Potchki Audio Chronicles Brings Hysterical Sleuthing to Podcasting

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.

The film experiment

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…"

Split photo with Nathan Faudree, Rob Palmer, and Eric Horowitz both in 2022 and during their original Potchki film production 20 years earlier.
Nathan Faudree, Rob Palmer, and Eric Horowitz in 2022 (top) restaging a photo taken during their original Potchki film production.

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…

The voice acting experiment

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.

Caricature of Potchki and Nebbish by cast member Tim Muller.
Caricature of Potchki and Nebbish by cast member Tim Muller.

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.

Screenshot from a Zoom video conference with 14 Potchki Audio Chronicles cast members who are doing a table read.
The Potchki Audio Chronicles cast doing a table read.

The podcast production experiment

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.

Our humble podcast family

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!

A photo of the Potchki Audio Chronicles cast members.
Potchki cast members at FAN EXPO Philadelphia in 2022. Front: Rob Palmer and Eric Horowitz. Back: Marcus Cannello, Nathan Faudree, Vani Neel, Stephanie Watson, Tim Muller.

Season 2 and a growing audience

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.

Potchki Audio Chronicles cast members with voice actor Steve Blum.
Rob and some of the cast members who met through Blumvox Studios met their mentor Steve Blum in April 2022.

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!

Missed Gems in Gaming: Singularity

I don’t remember when it was, but I picked up Singularity on a whim. I think it may have been on sale and looked interesting enough on the cover to warrant a purchase. I got it on Xbox 360, and I remember thinking this is so cool during my first playthrough. Though the game is a first-person shooter, a genre I am fairly familiar with and play frequently, Singularity had a twist I didn’t know about (and it's not a spoiler): 

Time travel! 

As someone who was obsessed with the Back to the Future series as a kid, time travel was always something I looked forward to in television, video games, and movies. That's why once I had finished Singularity I was surprised to find out that no one I knew had ever heard of it.

A noble action that changes history?

Singularity was released in 2010, developed by Raven Software (Quake 4), and was published by Activision (Spyro the Dragon, Destiny). You begin the game as character Captain Nathaniel Renko, a U.S. Recon Marine investigating an electromagnetic surge that took out a U.S. spy satellite. Renko crash-lands with his group on an island known as Katorga-12 after another electromagnetic surge takes out their helicopter. He finds his way into a building on Katorga-12, filled with audio recordings, an informational video about a strange substance known as E-99, and a giant statue of Joseph Stalin’s head. 

There, Renko is exposed to some sort of energy wave that transports him back to 1955 in a burning version of the building he was just in. The floor collapses, and a man falls through the hole. Renko instinctively saves the man’s life and is thanked by people referring to the man as “Demichev.” Then, he returns to the year 2010 only to discover that things in the room have changed. Instead of a statue of Stalin’s head, a statue of Demichev's head stood in its place.

The story is enhanced by the history of Katorga-12, E-99, and Demichev's takeover, told through audio and video clips throughout the game.

As you get started playing as Renko in the game, you're captured by Demichev's soldiers and rescued by a woman named Kathryn with a group called MIR-12. MIR-12 found a journal in the building stating that Renko was the key to ending Demichev's reign using something called the Time Manipulation Device. This TMD was developed by Doctor Victor Barisov, who Demichev killed in the past.

Your first task is to go back in time and save Barisov's life and use his TMD help to continue your larger mission: making sure Demichev does not end up in power.

You can use the TMD to open a rift in space-time.

When you first discover the TMD, its powers are very basic. Throughout the game, though, you're able to upgrade it to become more powerful and useful. It runs on a substance known as E-99, which is what caused Katorga-12 to go under instead of becoming the utopia the Soviet Union had hoped it would be. Once you have more power, the TMD can manipulate time, move objects back and forth in time, send a pulse to kill enemies, and much more. 

Throughout the game, you also have to fight off human enemies and mutated creatures alike by collecting ammunition and weapons. You must do everything you can to stop Demichev's rise.

This game is a lot of fun! 

Missions are challenging and enemies vary in difficulty.

I love going back and forth through time, seeing the past that shaped the present is interesting, and—my favorite part—manipulating objects through time. Can’t get onto a ledge because a stairway has disintegrated? Just use the TMD to take that part of the stairs back in time, and they will repair themselves. Trying to get past some spinning blades? Use the TMD to send a pulse at them to hold them in place for a few seconds while you slip through. Have an enemy you can’t quite take out? Use the TMD to pick up an explosive barrel and hurl it back towards them. The TMD works equally well as a weapon and as a manipulation device.

It’s widely known that the game had troubles with development, so much so that Activision almost canceled it altogether. After delays with the game in October 2010, they reduced the development to just one team at Raven. Once released, Singularity did well, but not well enough for Activision's standards, and they were disappointed. In contrast, player reviews are largely positive because while Singularity is similar to many first-person shooters, it has enough unique features to make it a singular game of its own.

Me doing my best on my “Singularity Sundays” stream.

While you never hear Renko's voice, the game does have a slew of well-known voice actors in the cast: Nolan North, Steve Blum, Graham McTavish, Yuri Lowenthal, Kari Wahlgren, and Troy Baker. 

The graphics aren't incredible by any means, but they do keep you involved in the story. And that story is enhanced by the history of Katorga-12, E-99, and Demichev's takeover told through audio and video clips throughout the game. Singularity gives you as much information as possible by packing the game with audio files, educational films, and notes.

Given its development and release hiccups, I can understand why this game slipped under the radar. But I hope more people discover it and give it a chance. Singularity is a fun and interesting game. It reminds me a lot of Bioshock, too, and if you like that kind of game, I urge you to give Singularity a chance. It's available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Steam.

Have you played Singularity? What other missed gems have you enjoyed and would recommend? Let's chat about them in the comments.