I’ve been away with this weekend for my granddad’s 90th birthday, so I haven’t had much of an opportunity for reading or writing anything (hence this post being a day late…whoops). I thought instead I’d talk in a little more detail about something I mentioned in my Some Good Things post. I stumbled across Hello from the Magic Tavern while searching for a new podcast once I’d caught up on Welcome to Night Vale. It has some of the same bizzare humour of Night Vale but with its own very individual charm.
The premise is simple: Arnie falls through a portal behind a Burger King and finds himself in Foon, a stereotypical High Fantasy world. He sets out to document the world he’s found by setting up his podcasting equipment in the local tavern and, with the help of two local co-hosts, he interviews a different fantasy trope character each week. There are a few podcasts of this type out there, but what sets Magic Tavern apart is the fact that the show is entirely improvised.
Because of this the characters are all wonderful, if a little weird. They’re all based on fantasy tropes but become something much more in the hands of the improv actors. Arnie’s co-hosts each week are Chunt, a shape-shifter currently in the form of a badger who changes form whenever he has sex with a different creature, and Usidore the Blue Wizard, who has hundreds of names and questionable magical ability. Some of my favourite guests have been Flower, a sentient flower with a serious attitude problem, Baron Ragoon, the very polite but clearly evil Steward of the Shrike Valley, and the Great Eagles who constantly have to rescue Usidore the Wizard (*cough*Tolkein*cough*). Arnie plays an affable everyman to these crazy characters, asking the important questions, usually involving the sex lives of the guests.
Despite the playful and slightly slapdash nature of the show Magic Tavern has actually managed to create an extensive and detailed fantasy world. I’m always hugely impressed by how much the actors remember from previous episodes, and I do wonder if they make notes on every throwaway comment and have crib notes in front of them. It’s great fun when two world-rules contradict each other and the actors fight to enforce them both in the most convoluted ways possible. The world of Foon draws from both fantasy tropes and the real world, and I really love is the actors’ habits of taking very familiar Earth things (often because they slipped up) and making something quite literally magical out of them. Probably my favourite one of these is Offices & Bosses, Foon’s version of Dungeons & Dragons where you navigate office politics and fight the terrifying Photocopier. They take these things and run with them – there’s even a separate Offices & Bosses podcast episode – and it actually creates a world that, while it can’t quite be called realistic, is definitely rich in detail.
However, the real triumph of the show is the camaraderie between the actors. The three main characters (Arnie Niekamp as himself, Adal Rifai as Chunt and Matt Young as Usidore) have great chemistry and riff off each other well with quick wit and a healthy dose of deprecating humour. This attitude extends to the guests too; it probably helps that most guests are part of Chicago’s extensive improv scene and likely know and have worked with each other before. The result is a beautiful mess of pop culture references, stupid catchphrases, attempts to make the others corpse and forcing each other to make up songs and limericks on the spot. It’s a delight to listen to and is really what makes Hello from the Magic Tavern worth checking out.
So if you like fantasy or improv comedy or even just podcasts then I would highly recommend Hello from the Magic Tavern. You can find all the episodes on their website or on any podcast-streaming site. It’ll definitely brighten up your day to hear the jingle or another one of Chunt’s catchphrases. Go check it out!