I’ve been back listening to a rather old podcast series lately, and have only just realised that I never professed my love for SmodCo-produced Puck Nuts on the blog. Lasting a little over 40 episodes and five years old now, it doesn’t have the hardcore following of the original Smodcast or the ongoing quality of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, but it’s a show I always return to for some great laughs and real sporting passion.
In September 2011 I went to watch a live show by two of my three favourite podcasters: Bryan Johnson and Brian Quinn from TESD made the trip to the UK under the ‘Space Monkeys’ banner sans Walt Flanagan, for dates in Leeds, Manchester and London.
(The show was great, and even better I was lucky enough to spend some time at the bar with a quarter of the Impractical Jokers. Upon seeing my Green Lantern t-shirt, the man better known as ‘Q’ advised me ‘do NOT go see that fuckin’ movie’. I still haven’t.)
When Bry and Q returned to the States and reported back on their UK jaunt on the next episode of the podcast, Q told Walt of one thing which baffled him.
“They LOVE Puck Nuts over there, Walt. The amount of questions – in Leeds alone – about when it’s coming back…”
(I asked one of those questions!)
Despite there being some form of organised national ice hockey league here in the UK, it’s certainly not popular enough to be nationally recognised on the same lines as football or rugby. So why all the love for a podcast about an NHL team which was in the process of recording, bar none, its worst ever season?
“Dealing with the Devils and the NHL…”
As the man himself once said on one of his multiple podcasts, when you think of Kevin Smith you think of three things: films, comics and the New Jersey Devils. It was actually Smith’s friend, hardcore Devils fan Walt Flanagan, who got Smith into the game – so who better to lead a podcast about them?
Excited for the new season ahead thanks to their side’s retaining the services of stupidly-expensive star Ilya Kovalchuk, the Puck Nuts podcast was launched on the then-SIR network in September 2010 with a panel consisting of Walt and Bry, plus TESD recurring guest Ming Chen and a relatively new podcasting personality known as Sunday Jeff.
(l-r) Walt Flanagan, Sunday Jeff and Bryan Johnson of Puck Nuts.
“It’s an indoor league.”
Personally I’d argue that Sunday Jeff alone – he works Sundays at the comic book shop – was the reason for so much fan love; his chemistry with Walt and complete podcasting inexperience were the source of much of the show’s humour, and Q still refers back to some of Sunday Jeff’s best work on TESD. As Jeff expressed an opinion – on ice hockey, lingerie leagues or his favourite theme park – Walt would often verbally jump on him like a heroic sergeant smothering a grenade, and equally as explosively, only half-joking as he rubbished whatever Sunday Jeff had to say.
As Ming gamely fought to carry the real content of the show, self-professed NHL rookie Bry (and occasional guest Q) would TESD-size proceedings and ensure a thorough de-railing of the conversation. And although Walt was the most passionate fan at the table, opinionated and knowledgeable enough without ever becoming boring, all too often he too would join in the fun and ensure the conversation took some swift and very funny detours.
While the Puck Nuts shared their thoughts on the latest win – or loss – the guys at the table were consistently funny, and just as frustrated as the real narrative began to take hold about five episodes into the run.
“I’m really not doing it, bro!”
As early as Episode Two, Walt pledged to get a tattoo with his fellow Nuts once the Devils raised the Stanley Cup in June. But in Episode Five, Walt opened the show by giving up on it, confirming that “shit has gone south” for the Devils just a month into the season, and he was handing over the reins to a nervous Ming. For the Devils, it was sad but for the Puck Nuts podcast it was meant to be.
As sad as it was to hear of the bad form which plagued the team for the rest of the season, this doom and gloom set the tone for the Nuts to up their comedy game for a further 35 episodes in its original incarnation; Ming took the reins of the show and received abuse like clockwork for his mix of inexperience and overzealousness; Sunday Jeff got ever more defensive against a rebellious Walt, resulting in some classic comebacks; and Walt and Bry put on some of their best podcasting performances as the bullies at the back of the classroom, chiming in with great hockey insight (Walt) and hilarious ignorance and disinterest (Bry).
The result is a podcast whose subject matter is seeing its wheels slowly fall off, as the Devils limped to a midseason coaching change and resurgent form, which came too late to save them from the ignominy of their first finish outside the playoffs since 1996. The added dimension of frustration gave the show a second wind (and took it completely out of Ming’s sails) in the mid-20s, and the original Nuts called it a day after 40.
The secret of Puck Nuts’ success
The original Puck Nuts series took on an ironic glory all of its own – ever the professional, Ming didn’t appreciate what a glorious mess the show became – and an ownership dispute was later to break out on TESD in what would become ‘Brian Quinn’s Puck Nuts Minute’ on the main show.
In the short term it didn’t have much of an impact – other than a regular target/regret on TESD – but for me it changed the entire dynamic of the crew which would later become TV’s Comic Book Men.
You can see why Walt won’t be calling it a podcasting gem any time soon; it’s a horrible reminder of the times he had to sit around and discuss the decline of one of his great loves week after week, a hobby I’d equate with eating glass or listening to One Direction. But it’s on Puck Nuts that Walt’s love for the Devils was spun into intelligent, sharp and always funny conversation – three hats which he wears proudly on Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave! to this very day.
As for Ming, the promotion to leader of Puck Nuts got him enamoured with podcasting, and he later made the jump over to talking comics with fellow Comic Book Man, Mike Zapcic, on their show I Sell Comics along with many others. At first completely bereft of confidence, Ming’s developing ability to return witty shots across the bows of Walt and Bry on Puck Nuts gave him the gift of, and love for, the gab.
In turn, both became more able and willing contributors to the story of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, whose later success led directly to their roles on hit reality show Comic Book Men…
…which has also occasionally featured Sunday Jeff, who I feel is the main source of the ironic great/not great arguments. And he’s a massive fan of the indoor leagues, too.
Puck Nuts, you are missed.