Errthang (via Showcase from Radiotopia) ★★★★★
The latest show to debut via Radiotopia’s experimental space, Showcase, is Al Letson’s (and Willie Evans Jr.’s) personal project, Errthang. Letson is well known in multiple spoken word platforms – he’s been on Def Comedy Jam, hosted the terrific State of the Re:Union podcast for six years, and has hosted Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Journalism and PRX, since 2014. Errthang is everything Letson wants to do: storytelling, poetry, music, fiction – it’s Letson’s personal variety show. And it is terrific.
Errthang is 100% enthusiasm and passion – and this is what podcasts should be. I am most drawn to podcasts where the hosts are deep into their topic of choice and who speak about it with love, force, and wonder. Errthang has made me listen to other podcasts more critically, and for me, someone who listens to dozens of podcasts a weekand and has been writing about them for years, that’s impressive. I now listen more for that passion, that confidence that hey, listener – you need to be on this sweet ride with us. We have a kick ass show.
The show’s first season came out sort of slowly back in 2015, but there were only six episodes and continuation seemed to be up in the air indefinitely. So I was shocked when I heard that it was coming back via Showcase from Radiotopia. Each Errthang episode in season two is between 30-50 minutes or so, and there’s nothing formulaic about it.
In episode 2, What the Hell is Wrong with Al? Letson discusses the incident he was involved in at a white supremacist rally where he shielded a protester from counter-protesters. He’s addressed this briefly on other shows, but there was something unfiltered hearing him talk about it with his friend. In episode 5, Letson asks a group of young men he used to mentor to perform a piece by Kiese Laymon about growing up as a black man in the South. The season (and tenure under the Showcase umbrella) ended earlier this week with a musical journey of the friendship between Evans Jr. and Letson.
Because it’s a variety show, every listener is probably not going to love everything. I thought the John Coffey fiction piece was too long (it stretched over two episodes) but I loved the creativity of it. I was talking with Daniel Leone from Podcast Meander recently about how experimental music albums face so much more criticism versus the artists being rewarded for taking risk; Leone’s show is a perfect example of a podcast taking a risk, and I think Errthang takes a lot of risks as well. It really pays off, almost because there are some episodes that don’t “do it” for me. I have immensely enjoyed 90% of Errthang, so I actually look forward to seeing what risks a show like this can take that will push me outside of my listening comfort zone.
It takes cojones to put out an experimental show and especially one that switches up the format every episode. Letson has the resume to do this podcast. It deftly co-mingles poetry, personal reflection, culture, and dope beats. It’s absolutely worth your time to listen.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (4 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Are you kidding? I will listen to everything Al Letson puts out, ever, for all time.
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Just fantastic. They take risks, they use music so intelligently, and the end product is a phenomenal sound.
Humor (5 / 5)
So Al is professionally crushing on Terry Gross. Nothing to see here.
Investigation (3 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
It’s not just the stories themselves, but the variety of stories and the passion with which they’re told. It gets very personal – I’ve learned a lot about Al’s life – and I love the intersection of what’s going on in the world (#MeToo is an example) and the individual reaction to those events.
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
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Scene on Radio, Rumble Strip, Reveal, Bronzeville, Snap Judgment, The Moth, State of the Re:Union