In the late 90s, a couple of aspiring filmmakers from Philly decided to try out their own comedy detective film inspired by classics like The Pink Panther (1963), Get Smart (1965-70), and Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74). The result was a feature-length film called The Potchki Chronicles that never really saw the light of day (until they dared put it on YouTube). A couple of decades later, they revived Potchki in podcast form, birthing the scripted comedy podcast Potchki Audio Chronicles.
This small-but-growing podcast series recently kicked off its second season of clever storytelling, Yiddish puns, and incidental gastrointestinal gags. Let's take a look at how two kids from Philly and a handful of aspiring voice actors came together to make this rare podcast gem.
Fun fact: "potchki" (or "patchke") is a Yiddish word that means to experiment or dabble. What an appropriate name for a character who started as an experiment in filmmaking!
Eric N. Horowitz and Robert A. Palmer grew up in Philadelphia with a life-long love of films. They each graduated from film school and put in work various aspects of TV and film in Los Angeles. Their first ideas for Potchki started when they were watching through the original Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers as the humorous and unintentionally successful Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Eric and Rob envisioned their own Clouseau-like character, Lester Potchki, in a setting they could relate to, the Philadelphia-inspired city of Potchkiesberg.
Eric and Rob then put together a script for a feature-length film with Eric playing the lead role. When they needed to hire an actor to play Potchki's sleuthing partner, I.M. Nebbish, New York actor Nathan Faudree took the job. That film, The Potchki Chronicles, was completed in 2001 on a $35,000 budget and bearing the tagline, "The world's worst detective finally gets his first clue…"
That original film was ultimately never officially released, though oddly enough it was screened at a festival without their consent a few years later. It just goes to show that your work will alway have a fan out there somewhere! Here's where the film is currently available on YouTube:
A little while after wrapping that film, Eric had some life events that prompted him to return to Philly and focus on being a dad for a while. Rob kept a full-time focus on his industry career, serving as producer, director, and writer on a number of TV shows. Potchki and Nebbish rested quietly on a shelf, probably next to the nearest toilet plunger. But Lester was destined for a return…
Eric had another passion that predated all others: voice acting. It first piqued his interest back when he met Animaniacs legends Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell in 1994. Eric even chose to attend film school thinking that path might lead him toward voice acting. As 2011 rolled in, Eric started attending VO classes in his area, and he continued to closely follow the careers of voice actors he admired. That list included Paulsen and Steve Blum, who Eric was inspired by when he appeared as a guest on Paulsen's Talkin' Toons. When Blum launched his Blumvox Studios online training series in 2017, Eric eagerly joined. It was there that Eric started forming personal and professional connections with his classmates that would take his passion to the next level.
As Eric worked on his voice acting, he started talking to Rob about podcasts and ideas to exercise his skills. That's when Rob suggested they bring Lester Potchki back, this time as a podcast series. A podcast offered more flexibility than film, and it was the kind of production work that Rob and Eric could probably handle on their own. A hundred pages of notes later, and the next evolution of Potchki started to take shape: The Potchki Audio Chronicles.
To fill out that production, though, they needed a full voice cast. First, they were able to reconnect with Nathan who agreed to come back as Nebbish. The voice acting format was actually new for Nathan, who was more accustomed to screen and stage. But Nathan was up for the challenge.
Yes! Potchki and Nebbish were back together again!
To celebrate this reunion, Rob and Eric wrote a fun backstory of Nebbish being away serving as a personal assistant to Jeff Bezos for a few years. In Episode 1, Nebbish has just quit that job and returned to Potchkiesberg to rejoin his old partner at the Potchki Chronicles Detective Agency.
For the rest of the cast, Eric and Rob sought out volunteers who were wanting to do the project for a similar reason to Eric: for the love of the project, for the extra VO practice, and for some résumé building. Eric had a feeling that his fellow classmates from Blumvox Studios might be interested, so he asked the Blumvox administrators for permission to reach out to a few people. Eric made some contacts, and he and Rob auditioned the people who were interested until they had their cast for their first few episodes.
Personal note: I have been one of those cast members since the fourth episode, "The Christmas Special." I play main characters Sally and Kat Pacino, recurring side characters Patty Partisan and Augusta Wind, and various one-time side characters.
Since the start of Season 1, the production for each Potchki episode follows a simple plan. First, Eric and Rob find what time they can in their busy schedules to collaborate and write each episode. Once they have a full script, they schedule a table read with the cast via Zoom. After that, they iron out any issues, finalize the script, and give cast members the green light to start recording.
Because Potchki cast members are scattered around the world, each cast member records their parts on their own from home. Over time, they've found home-based recording setups that work for the show, from Vani sitting in a closet with her condenser mic to Carlos using a dedicated sound booth and high-end shotgun mic.
As their recordings come in, Rob edits together the podcast, complete with sound effects that evoke the heyday of radio drama. When Rob and Eric are happy with the episode, they upload it to Anchor (which aggregates to multiple podcast platforms) and promote the hell out of it on social media.
Throughout Season 1, the cast became comfortable with their fun and unique characters. Also, they made adjustments that improved the overall production quality.
Beyond the production itself, though, the Potchki cast has formed a family-like bond with each other, chatting regularly and supporting each other in their respective VO career moves. To have some fun and help promote the podcast between episodes, they "recast" some classic comedy films using their Potchki characters for some fun table read events on Facebook. My personal favorite was our read through Toy Story, and the recording is still available!
Season 1 of Potchki Audio Chronicles took two years to complete. Even though COVID-19 seemed to give people more time to focus on projects like this, it actually put a damper on some parts of the production process. Fortunately, in those two years, Rob and Eric were able to produce 14 episodes packed with comedy and mystery, including three fun holiday-themed episodes. This gave the crew momentum going into Season 2: the first episode of the season, "Our Heroes Return for More and More," went live on April 14, 2022.
But that ain't all!
Eric and Rob submitted a panel for Potchki at FAN EXPO Philadelphia April 8-10, 2022. The panel was accepted, and cast members got hyped for the opportunity to meet up and promote the podcast together. I was thrilled to be able to go and finally meet everyone in person. (Our cast members who couldn't make it were greatly missed.) It was a particularly memorable reunion for Rob, Eric, and Nathan who had all been part of the original film.
FAN EXPO was also an opportunity for the cast to see Steve Blum in person and show their appreciation for his role as instructor and mentor. Steve expressed pride in this small group of dedicated students who were doing their own thing. He encouraged us to keep putting our talents and positive energy into the world.
Bonus: We also met Nolan North while we were there who added his own words of encouragement for the Potchki crew.
In our panel, we shared some individual stories of how we each got involved with the project.
Rob and Eric continue to collaborate on other projects like their series of short films featuring comical idiot Bubba Brewski, one of which has seen some film festival traction. But they remain excited about keeping Potchki going, too. Even if the podcast only sustains a modest audience for a while, it will still have been a fun and rewarding experience for all of us involved.
Have you checked out Potchki Audio Chronicles yet? Here's a summary of where to find it:
Season 2, Episode 2 is just around the corner, so stay tuned!