Tonight, in Los Angeles, the New Zealand podcast phenomenon The Worst Idea Of All Time comes to a close. Tom Augustine pays tribute to the show that took a terrible idea and transformed it into art.
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. – Camus
You forget that films are supposed to have a point. – Tim ‘Spindly Timbly Wimbly’ Batt
I’m having a WONDERFUL time. – Jon Lovitz, Grown Ups 2
Sisyphean: a term derived from the myth of Sisyphus, the man doomed to push a boulder up a hill every day for the rest of his life, only for the boulder to roll back down the hill at the end of the day. It means a task that cannot be completed, and anyone who has been stuck in the daily grind of traffic, work or social media can at least partially understand the guy’s plight. But few can relate like comedians Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery, the hosts of a strange and fascinating podcast called The Worst of Idea Of All Time, which ends its three season run today.
It’s a gloriously stupid and simple concept: Tim and Guy watch the same terrible film every week, for a year. The first year it was the shitty jewel in Adam Sandler’s crown, Grown Ups 2. The second year was the even more dire Sex and The City 2. In this their final season, the boys have been watching We Are Your Friends, the odd little semi-independent Zac Efron vehicle with one of the worst box-office runs in cinematic history. Throughout 52 weeks of arduous watches, the two discuss conspiracy theories, form entire backstories about background extras, and slowly lose their minds. There are no prizes for their achievement, no certificates or awards. Aside from the feverish cult following the two have gathered, there is very little to truly signify that their effort has had any meaning at all. And that is precisely why I argue that the series is one of the finest pieces of art ever to come out of New Zealand.
A little backstory. I found the podcast while on a year-long working trip across America (the country where, remarkably, Worst Idea has caught on most emphatically). Like many young graduates straight out of university, I was feeling adrift, not really sure where I was going or if any of it actually mattered. I’ve had my struggles with depression: I found that pushing my own boulder every day had started to become unbearable, tried to medicate in various different ways, and eventually settled on the idea that the best thing to do was to leave everything behind and chase… something… on the other side of the world. I had never left New Zealand, never really lived alone for a significant amount of time, had never been truly on my own in the way that I would be in the United States. It was around this time that I stumbled across The Worst Idea of All Time.
I ended up roaming from Texas, to California, to Seattle and Portland, to New York City, and finally back to Texas, working odd jobs along the way – and everywhere I went I took this mad podcast with me. Perpetual travel can be a tough way to live. Missing home comforts can be a real challenge. You make a lot of friends, you get into some incredibly strange situations, you find people flit into and out of your life seemingly at random. And hearing two Kiwi boys discuss the cataclysmic clash of a German sex-robot killing machine and a young boy with command of all the world’s rats (the infamous Dickbot v Brady the Rat-King scenario – long story) can be an enormous comfort.
Like hearing ‘Slice of Heaven’ or eating your weight in Pineapple Lumps, there is something truly Kiwi about both The Worst Idea of All Time as a whole and the idiosyncratic, off-kilter humour that lies within. That it has caught on so rapturously with a certain subset of international audiences despite the use of pretty heavy Kiwi jargon is a testament to its addictive, nonsensical joys. There is something therapeutic about the Worst Idea. Listen to any Friendzone (the mini-episodes in which the boys read their mail) and you’ll hear countless letters and messages thanking them for helping listeners through hard times. I know they helped me.
If you’re new to the podcast, it’ll likely strike you as a bit of a mess. Guy and Tim often find themselves wandering down philosophical cul-de-sacs mid-recap, or forget what they’re discussing, or misquote, misrepresent or completely fuck up ideas and themes that come up. There are regular segments in every episode (including ‘What’s he doing, where’s he off to?’ which focuses on the adventures of a man drinking coffee in the background of a scene in SATC2, or ‘The Steve Buscemi Mystery Tour’ which… look, it’s too complicated to explain), but sometimes they simply forget to cover them, or change the rules. It is by turns surreal, enlightening, maddening, moving and always utterly hilarious.
That the podcast exists at all is beautiful serendipity, or perhaps just what happens when creative minds are bored. The two met while Guy was the host of ULate on the late, lamented TVNZ U channel. Tim would appear in a regular segment called ‘The Loo Review’, in which his probably homeless, possibly mentally ill character would review the public toilets around Auckland as his own personal life became increasingly dire. That irreverent, only-in-NZ kind of humour came with them when they moved into podcasting.
That they have somehow lasted three seasons without murdering each other or losing their minds is something of a miracle. What is never in doubt is the strength of their friendship throughout the show – in spite of little spats that arise from time to time, giving birth to perhaps the show’s greatest, most immortal line, “You’re a real piece of shit Guy Montgomery.”
I met Guy and Tim in May this year, at their final live New Zealand show – an odd experience, since I felt like I’d already known them both a long time. Such is the intimate power of podcasts. It quickly became apparent that the rapport the two share on-mic is just as formidably funny in person, though they seemed less forthcoming when it came to discussing any actual impact the podcast has had. To the two, it’s just a way to hang out, do something kinda stupid and hopefully make some people laugh in the process.
At the same time, as they begin to farewell the show that has been with them through various jobs, houses and relationships, it is hard not to get a bit reflective, and this final season has been unusual for its unexpected moments of poignancy, as in the recent episode ‘Guy-tmare’. It’s clear the two of them have very different relationships with both the films they cover and the podcast itself. Tim is the organisational force behind the show, while Guy brings a uniquely thorny energy to the show. When we spoke, Guy mentioned a conversation he’d had with comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who will go down in Worst Idea lore for his legendary season two appearance. Paul warned them that the best things don’t last forever, and to know when to walk away. This piece of advice seems to have been a driving force behind leaving the podcast as a trilogy (with a promise that another season will only happen if Sex and the City 3 or Grown Ups 3 gets made – god forbid).
Meanwhile the podcast is going out on one hell of a high. Guy and Tim often remark that this season’s subject, We Are Your Friends, is not as easily mined for comedic potential as other larger-budget cinematic nightmares. And yet in the final run of episodes they’ve used this limitation as a way to reflect on the podcasting process itself, on the way they have grown as people, and occasionally bring back segments in joyous and surprising ways – including a return to Sex and the City 2 with My Brother My Brother And Me host Justin MacElroy and a remarkably in-depth detour into legitimate film criticism with Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. Like the best television series in their final seasons, the last few episodes bear a weight of finality to them, not least marked by Guy’s recent move from Auckland to New York.
And so, with the podcast coming to the end of its run, what to make of the impact it had on its fans – and on the New Zealand comedy landscape? I think ultimately it is this idea of the Sisyphean that allows The Worst Idea Of All Time to attain masterpiece status. Sisyphus’ constant struggle is an analogy for our own attempts to wring meaning from something – the metaphorical pushing of a boulder – only to find that the search itself has led to a feeling of emptiness – the boulder falling down on us again. And so on and so on until death. Pretty grim, right? It is easy to see The Worst Idea of All Time through the same prism. Our boys find themselves trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque litany of Sandlerisms, tone-deaf forty-something Manhattanites and sweaty EDM fuccbois. And at the end, it’s just… over. The sociological experiment comes to an end, the theories and characters and adventures fade away.
But that’s the thing about The Worst Idea of All Time – it’s not nihilistic at all. In fact, it sometimes achieves a sort of silly spirituality in the way that it (very gently) alludes to the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of all things, often through jokes about Mr Big, or Intergalactic Gloryhole (the only all-Kinks ska-cover band) or what lies within a mysterious MacBook Pro box gifted to Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends. Rather than a grim, relentless slog (though it can be for Guy and Tim at times), the Worst Idea of All Time experience has been rarely anything short of joyous. The journey itself has been the reward, rather than the destination. Another way of looking at Sisyphus’ struggle is that he is, in fact, truly fortunate – he has been gifted with a purpose, no matter how rough and seemingly mundane that purpose is. I’d argue same can be said of two comedians in New Zealand watching crappy movies.
In times when I’ve been struggling, I’ve found comfort in the idea that all things must pass, that nothing lasts forever. I’ve also found comfort in The Worst Idea of All Time. Guy and Tim have their own, similarly new-agey mantra, lifted from the end credits song of Grown Ups 2 – “live every moment, love every da-a-ay, coz before you know it your precious time slips away”. It was significant enough to the podcast that the boys got the phrase tattooed on their bodies as a way of commemorating season one. As much as I am sad to see the show go, this too must pass, and I am goddamn thankful for the time I’ve spent living every moment and loving every day with The Worst Idea of All Time.