“This is RU Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: Me?,” begins Scott Aukerman at the outset of every episode of his co-hosted podcast, “the comprehensive and encyclopedic compendium of all things R.E.M.” Hosts Aukerman and Adam Scott are indeed aficionados (sometimes referring to themselves as “superfan Adam Scott Aukerman”), yet the podcast (henceforward RU) consistently buries this expertise under extended chatter about mundane minutiae of the hosts’ lives. These digressions are self-aware jokes that nonetheless frustrate some listening for an R.E.M.-focused show. They are also strategic performances of proximity positioning the hosts between markers of “ordinary” (the primacy of lengthy banal subject matter, the intimacy of the podcast form, pre-celebrity fandom of the band) and “extraordinary” (references to and inclusions of other celebrities as fellow R.E.M. devotees). These shifting markers are alternately deployed to establish relatability for audiences, and to flex the hosts’ social capital within the culture industries to connect fandom and its object.
The accompanying video clip from the June 22, 2019 “Live from Clusterfest” episode provides a fitting example of—and I would argue a denouement to—the arc of this performance. “Clusterfest” begins with 50 minutes (nearly half the episode) of the hosts narrating for the podcast listener (not the live audience) their elaborate ruse to surprise R.E.M. cover band (read: superfans) Dead Letter Office with the arrival of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck during the “Clusterfest” show. The details of how they connected with Buck—signaling their privileged access compared to RU’s audience—are quickly brushed aside to focus instead on leveraging their capital into an authentic, unforeseen encounter between the musician and his admirers. The YouTube video (a rarity for this podcast) confirms this significance by registering the visible reactions of the superfans. Mock applause from Dead Letter Office at the “special guest” announcement gives way to genuine surprise when Buck actually emerges on stage. As the unbelieving tribute band begins to play with their idol, the hosts’ declarations to the live audience that “[Dead Letter Office] did not know this is happening” and “this is real” exemplify their performative re-positioning between distant devotees and famous fans.