Weird Science

Can an Intelligent Person Like Phish?

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Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 4:00 AM
click to enlarge Scott Aukerman - MAARTEN DE BOER
  • Maarten de Boer
  • Scott Aukerman

Comedian Harris Wittels is witty and thoughtful; his writing for NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation hinges on his subtle sensibilities. He's also a huge fan of Phish, a band with which those characteristics are not usually associated.

Having attended some 70 Phish shows over the years, he counts himself among the most devoted fans of the Vermont-based jam band. His friend Scott Aukerman -- host of popular podcast Comedy Bang Bang -- finds this perplexing, and not just because Wittels doesn't have dreadlocks.

"I can't believe that a college-educated man with a respectable job likes them so much that he follows them around," Aukerman says. "Typical Phish fans are some of the most annoying people in the world."

Wittels saw Aukerman's antipathy as a challenge; after all, Aukerman hadn't really heard all that much of the band's music. So in August the pair started a spinoff podcast called Analyze Phish, which consists of Wittels playing the group's music for Aukerman and trying to convince him of its merits.

click to enlarge Harris Wittels - PATRICK GOOKIN
  • Patrick Gookin
  • Harris Wittels

From the start, Aukerman was skeptical about the experiment, and after the first three episodes -- filled with deep cuts, cover tracks, live recordings and much pleading -- he remained unconvinced. Though occasionally impressed by a riff or a solo, he found the lyrics particularly awful.

Scores of Phish fans tuned in (downloads surged into the six figures) and they questioned Wittels' methods. To truly understand Phish, they insisted, you must see them live. And take drugs.

Aukerman, who is tall and sinewy with a wispy beard, was game. Though the married 41-year-old, who lives in Toluca Lake, is not a recreational drug-taker, he agreed to the full experience at one of Phish's Madison Square Garden shows just before the new year.

Using his only week of vacation, he and his wife traveled to New York, though she declined to attend the concert and, in fact, begged Aukerman not to participate.

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