It never really mattered. Aukerman and Scott are both fully capable of being hilarious on their own, but together they’re a magical double act, sometimes (jokingly) at each other’s throats, then a second later utterly in sync. It was fun to hear them talk about U2, but it was more thrilling just to hear them dive into their passions and obsessions, their busy work lives (which eventually made the podcast a sporadic affair), and whatever other tangents they wanted to pursue. Eventually, they ran out of U2 albums to talk about, and finished with the ultimate prize: an interview with the band itself in 2015. Since then, they’ve returned a couple times a year to check in on new material, but the feed has largely remained dormant. Until a week ago.
With little notice, Aukerman and Scott dropped a new episode of the now-retitled R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me?, covering the band’s first EP, Chronic Town. The banter is largely the same, as is the duo’s propensity for improvising surreal sketches (they love to perform non sequitur mini-podcasts with banal names like “I Love Films” in the middle of every episode). The music being discussed belongs to the same maxi-genre: album-oriented rock that was at its critical peak in the ’80s and its commercial peak in the ’90s, as the hosts were growing up, figuring out their tastes, but never quite evolving beyond the bands of their youth. In the case of U2, the pair’s fandom was about equal; this time, Scott seems to be the bigger R.E.M. fanatic, though Aukerman is no slouch when it comes to discussing the minutiae of every song on every album.
Why on earth is it all so funny? The repartee between Aukerman and Scott is special, but the subject matter is undeniably narrow. I have my fondness for both U2 and R.E.M.’s glory years, but am a little too young to have obsessed over them as a teenager. I’ve wondered at times why I love this podcast so much considering that I’ve sometimes never listened to the songs Scott and Aukerman discuss. Every year since U Talkin’ U2 to Me? aired, I’ve gone back and listened to its whole run again, just to soak in the camaraderie, to revisit the weirdest jokes, even to ponder some of U2’s lesser-known works. I anticipate doing the same once the R.E.M. run is over.
Aukerman, along with podcast luminaries like Marc Maron, Jimmy Pardo, Doug Benson, and Julie Klausner, helped invent the alt-comedy chit-chat podcast, which made the work of LA and New York stand-ups and improv comics widely accessible. Shows like Comedy Bang! Bang! are the baseline of what’s become an entire industry, and Aukerman founded the podcast network Earwolf that’s a huge pillar within it. In 2011, he started a limited podcast called Analyze Phish with the late comedian Harris Wittels in which they discussed the latter’s obsession with the band Phish. That show was also a cult sensation (and another favorite of mine), and it certainly laid the groundwork for R U Talkin’ R.E.M. Re: Me? (Scott even appeared on it as a guest).