I remember being baffled when I saw Brendan O’Hare first get interviewed for his twitter presence in Paste Magazine in 2012. He and I were both Irish Catholic kids from suburban New Jersey named Brendan who had just started freshman year of college and who spent entirely too much time on twitter. However, where I was mostly using social media to annoy the people who lived in my dorm (infamously leading to the collapse of my intramural soccer team) he was building himself a damn brand and getting retweets out the wazoo. I felt like the kid in Gatacca who didn’t get the benefits of his parents spiking the gene pool only to find out that my funnier, thinner, more successful twin had been born just forty minutes west of my native Summit. (I know that if we were twin brothers we’d have the same last name not first name but you know what this is not the time!)
As I meandered through fifteen person bringer stand up shows and unsuccessfully navigated corporate America, Brendan O’Hare did indeed live the dreams he detailed the Paste article and has been able carve out a nice little comedy career for himself. He’s been published in the New Yorker, directed and wrote a sketch staring Paul Giamati, wrote for a few different tv shows, and now is partnering up with friend from home Cory Snearowski and friend from online Tim Heidecker for the vignette styled comedy podcast This is Branchburg. The episodes are generally fifteen to twenty minutes long and see Cory and Brendan voicing various characters from a fictional version of their native hometown as they go about their day. As best put in the podcast description, “The small town of Branchburg, New Jersey has many stories to tell, whether you’d like to hear them or not.” We get monologues from the Milkman, get news updates from the local radio anchor, and hear about the goings on at local establishments like the Stonemill Tavern and Shop Rite. O’Hare became famous for tweets that seem to be normal before quickly taking a left hand turn and This is Branchburg has a very similar energy. T.I.B. fills Branchburg with characters in absurd situations who seem to try to be dealing with them as normally as possible. While the Branchburg in T.I.B. is about as accurate as Kazakhstan was in Borat, Cory and Brendan do a great job of representing the zeitgeist that can take over a small insulated suburban town. My parents have been talking about how a ton of people around our hometown were getting mad at a series of signs at different establishments around town that promote how inclusive they are, because it implies that the other establishments aren’t inclusive by default. Now the whole town is in sign wars over whether you are un-inclusive to not put a sign up or if the whole putting up a sign process is exclusive in its own right. Or at least that was as best as I could make out the story my mom (an absolutely lovely lady) was telling me over the phone a couple days ago. Even if I flubbed the details there I am pretty sure I get the gist, and its still exactly the same kind of “getting all worked up about something even though you aren’t exactly sure what you are getting worked up about” energy that could lead a town to convince itself that the Olympic torch is about to roll thru, as Branchburg does in episode three. Cory and Brendan perfectly capture the mundanity of suburban life, that while is obviously a touch more absurd still feels like a relatively real New Jersey town.
Each episode follows both an individual close up of someone in town and a story chronicling greater events going on. The community building feels analogous to HBO’s High Maintnance. Much like how The Guy bikes around NYC dealing with the various characters that fill up his schedule for the day T.I.B. just wants to give you a quick look at what a slice of life in Branchburg is like, whether it be a fella stuck waiting at the deli all day because his number never got called or series of fights at the local watering hole that started after one guy asked another if he could take a sip of his beer before the guy ultimately took what witnesses called “too big a sip.” It is all given the weight of normal news being told on your local station but its packed with fifteen quips a minute, which left me listening to episodes two or three times each. The show also reflects High Maintnance in its incredibly relaxed tone, and as a result the two are among the most calming programs in their respective mediums. Both make you feel like you’re just stepping into a new neighborhood for a little while to meet some old friends and make some new ones. While there are conflicts in Branchburg theres no real tension to the podcast. You aren’t sure if things are going to get resolved, or if they even should get resolved, or if there even actually are things that need to get resolved, and it doesn’t really matter at all. The sun will still rise the next morning in Branchburg, though only the Lord knows what that morning light might bring.
Getting to dip into Branchburg to see what knuckleheads I get to pal around with has become a highlight of my week. It is wonderfully written, performed, and edited, all done in a way that really makes you feel like you are taking the NJ Transit down to Branchburg for the afternoon. If you make it a part of your weekly routine I am sure you won’t regret it, and Cory and Brendan will be glad you did.