Deadly Foosball, Nefarious Pool Guys and the Loony Musings of ‘Valley Heat’

In the Rancho Equestrian District of Burbank, Calif., they take foosball seriously — and those who don’t, well, they might get their thumbs broken. Or worse. Foosball is life or death there, but mostly death, or at least it can seem that way on “Valley Heat,” a deliriously deadpan fictional podcast about this real neighborhood that delights in ludicrous lore and nonsense.

Its host, the spectacularly ineffectual freelance insurance adjuster Doug Duguay (played by Christian Duguay, a former star of “Mad TV”), tells his audience with the earnestness of an NPR host that when it comes to causes of death, a lot of people don’t know that foosball is “second only to jumping off cliffs in bat suits.”

There’s no better indictment of the algorithms that power our digital landscape than the fact that my feeds have shown me thousands of videos of comedians doing crowd work over the past few years, but not a peep about this masterfully absurd podcast. While its 17 episodes evoke the dry humor of Mike Judge and the gleefully silly song parodies of “Flight of the Conchords,” “Valley Heat” remains under the radar, probably for the same reason it’s such an exciting find. It’s too weird to neatly categorize or quickly explain.

I knew little about it before a recommendation from a friend, who said: “I’m not going to tell you anything, just listen.” I didn’t get it at first. It seemed banal, wandering. But its humor sneaks up on you. It’s somehow improvisational and literary at the same time, drunk on language, packed with twists, narrowly satirical while also creating a strange aesthetic world. The muted tone requires some focus from listeners. Once I tuned into its peculiar frequency, it had me laughing out loud as much as any TV show has in recent years.

The first season was released in 2020 and developed a cult following, with some famous fans like Patton Oswalt. After a few episodes of a second season, the podcast vanished for more than a year and a half. It re-emerged in January on the platform Maximum Fun, which this year released two new episodes (that include Oswalt as a voice).

The show centers on Doug, a beta male buffoon who tells us he was the kind of kid who could never have fun at a party. Doug grew into the kind of adult who becomes flustered when his wife’s yoga teacher, who answers the phone by saying “light and love,” texts mermaid emojis in Venmo transactions. “The mermaid is the only naked emoji,” he explains, before hedging. “Not fully naked.”

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