Exploration: LIVE! is a collaboration between New York-based stand-up comedians and friends Charlie Bardey, SM ’17 and Natalie Rotter-Laitman. The podcast originated as a live show hosted by Bardey and Rotter-Laitman at the Bell House and Union Hall, epicenters of the Brooklyn alternative and queer comedy scenes. They continue to perform the show monthly and started a podcast of the same name in the fall of 2021, a pandemic-proof measure undertaken by many comedians during an uncertain time. Since its inception, the podcast has steadily grown in popularity and established a social media presence, with clips gaining traction on TikTok and Instagram. Just this week, Bardey and Rotter-Laitman were featured in Vulture’s annual much-anticipated “comedians to watch” list.
On each episode of the podcast, Bardey and Rotter-Laitman “explore their best ideas of the week.” They banter for a few minutes until one of them asks the ritual question: “Should we do our lists?” They then hand each other scraps of paper bearing two to four ambiguous, prewritten phrases; examples include “another itch,” “haircut they don’t care,” and “no recourse situation.” They read each others’ ideas one by one and invite each other to explain. “Another itch,” for example, turns out to be the story of Bardey getting into an MRI machine, asking at the last minute to itch his leg, and the attendant saying, “There’s always going to be another itch” before sending him through. Bardey explains in playfully rhapsodic terms how he has extrapolated this principle to the rest of his life.
Bardey’s humor dwells in this space of self-conscious pseudo-intellectualism. He broaches an inquiry into some fundamental aspect of life or culture, trying some grand taxonomy on for size, but never drags the conversation down. Rotter-Laitman is the foil to Bardey’s erudition. She plays the fool well, on the podcast and in her hilarious and enigmatic standup, but does so with a similar nuance. She never self-deprecates or exaggerates ignorance beyond believability. Her wit and intelligence is clear, and the fact that she opts for a meandering and uncertain effect as opposed to cheap one-liners or polished anecdotes testifies to her astute comedic sense.
The podcast’s strength lies in the fact that Bardey and Rotter-Laitman are dear friends engaging in natural conversations they would have whether mics were on or not. Beyond their “ideas,” they delightfully riff about all aspects of their lives. Frequently, Bardey talks about his side gig as an SAT tutor, and Rotter-Laitman about hers as a nanny. In one episode, Bardey tells a hilarious story about finding out his mother was allowed entry to a chic Berlin gay club where he was turned away at the door.
There is plenty of other content on the internet in which a couple 20-somethings gripe about contemporary life. Exploration: LIVE! forgoes this pettiness, instead opting for a playful, curious ethos, and an earnest quest to better understand the world. On a recent episode, a guest jokes, “You guys have invented a new way of thinking.” That’s not far from the truth. I have a page in my Notes app inspired by the show which includes such illuminating insights as “breathing remember” and “long time no see not real.” I live now by the mantra that the unexplored life is not worth living.