The Triumphant Return of Nerd Poker

As with many things that were once seen as underground and “uncool” for anyone not in the nerd culture, Dungeons & Dragons has seemingly come out of nowhere to be a mainstream thing all of the sudden. I recall an episode of Community that heavily featured the game, as well as a recent episode of iZombie that lovingly poked fun at the venerable past-time. And let’s not forget Stranger Things, and its group of D&D heroes fighting a real-life monster. Gone are the days of the inane “Satanic Panic” outrage over the game and questionable films like Mazes and Monsters helping to stir the pot. Even Vin Deiesel had a movie made that was entirely based on his own personal D&D character – it’s weird time indeed. This was the perfect climate for something amazing to pop up on the internet.

For a lot of my friends, especially those into stand-up comedy, there was a different entry-point into the game – a podcast, formerly on Earwolf and now on Patreon, Called Nerd Poker. Starring stand-up comedian Brian Posehn, Nerd Poker was a great look at what many D&D games turn into – a DM frantically trying cling to order while a bunch of silly people make dumb characters and waste time instead of doing what was planned-out. What ensued was pure comedy gold most of the time, and it wasn’t a forced product like it could have been.

The OG Cast including Sarah, Sark, Brian, Ken, Blaine and don’t forget Gerry.

At the height of the show’s popularity, I even went as far as to donate some cash to Gerry Duggan at a local comic convention as well as a condolences card for his most notorious character, Sir Richard, who had died in a blaze of glory recently. We talked for well over a half hour about gaming, and was able to get a Nerd Poker related autograph in the binding of my Deadpool book.

Hearing my name in the following episode was amazing and really helped me feel like a part of a small community of fans that had sprung up. I started playing the game again with some buddies, and eventually bought a bunch of 5th edition books. While talking to Gerry Duggan I asked if they realized how important their show was to gaming as a whole, and he seemed surprised. I’m still not certain why the company that owns D&D never sponsored the show or anything, because Brain and Co. basically advertised their product better than they did themselves for years.

An example of the fan outpouring for the show includes awesome fan art of the characters.

For the first 75 or so episodes – Nerd poker was one of my favorite things to help me pass time at my boring office job. Their DM, an internet personality named Sark, wove a tale of a rag-tag group of heroes battling an evil organization referred to as The Collectors that seemed to be “collecting” people from other worlds for some dire purpose. Sadly we never really got closure for this story, as a number of the cast members including Sark had to bail on the show at one point. Blaine Capatch took over as the DM and the show basically meandered for another 75 or so episodes until it’s untimely death about a year ago. Nobody’s really sure what went down, but it seems like Earwolf, the podcast network the show was on, screwed them over regarding a cancer benefit for one of the players. Everyone assumed the show was gone and buried until just a few months ago – Nerd Poker is BACK!

Now DM’d by Dan Telfer, most of the cast has returned for a creator-run version of the show with Patreon subscribers providing the funding. In return for donations, Brian and Co. have been releasing special episodes with guest stars and other fun bits. Now existing as a fan run product, there is a whole new charm to the show as things that would normally be insanely annoying such as Ken Daly accidentally eating pizza directly into his microphone somehow come off as hilarious. And when Vin Diesel ignored their not-so-serious requests to be in the show, they did one better by creating a version of him as a character in the game. It seems like the old magic is back, and part of my work routine that sadly was taken away has returned!

If you’re a lapsed fan, head on over to Patreon and throw some cash over there – if you’re like me, you want the show to last for a LOOOOONG time.


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The New English Beat feat: Ranking Roger: Bounce

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Not too long after I finally got to see the US version of the English Beat Live, I found out that the other iteration of the band had a new album out. It’s been a bit since I bought this, but I was finally able to give it a solid listen today. For those unaware of why I mentioned two versions of the band up there, there are currently two different English Beats with both former singers heading their own version. From what I can gather, there wasn’t any sort of bad break-up or anything (Between Dave and Roger, the band did basically implode in the 80’s with the other members) as Dave Wakeling moved to California in the early 90’s and the rest didn’t want to follow. Both artists tried to do tours with their own names, only to have everyone always call them “The Beat” so they embraced it. Here’s a more detailed answer from an interview with A.V. Club, where the question was asked to Wakeling as to why there was two bands:

Oh, that was quite simple. Whilst we were trying to get five out of the seven members for a reunion show in England, Roger was coming up against the same thing as me; he was being called The Beat over there regardless of what he tried to call himself. The same thing had happened with me. I’d just given up in the end; fine, English Beat, I liked the name anyway, I thought of it, so fine, I’ll be the English Beat.

And so I said, “If you want to use the name in England, that’s fine by me; just don’t screw the legacy, make sure that the shows are always great quality and the fans go home happy and it makes them like the records more rather than less.” And so that was quite an easy thing to sort out. It’s kind of cute, I think, that you can hear “Mirror in the Bathroom” sung live by one of the lead singers on two continents!

 

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Ranking Roger at his personal recording studio

With that in mind, it’s kind of funny to find out that Ranking Roger’s The New English Beat released an album at the very tail end of 2016, with Wakeling planning his own new album sometime this year! But your question may be: How’s Roger’s Beat stack up? is it like the old stuff? well yes and no, but not in a bad way. In all honesty Bounce (the album in question) is basically what I would have expected the band to do in the 90’s if they had stayed together. It’s more polished than the previous albums, seems like it was made on a higher budget, and seems altogether “shinier”. You can feel the vibes from Both English Beat and General Public as well as a slightly more somber tone.

For those that know me, “shininess” is not always a good thing for my musical tastes as I sometimes feel that a lot of modern music, especially pop music, is empty and overproduced. While Bounce doesn’t completely stray down this path, there are a few hints of Coldplay-like guitars and such found in a few songs that really didn’t do a whole lot for me. what I did like was that some of the more mellow songs seemed to be a lot more politically charged than most Beat songs ever where. Take a track like “Walking on the Wrong Side” for instance.

What this means, is that some of the energy found in some of my favorite beat songs like “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Ranking Full Stop” is curiously absent from this record. What we do get are a few lighthearted sentimental tracks to even out the politics, which is a trademark of the sound most bands fall into when they get older. Thankfully this wan’t a total deviation into sappy ballads or anything so that’s a plus.

All in all, this was a solid listen, and a great re-introduction to a band that has basically been doing touring for the past few decades. I’ve personally been hankering for a fourth wave ska movement to pop up, so hearing only a few hints of the rudeboy sound in this record made me a bit disappointed overall. The good news is, that the music stands on it’s own and I plan to include it in my current iPod rotation. I also need to hunt down some of the music Roger did between the original English Beat and this album to see how his sound has progressed. If you enjoy ska, reggae, or The English Beat – do yourself a favor and check this out – despite a few quibbles I have it’s a solid album.

 

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