In 2019, The Verge reported that Elon Musk had spent $2 million on a startup called Thud, which describes itself as “a comedy project that creates immersive satirical experiences.” Musk’s support for the startup, led by two former Onion staffers, came from his longtime admiration of the Chicago-based satire publication. However, in part due to concerns this endeavor could sully the name of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk abandoned the startup six months before its launch.
By the looks of it, Musk’s admiration for the Onion’s signature brand of humor has also diminished over time. He recently expressed his disappointment over an article from the site joking that Musk made his fortune from apartheid, citing this kind of coverage as a reason why Onion readers were now flocking to the “savage” Babylon Bee, a Christian satire website that publishes bits such as “Virginia Abolishes Death Penalty For All Crimes Except Being An Unwanted Baby” and “Bernie Sanders Changes Mind On Space Travel After Elon Musk Builds Him A Fourth Home On Mars.”
This history makes The Sketch Factor, a new short-form comedy series about a billionaire who shares several biographical particulars with Musk, that much funnier. The premise of the podcast is simple: Xandor Szavost, voiced by Fred Armisen, is a billionaire inventor who is involved in pursuits like commercial space tourism, but also has a particular zest for sketch comedy. To scratch his humor itch, Szavost sets out on a quest to find the funniest sketch in existence, reviewing them one by one.
Each episode opens with Szavost queuing up a new sketch—such as a lighthearted cooking show that devolves into madness, and a meeting of “No Fappers”—then ends with his judgement of its performance and execution. This framework allows each episode to be freestanding and independent of the others, so you can tune in at any time.
The series is densely packed, with writing and voice work from a range of comedic talents, including Tim Robinson, Jo Firestone, Seaton Smith, and Yamanika Saunders. In one standout sketch, Robinson plays a mindfulness expert conducting a guided meditation to get over one’s fear of flying. It is so ineffective that I actually would advise you to avoid listening to it if you’re a real life aviophobe.
With episodes ranging from three to five minutes, The Sketch Factor makes for an easy listen. Of course, you don't need to know about Elon Musk to enjoy The Sketch Factor. In fact—according to the series' head writer, Ryan Perez, who has previously written for Saturday Night Live—the two are not related at all.
When asked by VICE if the Xandor Szavost character was inspired by Musk, Perez responded, "Of course not. For all legal purposes, Xandor is a completely original billionaire character whose frequent rocket crashing resembles no one in particular."
The Sketch Factor, a Spotify Original produced by Radio Point, is streaming exclusively on Spotify now.