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Podcast / Dead Authors

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Your humble host, though he doesn't know why he's humble.

" I not only wrote The Time Machine, I have a time machine. I didn't build it, that would be absurd. I found it."
— H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells (Paul F. Tompkins) uses his time machine to take illustrious deceased authors to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for interviews. Hours of longform improv ensue with such performers as Kristen Schaal, Andy Daly, and John Hodgman. For four years it ran to promote 826LA, a nonprofit organization devoted to teaching writing skills to students age 6-18. Tompkins ended it on August 18, 2015 for reasons of time and money.

    Episode List 

Not to be confused with Death of the Author.


The episodes contain examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Invoked slyly by Paul. As Iceberg Slim is describing his foray into pimping as a means of coping with a bad breakup:
    H.G. Wells: Did you, at the time, feel that you had become... undateable?
    (Ron breaks character and begins giggling in delight)
    • Can be seen again in the Rod Serling episode, when the two begin discussing the ideal choice to play Mr. Serling in a big-screen biopic:
    H.G.: Do you know who I think might do a cracking job? There's this fellow out of The Big Bang Theory-
    Serling: Blank. Don't know what you're talking about.
    H.G.: Well, he's good at playing weirdos, and I wonder if we could get him to smoke, if he might do a half-decent job.
    Serling: Guy with a recurring on a show is gonna headline a feature? Do you even know how show business works?
  • Bad Liar: L. Ron Hubbard cheerfully whipsaws between honesty, denial, and outright nonsense at every opportunity, stating his philosophy is that "the truth" is whatever you happen to think it is at the moment (or whatever he tells you). Most of Part 1 is just him listing his many bizarre, contradictory accomplishments.
    Wells: You reportedly said to this science-fiction convention, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start his own religion." [...] You did say it?
    Hubbard: Oh, I said stuff like that a buncha times, yeah!
    Wells: But you've also denied saying things like that, certainly...
    Hubbard: I never said that! I never said that, why would I say it?! I did say it. (Beat) I NEVER said that.
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  • Brown Note: "Excalibur", by L.Ron Hubbard, would have driven anyone who read it insane... if he had remembered to write it.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance / Fair for Its Day: In-universe. Though Wells' guests are, by and large, an educated and talented (or at least prolific) group, they still fall victim to the biases and hang-ups of their eras, and the show doesn't shy away from it. Exaggerated with H.P. Lovecraft, a paranoid, neurotic, fervently racist man whose white-supremacist views were wildly offensive even by the standards of 1920's science fiction.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ayn Rand does not care about the plight of Native Americans, preaches a callous philosophy and is a homophobe. She's still opposed to laws which deny homosexuals the right to marry.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Often for Rule of Funny purposes, authors will know about things that they reasonably shouldn't such as pop culture from after they died and or the time machine happens to have something they need to have seen or read for a joke. Attention will be called to it.
    Ayn Rand: I read a book on modern architecture you had in the time machine.
    H.G. Wells: There's a bit of luck.
  • Old Shame: Invoked; to show them as Warts and All, any author's crimes or prejudices will come up and usually be discussed at length. Subverted often, since pretty much only Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl are actually ashamed of these things (or in Dahl's case, performer Ben Schwartz is ashamed to have been a fan when he learns of the author's anti-semitism).
  • Only Sane Man: H. G. Wells is almost always the straight man as the other performers play their author as a Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • Pandering to the Base: In-universe, Anne Frank is reluctant to read the famous "people are basically good at heart" passage of her diary, claiming she only wrote it because she knew it was something her audience would want to read. Considering her living conditions and attitude towards some of the people she lived with, it's possible and understandable she did not sincerely feel like writing that. It's also asserted in the interview that Frank supposedly started writing the diary because she'd heard there would likely be interest in these sorts of memoirs after the war, so the whole diary was probably Money, Dear Boy.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: L. Ron Hubbard talks with a boyish enthusiasm and a lot of charisma about all the dishonest and downright evil things he did.
  • Scary Black Man: Parodied. Iceberg Slim, just like his counterpart, is a violent pimp who brutalizes everyone in his employ, but still has the sweet, friendly nature and optimism of Ron Funches; as a result, he brings up "the ins-and-outs of beating women" with the same warmth as discussing making puppets in solitary confinement or following dogs on Instagram.
  • Sex Bot: During bad times, Iceberg Slim tried to get johns to pay to have sex with a computer after he put a skirt on it.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: Andy Daly knows A LOT about L. Ron Hubbard. Thomas Lennon also had studied William Faulkner at college.
  • Shrinking Violet: Parodied with Emily Dickinson; despite being a lovely, polite woman, years of shyness, isolation and drudgery have driven her slightly mad, to where she's begun poisoning her sister over a non-existent "rivalry" she believes they've always had.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Jules Verne is deeply, passionately hated by H. G. Wells and it comes up often. It's just because Verne is also credited with pioneering modern science fiction and doesn't write the sorts of stories Wells thinks of as science fiction. Ayn Rand uses the info to needle him, Rod Serling indulges him.
  • Take That!: Pervasive, particularly at L. Ron Hubbard, Ian Fleming, and Ayn Rand. Done for comic effect against Jules Verne.
  • Win Back the Crowd: In-universe, Dr. Seuss is called on his racist statements about Japanese-Americans. He takes his beloved book How The Grinch Stole Christmas, applies the moral to his own case, and gets applause. Wells is amused / annoyed by how that gets a bigger reaction from the crowd than condemning Nazis.