Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
From left: Podcast: The Ride hosts Scott Gairdner, Jason Sheridan, and Mike Carlson

Disneyland, dissected: The hosts of Podcast: The Ride unpack their theme park obsession

From left: Podcast: The Ride hosts Scott Gairdner, Jason Sheridan, and Mike Carlson
Graphic: Allison Corr, Photo: Podcast: The Ride

Bestcasts asks podcasters to discuss the most memorable episodes of their podcast. For more podcast coverage, see Podmass, The A.V. Club’s weekly roundup of the best ’casts out there.

As a medium unconfined by things like shooting schedules or even studio space, podcasting—especially chatter-based series—often release episodes at a relentless clip. This sheer volume of content naturally rewards fans of the most inconsequential minutiae, made clear by the proliferation of the minute-by-minute breakdown podcast, the watch-the-same-movie-again-and-again format, the track-by-track album analysis. But perhaps more than any other series, Podcast: The Ride wears trivial details like a badge of honor.

The show, which debuted in 2017, brings three Los Angeles comedians together to bond over a shared obsession with theme parks. Each week, Mike Carlson, Scott Gairdner, and Jason Sheridan—three childless men in their 30s, they’re unafraid to point out—select a theme park ride to discuss in often uncomfortable depth. Except on those occasions when there’s no ride discussed at all. The crew has dissected everything from entire defunct theme parks across the country to the inexplicably resilient “Waterworld” stunt show to the Tangled-themed bathrooms at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In all cases, their enthusiasm is unwavering, and their dogged pursuit of the truth turns up more delightful discoveries than a family vacation ever could.

Mickey And Friends Parking Structure with Nick Wiger

The A.V. Club: This is an episode entirely about a parking garage at Disneyland. Was this the first of your wanderings into the truly mundane?

Jason Sheridan: I think that started with episode one.

Mike Carlson: There’s very mundane things in every episode, for sure. The Mickey And Friends parking structure was actually [Nick] Wiger’s suggestion. It felt like a gift, because it gave us license to get as hyperspecific and boring as possible, to really explore the lesser talked-about aspects of all this stuff.

Scott Gairdner: It exploded out of the possibility of how mundane the topic can be, but also issued a really good dare. There can be too much to talk about with a classic ride with so much mythology; that’s why we’re parsing out The Haunted Mansion on a yearly basis, covering it every Halloween season, because there’s too much to possibly contain in one episode.

AVC: How dare you, by the way.

SG: I like when we get an episode that seems like a challenge. When it seems like there’s so little meat on the bone, it really dares you to look at what seems like a simple object from every possible angle. In the case of Mickey And Friends, in talking about Disney just building a giant parking structure, you don’t just want to talk about the colors and the elevators and the stairs. We unraveled this whole pretty interesting story about Disney’s struggle to purchase land in the area and figure out where to build a parking structure, and it ties into the story of WestCOT, the previous park they were trying to build before California Adventure.

Then Disney played Long Beach and Anaheim against each other, essentially saying, “if you don’t build us a parking garage, we will bail and go to Long Beach and not build our second California park in Anaheim.” So the further you unravel the thread, it’s not just the parking structure. There’s also all this insane mythology of Disney’s political wheelings and dealings.

JS: We pretty quickly found out that there’s always some sort of story there, either by Disney’s design and insistence on there being an official company story, or just that they had to get this off the ground somehow, and it’s very rare that it gets off the ground exactly how they’d planned. There are usually some unforeseen complications that are interesting.

SG: We have fun planning these episodes, because the three of us all do our research and prep in advance. There will be episodes where one of us will say, “Do you guys have anything? Because I’m blank.” And then one of the others will say, “Oh yeah, I’ve got something.” And then somebody’s just got this treasure trove of knowledge that the others didn’t expect.

And then there’s times where we all have way too much. We all attempt to surprise each other with every episode in what we’re bringing to the table, and this was a good example of that. Obviously, Nick Wiger’s a fantastic guest, and his podcast Doughboys is undeniably an influence on our show. The level of fun that he and [Doughboys co-host] Mike Mitchell are clearly having every week made a lot of people go, “Maybe there’s this new way to do podcasts that’s casual and organic, and fun as hell.”

Failed Parks Part 2: Hard Rock Park with Jason Woliner

JS: Jason Woliner had pitched two ideas; the Sid and Marty Krofft Park is not as well-documented as Hard Rock Park. But they both turned out to be interesting, and we were going so long, we decided to cut this into two episodes.

SG: For anyone who doesn’t know this story: Hard Rock Park was a Hard Rock Café–themed park that I remember seeing updates on for many years. Once every couple weeks, there’d be a new update on the construction of Hard Rock Park: Oh, they’re breaking ground, and look, there’s a Mount Rushmore composed of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Wow, this thing’s really coming along. Oh, now it’s open. Eight months later: It’s closed already? It closed so instantly in 2008—2008 being the financial collapse. This odd park with a really flawed premise closed probably faster than any theme park in history.

AVC: What makes this episode great?

SG: I might go so far as to say that Hard Rock Park is the most surprisingly interesting topic we’ve ever landed on, and all three of us were doing our research that day thinking, “Okay, there will be a couple fun things to talk about.” And then the hours passed and the hours passed, and we all arrived for the recording. We were all stressed out as if we were preparing for an AP test, cramming all night. All three of us were in the same sweaty state of, that was so much work and I don’t even think I got it all. We were all panicked that we had not discovered all of the inane details of Hard Rock Park. Once we started laying them out, there was too much. We were shocked at what an onslaught of inanity it was.

JS: That was the first instance of feeling nostalgic for a place I’ve never been and can now never go to. I wish I could’ve seen Hard Rock Park in 2008 Myrtle Beach. The thing that was made, and the stuff that was never made, too. They had such grand plans for expansion right from the start, condos and different rides and lands and a wedding chapel. It was truly ambitious and also very misguided.

MC: Hard Rock Park is a perfect marriage between so many different things that we all like. The behind-the-scenes drama, shady financiers—

JS: Big personalities—

MC: Rock-and-roll-related anything. There was a ride that was the Moody Blues ride, Nights In White Satin, based kind of on their song “Nights In White Satin.” It supposedly was a very good ride.

JS: It was nonlinear and very dreamlike.

MC: There were also original Hard Rock Park characters. When I found out there was a character named Winston The Punk Rock Dog, I was very excited and ready to talk at least 15 minutes about it. It was such a perfect storm of everything we like talking about.

AVC: Do your guests participate in the research, or are they just there to chat about their personal experience with the ride or park in question?

JS: It’s up to them, whether or not they want to. We don’t ask anyone to do it; we say that we take care of the research. But some guests have started digging.

SG: I’m interested in hearing people’s weird childhood stories and why rides are resonant for them. So we certainly don’t hold people to the research standard. However, when there is a guest who comes in with research, I am so impressed and delighted. I specifically have to shout out Eva Anderson, who joined us for the Downtown Disney Ordeal. That was some of the most copious research a guest has come in with.

JS: Chris Cantwell, co-creator of Halt And Catch Fire, came on when we did Dogpatch USA, a park based on the comic strip Li’l Abner by Al Capp. [Cantwell] had been there, and that was another episode where we started finding out a lot of weird stuff about the property and the history of the park.

SG: Both Hard Rock and Dogpatch USA involved a demented man singularly pushing this theme park. Weird, alternative-universe Walt Disneys who see themselves as a Walt, and their idea is as crazy as Walt’s was: “Disneyland seemed really crazy when it started, but he carried it through, and if he can do it, then I can!” And we’ve found these figures who haven’t been able to.

JS: Historical tastes and contexts are always interesting, too. When Dogpatch opened, Li’l Abner was read in dozens of newspapers, hundreds, even, around the world, by millions of people every day. When Li’l Abner got married, it was on the cover of Life magazine. Now, it’s mostly remembered because… high schools do a musical version of it sometimes?

Podcast: The Ride Live with Tony Baxter

AVC: When did working with Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter become a possibility?

SG: [Former guest] Paul Scheer put it all together. He was asked to do a live show at an exhibit called “That’s From Disneyland,” in which an agent named Richard Kraft was selling his entire collection of Disney memorabilia. He said, “You have to have these guys from Podcast: The Ride. They would freak out to get to do a show here.” So not only did [Richard and his son Nicky Kraft] invite us to come do a show there—which is pretty bold, considering this was our first ever live show—they also said, “Who do you want? Who would be an ideal guest for you?”

MC: I said Tony Baxter. He said, “Well, we’re friends with him.”

SG: Tony Baxter was someone I admired when I was a child. We list his credits in the episode, but it’s all the greats of the ’80s and ’90s: Big Thunder Mountain, Star Tours, Euro Disney, Indiana Jones Adventure. He’s like the primary visionary behind the next generation of Imagineering. He was a very special figure to us. It felt like a long shot.

MC: When we started doing this show, I made some sort of bold proclamation that we should have Tony Baxter within a year or two. That was already something we wanted to happen, but we didn’t know exactly how it was going to come about, because it wasn’t like we were going to run into him—even though, actually, funny enough, we did run into him at Disneyland once.

SG: That’s the level of fan we are. We were walking from Disneyland to California Adventure, and I’m feverishly whispering, “That’s Tony Baxter! That’s Tony Baxter!”

We’d love to have more Imagineers on, the people responsible for these rides. People who currently work at Disney Imagineering have a press clampdown. Disney has to approve of anything they do, so it makes it tough to scale the wall. We’re thankful we were able to have Tony, who’s retired and can say whatever he wants. That’s the cool thing in this episode: He was doing a little bit of shit talk. We were very surprised and delighted by some of the things he was willing to say with us.

It was also really fun because there’s a lot of avenues where Tony Baxter speaks. He does a lot of live panels and he’s been on other podcasts, like Season Pass. And he’s in The Imagineering Story, which is going over so well on Disney+ right now. He’s fascinating to listen to, but we noticed he has go-to stories and sound bites that he says a lot. We said, “It won’t be Mission Accomplished to have him on this comedy podcast if we don’t break out of the shell and do something that only we would do.”

So, getting to pitch him, step-by-step, a very inane Apple Dumpling Gang ride that would stretch from Disneyland to Knott’s Berry Farm and go along the 5 freeway—I can’t remember more fun I’ve had doing this podcast. Here’s this luminary, and we’re wasting his time with this nonsense. And he’s playing along! He’s adding jokes and giving us serious criticism. He said, “Here’s the notes I would give in a boardroom.” He played a comedy game with us.

AVC: Would you say that more ride pitches are in your future?

MC: We’re throwing ideas out all the time. I’m sure there will be more. Honestly, I’m secretly hoping we can get a job in one of these companies, to actually make a ride. We’re hoping to goof our way into a job eventually.

I also think it’s not out of the question that we’ll become three behind-the-scenes people involved in the resurrection of Hard Rock Park, if Hard Rock Park comes back somewhere in the world.

SG: We also just learned about a Hard Rock Café animated series that never came to fruition called Hard Rock Rascals. It would’ve been like a Muppet Babies of Elvis and John Lennon. The strangest idea. But, as often comes up on shows, I genuinely would love to make that.

MC: “Can we buy the rights to this theme park character that no one remembers anymore?” That’s a common refrain on the show.

JS: That, and stuff that didn’t end up being built, the most famous of which was a ride called Dick Tracy’s Crime-Stoppers, where you, the guest, would’ve gotten in a police car, been given a gun, and gone through the city to shoot at criminals. Monster-faced criminals, like the Dick Tracy bad guys. But then that movie wasn’t the biggest movie of the year, so it didn’t end up happening.

MC: It’s all weird, corporate timing, and whether something was too far along to cancel it by the time the movies bombed. That stuff is all very interesting. You’re in the parks now and you ask, “How is there no Mary Poppins ride, but there’s a Roger Rabbit ride?” It’s weird politics, where the companies were at at the time, what they were building already.

JS: How did they not just fast-track rides to Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast, and The Lion King, when those were all hits? It’s all just tertiary stuff.

MC: We put this episode on our list because it’s a good representation of another element of the show: true earnestness that might be coated in sarcasm or irony. It’s the purest you’ll hear us, in a lot of ways, because we’re truly just asking a guy who created a bunch of stuff we love earnest questions. Overall, a lot of listeners are picking up on the fact that, as much as we’re ready to goof around about every single aspect of all this stuff, we really do love stuff like Winston The Punk Rock Dog. We love stupid animal mascot characters and robots and rides.

AVC: You never trash things for fun, like a “bad movies podcast” might.

JS: There’s definitely stuff that’s mind-boggling or frustrating, or things that just didn’t work and are awful. But we try to give stuff its due. A lot of people love this, so who are we to say?

SG: I feel very lucky that we all found a topic to do a podcast about that we legitimately care about. It fuels us to keep going and makes it not feel like work. The worst case scenario is if you arbitrarily pick some topic that seems funny for a podcast, then you get 10 episodes in and say, “Oh God, I don’t care about this at all.”

JS: “I’m trapped!”

SG: What keeps this podcast going is that we truly love this stuff. We want to goof and do riffs and let you know who we are on the edges, but the root of it is that we just love talking about theme parks very much. We were all essentially doing this for no one, or for uninterested wives and girlfriends, completely on our own—and probably will still when we’re someday not doing the podcast.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.