'Obsessed' goes 'Back to the Future'

Joseph Scrimshaw
Joseph Scrimshaw
Photo courtesy Joseph Scrimshaw
Creative multitasker Joseph Scrimshaw has an internet hit on his hands with his Obsessed podcast, where the host and a variety of creative folks -- or just random audience members -- share their special obsessions, from typical geek pursuits like Star Wars to ones that would fit more in a municipal zoning office. This week, Scrimshaw and guests record the latest, and it's a doozy: an obsessive tribute to Back to the Future.

What makes the podcast, recorded live at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, tick? We asked Scrimshaw about his experiences in making Obsessed.

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City Pages: Are you pleased with how the show has developed?

Joseph Scrimshaw: Obsessively so. Yes. I originally conceived the podcast as interviews with individual people about their obsessions -- things like movies, rock bands, sports teams, animals, philosophical issues, bathroom cleanliness -- which is great, but I've been having fun experimenting with the structure to both make it a full live show and explore different obsessions in different ways.

The most downloaded episode is the Star Wars special. Not only did it tackle a topic that many people are obsessive about, I had a panel of guests who had different feelings about it. The panel included my friend and frequent collaborator Bill Corbett, who admits to being a bit sick of Star Wars; actor Zoe Benston, who only vaguely remembers the movies; and comedian Sam Landman, who reads a poem he wrote at eight years old about Boba Fett. That show opened my eyes to different ways to explore obsessions.

CP: How has the reaction been from the live audience and the folks who download the podcast?

JS: The reaction from both has been great. Live audiences and podcast audiences both tend to respond to the show by sending me messages about their own obsessions, which is great fun and gives me ideas for the show.

The podcast was featured on and off for about a month on iTunes' podcast homepage as "New & Noteworthy" and a "Staff Favorite," which led to a huge increase in downloads. It was also a reminder to me that the podcast was an opportunity to showcase myself as a writer and a comedian to the great internet masses. It's also made me brainstorm more ways to make the concept funny, interesting, and exciting as both a live show and a podcast.

It's a perfect microcosm of modern entertainment. It's local and global. The live audience obviously enjoys the immediacy of it, but it's interesting to see which episodes excite internet-land. For example, geek musicians Molly Lewis and the Doubleclicks did a fun "Smackdown" episode where they competed to see who was the most obsessed. 

The live audience in Minneapolis certainly enjoyed it, but it's one of the most popular episodes online because Molly and the Doubleclicks have built a lot of their success on the internet via Twitter and YouTube and digital music sales.

CP: How did a Back to the Future specific show come together?

JS: At almost every live show, I interview one random audience volunteer. They fill out little sheets of paper with their name and their obsession, and I pick them randomly. I've been looking through all of the slips and looking at topics that come up a lot. Back to the Future is one of them. To me, it feels like a movie I thought about when I was a kid, didn't think about for years, then turned around and discovered it was a big deal to a lot of people.

There are so many ideas in the strange Back to the Future trilogy, I'm excited to build a more elaborate show around it. Like the Star Wars show, I have a range of guests. Comedian and pal, Josh Carson is truly, deeply obsessed with it. Actor Anna Sundberg saw it once when she was a kid. Plus, I'm really excited to have Dr. Jim Kakalios. He's a physics professor at the U of M and also a scientific adviser to Hollywood. He's had input on films like Watchmen and the new Spider-Man movie, so I can't wait to hear his take on the physics of time travel and avoiding romantic advances from your mom.

CP: What has been your favorite "oddball" obsession so far?

JS: This is tough, as there have been many. A random audience volunteer was obsessed with removing illegal signage from public boulevards, and singer/songwriter Jeremy Messersmith likes to go mushroom hunting, but my favorite is Lauren Anderson from the Brave New Workshop. Her obsession was elephants. On the surface it's not too "oddball," but over the course of the interview I discovered each member of Lauren's family had been assigned an animal at birth. Lauren's connection to elephants is truly deep in ways that were both ridiculously funny and strangely profound. It's these kinds of discoveries that keep me really excited about the topic of obsessions.


Obsessed, with Joseph Scrimshaw
10 p.m. Thursday
Bryant Lake Bowl, 
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.825.8949 or visit online. 
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Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater

810 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408



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