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Simplistic Setups & DIY :: A Look into Melbourne's Comedy Podcast Culture

Simplistic Setups & DIY :: A Look into Melbourne's Comedy Podcast Culture

By Callum Preston

Sometime around 1995, my dad got a company car that had a CD player in it and, better still, a stacker that could hold TEN albums for you to awkwardly navigate through while you try to remember what slot had Richard Marx and where the hell the La Bamba soundtrack was located. I said he had a car, not taste. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Yes, no more talking! Just music! Adults talking on the radio is the worst. So boring.”

Flash forward and I realize that I now choose to listen to hours upon hours of people talking about general day-to-day life every week, eagerly awaiting the next episode. Be it comedy, educational, true crime (there was no pay phone at Best Buy!) or historical, I am not alone. Podcasts are a huge part of the world now, but still haven’t crossed over to the mainstream… yet.

I see podcasting to be floating in this grey area. It’s kind of like Pirate Radio, where the tools required to do a show are very basic and anyone can start a podcast. It’s un-monitored, people don’t really know who will be listening, and it tends to be more raw. Generally, it’s all free content to listeners and, aside from some of the bigger podcasts having presenting sponsors, it’s a medium that appears unaffected by the classic FM radio vibe of “keep the sponsors happy.”

Here in Melbourne, there is a whole bunch of podcasting happening, and I wanted to focus on three of my favorite comedy ones, seeing comedy or comedic discussion is a breeding ground for great podcasts worldwide.

Recently, I looked at how they came about, what goes into making them, and why they do it, after I got to sit in on the glamorous (see: lounge room) recordings of I Love Green Guide Letters podcast with Steele Saunders, The Little Dum Dum Club with hosts Tommy Dassalo and Karl Chandler, then, finally, Wisdom Laughter with Karl Woodberry.

First up, Steele Saunders from I Love Green Guide Letters. This podcast is based on discussing the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Green Guide, which is the TV Guide here. Steele’s guests are often from TV and radio, so they discuss letters about the people who are guests, giving them opportunity to let loose with their real feelings about their critics. Steele also has Steel Wars AKA This Isn’t the Podcast You are Looking for, which is obviously dedicated to discussing all things Star Wars.

CALLUM: Podcasting as a “thing” has been steadily growing for years now, but still remains a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. How were you introduced to the idea of podcasting, and when was this?
STEELE: I think I’d heard the word before, but when iTunes introduced the podcast section about 10 years ago, I immediately checked it out and was blown away that you could search for pretty much anything you were into and there would be a free radio show about it.

I was traveling to LA a fair bit, so whenever I’d see a comedian, I’d try to find a podcast they had been a guest on to hear more of them. So podcasting gave me access to that world when I was back in Australia. I actually remember when Marc Maron started his, who would’ve thought it would become the phenomenon it has become? Judging by the tone of his first few episodes, he sure didn’t.

The GG Podcast offers people who appear in television a chance to discuss their own critics (or people taking aim at friends of the show) as submitted to the Green Guide. It is obviously a comedy podcast, but do you think there is a certain amount of cathartic release from being able to say, “You know what, fuck that dude!” in the minds of some of your guests?
Oh for sure! Comedian Dave Hughes, who’s a household name in Australia, said to me afterwards how good it felt to be able to fire back. A lot of the TV & radio industry read those letters, which is funny in itself. So to just have someone’s opinion on anything from how you pronounce a word to your haircut printed for everyone to read in the newspaper must be frustrating. Because it’s printed in the paper, it seems important, but it’s just one person complaining out of a million viewers. When our guests get that they seem to have the best time.

Providing free comedy content to the Internet every week is a huge time investment for yourself, I have heard you refer to it as your “hour with the listeners.” But as a format, it doesn’t necessarily have a monetary return. What would you say podcasting gives you back for what you put into it?
It’s pretty easy to get jaded about the numbers that listen and the amount of hours that go into producing a show, but the experience has been incredible. To be able to go around the country or, in the case of the LA Podcast Festival, another country and have people so excited to see the podcast live is really cool. I’m not sure if it gives back what you put in, I kind of see it as a investment, I’m learning a lot of skills and building up a following each week, which will hopefully pay off down the road.

Did you think that the podcast would become what it has when you came up with the idea? From listener numbers to the calibre of guests that you are getting on?
To be honest, I did daydream that I Love Green Guide Letters would achieve what it has. Actually, I did dream a little bigger than this, so we’ve still got a little way to go. The frustrating thing is that podcasting as a whole is still a pretty niche medium, it’s just a waiting game to see people take to it. Once people get onto one or two that suits them, they’re hooked because, as a medium, it’s amazing. There’s nothing more honest or raw in TV or film; there’s no filter. Anyone can be Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume now! Man I loved that film when I was little, when I think about that, I realize I was just waiting for podcasting to be invented.

As for guests, I think getting WWE Hall Of Famer Mick Foley on I Love Green Guide Letters was just surreal, seeing as it’s WWE Hall Of Famer Mick Foley! Getting Bobby Hundreds to sit down for an hour to talk Star Wars was pretty amazing, as when does he ever sit for an hour?

Next, I spoke with Tommy Dassalo, one half of The Little Dum Dum Club. Their show is very much an ongoing discussion filled with call backs to previous episodes and it has the feel of 4 friends sitting around talking about everyday bullshit and picking on each other (a lot). But along the way, they discuss a lot of stuff that their listeners have really connected with.

CALLUM: Podcasting as a “thing” has been steadily growing for years now, but still remains a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. How were you introduced to the idea of podcasting, and when was this?
TOMMY: I was introduced to it around 2011. I read somewhere about Marc Maron’s WTF podcast and how he had interviewed this comic called Carlos Mencia and grilled him about his alleged joke theft. I listened to it and was pretty blown away - it was an honest, intense, long-form discussion that you wouldn’t hear on any other kind of medium. This coincided with me working a full-time job doing data entry for the government - the kind of job that is very repetitive, where if you don’t listen to something while you’re doing it, you will go slowly insane. I chewed through all of Marc Maron’s back catalogue, then I found other comedy podcasts like Comedy Death Ray (or Comedy Bang! Bang! as it’s known now), Doug Loves Movies, among others. I loved that I would discover new comedians through these podcasts, and then get excited when they would turn up as guests on other shows that I listened to.

You guys provide free comedy content every week, at the time of this article you have just recorded you 230th episode. Obviously, there is a lot of time invested in this project, as well as the podcasts that you guys have been guests on. Yet, it is a medium that has yet to be monetized, aside from some light sponsorship on some shows. In what ways does podcasting reward you guys? (hHow have you seen it affect, say, live comedy audiences or your own profiles/kept you sharp for shows)?
We’ve definitely both noticed a big increase in the number of people that come to see us when we do live shows. Before this, we would do our Festival shows to mostly random people. We weren’t on TV or radio or anything, so there wasn’t really anyone coming out to see us specifically. Now, we have people that fly in from overseas to the Melbourne Comedy Festival to see us and a ton of people that they’ve heard on the podcast, which is amazing. Whenever we do gigs interstate, there’ll be podcast listeners at the gigs who’ll come and say hi. We did a live show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago and people actually turned up to see us.

It’s also just great “practice” for other “real” stuff, in that you’re spending an hour riffing every week. I used to be terrified of doing radio interviews or interacting with audiences at gigs, but now I love it and it’s way easier because it’s a muscle that you’re exercising so regularly.

The show is a comedy podcast but has ventured into some very serious topics including suicide, alcoholism, and sexual identity - all with a truly Australian twist and, somehow, very funny. Why do you think the show has been a vehicle for some people to open up and be pretty raw on topics that are not the usual comedy fodder?
Definitely when we first started out, we had a bunch of episodes in a row where guests were very open with us - I think mainly because they assumed that it was this crappy, little thing that no one was ever going to hear. Lawrence Mooney was on a very, very early episode and was brutally honest and hilarious about some of his life experiences. That episode kind of “put us on the map,” so to speak, in that it was the first one where we got a lot of feedback from people who were listening at the time, saying, “Holy shit, I can’t believe I was able to download and hear all that.” Kate McLennan came on not long after that and gave a really interesting and funny insight into the recently-cancelled Live From Planet Earth that she had been a cast member on.

It felt like that sort of vibe had died off a little bit because people are more aware now when they come on of the fact that people are actually listening. But then we did a series of episodes over the last few months with Lawrence Mooney and Fiona O’Loughlin where they talked about suicide, religion, and alcoholism. The first one happened almost by accident - you get those two together in a room and it’s going to end up being pretty raw. We put the episode online, half-thinking that people were going to be really offended and send us abuse. But almost immediately, we got this outpouring of messages from people telling us their own stories and thanking us for talking about it so openly whilst still being funny. And so as soon as that started flooding in, Lawrence and Fiona both wanted to do another one. Which, again, is what I think is so great about podcasting - that kind of conversation literally could not exist on any other medium because it would be subject to so many different people second-guessing it.

Your show has a very “bunch of mates having a chat” vibe to it and I know the majority of your guests are friends before they come on the show. How does it work when you have someone come in first time? Meeting them, how do you find those limits of how far you can push them?
Yeah, that one’s kind of hard for us. We tend to go into a little bit more of an “interview mode” when it’s a big name who we don’t really know. I don’t think either of us are great interviewers, nor are we interested in being, so we usually try and ease them into it with some standard interview stuff before getting the conversation into the realm of our usual bullshit. I think we’re generally both looking for any little thing that the guest brings up that might give us an opportunity to veer off into our wheelhouse.

I think you can usually gauge what peoples’ limits are pretty easily by what you’ve heard of them and their work before. Or by just leaving a question open-ended enough that you can try and work out how far they want to go with you.

Podcasting is a lawless territory of sorts, there is no station manager, usually no advertisers. It is available for the whole Internet, but the audience has to be slightly in the know to be using podcasts. Would you say this means guests with bigger profiles tend to cut a little loose as compared to their usual “media” personality?
Yeah, I think so. But as it gets bigger and bigger, like I alluded to before, it starts to become this thing where it’s not really underground anymore, and it’s still going out into the public domain and you notice those big names being aware that they have to reel in it a bit. And that’s fair enough. Even personally, I used to talk a lot more openly about people in my life before I realized, recently, that it affects those people more than it affects me. Which just means that I actually now think for five seconds before I open my big, dumb mouth.

I came across Karl Woodberry’s Wisdom Laughter podcast a little late in the game, but it’s a really interesting insight to the topic of growing up. He discusses the drinking and drug culture of their youth with his guests - surprisingly raw while very casual.

CALLUM: Podcasting as a “thing” has been steadily growing for years now, but still remains a bit of a mystery to a lot of people. How were you introduced to the idea of podcasting, and when was this?
KARL: I remember hearing about it in 2010 when some other comics were talking about it, but it sounded super lame and nerdy like “A free Internet radio show.” That doesn’t make you think of Fonzy kickin a juke box does it? More some fat dude in a vote for pedro T-SHIRT telling us what version of Pokemon is the best. Then Karl Chandler and Tommy Dassalo started The Little Dum Dum Club and it was super funny and no other Aussie comics were doing it good at the time. So, I started to delve into others online and saw there was so much good stuff out there.

The backstory of your show is that a monk gave you some advice about dealing with your problems. Can you explain that advice and how you have translated that?
Yeah, I quit drugs and alcohol and was looking for some direction. So, I went to this weird Buddhist meditation day, where the monk was from Bristol in the UK. He looked like the Dalai Lama, but talked like Bricktop from Snatch. I didn’t know if he was reaching for enlightenment or the pig feed. Everyone was kinda nervous to be there, all doing that awkward collective laugh when he said something intense. The monk said that’s called “Wisdom Laughter,” the things you can’t laugh about alone are easy to laugh about together. That resonated with me, so I decided it would be cool to talk to other comics about their fucked up stories and laugh about them instead of cry, which I’m sure most do when they’re alone.

Drinking and drug habits are not totally uncharted territory for podcasts, but not as a focus for a whole program. You, yourself have been totally open about your history with drugs and alcohol. Have you found that your guests are as forthcoming with that information?
It depends, most are, but then 20 minutes after the recording I get a message saying, “Is that stuff cool I just said?” I always reassure them it is (even if it’s definitely not). But yeah, some love it and some need a little encouraging.

Do you think your own extreme backstory and coming full circle to being sober is a tool to open up your guests to share more?
Well, there is a big difference about being the guy who is loose and laughing at the fact he is fucking up his life versus the guy who is laughing at the fact he nearly fucked up his life and now does yoga, drinks Kale shakes, and is a general new age wanker. So the guests see a guy who doesn’t give a fuck about the things he’s done and that probably puts them in a good mood. Or they’re too hungover to be stubborn.

Being that it is a medium that is not monetized and you are providing great, free content, how do you feel that doing your podcast repays you for the effort you put into it?
Man, in so many ways. Like, I have had people hit me up and say that they have stopped drinking or cut back because of the podcast, which is great. I never thought people would ever say something like that to me, so that is payment enough. Also, they say money buys you freedom. Well, maybe it does but so does not having money involved. Coming from a skateboarding background and always having a problem with authority, it’s so good to be able to do whatever the fuck I want. Anything productive I do is probably heightened because I spent so long doing fuck all, and to see things growing makes me feel awesome and remember why it was time to quit partying and seek out that Chav Monk.

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Check out the below links for all of the featured podcasts and upcoming live podcasts, which you can attend at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

I Love Green Guide Letters and tickets here for the live podcast and for Steeles solo show.

The Little Dum Dum Club and tickets here for the live podcasts and for Tommy and Karls solo shows.

Wisdom Laughter and tickets for Karls solo comedy show.

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