For Comedians, the Podcast Changes Everything

Studio 360
The World

In the last few years a surge in comedy podcasting has changed the way comics work. "We're beginning to realize our careers don't hinge on someone in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction," Patton Oswalt told the audience at a comedy festival in Montreal last year. "There are no more gates." "I think a podcast is the ultimate social networking for a comedian right now, as we speak, and it's even getting bigger," says comedian Robert Kelly. Not long ago, if a comic like Kelly wanted to make it in stand-up, he needed to get gigs touring comedy clubs, appearances on a late night talk show, and a Comedy Central or HBO special. Unlike some of the free content artists now offer on the internet, comedy podcasts directly affect revenue. "Doing the podcast changed everything 100%," says Pete Holmes. For about a decade, he worked the comedy clubs, then he started a podcast, which now gets 40,000 downloads a week. That led to a huge increase in ticket sales. The podcast is intimate, with riffs on his depression, religion, and divorce. And it gives Holmes a place to workshop material without the pressure to deliver punch lines. "I'm uploading my entire personality for public consumption," he says, "but, for somebody, for better or worse, who enjoys being seen and validated by strangers, it's a great feeling." Some of the podcasts aren't really supposed to be funny – like Mark Maron's very successful WTF, in which he talks to other comedians in intense, often brutally honest conversations. Comedy Central executive JoAnn Grigioni, who uses podcasts to scout talent, is struck by how the long form of podcasting is changing the craft and what fans want. When comedians perform live, she says, "they can kind of be a little bit looser on stage, and it seems like audiences are trained more to like a different pace." But are gatekeepers like Grigioni really irrelevant? Sara Schaefer and Nikki Glaser co-host a podcast that consists mostly of innocuous banter about pop culture. MTV took notice and is producing Nikki and Sara LIVE for television, premiering this week. "You're supposed to go through this system to kind of become a successful comedian," Schaeffer says, "And I think what Nikki and I have done is proof that you can do it a different way." The gates are still there – it's the path to them that's changed. Robert Kelly notes that "Louis C.K. and Chris Rock – they don't have podcasts. You know what they have? Fame."