Why Podcasts Are Comedy's Second Coming: Adam Carolla, Marc Maron and Greg Proops Weigh In (Q&A)
While still in its infancy, the medium has brought new life to comics from stand-up and radio. But will profits follow?
The Hollywood Reporter: What were your expectations going into the podcast world, financially or otherwise?
Marc Maron: We didn't know. I knew it was a new form. I knew I was broke. I work hard at whatever I do and hope something pays off one way or another -- I'm odd like that. But I didn't have any expectations. We started with an NPR model, where if you donate this amount of money, I'll send you some stuff and got pretty good support right out of the gate -- around 400 to 500 people paying $10 a month. It enough to get us a monthly nut and cover my expenses. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to say, “Let's keep doing this.” What we've had to learn over time is that we’ve got a small business on our hands and it's been very exciting.
Adam Carolla: I didn't have any expectations, financially. I've been around long enough to know that in this business, it’s about just getting up and doing something. Money-wise, sometimes it follows, sometimes it doesn't. You can’t approach this business going, "I'm only getting out of bed for the stuff you pay me for" because you don't know where the freebies will lead. You don't get paid to meet with Martin Scorsese, but it'd be a good idea to take that meeting. It’s not, like, "Well, if he swings by the ATM, maybe we can talk. You want me to come to his office? What's gas to the west side? Tell him that'll be another 12 dollars."
Greg Proops: I've watched it explode around me. I had no idea when I started doing it that it was going to be the funnest thing I've ever done and no idea that I would get more attention for it than anything I've done in the last ten years.It’s gone from something obscure to something that gets for me a couple hundred thousand hits a month and now people are starting to know it when I go places and actually care about it.
THR: Why are podcast listeners so loyal? What is it about the experience that keeps them coming back for more?
Proops: Here's my theory: people who are devoted comedy fans, and I don't just mean people who watch Conan and the like, but fans that follow comedy have turned to podcasts in the millions and are devoted to it. Where in my generation, we would listen to the radio and watch TV, the young generation of 20 or 30-somethings don't care at all about the radio or TV. Everything comes to them through their phone, iPad or computer. You deliver it straight to people on their listening devices and they listen to it in their car, at work, when they're doing the dishes. People say to me, “I wish your podcasts was three hours because my commute is three hours. It's a personal thing that is just for them. Like this conversation we're having and we're talking into each others ears -- it's that intimate. I think people feel it's directed straight to them. Not at a corporate focus group. These days, when you watch TV or watch a movie, you can smell the committee meeting and people in their 20s can tell when they're being marketed to because they grew up with it… When I started, I was doing it twice a month and people were, like, "How come there's not more? Why is it so sporadic?" Apparently, in podcast world, it has to come out all the bloody time, so I've had to up it over the last year.
Carolla: I think it’s the one-on-one. We live in a society where everything's coming at you so fast and everything's so big and there's a crawl on the bottom of every screen and there's a crawl on top of the crawl and blah blah blah. And this is a chance to slow it down, go long form and really settle in. You put the earbuds in and you take your dog for a walk and you get a long form conversation in this world that of sound bites and pre-interviews and everything's overproduced. You get back to some guy sitting on a porch smoking a pipe in a rocking chair spinning the yarn. Everything's sped up, we want a respite from that.
Maron: Look at Howard Stern, look at [NPR Fresh Air’s] Teri Gross, the medium is more versatile than radio now, where you decide what you want to listen to and when it. People can listen in their car, in their cubicle, at the gym. I get emails from all around the world. I've got soldiers in combat listening. I've got Americans abroad. They can listen wherever and however they want but I would say 99 percent of the time they're listening to it in solitary. You're in their head. You're talking directly to them. Their relationship with you is very personal. It's the nature of this medium. Then when people come to my shows and they’re waiting in line to meet me or take a picture or buy a t-shirt or a CD, I know they have an honest and candid relationship because of the type of radio I'm doing. And I respect that. I also realize that I don't know them at all, and they know me very well, so I try to make myself as available as possible.
THR: What impact has the podcast had on your stand-up shows or other ancillary activities?
Maron: Before, I would do radio for a year and it would take me out of the loop. Now I'm booked out. I’d estimate ticket sales are up 50%. I've been gone almost every weekend. It's made a difference. And when I do stand up, I've got hundreds of new fans who know me from the podcast, so they are literally going to their first comedy show. They're nervous for me -- they've never seen me do this! It's been very heartwarming. People come to my shows and bring me presents, they make me pictures, some people make donations... there's a gratitude to it. I'm also writing a book and because of the podcast, I've been able to book more work.
Proops: It's the new way to globally disseminate your comedy all over the world and still not receive physical renumeration. But artistically, it’s unbelievably rewarding for me. And as far as connecting to the crowd, I don't think I've ever connected to the crowd as much as I am now. It's even more creative than standup for me because I don't have to hit a home run every minute-and-a-half. Because the standup audience doesn't really want to hear you formulate your thoughts for 35 minutes, it doesn't have to be funny every bloody minute -- it can be heartfelt and sincere. It's not always a joke.
THR: It seems podcasts are often born out of canceled terrestrial radio shows. Does succeeding in this medium have anything to do with vindication, as if to prove a point?
Maron: It's a weird thing. It's sort of bittersweet. When I got involved with Air America, I'd never done radio before. What I went through there, as horribleas it was as an organization and how they treated me, I would not have learned how to own a radio mic. It's proven to be an invaluable craft and talent that I would not have… So there's not too much sour grapes. There is a bit, sure. There is something very exciting about thinking, “We don't need radio anymore.” With radio, you work your ass off. You sacrifice your life to be mistreated. It's certainly a deep wound and it does feel a little healed. Also, despite whatever egos are involved in this world and however we may feel about each other personally, this is a very supportive community. I'm not innately a team player in you know. I'm a fairly self-involved person but I can't begin to tell you how supportive people have been and how we all do each other's shows. It’s a special thing.
Carolla: I got fired, but I was able to live my dream, which was getting paid to go home for the rest of the year. I remember hearing about these deals back in the day -- Opie and Anthony would get fired and they’d have three years on their contract. Three years! I always told Jimmy [Kimmel] that's my dream. When I worked construction and some guy fell off a ladder and busted his pelvis and was going to get 500 bucks a week for the next five years to stay home, that was hitting the lottery. To me, that’s number one. Number two: it’s business. I wasn't fired, really, they just flipped the station and dumped the whole format, but even if they did, it’s still a business decision. They think they can do better doing something else and that's their prerogative. They're trying to make money. It’s like going into a restaurant and the guy charges you 40 bucks for steak, then you order a baked potato, and that's eight bucks and you get livid. He's trying to make money. Nothing personal. Is a baked potato worth eight bucks? No. Is he trying to make money? Yes. Does he give a shit about you? No. It’s that kind of narcissism that this town is dripping with. "I'm taking it personally," or "I'll show them!" I don't have an ounce of that. What am I going to show them anyway? Like they give a shit. And who's them? You know what I mean?