Luke Burbank, with guests The Devil Makes Three and Paul F. Tompkins in tow, will host a broadcast of the radio show “Live Wire!” in Seattle on Sept. 10.
For any fan of National Public Radio, the names “Fresh Air,” “This American Life” and “Prairie Home Companion” are quite familiar. But there’s another program quickly rising up the NPR listener ranks: the Pacific Northwest-based variety hour “Live Wire!,” which will host a live show Saturday (Sept. 10) at the Neptune Theatre.
Founded in 2004, the Portland-based “Live Wire!” has lately experienced some significant growth. (In Portland, it can be heard on Oregon Public Radio; Public Radio International added “Live Wire!” in 2014 and distributes it outside of Oregon.)
In the last two years, the program has more than doubled its broadcast affiliates while notable guests have included Seattle agitators Dan Savage and Ijeoma Oluo, and best selling authors John Hodgman and Chuck Palahniuk. On Saturday, though, the show will feature the twang rockers The Devil Makes Three and comedian Paul F. Tompkins (“BoJack Horseman”).
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle. Tickets from $18.50 (800-745-3000 or stgpresents.org).
“Paul has a dynamic quality on stage,” says “Live Wire!’s” oft-smirking host, Luke Burbank. “He’s so smart, so quick, so funny, so likable. We had him on last season and, during the interview, I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is my job!’ ”
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For Burbank, who grew up in Seattle, the duty of captaining radio programs is nothing new. He is a contributor to NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” and he’s the co-founder of the popular podcast “Too Beautiful to Live.” And, for years, he was an on-air mainstay at KIRO 97.3 FM. But the job of host is often one for which Burbank says he’s miscast.
“I’m trying to learn how to be better at it,” he says. “A really good host is not unlike a really good therapist — but I’m still working on tamping down my own narcissism.”
In reality, Burbank is affable, verbose and articulate. He is also the proud owner of a boat he steers around Lake Washington. As a result, he’s the perfect lead for “Live Wire!’s” brand of zigzagging interviews, musical performances, stand-up, poetry and 1950s-style faux commercial spots.
But things don’t always proceed smoothly with the rangy program.
“I’m a lot like a duck,” Burbank admits. “Above the water, the duck is calm. But below the water, its flippers are paddling furiously. When Chuck Palahniuk was on, he was so nervous being in front of a crowd in Portland. At some point I stopped and said, ‘Chuck, what would you like to talk about?’ and the whole tenor of the conversation changed — we had a delightful time.”
“Live Wire!’s” production style is fluid, befitting its host’s improvisational sensibilities. On “TBTL,” which boasts about a million listens monthly, Burbank and co-host Andrew Walsh let the conversation of the day’s topics lead them. And with “Live Wire!,” Burbank guides and is guided by his guests.
“That’s what’s cool about the style of our show,” he says of the variety show. “It’s always changing.”
But amid all of the moving pieces, there must some foundational aspect, right?
“Storytelling,” Burbank says, confidently. “That’s the thing I find totally and completely fascinating. We’re trying to make something that works for live audiences, radio audiences and podcasting — that’s the creative challenge, but I think we’re getting closer.”