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A weekly radio program is an insatiable beast. Every two weeks, Live Wire mounts a Saturday night performance at the Alberta Rose Theatre complete with multiple guest interviews and readings, two musical acts, sketches, and various trademark jetsam like the Q&A segment “Dear Live Wire.” The recording then gets edited into two hour-long radio episodes that broadcast from Portland to Pittsburgh.
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The Tuesday after their October 5th show, head writer Courtenay Hameister and writers (right to left) Jason Rouse, Paul Glazier, Sean McGrath, and Alex Falcone return to the cramped writer’s room in Live Wire's Mississippi Avenue office to begin anew.
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Each writer must come with 10 sketch ideas, which are narrowed down according to objective criteria, like does it make Hameister laugh, and then honed over three more meetings.
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As they start to pitch sketches, the outlandish ideas and playful interjections build like improv riffs in a veteran jazz ensemble.
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After a week of writing, the creative team is joined by actors and executive producer Robyn Tenenbaum (far corner) for live readings and further editing. The process has come a long ways since Tennenbaum and Kate Sokoloff started Live Wire in 2003 with Hameister as head writer.
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Outside the writers' meetings, Tenenbaum, Hameister, and host Luke Burbank meet regularly, often via Skype, to discuss the approaches they should take with the show's guests—straightforward Q&A, a quiz, have the guest read, etc.—as well as brainstorm and schedule future guests.
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Just hours before Live Wire’s October 19th show at the Alberta Rose, Hameister is gleefully—if frantically—reworking a quiz segment in the green room. The concept: a series of trivia questions that pit prominent comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis against a self-proclaimed “super-fan.” The twist: unkown to Bendis, earlier that day his wife leaked Hameister personal information to weave into the questions.
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Before the show, host Luke Burbank records sponsor credits and other narration that will be used in postproduction to put together the radio broadcasts.
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Hameister and Burbank talk with writer/actor Greg Sestero about his book, "The Disaster Artist," which is based on his experiences working on the runaway cult movie "The Room."
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Burbank speaks with guest William Todd Schultz, author of "Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith," about Smith's undying love for Celine Dion, while the crew goes through final preparations.
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Coming up from Los Angeles, where he appears regularly on CBS Sunday Morning, Burbank had his laptop stolen at the airport. "It had all my notes for the show on it, but at least I got a monologue out of it,” he tells anyone who will listen, before retreating to the tiny storage closet that doubles as his pre-show “office” to salvage his thoughts.
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During the opening theme song, Burbank bounds on stage, takes the mic, and leans on the stand with the confident looseness of a rat packer. Only an outline in mind, he launches into the story of losing his laptop and how it also meant losing irreplaceable photos of his daughter.
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The band Twin Forks, a new project from the lead singer of Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba. Carrabba sticks around for the entire show, even though he has a later concert that night, because he wants to see comic writer Bendis.
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“The audience was way more engaged,” Carrabba says afterward. “Other radio shows don't understand you're supposed to laugh out loud.”
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After Twin Forks, Burbank digs into an interview with Schultz. “I wanted to ask you a question, and in the green room you said you didn't want me to ask this question,” Burbank says, earning a laugh from the audience for his hubris. “I lived two blocks from Elliott Smith when he ended his life, and I remember hearing that there were questions about how he died.”
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“There’s a small, monomaniacal set of fans who are convinced that Elliott Smith was murdered,” answers Schultz, before explaining why he thinks it’s a demented theory. “Those people are now essentially attacking me.” “Your next one is about Tupoc, right?” pokes Burbank in a most-un-Keillor-like manner, as the audience erupts in laughter. “You’re good,” Schultz replies. “You're very good.”
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Greg Sestero
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Comedian Brandie Posey doing a stand up routine
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Local Chef John Gorham talking about his new Toro Bravo cookbook
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Comic writer Brian Michael Bendis is the final guest of the night. He floats through his interview like one of his superheroes, but then comes Burbank’s coup de grace: the nerd quiz. The Super Fan beats Bendis on a number of comic factoids, to Bendis’s outspoken chagrin. But he looks truly shocked as the personal questions move into material only a spouse or stalker would know (supplied by his wife). The audience squirms with laughter.
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