In Yiddish, “potchki” means to dawdle, dilly-dally, waste time.
First-generation Polish-Jewish immigrant Robert Palmer feels the word is grossly underrated.
Palmer’s Polish parents immigrated to Philadelphia in the 1960s and met at Temple University, finding a slice of Ashkenazi Jewish culture in the likes of satirist Jackie Mason. Palmer himself was a fan of Jewish comedy giants Peter Sellers and the Marx brothers, “potchki-ing” comedians who were the lifeblood of 20th-century entertainment.
It’s a lifeblood Palmer wants to keep alive.
Taking inspiration from his Jewish entertainment heroes, Palmer, along with childhood friend Eric Horowitz, created “The Potchki Chronicles” in 2001, a hokey, low-budget film that they reprised as a podcast “The Potchki Audio Chronicles’’ in 2019. Palmer, Horowitz and the rest of the “Potchki” crew teased the second season of the podcast at their first Philadelphia Fan Expo panel on April 10.
“The Potchki Audio Chronicles,” a de facto sequel to the film, is a scripted comedy where inept sleuth Potchki teams up with pseudo-intelligent and hyper serious I.M. Nebbish to stop crimes in the underbelly of a very fictionalized, very Eastern European Philadelphia-esque metropolitan.
Like Potchki, sidekick Nebbish — and the rest of the podcast’s characters — draw heavily on Yiddish vocabulary. Nebbish in Yiddish means timid and submissive, foreshadowing the sidekick as ineffective against recurring villain Flaczki, whose name derives from a Polish tripe soup Palmer deems “absolutely disgusting.”
The escapades of the intrepid heroes take them to even sillier locales. In a future episode, Palmer and Horowitz intend to take Potchki and Nebbish to the Borscht Belt — not a summer resort, but to a wrestling tournament, where the winner takes an oversized wrestling belt with the familiar, if not misleading name.
Palmer and Horowitz may now be living in different cities — Palmer is in Los Angeles and Horowitz is in Ambler — well into their careers as movie and film producers, but their love of storytelling together has deep roots.
The two met through Palmer’s brother, who was friends with Horowitz at Lower Moreland High School in Huntingdon Valley. Palmer and Horowitz hit it off; Horowitz’s love of Mel Brooks and his encyclopedic memory of “Blazing Saddles” helped the two find an instant connection in Jewish humor and media.
Beyond superficial interests, Palmer and Horowitz shared similar stories. Horowitz had Russian and Ukrainian ancestry, understanding the obscure, little details of Palmer’s childhood, such as kogel mogel, a raw egg drink which Palmer describes as “similar to the one Rocky would drink.”
“Eric came to me, and he was like, “Hey, have you ever heard of kogel mogel? My mom mentioned it,’” Palmer said. “And I’m like, ‘Yes! My dad used to make me drink it!’”
Kogel mogel later made an appearance in “Potchki.”
Their collaboration culminated in the 2001 “Potchki” movie, but even after the life of the film reached a dead-end, the life of Potchki certainly didn’t.
In between Palmer’s credits as executive producer is Hulu horror film “I Am Alone” and Horowitz’s helming of Green Socks Production as executive producer, the two stayed in touch, still throwing “Potchki” pitches back and forth.
“We talk to each other pretty much every day,” Horowitz said. “Every time an idea comes in, I’ll instantly start writing, and then we’ll just go back and forth with the idea. I’ll copy it and paste it to a Google doc, which we’re now up to 300 pages of stupid ideas.”
It was Horowitz’s idea to revamp the project in 2019, hoping that the podcast medium would be perfect for listening on road trips and commutes. By the time “Potchki” hit its stride again in early 2020, people were no longer commuting to work or going on road trips to visit friends and family.
The project stalled, but because Palmer and Horowitz were so used to communicating virtually on opposite sides of the country, adapting to pandemic restrictions was easy. They recruited up-and-coming voice actors from around the world, including Australia. FanExpo was the first time the entire podcast team had met in person.
The rebooted podcast allowed Palmer and Horowitz to reunite with Nathan Faudree, a New-York based film actor and “Potchki”’s original Nebbish. Faudree, who is not Jewish, jumped at the opportunity to play the role again.
Though laying the groundwork for an expansive second season, the podcast crew is realistic in their expectations for the project. The original trio has established careers in the industry, but the longevity of the project and the enduring interest of Palmer, Horowitz and Faudree point to the power the project has in their lives.
“They’re not in it for like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get famous or we’re gonna make this huge statement,’ or anything like that,” Faudree said. “They just want to have fun and want to make something cool.”