yeah Dude, their comedy podcast now celebrating its first decade. Podcasts were a relatively new medium, and the Oxford English Dictionary had just made ‘podcast’ their word of the year in 2005 – in the US, at least, the UK one was ‘sudoku’, so go figure.
Uhh Yeah Dude is a permanent fixture in my podcast rota and, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan. On more than one occasion I’ve had to pull my bike over while listening to it because I’ve laughed so hard that I cried and couldn’t see. In the weird way that podcasts lend themselves to the impression of intimacy, Jonathan and Seth feel like great friends I’ve never met, so the hour I spend with them every week is something I look forward to.
The two met around “the turn of the century”, as Seth calls it. Seth worked in a video shop in Hollywood that Jonathan and his then-wife went to. Seth was working as an actor – including a scene in Britney Spears’ 2002 vehicle Crossroads – and had friends in common with Jonathan’s wife, a casting director, and the guys quickly hit it off.
Jonathan mentions Adam Curry and Ricky Gervais’s podcasts with the Guardian as inspirations to choose that medium, but that the two of them had been planning some sort of show for a long time. “I wanted to do something with him that would allow him to maybe make me laugh the way that he did in our day-to-day lives, but that other people could share in that experience,” says Jonathan. “The format’s always been simple, and pretty much the same from right out the gate,” says Jonathan, “but it set into motion for us something that’s probably changed my life more than anything else I’ve ever done. And I would think the same for Seth…”
“It’s all I got,” says Seth.
Uhh Yeah Dude looks strange on paper. Firstly, all the episodes, from pretty early on, start and with a full song – different ones each week of Jonathan’s choosing – so listeners stumbling on it might lose patience. It’s not edited and they don’t write jokes, so we get an hour of unfiltered conversation between two naturally very funny guys. Mostly it’s revelling in the ridiculousness of modern Americana – even NFL players’ names like Bacarri Rambo, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Barkevious Mingo. Exploring the casual encounters and men-seeking-men sections from Craigslist earned them early success, discussing the motivations behind frat boys looking for a “mutual J-O partner, no homo, no gay shit”.
Part of the attraction is the difference in their characters. Jonathan could come across as a central-casting stoner – long hair, beard, tattoos – but displays an alert mind and deep insights. Although he seems to have been something of a party boy, and has the anecdotes to show for it, he mostly plays the straight man of the two. Seth on the other hand is a high-energy obsessive, looks like a clean-cut cowboy, and stands throughout their recordings while Jonathan sits. Seth both loves modernity and shuns it. He consumes vast amounts of media, but refuses to have a mobile phone or an email address – although you can leave them a free voicemail on 888-842-2357 if you’re in the US.
Longevity and tradition are hallmarks of the show. Every week they’ve recorded in Seth’s apartment in Hollywood, as much as possible on Thursdays. Two friends talking for an hour about the weird and wonderful in American life shouldn’t have the staying power to last ten years, but somehow it does. So what’s changed?
“It’s exactly the same I think,” says Jonathan, “that’s our whole angle at this point because we are so bad at adapting and changing that now we’ve not changed for so long that it’s like a thing, a schtick. So now that’s our only hope.”
“We’re better,” interjects Seth “we’re stronger!” But it seems like they have grown. An early, unaired episode found when looking to fill schedule gaps when they were touring was too embarrassing to publish. Jonathan likens it to revisiting Facebook posts from three years ago where “you’ll be so humiliated by the schmucky shit you said back then that you thought you were completely justified in saying”.
A big change is that they recently managed to make the show their full-time jobs. Early attempts to support the show with advertising never felt right, so for ages the production costs were offset by a “silent patron”. As their listenership grew larger and more dedicated, the decision to resist advertising became a moral one (save for Seth’s hopes that Chevrolet would send him a free Silverado to replace his 1993 Plymouth Sundance.) Uhh Yeah Dude’s devout audience now supports the show with set monthly donations to the tune of $10,000 through Patreon – a cross between a subscription and a Kickstarter.
“We had to ask our fans, our most devout listeners, to help us keep the show free for anyone who wants to hear it but doesn’t feel like paying for it” says Jonathan. He seems both shocked and touched by the level of support they’ve gotten. “We asked for these people to come out of the woodwork and stand and be counted as supporters of this thing. And they did.” They were at a point where the show could no longer be a financial drain. “Spiritually and philosophically it’s been liberating since day one, and that’s only grown,” says Jonathan. “But at a certain point, we’re staring at 40, and in our forties what the fuck is going on here? It’s cute, maybe in your thirties, doing some rogue shit like that, but then at some point this is going to get sad here in a minute or something…”
Seth worked in a medical marijuana dispensary for 8 years, and seems delighted to be out. “The show took up all of my time,” he tells me, “but now it really takes up all of my time.” Jonathan worked – and still does – in a music shop, got some small TV gigs and commercials, and worked in a “foufi, bougie, high-end dog store,” he tells me, “it would sell organic dog food and little pink skirts for Chihuahuas and shit like that. I pushed a bit of weight, only in the most needs-must situations, and robbed Seth’s store a couple of times, he helped me.”
Seth does almost the entire preparation for each show. Early on, Jonathan tried to research some topics too, but it became apparent that Seth was much better at it. Jonathan’s role is more to process and respond in a natural and unprepared way. “We don’t sit and talk about it, philosophically, on purpose. We stumbled across something that we enjoyed doing, and definitely thought was funny pretty early on,” Jonathan says.
Seth’s commitment to trawling for content is immense. “It’s basically spending all the time on the internet, all the time watching TV, all the time reading newspapers and all the time reading magazines. And if you do that all the time all the time, it allows us to do ten years of, hopefully, funny podcasts,” he says. “It’s very difficult to be funny every week, and that’s just what we’re trying to do. If we thought about it any more than that… I have no fucking idea. I just know what I like, and I like Uhh Yeah Dude.”
“We’ll do an episode right now,” says Seth, meaning after our call, “and we’ll turn the microphones on and we have a bunch of different things laid out, covering the week at random. But once you read an index card it’s pretty much the two of us looking at each other and being like: here we go! It’s just trusting in each other. And then doing every week for ten years.”
“At the beginning Seth and I would save ourselves for the show, and we did get excited to tell each other new stuff,” says Jonathan, “now that’s become a little bit more second-nature. I certainly call him all the time just to mention, like, ‘Oh, I walked by [YouTube sensation] Tay Zonday on York Boulevard yesterday and bitched out at taking a picture with him and I totally put my eyes on the fucking floor…’”
They’ve had plenty of live shows in recent years. “It’s hard enough to do in the living room,” says Seth, “but imagine getting up on a stage, in front of several hundred strangers, and I’ll be handing him a card that he’s never seen before – alright now, be funny!” “It is an unnerving process,” says Jonathan, but the live shows are usually a converted audience already, “They’ve really come to support and say ‘hi’ to us, more than anything, it feels like.” They’re definitely open to the idea of an Irish show, as part of an eventual European tour, but probably not for a couple of years.
The listenership is committed, maybe making the show seem more impenetrable than it is. “After ten years, you know who we are individually and who we are together, and that’s an attachment that you have with people,” says Seth. “Then cumulatively it starts to take on a life of its own, because it has a language of its own, and a psychology of its own, and a tone of its own. Now we’re ten years in and we feel like now we got something going here.”
“Listening to us week after week, for years and years, not every show is a total gem, and hopefully not every show is a total doozy either,” says Jonathan. “That’s just purely the hard work and research that Seth puts in, and the sort of tragically unique life that I lead.”
They see each other outside the show now more than they used to, but it’s clear their relationship is special. “I don’t want the impression to be that we do a show together and that we’re not super-close, true ride-or-die homies,” Seth tells me. “For the whole ten years we’ve done the show I’ve worked 40 hours a week, I didn’t see anyone else. But also, when we see each other, we’re together for like nine hours out of the goddamn day – enough is enough! Can you imagine hanging out with someone for six hours once a week for ten years? What do you want from us?”
“I don’t think that’s an unhealthy amount of time to spend with a dear friend,” says Jonathan. “It’s consistent quality time, it’s productive time and it’s something that elevates both of our lives. We’re thick as thieves, don’t get it twisted.”
In all that time, their only row with each other was actually on the show. “There’s a famous episode – I wish it actually wasn’t so famous – but they call it ‘the fight episode’,” says Jonathan. “We’re pretty sure that part of the argument was due to a gas leak that was happening in the house at the time. But it was about adoption versus having your own kid, but I got very upset at one point, I do remember, and I threatened to end the show right then and there.” “I don’t remember,” says Seth, “and I’ve never listened to it. People call the voicemail and say it scares them.” Listeners have said it felt like hearing their parents fight when they were kids.
Seth used to keep a list when he first moved to Hollywood of celebrities he spotted, and clocked up hundreds just in the first months. As someone who himself loves to authentically tell people how much he loves their work, he understands what a big deal that is. To be on the receiving end of that, for him, is extremely touching. “It’s the greatest thing in the world,” says Seth flatly. “It’s maybe the greatest thing in the world, I hate to say it,” echoes Jonathan.
There’s been a recent trend of fans turning up at Jonathan’s music shop, and bee-lining for the door if he’s not there. Although Jonathan points out that anyone who approaches them is probably a fan, and they don’t get the same random, low-level abuse that bigger celebrities do. “They’re either gonna shoot us dead cold on the spot, or they’re down with the show. One or the other.”
They’ve always been easy to contact, as Jonathan used to give out his mobile number on the show and people found Seth in the phonebook and called his house – “please don’t call his house” – and the feedback is what kept them going through the early days. “Somebody’s listening. Not just our moms.”
Although the show is ostensibly pop-culture and media focused, they do stray into the political – a favourite subtitle being ‘two American Americans saving America from herself’. “We’re trying to build things up, not tear them down,” says Seth. As far as America as a country, and where it’s going, Jonathan says “I try not to think about it too much.”
“It’s America through the eyes of two American Americans,” says Seth, “and we’ve certainly stayed within these borders, and there’s no question that we’re celebrating. Every single thing for the whole ten years is about America. Holy shit this place is the best, the worst, it’s got everything.”
“There’s no other show in town,” says Jonathan, “there’s a crazy global experiment transpiring, especially right now, and the eyes are on us.” “C’mon, it’s America,” Seth butts in, “we have a black president. And, like, football, and hip-hop. Kanye, football and Obama.”
But they’re hesitant to get explicitly political in their work, citing those who they see as smarter people at that table – Colbert, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher. “We try and process the day-to-day experience of living in this country, and how inundated we get with everything – be it products, entertainment, people’s rhetoric – all those things,” says Jonathan. “You extract what you need from it and discard the rest, because if you don’t you end up becoming an insane person. And we have an inordinate amount of examples of that in this country, people who have access to everything, and as a result have maybe become a little bit overwhelmed with what it all means.”
Jonathan describes the show almost like a form of mass therapy for dealing with the insanity of American life, presenting things like “we’re about to tell you something insane, and if this happened to you in your real life you might jump off a building. But we’re just going to tell you this story, and we’ll all try get through it as best we can. And obviously one of the best ways to get through that stuff is, hopefully, laughter.” It is the best medicine for dealing with modern life, he thinks, “although sometimes administered a little too quickly, certainly in my case.”
“We’re trying to make some sense of the stuff, get over our anxiety and our panic, about how quickly it is all changing and how we’re changing,” Jonathan explains, “and then hopefully have a laugh about it, and that will get you through until next week.”
So what started as a round-up of that week’s oddities has taken on a life of its own, and is now maybe halfway between a cult and a public service. From the first year, they’ve always had a one-word sign-off that seemed to recognise the danger inherent in modern America, and served as both encouragement and warning:
You can help the guys out by subscribing and writing a review on iTunes, contributing to their Patreon (www.patreon.com/UHHYEAHDUDE) or just by telling a friend about the show.
LAUGH ‘TIL YOU CRY:
Uhh Yeah Dude survived its first ten years thanks, largely, to listeners getting in touch to say how much they love the show, or to contribute something. In Episode 415 (at 6:40) Seth reads out a list of Battlefield 4 online usernames a listener left on their voicemail, including gems such as ursist3rswallows, mexicanh8r, RobFord420 and megaLongDong420-69. In Episode 297 (at 35:49), and again in Episode 442 (at 39:27), Jonathan and Seth got a sack of postcards from an English class in Korea that a listener teaches, commenting on Seth’s car – “Seth, I saw your car. It was a wonderful car. Blue body. Brown roof. Correct? It is a car of sincerity. How to know your car” – or explaining Korean culture – “Korea is not own the gun. You should not know something. You should use two hands to older people. You should not have a gun.”
Seth doesn’t dip into Craigslist any more, he tells me, because it now seems to be full of fake posts hoping to go viral. But in its heyday, Craigslist’s Casual Encounters section provided a revealing insight into Americans’ secret desires, and plenty of fodder for Jonathan and Seth. Check out Episode 122 (at 33:16) where they discuss married men seeking other men, with charming posts like “I hate my wife. She doesn’t even have a dick” and “Married guy, had vasectomy when I was separated from my wife. Now she wants to have kids, I don’t. Need help with sperm sample for our doctor’s visit.” Search for ‘Casual Encounters’ in the Uhh Yeah Dude Archive, or check out their ‘Craigslist’ tag to find tons more.
Hollywood days, Hollywood nights:
Apart from dissecting the oddities of American pop culture that Seth digs up every week, he and Jonathan also have plenty of stories from their tragi-comic daily lives. In Episode 450 (at 13:00) Seth tells the story of how he “flipped a bitch” and pulled a U-turn on Melrose Avenue at rush hour because he saw Beyoncé in a flower shop. Her security detail didn’t appreciate it, taking him for either a potential attacker or paparazzi. And Episode 453 (at 32:35) has Jonathan’s harrowingly hilarious account of his inept disposal of a poisoned, but still live, rat that his dog found on the lawn.
Words: John Hyland
Illustrations: Rachel Sender