Comedian Jonah Ray co-hosts the popular Nerdist podcast as well as the Comedy Central series The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. In his Guest DJ set, Jonah tells us how punk saved him as an awkward teenager, Mel Brooks proved anything was possible in the world of entertainment and Sleater-Kinney showed him what love should be.
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- Mel Brooks - "High Anxiety"
- Minor Threat - "Out of Step"
- Sleater-Kinney - "The Size of Our Love"
- The Weakerthans - "Everything Must Go"
- Fartbarf - "Homeless in Heathrow"
Anthony Valadez: Hi, I’m Anthony Valadez and I’m here with comedian Jonah Ray, who co-hosts the popular Nerdist podcast as well as Comedy Central’s series The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. He also host a music podcast called Jonah Radio and we’ve invited him here today to talk five songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Jonah, what did you bring for us today?
Jonah Ray: To start it off, I picked the song “High Anxiety” from the movie High Anxiety by Mel Brooks. Which is not the most classic Mel Brooks movie, but is one of my favorites because as a kid, when I saw it, you know, I was into parody, comedy and music at the same time.
And to see a guy that starred, wrote, directed and then sang a song that he wrote in the middle of the movie made me go, "Oh, I can do those things too.”
Not to say that I’m anything near him, but this song is just so funny. And instead of “High Anxiety,” later in this song he goes “..ooo-xiety”. It’s so perfect and so him. It’s so great, I love it so much.
AV: Let’s take a listen, this is “High Anxiety” by Mel Brooks.
That was “High Anxiety” by Mel Brooks, selected by Jonah Ray and part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What is next?
JR: Next up, we have some Minor Threat, which is a hardcore band from DC.
Punk rock saved my life, I was white fat kid in Hawaii. I stuck out so much and a song like “Out of Step” was done by other guys that feel like they don’t belong and they were still so cool.
And they were straight edge and I didn’t want to do drugs or drink, but I didn’t know that the term “straight edge” was around. When I found that term, I was like that sounds cool, way better than “as drug free as can be.”
So I found the punk scene and I started playing in bands and I found that all the weird small trivial things that happened in high school and middle school, all the weird social things that you feel you have to care about because everyone in school is telling you to... you find this other place at night with all these other kids and a lot of them are older than you and they’re treating you the same because you’re in the punk scene, and you’re OK 'cause you’re with the freaks, and out of step with everybody else. It was big time for me.
AV: Let’s take a listen, this is “Out of Step” by Minor Threat.
That was “Out of Step” by Minor Threat, selected by Jonah Ray as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What’s the next song?
JR: The next song on the list is “Size of Our Love” by Sleater-Kinney.
One time in my car back in Hawaii, there was a mix tape in there and I don’t know where it came from and one of the songs was this song “Size of Our Love” and I would just repeat it over and over again.
It’s so beautiful, it’s the kind of love that I always wanted and I never allowed myself to have as a big fat nerdy kid in Hawaii.
I was the typical nerd pining over girls all the time, and this exemplified everything I thought I wanted in a relationship, true dedication and love. This song is exactly what I think you should be in a relationship, unwavering support is a huge thing. Especially in creative relationships.
I’m in the arts, my wife is in the arts and I always say it’s like those metal balls that go back and forth on desks of '80’s businessmen. Sometimes when they go back and forth together, all of them are going in the same direction, that’s kind of how I think about a creative’s relationship.
Every once in a while you’re like “I’m the worst, I’m a horrible person, everything I do is crap” and the other ball is right behind you saying “No, you’re great, it’s going to be okay, you’re awesome.” Then of course it flips and the other person has to do the same thing and support you and you’re pretty much mirroring exactly what they’re saying. "No, I’m horrible.” “No, you’re great.” It’s unwavering love and support.
AV: Let’s take a listen, “Size of Our Love” by Sleater-Kinney.
That was “Size of Our Love” by Sleater-Kinney, selected by Jonah Ray as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What else do you have for us?
JR: One of my all-time favorite bands, all-time favorite lyricists, John K. Samson from the band The Weakerthans. Dude sounds like Big Bird, I love it. It’s so comforting.
The song “Everything Must Go”, he’s just listing off stuff and every time I hear it, I think about driving down the 5. My parents were living in Tahoe when I got the record and I was visiting them before moving down to Los Angeles to start my life. I’m driving down the 5 and the moon is blood red, coming up above the desert and I’m just listening to this song over and over again. It sounds like someone proclaiming all these different ideas but he’s just listing things that he’s selling.
AV: Yeah. The couch, the coffee cup, the compass.
JR: Exactly, and there’s this amazing line that I love so much, which is a testament to how I knew I was going to put in a lot of work. I was moving to LA specifically to do comedy, perform, act, do stand-up -- to basically be a creative person.
I knew I going to “eat it” for a long time because that’s my punk rock spirit. It doesn’t matter if I ever make any money, I’m just going to be doing it anyway.
Some of my favorite bands they still have jobs, and those jobs, as the line from the song goes "slave wage, 40-hour week, weighs a 1,000 kilograms." You’re making nothing, doing so much and it weighs so heavy on you but that’s just it. That’s what it is, so if that, then what? Well if that’s always there, then don’t worry about it.
AV: Let’s take a listen to this one, this is “Everything Must Go” by The Weakerthans.
That was “Everything Must Go” by The Weakerthans. That takes us to our final song, I’m having so much fun.
JR: That was good.
AV: Drop it on us!
JR: Okay, this is now. I’ve kind of led you through my life through song and a thing that happens as you get older, you know, you get to this place where it’s not that you don’t want to know about new music, it’s just that it starts to get overwhelming.
You don’t get rid of old catalogues in your brain, music doesn’t go away, you just keep adding to the list. It just starts to get all this white noise.
And, as much as I was trying to take in new music and get into new bands and listen to complete albums which is very important to me… I felt like I’m listening to all these bands from all over the place because of the internet, that’s the way it works, but I felt the loss of a scene of a local music community which LA has in spades - there’s tons of it - but when I heard about this band Fartbarf…
AV: I love the name.
JR: I love the name. Fartbarf are these guys that are from the South Bay, they’re old punk dudes, they wear these simian masks and these NASA jumpsuits. It’s just synths and one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen live and now I go to shows just to go see them. I can’t remember the last time I would regularly see a band in my hometown and it’s a local band. Because they have these masks, no one knows what they look like or who they are, so it doesn’t matter. They strip away any idea of how cool they are, they let the music be as cool as they want.
AV: Let’s take a listen, this is “Homeless in Heathrow” by Fartbarf.
That was “Homeless in Heathrow” by Fartbarf. Thanks so much for bringing all these cuts with you, man. This has been a lot of fun.
JR: I’ve had a blast, this is my favorite thing to do, just hang out and talk about music.