So here is what’s happening. For those who are new to the podcast, about a year and nine weeks ago, friends and master improv comedians Arnie Niekamp, Matt Young, and Adal Rifai debuted an incredibly creative, insanely funny, and completely improvised podcast
“Hello From the Magic Tavern” is a weekly podcast which takes place in the tavern of the Vermilion Minotaur, in the town of Hogsface, on the edge of the McShingleshane Forest, in the fantastical magical land of Foon. When Arnie fell through a dimensional portal behind a Burger King in Chicago, he just happened to have his podcasting equipment and decided the people of Earth needed to know more about this world.
“Hello From the Magic Tavern” is Tolkien meets Monty Python meets “Cheers” except in this world, everybody knows Usidore’s name. (If you are familiar with the podcast, I guarantee you are now shouting Usidore’s full name in your head).
Each week listeners sit down with Arnie and his good buds Chunt (Rifai), the shapeshifter who is usually in the form of a badger, and a blue wizard named Usidore (Young) who can never seem to get his quest of defeating the dark lord off the ground. Together, they help Arnie and the listeners learn the ways of Foon along with a menagerie of guests from all walks of life or death. While Usidore is fiercely vociferous and Chunt is chill, Niekamp’s role is to be the inquisitive voice of reason amongst the hilarity ensuing around him.
“My role is to sort of be the ringleader, to keep things in order,” Niekamp shared with the Daily Dot. “I’m sort of the audience surrogate, and so my job is to try to have as honest of a reaction as I can to everything that’s happening.” Niekamp adds that they’re often “juggling several different [improv] games at the same time, so usually the main game is that I’m trying to keep order and they’re trying to invent a lot of crazy stuff. Within that, I try to find the little things for myself to do, to make my character less of just a straight interviewer. My quote-unquote ‘character’ has his own quirks; he’s a little too obsessed with the podcast, beyond reason. Like, why would someone in this magical world really be that invested in doing a podcast?”
When a guest comes on to the show, there is no plot line or character backstory. Niekamp shares that when a guest comes on, they ask to keep their character’s description really short. “A talking flower who’s really angry, an elf who hates trees, a bridge troll who’s just really into his bridge. We don’t really want them to tell us much more besides that because it’s good to be surprised.” Once the guest is introduced, they launch head first from there. This makes the podcast even more astounding because, despite the lack of script or rehearsal, the podcast is cohesive and flows from beginning to end. Niekamp, Rifai, and Young have been performing improv together for over ten years, which lends itself to the sixth sense of knowing where each other’s character is going. Either that or they have mad telepathy skills (maybe an idea worth exploring for Adal’s new podcast, “Siblings Peculiar?)
Within its first year, “Hello From the Magic Tavern” has become so popular it was ranked by The Guardian as one of the “10 best new podcasts of 2015 (that aren’t Serial)”; likewise, it was named by iTunes as one of the best podcasts of 2015 and remains ever-present on the iTunes top rated podcasts list.
What is most endearing about “Hello From the Magic Tavern” is how the hosts bring the listener into their world and it feels like you are sitting with them in the tavern. They are so funny and welcoming that it makes you feel privileged and overjoyed to sit down once a week over a cup of mead and bowl of spiced potatoes to catch up with these friends. But what I think makes this podcast so successful is how HFTMT truly invests in the audience. The listeners have become part of the cannon, the inside jokes, and can engage with their favorite characters even after the podcast ends. One listener even composed the music for the Foon song, “Seven Dragons and a Baby”. The hosts graciously address comments and questions listeners have sent into their very real email addresses of email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Although Usidore doesn’t have an email address, there are several ways to get in touch with him including telling a raven your darkest secret, then kill the raven, take out its heart, bury it deep beneath the earth, build a house over where you buried the heart, live in that house for thirty years, and then burn the house to the ground; the smoke of that flame will reach Usidore. Oh, there is also Twitter.
While Arnie has made it very clear he does not like talking about Earth stuff, luckily he did teach Chunt, Usidore, and a Green Wizard named Spintax, all about Twitter. So once you inevitably become addicted to HFTMT, you can still follow and interact with @usidoretheblue, @chuntttttt, @spintaxthegreen, @misterarnie, and @magictavern to learn more about the world of Foon. You may even be treated to a wizard duel in the form of a Twitter (or is it Twotterton?) war between Usidore and Spintax. #teamblue #awesome
Investing in the audience has truly paid off because let me tell you… the fandom is REAL. Fans are ever-present on Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, and there is even a fan-made Wiki page in case you cannot remember what the wedding planners of Foon call Usidore (It’s Dale Sprinklesleeves, btw). You can purchase t-shirts and there was even a Yelp review for the Burger King referenced in the podcast. Adal, Young, and Niekamp routinely thank fans, respond to questions, and proudly display the fantastic artwork fans have created in honor of this show.
So do yourself a favor (you deserve it!) and check out “Hello From The Magic Tavern” because sometimes you need a little “Boys Night”! But you may want to clear your schedule for the next few weeks since you will inevitably binge listen to all the episodes. Start here for episodes number 1
Awww, ya! Enjoy baybee!