Listening to a podcast for long enough creates an intimacy that feels like having a relationship with the show.
When podcasts allow fans to participate, however, the relationship goes both ways.
Sometimes that participation is as simple as taking suggestions, like when Who Weekly? fans call in to suggest minor celebrities that the hosts should talk about, or when fans leave voicemails about their ‘momentous occasions’ on Jordan Jesse Go.
Other times, these elements organically evolve out of bits on the show. An easy way to sum up the insularity and niche appeal of podcasting communities is how incomprehensible some of these will sound to the uninitiated: the catchphrases on Comedy Bang Bang, the “drops” on Doughboys, the Second Opinions theme songs on How Did This Get Made.
If these user-generated in-jokes strengthen a podcast’s connection with fans, though, one listener has a connection stronger than most.
Meet Shampoodler. If you’re a regular listener to an embarrassing number of comedy podcasts, though, chances are you’ve already met him.
“I can’t remember how or why I came up with Shampoodler,” the podcast addict says over email. “I actually found the picture of the dog in the wig and shades first [his forum avatar] and started spitballing from there. In hindsight, I think I lucked out, because it’s kind of fun to say and easy to remember. Which is good, because I’m stuck with it forever.”
I first became aware of that easy-to-remember name in the form of a fairly regular shout-out on the character-driven improv show Comedy Bang Bang before noticing Shampoodler come up from time to time on the chain-restaurant review podcast Doughboys as well. By the time I heard the hosts of deep-dive movie podcast Blank Check mention him as well, I realized this guy just may be the most integrated fan in the comedy podcast ecosystem, a living embodiment of the pleasure of participating.
Shampoodler’s life outside of podcast appreciation remains a mystery, however. He would only speak under condition of anonymity. By day, the podcast-lover has what he calls “just a normal boring office job,” which he won’t describe in detail. He could live anywhere or nowhere, alone or in a polycule. Wherever he is, though, he’s probably listening right this moment to a podcast. (Or, increasingly, a Twitch stream.)
The first podcast I heard Shampoodler on turned out to be the first one he ever listened to. He caught onto Comedy Bang Bang early in the show’s 10-years-and-counting run and was hooked right away. It wasn’t until 2015, though, that he decided to participate. Host Scott Aukerman starts off every episode of the show with a fan-submitted catchphrase, ostensibly with the goal of replacing the long-gone, polarizing “What’s up, hot dog,” which once kicked off each episode. Shampoodler’s first catchphrase suggestion didn’t make the cut, but within a month or so, he pitched one that sailed right across the plate: “Gerald juggled gerbils like his father before him.”
After the minor rush of hearing his own personal gobbledygook read aloud on the show, he then started submitting catchphrases regularly.
“In true nerd fashion, I used to keep a list of the episodes I made it onto,” Shampoodler says, “and then in true loser fashion, I lost it.”
Over the years, he started branching out to more podcasts. He’d send YouTube videos to improv4humans for host Matt Besser and his guests to build scenes around; he wrote in to With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus to ask Lapkus’s alter-ego Traci Reardon for bad advice. He’d send questions for the guests on Cait Raft and Drew Spears’s This Podcast is Self Care.
Essentially any show he liked that had a participatory element, he wanted in.
He probably puts the most effort, however, into his Doughboys drops—short sound collages inflected with seemingly random snatches of dialogue from the show and other oddball ephemera—even though he claims these things take next to no effort.
“Anybody can mix some mp3s together in free software,” says Shampoodler of the drops. “I think the best ones need to have some game to them, though. Either a funny reveal at the end or a misdirection. Tricking [Doughboys hosts Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell] into playing a nice jazz tune that turned into an extremely graphic hip-hop song in front of the nice lady from the Cars movies was in all honesty a pretty big day for me.”
Submitting catchphrases and jingles to podcasts serve as a creative outlet for the anonymous podcast fan, a side project with the aim of steadily provoking a reaction from the larger audience while also amusing himself. His efforts, as minimal as he makes clear they are, have earned Shampoodler a certain localized level of internet fame. Fellow addicts who hear the intersectional shout-outs from various hosts will reach out on social media and forums fairly regularly, sometimes from as far away as Australia.
Although it’s been happening for a while, Shamp still finds it surprising.
“It eventually dawned on me just how many people around the world were listening to these shows as they were being released, or listening back through the archives, and probably will still be listening to them in the future,” he says. “Scott Aukerman read my name at a live [Comedy Bang Bang] show in England once, and people cheered, which he thought was funny (I think). But I’m still shocked anytime anyone online is like ‘Hey, I know you.’ You have to remember that I absentmindedly wrote a lot of those dumb jokes in the bathroom.”
Lately, the podcast contributor mainly sticks to sending in drops to Doughboys once or twice a month and making suggestions for Jack AM, the Twitch morning show hosted by the comedian couple Jack Allison and Cait Raft (which is also available as a podcast).
Shows like this one, which streams online and has a chat interface built right into the medium, may represent the future of audience participation.
“Shampoodler caught on to what we were doing pretty early on,” Raft says. “He’s one of the people in the chat who become like characters on the show, because they talk to us so often.”
While he also submits audio drops, Shampoodler’s most consequential suggestion called for Allison and Raft to watch a movie they might not love, during the show, one minute at a time, in exchange for tips from viewers. The hosts adopted the practice, starting with Shampoodler’s suggestion to screen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and it has since become a fixture on Jack AM.
“Jack and I are both podcasters outside of our Twitch show,” Raft says. (Allison cohosts the pop-culture focused Struggle Session with Leslie Lee III, and Raft has her aforementioned self-care show.) “What we’ve found with the Twitch show is this parasocial thing happens where you’re doing a podcast, but it’s much more two-sided because you’re talking with them every day. You feel like you know them, and they feel like they know you.”
Although I couldn’t extract many details from Shampoodler about his offline life, his fellow characters on Jack AM have some guesses, which they frequently make in jest. They say he’s a cop. They say he’s a hottie. They say he wants to drive a wedge between the hosts and make a move for Cait.
He hasn’t abandoned his first love yet, however. As long as long as his favorite shows request and encourage listener submissions, he’ll continue his part in the dance.
In fact, he would be up for taking his talents a step further, if possible.
“If anyone is reading this who would like to hire me to do something else, hit me up,” he says. “I have no qualms about selling out. You can put my profile picture on an energy drink for babies for the right price, I don’t care.”