How far has talk radio has sunk since Alan Berg’s days?

Toward the end of the Creative Revolution Theater Company’s inspired production of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio, Barry Champlain, who’s the talk-show-host character in the play, tells his radio audience, “You’re like little children under the blanket, afraid of the bogeyman, but you can’t live without him.”

It’s a great line, among many in the play now showing in Thornton, and it’s a big reason why people listen to conservative talk radio. They’re scared, and they feed on their own paranoia.

Talk radio is also a place where people find a community of like-minded voices who validate each other’s beliefs, whereas in the real world, off the airwaves, in the mainstream media, they often fall into the lunatic-fringe category.

Bogosian’s play, based partly on the life and murder of Denver talk-radio host Alan Berg, depicts a talk-radio world, different from today’s, where calls are more personal and raw, and the talk-show host mostly berates callers.

“Are you as ugly as you sound?” Champlain asks a caller at one point during the play. Later he tells another caller, “Yes, the world is a terrible place…everything is screwed up, and you like it that way.”

Today, talk radio is mostly right-wing Republican not nihilistic or truth-telling, and certainly not liberal, like Berg was, if you heard him in Denver in the 1980s.

Talk-radio hosts will still beat up on callers or at least disagree with them, but they seem more desperate to please them, to legitimize their craziness, and hope they call back, to keep their audience from shrinking further. And to try to build political power for the Republican right.

So the talk-radio world you see in Bogosian’s Talk Radio, free from right-wing Republican talking points, is actually more interesting, even if it’s a bit dated, than what you hear on the radio now.

The play’s simple plot, like the 1988 movie with the same name, centers on Champlain’s response to callers during a single night’s show, as he gets more wasted, drinking whiskey and snorting cocaine.

Partisan politics doesn’t come up at all, as Champlain abuses everyone from a woman who likes “I love Lucy” to a man upset about dog poop in his neighborhood. Champlain dismisses on a black man who says he likes Jews and bigot who says he hates them.

I don’t know a lot about theater, but I can tell you that Champlain is performed with such complete and thorough passion and believability by actor Michael Occhuizzo that you’re left thinking he needs to get a job on a Denver talk-radio station as soon as possible.

I’m half serious, because talk radio, if done right, is much like a form of theater or reality entertainment–if it doesn’t get dragged down by the formula of faux politics and ginned-up paranoia that radio-station corporations seem to want today.

The best talk-radio hosts are artists/actors/entertainers themselves, as well as intellectuals, like Berg, driven to the talk medium as their form of expression.

As Champlain tells his audience in his last drunken lines of the play, before he leaves and ostensibly gets gunned down in the parking lot:  “You’re pathetic… I guess we’re stuck with one another.”

Do your best to catch one of the play’s last performances this Thurs., Fri., and Sat. at 7 p.m. It’s staged in a former retail space in the North Valley Tech Center in Thornton, an eerie, mostly vacant place that conjures up the strange world of talk radio, in Berg’s time and today.

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