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My Dad Wrote A Porno Honors HBO’s Hilarious Legacy of Adult Content

How the podcast-turned-comedy special recalls HBO’s now-dead softcore content with laughter
  • Jamie Morton on My Dad Wrote a Porno (HBO)
    Jamie Morton on My Dad Wrote a Porno (HBO)

    Few things come as naturally as a laugh or a curiosity about sexuality. For some generations, HBO had been instrumental in indulging both, offering late night content of the stand-up and lay down variety in equal measure (if unequal in stature).

    That instinctive predisposition is something that has made the uproarious My Dad Wrote A Porno one of the most popular podcasts in the world. For the unfamiliar, hosts Jamie Morton, Alice Levine, and James Cooper spend each installment reading a chapter from the erotic novel Belinda Blinked, written by Morton's father under the pseudonym Rocky Flintstone. And while that fact alone is enough to hook a listener, what makes the podcast so gaspingly funny is its author’s profound lack of understanding of the female anatomy, his habitual focus on extraneous details, and its plot set in a supposedly cutthroat world of international home goods sales.

    Now the podcast takes on a new life in television form, arriving on HBO this Saturday, May 11, at 11:00 PM, as a comedy special, with the hosts delivering a lost chapter from Rocky’s files to a live audience. It’s as bawdy and cringe-inducingly funny as any of the podcast’s best episodes, with the transition from our earbuds to the small screen coming much smoother than you might expect after HBO attempted the same to so-so results with the politically-minded Pod Save America. But this successful attempt shouldn’t be so surprising since it returns HBO to one of its origins: the unintentionally hilarious softcore porno.

    Just last year, HBO officially phased out all adult content from their platforms, citing lack of demand for such horny programming when porn is readily available across all imaginable devices. When even the Rocky Flintstones of the world can produce and distribute their erotic content directly the masses, you can understand HBO’s inclination to get out of the game. But while HBO might finally seem to have shed its seedy roots for good, what's now lost is a specific brand of erotica that was charmingly chaste compared to what HBO considered their competition in this arena. - In hindsight, much of it is as laughable as a Flintstonian anatomy lesson.

    Because while HBO was home to plenty of softcore, saxophone-underscored adult films with boobs and butts aplenty, it also gave us some truly bonkers and unintentionally silly original adult television. The earnestness of more straightforward erotica and its peek-a-boo relationship with nudity earned its own kind of giggles, but the more memorable offerings skewed towards the surreal and eccentric. There were docuseries like the Taxicab Confessions and Cathouse, but chief among them was Real Sex. Here was where folks hoping to see something scintillating were instead presented with matter-of-fact depictions of tantrics pretending to be dolphins or beat poetics soliloquizing their vaginas or maybe a naked lady making out with a tree.

    real Sex was ultimately less erotic than it was outlandish, even if most of its subjects seem less sensational now than they did at the time. But the about-face experienced between lurid viewer expectations and its kooky/quaint reality is the stuff of comedy gold.And his is exactly the ground that My Dad Wrote a Porno walks on. It’s not just that Rocky’s descriptions of sex are absurd and overly pedantic, it’s that they also go against how we expect erotica to function as both titillating and non-confrontational. The author may not be aware he’s pulling the rug out from under us, but it’s what makes Belinda Blinked such a cringeworthy delight for the hosts and the audience alike. If you’re hoping for an appearance from the author, sadly he remains anonymous as the series continues to live on.

    This taped performance, however, isn’t just a natural extension of what we’re accustomed to with the podcast. It’s like if we all sat around and turned HBO’s former early-hours programming into a drinking game. The incongruity of Flintstone’s described foreplay is brought to life, and everyone groans together at the distinct unsexiness of the word “butthole”. A podcast — much like a porno, actually — is experienced in solitude. But as Jamie, Alice, and James interact with the audience, that alternative communal experience reveals what is universal about the kind of sexual curiosity that Flintstone haphazardly attempts to serve and HBO no longer does.

    My Dad Wrote A Porno may look on the surface like it belongs among HBO's of comedy specials, but it also occupies space as an Irish wake of sorts (not funereal but bawdy) to the network's dead, deeply awkward adult content.

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