Preview: Podcasts Saved the Radio Star (and reinvented the comedian)

SXSWi 2012 is populating itself with pep talks for the audio enthusiast. With panels highlighting the exciting future of public radio, and audio storytelling, there is a spirit of regeneration around a previously withering medium. In fact, we may be mourning its death if not for the Lazarus of progressive audio programming: the podcast.

No longer do we have to sit around the ‘ol radio tubes at exactly 7pm to hear the latest adventures of Little Orphan Annie; today we simply pop on iTunes and download what we want from the archives.

In no profession has the podcast become more relevant than that of the comedian. Comedy nerds no longer need to stalk around back allies of clubs to try and get to know their favorite comic; just subscribe to their podcast and you’ll know more about them than their own mothers. And almost every comic has one…a mother and a podcast.

How did podcasting suddenly get put on the mandatory checklist for being a comic? Is it necessary? Does it have to be funny? These are the questions that will be addressed at the SXSWi panel Podcasting: Breeding a New Class of Comedy Nerd.

Marc Maron is one recognizable example of an under-the-radar comic turned celebrity by way of self-produced podcasting. But Nerdist has become the MTV network of podcasts. Originally created by comic Chris Hardwick, Nerdist went from one show about what it meant to be a nerd, to a variety of shows under the proverbial nerd umbrella.

Pete Holmes is one such umbrella holding nerd (he prefers weirdo) who hosts the comic interview podcast, You Made It Weird.

Meeting the very tall Pete Holmes

Holmes was recently in Austin for his stand-up tour, but will be returning to do the first live broadcast of You Made It Weird at SXSW on March 13. He is not on the official panel about comedian podcasters, but he is the perfect example of the new breed of podcasting comedy nerd. With a career spanning more than a decade, with recent appearances on Conan, and a successful road following, it was interesting to hear his take on how the marriage between podcasting and performance leads to the birth of a more well-rounded experience, for the audience and the comic.

Holmes tried to explain the phenomenon by way of metaphor. Nerds and weirdos alike love a good metaphor:

“If you think about my comedy like a cookie tray, and we put this glob of cookie dough on a pan and that’s my stand up. And then we put this other glob of cookie dough and that’s my podcast. And my podcast is like the most uncensored, unfiltered version of me. So it’s kind of a big glob and it’s bubbling and it’s cooking. And my stand up is a little bit more of a persona, a little bit more of a presentation, so it’s not artificial but I’m showing a certain side, I’m hiding other sides. But a podcast, it’s everything. And I think the oven is like the trajectory of my career and the hotter the oven gets the more these two cookies start merging towards each other. We were talking about how the audience that knows you from the podcast will go with you to other places. I’m trying to blend stage persona and real Pete into one thing, one huge cookie, to let everyone just mainline truth. I know that sounds kind of hoity-toity, but I want to get to a place where the comedy and what I really feel and what I’m really saying are one fucking big cookie…that feels a little bit closer to art to me. It’s this wonderful experiment of coming of age, of learning what it feels like to be really honest.”

 

Pete’s goal was to get on Conan by the time he was 30. He made it not long after his 31st birthday. Who’s to say if the podcast helped him get there, but he says his podcast fans feel like his friends, and who isn’t happy for their friends when they succeed? Keep on trucking, Pete – see you at SXSWi.