This is part three of my interview with Chris Hardwick. Clike the following links to find Part One & Part Two. In part three Chris and I talk about podcasting. Podcasting is a platform I want to get deeper into, so I found part three to be a very educational interview for me. In the event you don't go back and check out parts 1 and 2 of the interview, Chris has his first ever hour long stand up special "Mandroid" airing November 10th on Comedy Central, be sure to check that out.
If you want to listen to the entire podcast version of this interview check it out here:
Zoiks!: In the last year or two I’ve really started to get into podcasting, you guys, Kevin Smith, Marc Maron, etc. What got you into podcasting?
Chris Hardwick: I’d worked in radio in the 90’s and I always missed radio. The thing I really didn’t like about radio is there’s a cap on it. Your radio career is only going to really be as big as the city you’re in, unless you can be syndicated which very few people achieve. It felt limiting in that way. With podcasting there really is no ceiling on it. Theoretically you could reach most of the people in the world. There was that aspect to it and then just the ability to express myself in that way. There’s not a lot of stand up to do on television anymore like there was in the 80’s. Your job as a comic is to get your voice into the world as much as possible so that people can see what you’re about and make a decision to come see you live or not. Because there is not a lot of stand up to do on television anymore, it’s harder and harder for comics to achieve getting their voice in the world. You can make You Tube videos; digital culture in general has created so much more opportunity for us with social networks. You can get your comedy out through Twitter, if you have a website, the blogosphere is dying down a bit now from what it was in the mid 2000’s, but it is still possible. You can make You Tube videos and of course podcasts. I think comics just need to express their voice. It’s just a weird need we have to express our voice to as many people as possible. It just allows us to do that.
I thought about doing a podcast for about two years before I did it. I could never figure out what the show was. I thought it had to be structured like a radio show and have segments and be produced. I thought who’s going to do that? Who’s going to pay for that? What’s the show going to be? Then doing Pardo’s show, Maron’s show and Doug Benson’s show and then when Carolla left radio and he started a podcast, I don’t know I just had a moment of clarity one day where I was just like, you can just talk. You can just talk with funny people and have conversations and sort of talk the way you do back stage at comedy shows. The podcast to me is basically just like…we have guests on. It’s sort of like an hour long conversation with someone that you have on the phone for the first time that you’re really interested in being friends with. It’s very conversational in that way. Then on episodes where it’s just Matt (Mira), Jonah (Ray) and I…the other two guys on the show regularly, then it’s just like a dick around session. It’s basically just like the way that we hang out if we were to go get food at a diner or talk back stage at a comedy show. It really is, podcasting is very intimate in that way, it feels like you’re just hanging out with people and that’s a really comfortable thing to listen to as a fan of podcasts, that’s one of the things I enjoy about it.
Z!: Who do you credit with the recent surge in podcasting popularity? Is it any one guy, is it you all as a collective?
CH: I credit iTunes, because before iTunes made podcasts easy to get, there was a very early…you had to get files, there were open source formats you could get it in and players you could play them in or you could do what “This American Life” did, I think they were streaming in real audio in like 98. There were certainly ways to do it. Your audience was a lot smaller and it was harder. Podcasting still sounded like Ham Radio to people, like it was a hobby thing that you do that a handful of other people can get and do, but there’s no real wide audience for it. Once iTunes made the delivery system easy and accessible and put it more in the forefront then all of the sudden podcasts started to pop.
People like myself who worked in traditional media for all these years started to be able to pull in people that we knew that people didn’t have the chance to hear for an hour anywhere else. Like, ‘oh wow Jon Hamm loves video games? I never would have known that if I didn’t get the chance to talk with him for an hour, oh wow Ozzy was hugely influenced by the Beatles and he has this weird collection of stuff he wants to talk about or the Muppets or anyone else.’ It really is about legitimizing the platform for other people in media and having them go, ‘oh this isn’t just a hobby thing that people do in the basement for twelve other people. It’s a real thing.’ There’s real power in it. You really form a relationship with your audience. I think more than any other form of media podcasting is very intimate.
People go out of their way to get it, they put it in their ears, it guides them through their day, on public transportation, on treadmills, on crappy jobs they hate. They really form a connection with it and I’ve found that not only has the number of people that go to live shows gone up exponentially, but the quality of people. People that come to our shows are people that we’d hang out with. People that listen to our show are people that we’d probably be friends with. That’s why it’s really…I think podcasting in general has the most powerful grasp on community building than the other platforms, because it’s so intimate and engaging in that way.
Z!: For somebody who is not kind of a celebrity already going into a podcasting, like say someone is trying to start a band, but instead they’re going to start a podcast, would you say the most important thing is to think about community when you’re building it?
CH: You always have to think about community. First of all you have to think about what is it that you really want to say. What do you want to say and who do you think your audience is. I mean you can just try and start doing it and it could be hit or miss. The ultimate thing to take away is maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe if 100 people listen to your show that’s fine because you’re still expressing yourself in a way that you need to express.
If you were trying to build it I would look at the other podcasts that are out there. Then I would write down all the things that I’m interested in, things I care about, things that I do, work that I do, hobbies and try to figure out if there is a way to take all the things that I love and am passionate about and maybe present that…the more specific you are I think the better chance you have of standing out. Then you just figure out how you take what you love and fit it in to what’s already out there. Maybe there’s a hole that’s not being filled. I think the way that you find those holes….this is a crappy example that I’m about to give (laughs), ‘hey I love SCUBA diving and I love cup cakes, what if I had a show about underwater cooking?’ Just finding the things that are very personal to you and trying to mash them up to create a completely unique point of view, which is really what you do with stand up.
I think digital culture is the most like stand up. You Tube videos, podcasts, because they are so singularly point of view driven, that’s what stand up is. I think figuring out your point of view is important. You don’t want to spend too much time in the planning so you don’t ever end up doing it. You want to get a basic idea of what you want, be flexible to changing and adapting and just starting it. The important thing is, just like with stand up, you don’t know what direction it’s going to go in until you start doing it.
I would say that you have to start down a path and once you start down that path with a direction the answers will reveal themselves to you along the way, you’re not going to have them all in the beginning. Your show is going to change any way just by virtue of the fact that things just evolve, that’s just the nature of things. I think it’s important to start it, building your community and then really trying to offer people on your podcast that they can’t get anywhere else, not just drive traffic to yourself, but community building.
What are you contributing to the community? Not what can I take from the community, but what can I give to the community. Can I build a charity element around it so that it can actually get a message out and help people? Can I connect people with a thing that they wouldn’t normally be connected with, really look at it as a form of community service, not just a business venture.
Z!: A lot of you guys are starting your own networks, you’re branching off onto You Tube and TV. Is podcasting still the future and something that is growing, or is it a stepping stone for something bigger?
CH: Well I think it’s both. It’s really just like anything else, you’re building up your voice and your point of view. At a certain point, if it gets big enough…all the platforms just become like “Sin City.” I keep going back to “Sin City.” Each one you build on one platform and then when you get comfortable with that and you get large enough you can branch that off into another platform then build a bridge to it. Then start on another platform and build a bridge to that.
I think the correct approach to creating cross platform content or entertainment is again building it organically from one source, not trying to do fifty things right from the get go and creating content that compliments each other. You can use the same source material and appropriate it for different platforms and have everything compliment each other. For instance, on “The Nerdist TV Show” on BBC America we did an hour long sit down interview with David Tennant, who was the tenth doctor on “Dr. Who.” We were able to cut down the interview to like five minutes for the TV Show, but I put the full audio up as a podcast, then when the TV show airs we can say, ‘hey if you want the longer interview get the raw audio on “The Nerdist Podcast.”’ On the podcast we can say, ‘if you want to see the interview in a shorter version, watch “The Nerdist TV Show.”’ It just helps us create a little eco system of entertainment where everything kicks around in a little circle. That’s the approach that we have and I think it seems to be working, it’s certainly fun.
Z!: You sign off most of your podcasts with ‘Enjoy Your Burrito,’ I know you’ve told the story several times on your podcast, but could you do it one more time for us?
CH: Yes, it came out of the Rainn Wilson podcast and I can’t remember what episode number that was, but whenever Rainn was on. (It’s number 39 I think) I know it was in the first few months. He and Jonah Ray were talking about….Jonah was talking about expectations or something…no when Jonah first came to LA he was completely broke, he lived in a shitty apartment and he didn’t have any work prospects. He was a kid, he was like 19 years old. Things weren’t going great for him. He would go to this one taco shack everyday for lunch. When he’d get about half way through this burrito which was his favorite burrito in the world, he would start to get depressed because he knew that the experience would be over soon, so he would be depressed for the end of the burrito. Somehow on that podcast it became a jokey thing like, ‘hey man you’ve got to enjoy your burrito.’ So we ended the show saying, 'enjoy your burrito' or enjoy the burrito which was a larger statement of like, enjoy the present. I think you can learn from the past and you can plan for the future but you have to live in the present. It’s a very hard thing to do sometimes. It’s a little reminder, enjoy the burrito, enjoy your life, enjoy the present. Don’t get caught up in the future or the past.
BYLINE: Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.