Anyone starting a comedy podcast these days needs to be determined, patient, and talented. As podcasting has exploded in reach and popularity, the most popular comedy podcasts have been cornered by celebrities. It’s rare for a unique show like Welcome to Night Vale to overtake the likes of Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla, Chris Hardwick, and now Pauly Shore. Pauly Shore! Who knew he’d be back?
Starting a comedy podcast in this highly saturated vertical (I’m so sorry, did I just use the term “vertical?” I hate myself.) appears to be a recipe for failure, but success needs to be measured more by achieving goals than the overtaking of front runners.
Audience Goals for Comedy Podcasts
Achieving audience goals are key to a feeling of success. Comedy podcasts, like all podcasts, are about entertainment and interaction. Creating a show, saving it to a hard drive, drilling that hard drive with holes, and recycling it wouldn’t be very satisfying. Comedy podcasts yearn for an audience, and desperately so. Comedians are famously insecure and lonely. Comedy is a language for comedians. It’s how they communicate and it makes them feel more comfortable. An audience is key to a feeling of worth in the world of podcasts.
How many listeners are enough? 10 friends, perhaps. Or 100 strangers. Maybe enough fans to fill an auditorium. Listener goals will be, and should be, different from podcast to podcast. The style of humor or subject matter may be limiting, and that should be taken into consideration. The podcast’s starting popularity should also be considered. Maybe it’s a show from three friends with 50 Twitter followers between them, or a podcast from a performer who has opportunities to plug their show live in front of new audiences.
Keep in mind that comedy podcasts have a limited audience. Certainly, the internet is full of people. But not all of those people care about or even understand podcasts. If you take the people who do understand podcasts, only a certain amount take to comedy podcasts. And of those listeners that enjoy comedy podcasts, many have too many podcasts to listen to as is. Attention and audience isn’t an infinite resource. Marc Maron has listeners that might enjoy trying a new show, but Marc’s listeners are committed to a 1-2 hour show that is publishing 2-3 days a week. That audience may have 3 hours of time during their commute to listen to comedy podcasts. Pulling any audience from that pool is difficult. They are already tapped.
Taking all of this into consideration, here is some possibly terrible advice. Make an audience goal and then adjust that goal a little lower. Don’t worry! New goals and milestones can be put in place after old goals are smashed. Nothing will put the breaks on creating something wonderful faster than the perception of failure. Don’t sweat the numbers so much. After all, creating a comedy podcast should focus more on creating great content.
Make Comedy Podcasts That Appeal to You
If a producer hates the podcast they’re working on, it’s going to be that much harder to succeed with it. Maybe comedy podcasts focusing on the supernatural are all the rage. Creating a show because it rides a popular trend is a recipe for disaster. A show that is unique and makes its own way will stand out more than following the crowd.
Pandering to the audience will also make a creator resentful. Making content an audience might like is more difficult than creating by instinct. If there is one type of podcast that needs to be about the creative instinct, it’s comedy. A comedy podcast is a reflection on the people in the show. In that reflection, the audience may see themselves. That is powerful. Making a fart joke because the listeners may want it won’t leave anyone satisfied. There is no truth to the pandering, and the audience will see through the facade.
If the humor behind the foibles of chess is what appeals to a creator, then that’s going to be one very passionate and unique podcast. Maybe there is an audience for it, maybe there isn’t. But the show may go on for years and years if the creation of the content is satisfying to the creator.
Comedy podcasts aren’t just about the product, they’re about the art and joy of creation. They’re a chance to make someone on the other side of the globe laugh. They’re about life and how absurd it can be, and commiserating about that with anyone that will listen.
Why Make Comedy Podcasts
The genre of comedy podcasts it so saturated, why would anyone think of starting a comedy podcast? Happiness never comes from comparing ones own success to Adam Carrolla’s. If gobs of popularity is the goal, making a podcast is the wrong move. A large audience would be wonderful, but it can’t be what the struggle of creation is for.
A passion for comedy is the only real reason to start a comedy podcast. Accountability isn’t in anyone’s hands but the creators. If a new podcast starts out with about ten listeners and then doesn’t publish for a week or two or six, no one else will. If the idea of weeks of laziness and lack of content don’t jiggle the guilt gut, then there is no way that podcast is coming back from the dead.
But if the idea of leaving a show in limbo and destroying the momentum of a growing audience is gut wrenching, then there is an idea behind the podcast worth fighting for. Even for ten passionate audience members. The drive is the idea and the passion for the project, and finding listeners along the way that share that passion.
Where to Find Comedy Podcasts
The NoisePicnic podcast network hosts several comedy podcasts, like Cold Read, Next at Bat, Nixon vs. Kennedy, Totes Recall, Regret Labs, Trendz, and Mustache Rangers Classic. There are plenty of other comedy podcasts on the internet and a massive amount of talent.
The best way to find ones that may be perfect to listen to is to ask friends. The podcasts friends are already enjoying are likely to be the closet match. Sharing and asking for recommendations will also help balance the top heavy iTunes charts and give some hilarious podcasts with a smaller audience a chance to connect and share their talents.
Because comedy podcasts should be able to exist on their own merits and passion, but it’s awfully nice to have listeners.