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Episode 140

Iconoclastic Comedy & The Epic Story of the First American Road Trip

Episode 140
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We are witnessing exponentially rapid changes in technological advancement which  recall the dawn of the industrial age when newly harnessed electricity first lit up our houses and the assembly line sent Model Ts motoring down your street and out into the countryside to points heretofore unseen.

During this period, the two men most responsible for these wonders drove off together with our nation’s foremost naturalist to seek adventure and wrestle with the practical and theoretical challenges faced when agrarian societies broke way to usher in the marvels of innovation.

The road trips were winding and intricate and they wove through New York State, New England, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and points beyond. And when Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and John Burroughs rolled into your town in 1918 it must have felt like you were suddenly in the presence of The Beatles and Thor God of Thunder.

These extensive camping treks were among the first American road trips, during a time when diners, motels and roadside assistance were not yet in existance. Good thing Tom and Henry were so handy with a wrench and a cylinder head. These epic trips are chronicled in Wes Davis’s new book, American Journey: On The Road With Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and John Burroughs.

Wes tells us how Ford began his career working for Edison’s company, why Ford sent John Burroughs a free car and how the threesome first decided to take their conversations on the road. He also describes how their travel, conversations and friendship informed and influenced each of their world views and trajectories.

We talk about their obsession with studying plant life, appreciating the power of moving water and stopping at abandoned mills to better understand how to find the tools and ingredients of invention within our natural world.

We also address the gordian knot of Ford’s altruism and antisemitism. Did his hateful published words encourage the fascism which led to the Holocaust? Wes says that the dark side of Ford’s personality almost pulled him away from the project but that he approached the problem from Burroughs’ point of view which was to push back and study the complexities of human nature.

Plus, comedian Dylan Brody joins us to talk about his unique brand of smart, delibertate  comedy, how story-telling can lead to social change and his new solo show opening at The Hollywood Improv Lab, 'Thinking Allowed', over a decade in the making.

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