At any given moment of the day, you can be in the front row of your own curated comedy club: Conan sidekick Andy Richter yukking it up with comedian-writer Paul F. Tompkins, for instance, or Patton Oswalt expressing deep disgust about well—does it matter? If you stick around, maybe you can elect Weird Al Yankovic to take the stage. It's all packed into a tidy podcast called Comedy Bang Bang hosted by Scott Aukerman, the master of comedic (and often excrutiating) experiments such as HBO's Mr. Show, mock-talk show series Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifinaikis and IFC's Comedy Death Ray.
The brainchild of Aukerman and more sober-minded business manager Jeff Ullirch, Comedy Bang Bang's spatter of improvised comedy along and off-the-cuff interviews with marquee comic talent has been running for two years, starting as a weekly show on L.A.-based Indie 103 before making the complete switch over to the podcast format. But it’s only been in the past year where the show’s role has shifted from ordinary wacky-happy-fun-hour to something more substantial: the legitimate flagship show for an entire network known as Earwolf.
Earwolf podcasting network produces shows ranging from straight-up comedy to sports talk (Sklarboro Country hosted by Jason and Randy Sklar) to business philosophy (Ullrich’s Wolf Den) to old-timey radio plays (Mike Detective) to bold and short-lived sketches like Eardrop, a compilation of short, Twitter-length voicemails left by comedians.Their latest, Earwolf Challenge, is a reality show hosted by UCB cofounder Matt Besser that gives independent podcasters radio-related challenges to undertake before their work is critiqued by a panel of judges. The winner receives a year-long contract with the network.
After years of promoting their offbeat videos, Funny or Dieis now officially onboard, announcing a partnership with Earwolf to coproduce and host content on their website beginning this September. If only a small portion of FOD’s 11 million unique hits become subscribers to Earwolf’s programs, it will make Ullrich happy. "The word ‘subscribe’ is a scary word. You’re making a commitment," says Ullrich. "People don’t want to make commitment, even if it’s free."
They're currently winning over audiences with the variety and consistent quality of their podcasts – think: UCB on their best night – that’s made Earwolf’s slate of shows a must-listen for comedy fans. Funded entirely through donations, merchandise sales, and selling special pay-only episodes, the network can’t promise much dough (pizza or otherwise) to the hundreds of improv performers and guests that pass through the studio on a monthly basis. But what they can assure them is that people will listen: The network boasts over 400,000 downloads a week. And now Earwolf is looking to up that number with a game-changing app.
"Listening to podcasts is a very solitary thing," says Ullrich. "It’s these lonely people all over the place feeling connected to hosts and guests, but not each other." The app will attempt to change this with two small entry boxes: one for your zip code, the other for how far you’re willing to travel to see a live show. "It will actually help people become friends that exist in the real world." Which isn’t to say it’s all altruistic loner-matching. "And maybe I can get them to discover the podcast through going to see a live show, almost like a Trojan Horse." As long as that horse is full of hilarity—and not, say, hundreds of armed, angry Greeks—no one’s going to care about the deception.