Sunday, May 1, 2011

bTalk Signs Off

Originally Posted on July 30, 2009

Can a cultural phenomenon end? Would you call a comedy podcast from a gay subculture a cultural phenomenon to begin with?

Before bTalk recorded their first episode, there were a few podcasts based in the Bear community. The one gaining prominence at the time was the Bear Podcast. “The Nard,” a Filipino chaser based in Houston, hosted the podcast on such frequency to cover practically everything that was going on with clubs and individuals. Where bTalk broke with these podcasts was an emphasis on humor and putting mirrors on both the local Bear community and society-at-large. Sometimes, they dabbled in serious subjects as well as entertainment subjects that were of interest the hosts and the producer.

Where did bTalk come from? A group of friends that have been hanging out for a while decided to get together and talk about anything and everything using a hot technology: Podcasting. Soon after, Shannon, Jason, Kurt, Joel and Jeff recorded their shows from the Zinn13 Revolution Studios in Minneapolis.

Along the way, bTalk crafted a standard for other self-produced podcasts featuring ensemble hosts. One might compare the show to Howard Stern or Jamie Foxx’s radio programs, except for a few minor details with a smidgen of anarchy on the side. Yet, if you ask the guys, they would probably say it was nothing. If you produced about 200 episodes on a weekly basis with a loyal audience that cared about the hosts, it wouldn’t be just “nothing.”

Instead, it became a massive success. Listeners soon incoprorated the language bTalk used even when it referred to semi-obscure cultural references. The banter had a very Minnesotan flavor, dashed with some outside influences by the media, the entertainment business, sci-fi, mainstream GLBT culture and sexual mores. Listeners often follow the travails of the hosts and producer(s) on other social networking sites and encounter them at events where either one or the entire crew might attend.

In light of their success, bTalk blasted open the door for other members of the Bear community to emulate their podcast formula. From Sydney, Bears in the City took the same ensemble form as bTalk for a mostly Australian audience. Bob “Bobaloo” Koenig, Los Angeles-based comedian and cast member of the current season of “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” joined forces with actor Buck Hakes to create their own podcast by going beyond Bear identity while still acknowledging it in context. Then, there’s Shelbyville, Indiana-based comedian and DJ William Brown as host of the boundary-pushing free-for-all “The Inappropriate Couch.” These podcasts are among several more that were directly influenced by bTalk. Some of them even consulted with Shannon on gaining knowledge on how to produce these shows.

On a certain level, bTalk has become a cultural phenomenon. The podcast got people inside the bear community talking about what the guys said the other night. It cultivated plenty of loyalty to the podcast from its core listeners.

However, the podcast has also been criticized for various reasons by others inside the Bear community. How many times have you heard the bTalk crew called “A-list Bears,” or even worse? Being a cultural phenomenon will always bring out the critics on occasion.

Whether you like the podcast or not, one must recognize the impact bTalk made through the past few years on Bear culture. It will be missed, but there are other podcasts to listen and subscribe to. The guys will continue to maintain an online presence through their website with various content by a team of bloggers. You may even see the guys out and about in The Cities and beyond.

And, don’t worry, I was told that the episodes will continue to be hosted on the iTunes Music Store.

This is not exactly a goodbye to the guys at bTalk. If you must, you can say au revoir since the podcast portion of their presence will end next Tuesday's final episode. With two hundred episodes in the can, they will be remembered for the impact they made on throwing the mirror on the Bear community and making us laugh at ourselves in the process.

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