• Puppets of political figures

      A screengrab from “Radio Free AmeriCast” show (Photo – YouTube)

      When Mark Dreskin, a local physician who moonlighted in blogging, podcasting and cartooning, first saw a new podcast announced by Rudy Giuliani, he immediately honed his impression and got to work.

      By Justina Michael

      Though Mark Dreskin had worked in stand-up very early in life, before medical school and his time as a primary care doctor in Los Angeles, he admired Jim Carrey and others at the comedy store in Hollywood, and dreamed of doing the same one day. After a few attempts in his twenties, and an abandoned plan to go to New York to try out his skills, he settled into writing and a few attempts at graphic novel writing before eventually arriving at Rudy Giuliani imitations.

      “When I first saw that Rudy Giuliani was starting a podcast, I knew I had to get mine out at the same time to ride whatever wave was created by Rudy’s production. I debated a few names and eventually came up with ‘Rudy Giuliani Has A Podcast.’ I just had to imagine they were coming up with something as literal as possible. I don’t recall what he eventually did call his podcast but it wasn’t too far off.” The podcast immediately took off and had 6 000 listens per show, compared to Mark’s movie review podcast that would usually just get a few dozen.

      As events would have it however, his imitation was accurate enough that comments on the site reflected the belief that some thought Rudy Giuliani was actually hosting the show. In subsequent episodes, Mark heightened the absurdity, creating side characters such as a sister named Trudy and another sister named Shruti, who was taking on the first name because of a boyfriend from South-East Asia. This, unfortunately, did not disabuse the listeners of the idea that he may be the real Rudy Giuliani. So, Mark created puppets to represent the characters and branched it into a YouTube channel called Radio Free AmeriCast.

      “The name came out of RudyCast. I came to naming the show RudyCast at a certain point and then started to think of webcasts and podcasts and arrived at AmeriCast. At the time, as a physician, I was particularly offended by how the Giuliani story was weaved into stories about COVID, and who had the illness and who received preferential medical treatment. Therefore, I felt that if this show is going to be broad enough to be funny to a lot of people, I had to add new characters. In addition, the election was coming up and it looked like Trump was not going to return, so the relevant parties were going to be others like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I expanded my imitation repertoire and came up with new puppet characters to populate the show – which continues on YouTube – and it is now called Radio Free AmeriCast. There is a second channel starting called the puppet government that would be oriented towards children, and the videos will not contain the same thematic material.”

      “I would love kids to learn about what goes on in the news. When I was a kid, I watched Schoolhouse Rock! which taught Math, English, History, Civics and so on. It was always with catchy songs. And what I remember from that – such as multiplication tables, the Declaration of Independence and how a law becomes a law – have stayed with me. So, if I could do something catchy and at the same time, help expand people’s understanding of the world, that would be very satisfying to me.”

      Mark is, in fact, retired from medical work after a recent injury, but continues to find material in all of the public health dilemmas which are in the news. “I did a few shows on COVID, created puppets for characters like Anthony Fauci and Scott Atlas, but YouTube tends to discourage videos on topics related to COVID, so I had to be pretty careful with that. Over time, I stuck to the topics that were fairly noncontroversial, like simple things that we do to limit spread. And when you attach a silly song and silly voices, especially if the song is catchy, you can get a few points across and entertain people.”

      Mark’s family has gotten in on the act. His son supplies regular Donald Trump voices and his wife contributes puppeteering work, while several local friends who work in comedy occasionally contribute skits.

      “I notice people love it when the puppets pop up in the middle of the day to comment on the current news. I usually get slightly better viewership when I keep myself out of the video and just leave it to the puppets. But sometimes, I can’t resist and pop in almost like the live action characters, who pop in on the Muppets back in the day.”

      With Rudy Giuliani, his books and legal troubles continuing to course through the headlines, it’s certain that Mark will have more material and more education to bring to his viewers in the coming months.

      Justina Michael is a freelance writer living in the San Gabriel Valley.

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