The sixth installment of the L.A. Podcast Festival is titled “Truth & Lies,” a nod to the era of conflation of fact and fiction, comedy and horror, news and the other thing we are all currently mired in. The festival features stalwarts such as the consistently gory and good My Favorite Murder and other familiar alt-comedy and movie/pop culture discussion programs, but what makes this weekend different from years past is the inclusion of several leftist podcasts.
Socialist-skewing shows including the recently launched Left Coast, the revisionist history-centric The Dollop and pan-media annihilating Chapo Trap House all appear on this weekend’s program. They’re part of a broader, loosely connected blob of shows such as Delete Your Account, Street Fight Radio, The Katie Halper Show, The Discourse Collective and so on, all of which riff on politics, pop culture, media and history from various modern American leftist perspectives. (Leftist, meaning recently disenfranchised Democrats who moved left during and post Obama, anarchists, Marxists, communists, antifa — basically anyone who doesn’t identify with the duopoly and believes capitalism is fundamentally flawed.) And many of these podcasters organize in or support organizations such as Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).*
Two L.A. comedians, Sara June and Josh Androsky, started their podcast Left Coast earlier in 2017, feeling a mutual dearth in local news-reporting media mixed with the amplification of the full-blown capitalist hellscape we now live in.
“We're two comedians who were recently radicalized and wanted to do a show for people who realize they can no longer trust Democrats and market-based solutions but also don't know shit about fuck my main man,” Androsky explains, alluding to Karl Marx. Both Androsky (a co-chair) and June are involved with the Agit-Prop committee of DSA-LA, which is the propaganda/media wing and seeks to more broadly fight corporate-controlled media in an alarming era when Mark Zuckerberg decides who gets to receive what information.
“We started this podcast for people who don't like to think about politics,” June says, “but who also don't have a house or a job or health insurance, and are starting to realize that maybe those things are connected.” In hell times, many turn away from political anything in deference to more escapist fare, to which June can relate: “I get why people don't read the news. It's very depressing! But capitalism has irreparably fucked up our lives and it's affecting you whether you read the news or not.”
Left Coast features guests — many of them DSA members or reps from different, mostly militant groups around L.A. — and usually tackles a core subject in each episode. For the festival, they’re featuring Chapo members Amber Lee Frost and Matt Christman (hosts of the irregular but great Frost/Christman subseries) to discuss the history of the Walt Disney Company and its long legacy of “horrible labor practices.”
When I ask the two if they have any thoughts about the liberal-centric podcasts that are, in many ways, what they’re reacting to, specifically those on the Crooked Media network, which was founded by former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor, Androsky doesn't mince words. “The only thing worse than a smug, fratty elitist writing speeches justifying the murder of civilians in Libya is one who wants to also be a comedian.” June snaps back, “If any podcast can save America, it's gonna be ours.”
June and Androsky organize with Dave Anthony, another DSA-LA member and podcaster appearing this weekend to present his and Gareth Reynolds’ The Dollop (recently chosen as L.A. Weekly readers' favorite podcast) on the main stage Saturday night. Anthony has been writing for and acting on television for the better part of this century and seems very comfortable doing what he does. Podcasting — a medium that straddles radio and message-board shaggy-dog stories — seems perfect for Anthony and Reynolds, who mix in a healthy dose of humor, history and politics without getting too grating by going too far in any one direction.
Asked how he started telling stories through a more radicalized lens, Anthony replies, “I've always liked history and wanted to expose people to the history we don't learn in school. Mostly that's the story of those who were screwed over by the system. There are no history books from the point of laborers or slaves or the poor or those broken by the system. The reason for the podcast was to hopefully open people's minds to the idea this country isn't that great for a large group of people.”
After doing the podcast for a bit, Anthony realized he was trying to re-create and pay homage to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. “That book had a profound effect on me as a teenager and I never looked at the world the same way again. Sounds corny,” he admits, “but sometimes art comes out in ways you don't realize but it's what you need to be saying.”
So why now? “The surge of leftist podcasts is simply because podcasting is one of the few places where there are no gatekeepers. We've never had access to people like this before. It used to just be a guy on the street handing out The Worker newspapers,” Anthony says. “Now it's easy to find us, and to listen to what we have to say, and to realize it's not all that crazy. Those Democrats who do realize something is very wrong are seeking answers, and they are getting them in podcasts and some internet shows. We used to have magazines like Mother Jones when I was younger, but now you can find those voices online. Those radical Mother Jones writers from years ago would now be podcasters, while Mother Jones today has become a cesspool of mediocrity and a void of ideas and thought.”
This new leftist surge also is notable for being unafraid to call out bad politicians, bad media outlets and bad pundits. The politics of civility are DOA for this group, and older, more aristocratic codes of conduct have been completely eschewed. But it’s not just about critical destruction; it’s ultimately about building a better, more honest community.
Leftist podcasts feed leftist groups like DSA, Anthony argues, “which in turn feeds the podcast and they build and grow together. Turns out not having gatekeepers means radical ideas don't seem that radical anymore. Then they start to seem obvious. Then you have a movement.”
Chapo Trap House — one of the most influential leftist podcasts in the country — also has been contributing to this movement and will bring its Noid-loving cocktail of irony-poisoned stream-of-consciousness for its first show in L.A. on Friday night. One could probably expect a fair amount of roasting of L.A.’s flaws (we have many) or a dissection of pop culture mythology or something very L.A.-specific (it has been promising an episode of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, after all) or maybe Sebastian Gorka will join in the fun. Love ’em or leave ’em, they’re part of a wider push by independent media producers on the left who are literally dying because of corporate greed and a movement trying to reimagine a culture outside capital control. And, apparently, the revolution also will feature a lot of cum jokes.
Los Angeles Podcast Festival, Millennium Biltmore, 506 S. Grand Ave., downtown; Fri.-Sun., Oct. 6-8. lapodfest.com.
*The author of this piece is a DSA-LA affiliate who now spends most of his free time time screaming at the mayor.