John Dryden wakes up about 2 AM and puts the coffee on. Many cups will be downed this
morning as he mulls ideas, scratches some, and bangs out others, until he eventually
has a fully developed idea worded out and ready to fly. Before most of us have climbed
out of our warm beds, Dryden will take his idea, turn it into a tidy two-minute script,
perform it on tape and deliver it to whoever wants to listen on the Internet and several
radio stations. The Daily Feed is on the air.
[Click here to listen to an example of The Daily Feed.]
If you don't know what I'm talking about, do your funny bone a favor and head out to
www.dailyfeed.com and have a listen for yourself.
There you will hear deep-voiced, logical, practical Frank Benlin sparring with high-voiced,
quirky Max Knobny, sometimes a pundit, sometimes a "handler" of George W. Bush, sometimes
an OPEC minister. In two minutes flat, these two characters usually manage to get across
a dead-on point or two and make you laugh. Out loud.
While you're right in pointing out that some people shouldn't laugh and think at the same
time, The Daily Feed is the perfect kick in the butt for the rest of us. From this little
home office in Washington D.C. comes pearls of wisdom delivered in disguise, sneaky
observations that slide in as a joke but stick long after. We laugh but we also nod
The Feed chronicles current events. I suppose it should be no surprise that my conversation
with John Dryden, the man behind the show, should begin with a discussion of the current
Cosmik: You had a little fun with Microsoft today on your show. And a while back, too. One
of my favorite bits was the game for companies that resist Microsoft: Who Wants To Be A
Dryden: Aw, well, those things are cheap, ya know? (Laughs.) I tried not to take cheap
shots at them today, though, because I don't really believe that the breakup is warranted.
Even among those of us who use Netscape, there are varying degrees of what we feel should
Cosmik: Then again, people should be thinking about what it might do to the economy.
Dryden: Yeah, there is that, as well, isn't there? There's so much based on Microsoft stock
and applications written just for Microsoft programs, so what are you gonna do?
Cosmik: And whatever they do there'll be appeals forever.
Dryden: I heard someone on public radio today saying that it could be resolved by spring, and
I thought "...yeeah."
Cosmik: Like all those lawyers are gonna LET it be resolved by spring.
Dryden: There's not enough billable hours!
Cosmik: And not enough Daily Feeds to point out the silly aspects on both sides. How long
has The Daily Feed been in existence?
Dryden: Eighteen years.
Cosmik: Was it a print thing?
Dryden: No, it was always radio.
Cosmik: Is it still on traditional airwaves?
Dryden: Yes, only about a dozen stations now. I'm switching them all over the MP3s, and I'll
probably lose a few in the process. I've got guys I send cassettes to, of all things, and
I even send reel-to-reels. The problem is if I send them out once a week, these guys get
behind. You can play tricks with verbs about when something happened, or you can say "the
other day," but I think it's time for stations to play today's piece today. I should get it
up there at four in the morning and they should run it today.
Cosmik: Is the MP3 process easier for you?
Dryden: Oh yeah, I've got a web guy who can automate everything. I've got
a company in San Francisco that needs MP3s, and the best deal for me would
be to upload one thing to feed everybody. But I just got back from driving
an analog tape down to Annapolis [Maryland]. I was gone for three hours. I took
them a week's worth. It shouldn't be that way. I should upload one and I should
have routines that encode the MP3 and break it down from that to Real Audio.
Already I upload Real Audio and the pieces bump down one at a time in the archives,
and they feed my Washington Post site, and they do everything.
Cosmik: So you're ready to start cutting out the hassles.
Dryden: I'm never going to market to radio stations again through mail or fax. It's all
going to be e-mail, and if they're not even oriented toward using the computer then...
You know, there are too many other stations out there. I just have to work with guys
I can work with over the Internet. I'm just not that good at getting tapes out the door,
and besides, the sound quality of MP3 is far superior.
Cosmik: How many people are involved in the actual production of the show?
Dryden: Actually, very few. I have a contributor named Peter Markham, and I have
people who I pull in for voices when I'm doing specialty shows, like the Star Trek
[parodies]. Other than that, it's me.
Cosmik: So you do the voices of Max AND Frank?
Cosmik: What made you think to have Max's voice be high and comical?
Dryden: Because that was the only thing I had available to me. At four in the morning there
isn't anyone else around. You know, it's an old analog trick. Old reel-to-reel machines have
rheostats on them. It's a winding that lets either more or less electricity in. Old machines
all had rheostats on them so you could speed them up or slow them down. I don't have the
talent to do different voices and dialects, but just enough to get the Max voice out, and
you put a little bit of spin on it and it sounds enough like a different person that people
who don't think about it won't realize it's the same guy doing it. Unless I let a Baltimore
accent slip through on both characters. Or if they both have a cold on the same day.
Cosmik: So I take it you're quite conscious of NOT doing those things.
Dryden: Oh yeah, I've got to mark my scripts so I don't pronounce certain vowel sounds so
a person in Arizona [will notice]. Certain words are strictly Baltimore and they stand out.
Cosmik: I think it's interesting that the voice was out of necessity, because it always
struck me that the ridiculous quality of Max's voice makes what he says seem so poetic.
Because Max makes the silly statements as if they're gospel.
Dryden: Once in a while I realize that the more ridiculous viewpoint in a piece is Frank's,
because I've written it that way, so I just switch them and then tweak a little to make it
the kind of thing Max would say. After people learn a character, they expect certain things
from him. You have to surprise people, but you also have to keep it within their belief
paradigm so they'll realize the characters aren't out of character. You only go out
of character for a brief second to make a joke, then you drop back in.
Cosmik: I love the convenient logic of Max. It seems like he's usually stating somebody's
party line with convenient logic as if it's the only logical opinion at all.
Dryden: That's really the best way to get nasty things out. To say "well the Republicans
wouldn't do THAT! They would put the grandmother ON the railroad tracks and let
the train run her over and then they'd have TWO grandmothers." In other words, don't act
like you thought of it yourself: report that it came from someone else, and then you can
say just about anything. You know, the show used to be a lot worse. I say "worse"... It
used to be much less politically correct fifteen years ago. I wasn't very sensitive back
then to some things. People would laugh at things that they shouldn't be laughing at, and
so therefore I was providing that for them.
Cosmik: You still are! (Laughs.)
Dryden: Well, yeah, but we walk the line. We're not making fun of Arabs, we're making fun
of the political guys there. We're not making fun of the Chinese, we're making fun of
the Chinese government. But where do you draw the line, because if you speak in a broken
Chinese-English accent, that borders on racism, but people love that stuff. So you have
to just make sure that they understand that you're not talking about "Chinese people,"
you're talking about this particular Chinese politician.
Cosmik: Not Arabs but OPEC. I've been enjoying your jabs at OPEC.
Dryden: We've been doing OPEC stories for years, because I was caught up in it when I was
Dryden: Well, I sat in the gas lines, so I was very aware of the whole energy thing, which
hasn't changed over the years; it's gotten worse.
Cosmik: It's amazing how we never forget that. We never forget what it was like to sit in
those gas lines for hours at a time just to get five gallons of gas.
Dryden: No, you don't forget, but the rest of the country did, didn't they? They buy these
cars with huge engines, which has to be the single worst collective source of pollution by
just regular old citizens.
Cosmik: How much of what you're putting out there is stuff you strongly believe in? The
cause and the statement.
Dryden: You can't really write stuff unless you [believe in it]. That was the thing about
the Microsoft piece that I put out today [05-02-00]. You have to believe in something or
it won't write itself. If you really strongly believe in something, or if the story is
blaring at you, it'll write itself. The hard part is coming up with the idea and the angle,
or the twist. If you don't have any particular belief or opinion on the subject, then it's
very difficult to write. Then you can only use word tricks, turns of phrase. You can do
the Firesign Theatre-type thing.
Cosmik: Ah, now you're into something I was going to ask you about in a bit, because I
wondered if you had been exposed to Firesign Theatre early on.
Dryden: Firesign Theatre is pretty much the only inspiration that I can really attribute
anything to, because I don't listen to other comedians and I don't tune into Leno or
Letterman. Those guys are thinking of the same things I'm thinking of, and if they do
a story then I feel I can't do it. But if I don't hear them do it, then I can do it.
I've heard some of my stories and even exact lines being repeated by a group from out
Cosmik: Wouldn't surprise me, considering the easy access to your show.
Dryden: Well, there are two ways to think of it: one is they thought of the same thing I
did, and two, one of their writers heard my piece. I don't know which one, and I'm not
accusing anyone of anything, but that's the reason I don't really follow comedy, because
then you're either subconsciously stealing stuff, or you're limiting yourself, saying "I
can't do that because they did that." There's only so much subject matter, so many ideas,
to play off of at any time, so there's got to be more duplication than there is theft,
unless I'm just being naive. Comedians, at least in the olden days, were always talking
about stealing material from each other, but I don't see how you could really get away
with it without people realizing you were doing it.
Cosmik: I think the comedians back then were mostly all around each other at that time,
though, in a bunch of night clubs within 10 blocks of each other. It wasn't the vast
electronic horizon that we have now.
Dryden: I suppose so. Like you say, everything's accessible. You can punch into my stuff
and hear what I've said for the past ten days.
Cosmik: How do you feel about the potential of Netcasting as opposed to traditional radio
Dryden: Oh, I think the lines will cross at some point, don't you? In other words, at
some point, the numbers of people listening on the net will cross the numbers listening
in traditional broadcasting. Like at some point vinyl and CD sales crossed on the graph.
One kept going down, one kept going up. I believe the big difference will be, at least in
radio and audio broadcasting, when you can get Net radio in your car. Once that happens,
this little session I run every day here in D.C. has just as much reach as a CBS station.
Radio guys themselves define their entire day, and therefore their entire week, by morning
drive. In other words, if you can get somebody listening during morning drive you've got
'em the rest of the day. Well, that's not true, but that's how they think of it. Then
you can beat a CBS station. After all, the CBS stations are all the same now. They all
play the same songs, it's the same formula, they're not putting any thought into it, they're
just playing the same songs over and over again.
Cosmik: Whatever the surveys tell them.
Dryden: They're not living and dying by the book the way they used to, but that's for another
conversation. They're slowly getting into webcasting because they realize they can't
stay out of it. But if you can listen to it in your car, and you had the choice, why wouldn't
you choose to listen to a station that didn't have big commercial breaks that you don't feel
like listening to? You'll punch to a station that's just playing music, and when you punch
back to your CBS cookie-cutter station, they're STILL playing commercials. You're going to
punch back to the Net station and you're probably going to end up staying there.
Cosmik: Are there subjects you won't touch?
Dryden: Oh yeah. Death. I mean death when it's like... You know, I didn't do a
Columbine story. I did a story about how they overreacted and all the kids didn't
have any rights anymore. Kids don't have any rights anyway. But you know, you can't
make fun of death. In Arab-Israeli conflicts I'm always on Israel's side, so there's
certain things that I just don't do. I don't make jokes about fat people, just because
there are a lot of listeners out there who would be offended by that, and they like
my show. There are certain things that you just don't do. The worst thing that can
happen in the news is an airline crash, because it's just so tragic that there's nothing
that can be said about it. So you don't say anything. They released the report today
about the logs that collapsed and killed twelve people on the college campus. I can't
think of anything more tragic than that, except an airline crash. It's heartbreaking,
and you can't even allude to it. Now on the other hand, you can allude to things that
are tragic in nature if they were caused by an idiot, like Saddam, but you have to wait
a few weeks, and you have to mention it in a way so that it all falls on Saddam and it
doesn't remind people.
Cosmik: You can't do something specifically on the Oklahoma City bombing itself.
Dryden: But on the other hand I remember saying something a few weeks ago about some
idiot getting pulled over because he didn't have a current tag on his car, and that's
how they caught Tim McVey. What an idiot. That IS funny. But I didn't say it anywhere
near when it happened, and I didn't say it in a context that seemed like I was making
money off the tragedy.
Cosmik: So there'll always be someone to write about as long as people do stupid things,
like the guy going back for the deposit on his rented vehicle he used in a bombing.
Dryden: And that is THE best one!
(C) 2000 - DJ Johnson