Making The Comedy Podcast: Julie Klausner's Life Of Conversation
Julie Klausner's podcast, How Was Your Week?, has been featured on all manner of lists of the best shows of its kind — in Rolling Stone, in GQ, and in The New York Times. Comedy podcasting is a field growing so fast that, as NPR's Audie Cornish mentions in talking to Klausner on today's All Things Considered, comedian Colin Quinn recently commented that the only thing comedians talk about anymore is doing each other's podcasts. Indeed, Klausner's show has featured guests like Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt, Neko Case — and a fellow you might have heard of named Ira Glass.
Klausner has written for traditional outlets like The New York Times and New York Magazine as well as at sites like The Awl. She's written for television; she's even written for Joan Rivers. She wrote a book in 2010 called I Don't Care About Your Band, and she has a YA novel coming, too. She's also — like many writers — worked in the busy business of TV recapping; in her case, covering various Real Housewives at Vulture. It's safe to say she gets around, writing-wise, but it's in the world of podcasting that she's gotten a big dose of added recognition.
She says there are a lot of advantages to podcasting for people who work in and around comedy and comedy writing, one of which is how appealingly amenable it is to a do-it-yourself approach. "It's free and easy," she says, "and the nice thing about it is you can have a show without anybody giving you notes. So you can really do, in my case, The Julie Klausner Show." Furthermore, the format tends to be relaxed and personal, and just as Marc Maron finds on WTF, perhaps the current big dog of podcasts featuring comedians, Klausner says that talking to people in the context of comedy can allow conversations more free-ranging than those that might take place otherwise. "If you do have a sense of humor," she says, "you're permitted more leeway, because if you go too far — hey, we're only goofin' around!"
But nothing beats actually reaching an audience, no matter how hard it might be to break into such a crowded field. In fact, what draws some podcasters to the form is a closeness with an audience that seems unique to regularly delivered, casually produced shows built on conversation. "You really do achieve a kind of intimacy with your audience," Klausner says. "When I meet people who listen to my podcast, I feel like they know me." And they may get to know comedians better as well, in part because podcasts like Klausner's are (usually) recorded without a live audience present, which changes the way a performer naturally functions, whether as a host or a guest. "I think that comedians are given an opportunity to just speak in a raw, honest way without the pressure of being on stage and having to wait for that constant feedback of a laugh."
As tempting as it is to make a new form seem like an entirely different undertaking than what's gone before, Klausner says whether you're creating material for the stage or for a podcast, a comedy writer is still fundamentally writing comedy, even if it's being created by being spoken into a microphone instead of written down. "Writing doesn't necessarily have to be staring at an open window of Microsoft Word with this blank document staring at you and this cursor blinking."
Some have speculated that podcasting might open up huge opportunities for people like Klausner who develop followings doing it, but she admits that the business model isn't at the forefront of her thinking, at least directly. It could be, of course, that the sheer opportunity to create something makes her a more appealing hire. "I make my living as a writer. I don't make money doing my podcast. I've learned that people want to hire creative people who are already doing something when they approach them." But she isn't sure whether churning out a show every week — even a very popular and well-regarded one — is bringing in money. "I really can't speak to whether my own internet presence has made things easier or harder for me to sell."
Unsurprisingly, Klausner says that with the financial side uncertain, the reasons to do it are more intangible. "I love it," she says of her thriving life online, "and I've never felt more at home with what I'm doing, and I would just do it all the time if I could."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Finally this hour, how the Internet has changed comedy. Yesterday, we talked about YouTube and the new opportunities it's created. Today, a medium a bit closer to our hearts and ears, the podcast. Comedians have flocked to it. Today on iTunes, no fewer than 3,000 comedy podcasts are available for download. While cutting through all that chatter isn't easy, Julie Klausner has done it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) How was your week.
CORNISH: She's the host of "How Was Your Week?," named one of the best comedy podcasts by Rolling Stone and GQ magazines. In it, comedians, actors, drag queens, artists of every kind sit down with Klausner, and she asks: How was your week?
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "HOW WAS YOUR WEEK?")
JOHN DELANEY: We were like, why are we staying here? This is odd. What an odd choice. And then, I think Brian Posehn looked it up online, and he was like: It's a haunted hotel.
AMY POEHLER: So they give me a phone, and then they also just individually wrapped the phone jack...
JULIE KLAUSNER: What?
POEHLER: ...the cord...
POEHLER: ...the receiver.
EDDIE PEPITONE: I blow into a whistle...
KLAUSNER: Is that true?
PEPITONE: ...when I have a panic attack, and my psychiatrist comes running. No, I'm kidding.
KRISTEN SCHAAL: When I'm like taking a picture in the red carpet, I feel like I'm very still. In the picture, I look like I'm a Muppet that was thrown out of the window.
CORNISH: That was Amy Poehler, along with fellow comedians Eddie Pepitone, Kristen Schaal and John Delaney. "How Was Your Week?" was also nominated for a Comedy Award this year where comedian and presenter Colin Quinn quipped...
COLIN QUINN: The only thing comedians say to each other anymore is: Hey, will you do my podcast? You don't want to do theirs. But if you don't say yes, they won't do yours because everything is a podcast.
CORNISH: So I put that question to Julie Klausner. What is it with comedians and their love affair with the podcast?
KLAUSNER: It's free. You don't have to wear any makeup. Although that doesn't seem to affect male comedians as much as, well, maybe (unintelligible) but it's free and easy. And the nice thing about it is you can have a show without anybody giving you notes. So you can really do the, you know, in my case, like, "The Julie Klausner Show." But there just aren't as many layers to get through in order to reach people in a way that traditionally television has.
CORNISH: One of the reasons why I'm a huge fan of listening to comedians in podcasts is your sort of style of interviewing. And you're the same way. I feel like people relax around you and are very forgiving in terms of the questions. Like, there's nothing you can say that could shock them, really, because they think, I don't know, maybe - what do you think it is that allows that level of exchange?
KLAUSNER: I think that if you do have a sense of humor, you're permitted more leeway, because if you go too far, hey, we're only goofing around. But I also think that the value of podcasting is that you really do achieve a kind of intimacy with your audience that you don't necessarily with pretty much anything else I've ever done, including - I mean, I wrote a really personal book, and I know that reach people. But when I meet people who listen to my podcast, I feel like they know me. Like, I think that comedians are given an opportunity to just speak in a raw, honest way without the pressure of being on stage and having to wait for that constant feedback of a laugh.
CORNISH: And that sounds like that evokes a very different style of comedy, right? I mean, where does your feedback come from, and how does that affect how you develop your jokes?
KLAUSNER: It certainly takes a lot of the pressure of doing it in - I don't want to say avoid because you do sort of put it out there almost in a capsule, and then it kind of, you know, goes into space, and it comes back to you in different ways, whether it's through email. There are people who I meet and come up to me and say they really like it. But truly, my feedback comes from when I record my monologue and then I listen back to it.
I can really tell what's working and what's not and what's good and what isn't. And I know there are a lot of stand-ups that tape themselves and then after they try something out they'll listen back to it. And all of these are really just forms of writing. Writing doesn't necessarily have to be staring at an open window of Microsoft Word with this blank document staring at you and this cursor blinking. There are other ways of being funny, of expressing yourself, and I'm really grateful for that.
CORNISH: When it comes to podcasting, it's sort of part of, like you said, the other writing that you're doing. I know you do some pop culture writing for Vulture mag. And, as you've said, you talked about your book. Do you find that any of this has made it easier or harder for a comedian to make a living?
KLAUSNER: Well, as you said, I make my living as a writer. I don't make money doing my podcast. I've learned that people want to hire creative people who are already doing something when they approach them. So I do think new media is helpful to offer itself a host of resources that an industrious, ambitious, creative person will put to task. That said, I can't really speak to whether or not my own Internet presence has made things easier or harder for me to sell, but I love it. And I - I've never felt more at home with what I'm doing, and I would just do it all the time if I could.
CORNISH: Julie, thanks so much for talking with me.
KLAUSNER: Thank you so much for having me.
CORNISH: Julie Klausner hosts the podcast "How Was Your Week?" Tomorrow, we'll hear from comedian Rob Delaney about his success on Twitter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.