The first time we listened to Tony Martin’s talkback radio parody podcast Sizzletown we didn’t know what to make of it. Having followed Martin’s career for about 30 years, his comic voice was very familiar to us…but this was different.
Since Get This (which ended more than 10 years ago now), Tony Martin’s comedy’s been mainly focused on nerd issues, ageing pop culture references and pisstakes of awful media pundits and right-wing commentators. It’s almost like since Get This he’s just carried on doing Get This at every available opportunity – TV appearances, radio and podcast guest spots, books, Logies voiceover work… Which is fine if you like Get This but maybe not so good if you’re more into, say, character comedy, or improvised comedy, or you just want Tony to stop banging on about On The Buses.
And that’s possibly what Sizzletown’s all about. It’s Martin trying something different to much of the comedy he’s done up until this point. Instead of focusing on the craft of writing, of getting the right words in the right order to make the funniest joke possible, he’s decided to take a more improvisational approach to creating comedy, a sort of Barry Humphries as Sandy Stone approach, letting the relentless, rambling stream-of-consciousness – and his occasional corpses – provide the laughs.
It’s an approach that’s appropriate in Sizzletown as talkback callers are mostly rambling nutbags to start with, and all Martin (who plays them) has to do is accentuate that in his (presumably) hours of improvising in a sound-proof booth somewhere.
Noel from Ashburton (episode 3), for example, who likes watching “quaintly-presented murder” programs on TV and has been studying auto-erotic asphyxiation through University of the Third Age, is pure Sandy Stone: “You’ve got to keep up with modern times, don’t you?”
As a break from the callers, there’s interaction between Martin (who also hosts the show, as himself) and his producer Matt Dower (also of Get This) about how the callers know to call at all – it’s a podcast. There’s also the riddle of why Matt only seems to be able to provide three sound effects each week (at least two of them extremely inappropriate).
But for the fans Martin’s more usual type of sketches, Sizzletown often ends with an interview with a Hollywood star and director who somehow agreed to appear. The best of these have been two appearances from the director of The French Connection William Friedkin (Martin again).
What’s great about these – and the rest of the show – is the way in which the mixture of scripted and improvised material is brought together through smart, quick edits that transform what could be a rambling mess into a pacy piece of comedy.
Many podcasts run with the idea of being free to do anything for as long as they like. Sizzletown does that too, but it’s wise enough to reign it in and not outstay its welcome.