The Heroic Sincerity of Womp It Up! and Listler's Love Lockdown
One of my favorite podcasts is Womp It Up! It’s a Comedy Bang Bang spin-off starring the wonderful Jessica St. Clair as sometimes Earwolf intern, perpetual high schooler and social misfit Marissa Wompler and St. Clair’s comedy partner Lennon Parham as Charlotte “Char Dog” Listler, her even stranger mentor and teacher, a former sniper with an exceedingly complicated and confusing backstory and personal life.
The typical episode of Womp It Up brings on a guest from the Los Angeles improvisational world to play a character from the high school where Marissa, who cannot seem to remember how old she is (she is not alone in that respect) seems doomed to matriculate for eternity, stuck forever in the hell that is high school. Some of these characters are also from the sprawling, kooky, open-door world of Comedy Bang Bang, like Andy Daly as Joe Bongo or Paul F. Tompkins as Mike the Janitor.
Womp It Up is consistently hilarious but I have become obsessed with a segment on the podcast that, with some notable exceptions, is not particularly funny. It’s not supposed to be funny. It’s a segment called “Listler’s Love Lockdown”, where listeners write in seeking romantic advice but also more general counsel on how to stay sane in a crazy-making world.
The people who write into “Listler’s Love Lockdown” often suffer from Depression and Anxiety and everything that goes along with them. They’re socially awkward. They have difficulty making friends. They worry that they will never be as confident or happy or successful as everyone around them seems to be.
In other words, they are typical podcast super-fans, a group that I have noticed is unusually self-conscious, unusually geeky and unusually prone to Anxiety and Depression. I of course do not write that solely because I am a podcast super fan who is unusually self-conscious, unusually geeky and unusually prone to Anxiety and Depression. Of course it is possible that I am, in fact, projecting but I think it’s more likely that podcast super-fans are my people, and I am one of them, and we understand each other well enough to maintain a comfortable distance, people and human interaction being scary and all.
Though Womp It Up! is a comedy show starring two fictional characters, the letters in “Listler’s Love Lockdown” are overwhelmingly serious and sincere. Sometimes they’re so intense and harrowing that it can be a little bracing. These suffering souls are crying out for help, for reassurance, for kind voices and kind words and in “Listler’s Love Lockdown” they find them as St. Clair and Parham somehow managed to just barely stay in character while delivering genuine, substantive and deeply empathetic advice to listeners who desperately need it.
You would imagine the tonal shift from goofy improvised comedy to straight-faced, genuine advice for people wrestling forthrightly with intense Depression, despair and doubt would be jarring. Yet Womp It Up holds together far better than it has any right to.
“Listler’s Love Lockdown” epitomizes the weird, squirmy intimacy of podcasting, that sometimes life-affirming, if perhaps delusional sense that your favorite podcasters are on some weird level also your friends even if you never meet or exchange words.
People are so hungry for connection, for community, for a reassuring voice to tell them that they’ll be alright and that everything can’t possibly be anywhere near as dire or apocalyptic as they’re convinced it is in their darkest, most despairing hours that they’re willing, even eager to receive that genuine human connection and reassurance from fictional characters who can barely manage their own lives.
Listeners feel so emotionally connected to these weird, weirdly irresistible fictional characters that they treat them like cherished confidantes instead of fictional strangers on the internet. There’s something beautiful and pure about that that speaks to the tender bond that can exist between podcaster and listener but, you know, it also probably wouldn’t hurt for these people to also seek out professional help as well. Man and woman cannot live by fictional podcast counsel and inspiration alone but it’s good to know that it’s there when, and if you ever need it. It sure seems like a whole lot of us do.
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