Entries in jeff ullrich (10)

Friday
Jan062012

Adam Bowie Talks The Podcasting Challenge

Thanks to Earwolf's Jeff Ullrich for passing along this quality state of podcasting column from Absolute Radio's Adam Bowie. The post is a worthwhile read for both broadcasters and listeners. Bowie takes a snapshot of the current technology and software enabling and hindering the podcast medium as we kick off 2012. It's not entirely a critique but I'm definitely looking to see what the technology minds and innovators are looking for in the digital media space. Hopefully, podcasting gets a few changes. And, of course, maybe one day we'll all figure out a new word for "podcast."

In lieu of recapping, I'll just point you over to the whole sucker right here.

Sunday
Sep182011

The Earwolf Challenge Recap - Week 10: The Final Challenge

Deep breath, Challengeers. The long and winding podcast road has led us to Week 10 at long last. We have arrivedPlease, indulge me for a bit as I briefly reflect on the past nine weeks in as self-absorbed a manner as possible.

First, I’ll venture to say that I have probably spent more time listening to The Earwolf Challenge since it began than anyone not employed by Earwolf. Typically, I listen to each episode at least twice, sometimes three times, in putting these recaps together. I’d estimate that I’ve spent six to eight hours a week neck-deep in this podcast.

The first time through’s just for enjoyment: I’m usually driving or out running errands with my son or something errand-ly. And not really in a position to write anything down. It gets me familiar enough to listen more closely on the next listen and get a deeper sense of what’s going on. The third and fourth time -- sometimes there’s a fourth time -- is when I’m actually sitting down to type this thing out, so there’s a lot of pausing and rewinding. Especially if someone’s on a roll and I’m doing a lot of quoting, like with Besser during Sketch Week.

Not having it around is going to leave a sizable hole in my week. It’s become so central to my schedule that I can hardly believe this is only its tenth week of existence. Sometimes I don’t get to Comedy Bang-Bang until, like, Friday. That’s commitment, people.

And when I think back on the podcasts we’ve left behind -- The Complete Guide to Everything, Television Zombies, Ham Radio, et al. -- it seems unthinkable that as recently as late July, I was listening to Beginnings get the boot while riding the trolley down to the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con. Two weeks later, on a flight to Indianapolis, I was furiously scribbling notes about the mercurial meaning of the phrase “recurring sketch” in the hopes of giving myself a fightin’ chance of somehow getting a recap out during GenCon. And then two weeks ago, with much less significant demands on my time, I didn’t get one out at all. Life, she is strange.

I’m still gutted that Left Handed Radio got the axe last week, but no more so than I would’ve been if it’d been Totally Laime or The Little Dum Dum Club instead. The Final 3 are a field of strong, proven competitors who can all be proud of their performance on the show. Kudos.

Anyway. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the competition, as well as the chance to put it under a microscope in these recaps. Yes, I know they’re not funny, but I’m leaving the comedy to the professionals.

Speaking of which, enough of my navel-gazing. Let’s get into it!

The Challenge

No coaching session this week! What’s left to say, really? Especially this week, when the challenge -- in the fine tradition of Top Chef and Project Runway and etc. -- is just “Give us a full episode of whatever you want to do.” (Called it!) Our guest judges, joining us Wednesday, are Earwolf founders Jeff Ullrich and Scott Aukerman. (Called that too! But who else could it be, really?)

In the meantime, we’re treated to a full episode from each of our two finalists.

Totally Laime. Elizabeth and Andy bring out the big guns in the form of Charlie Day of the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where he’s a standout in an already outstanding ensemble cast. I only recently discovered Sunny, somehow, and immediately understood why I’d been hearing so much about it. So the timing’s pretty good for me. I guess Andy really is psychic.

True to Totally Laime’s mission statement, the three do indeed address some pretty unimportant questions. Or... sort of. It’s much more conversational than that, really. If anyone gets the ball rolling, it’s Charlie himself, who relates a brief anecdote about a woman -- apparently a neighbor of Elizabeth and Andy’s -- whom he’s been avoiding for years without any conscious effort. That leads into talk of face blindness and distinguishing fans from friends (something that must be especially problematic for Charlie, since he and his Sunny character share the same name), and then we’re off. It’s basically a 30-minute conversation with no particular agenda or direction.

It’s my first time listening to Totally Laime after weeks of hearing it critiqued bit by bit, and it’s a little like following the development of The Lord of the Rings online for years before seeing it in theaters. (Which I did, obviously.) Andy’s more active than I would’ve expected, more of a full partner or co-host than a mere sidekick. We hear a bit about his upbringing in Idaho, which sounds like it could’ve been a subplot cut from an early draft of Napoleon Dynamite, the moon tattoo on his ass, and his dual fear of death-as-the-end and death-as-an-eternal-afterlife.

“You guys aren’t going to win too many comedy podcasts talking about dying,” Charlie says, but you get the idea. Soon after, he delivers what may be the line of the episode when he says that “Life’s too short to be religious.” (It’s either that or when Elizabeth’s use of the word “trim” prompts him to ask, “...Is that pussy?”) .

Most of the other details of the episode, though, just sort of... float by. Charlie’s genial and everything, but I don’t feel like they uncover anything especially mind-blowing about him, and he doesn’t come off as the finishing-move guest I’d hoped he’d be. Indeed, Elizabeth and Andy talk a lot more about themselves (and each other) than anything else. Sometimes it almost feels like they’re guests on Charlie’s podcast, with him throwing in commentary on their conversation.

Overall, I have to admit that I don’t find it especially compelling. I drift a lot, and have to backtrack and re-listen several times to make sure I’ve gotten it all. It’s not funny enough to make me laugh, nor is it interesting enough to consistently hold my attention. I did perk up at the return of “Lame or Totally?” in the final few minutes of the episode, but by the it feels like too little, too late.

The Little Dum Dum Club. Tommy and Karl get the same conversational “coaching session,” but it’s really just touching base before listening to their submission. They seem to still be peeved about last week’s whole Galifianakis fake-out.

Back in Week 1, I’d admitted a bias in favor of The Little Dum Dum Club because I’d heard their episodes featuring Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins. So, it’s with some trepidation I say this: Dum Dum’s submission is by far the more entertaining of the two. Totally Laime does indeed have more heart, but Dum Dum has four funny comedians hanging out and telling stories for half an hour.

In other words, it’s a familiar set-up. It lacks structure, but its sheer momentum easily carries it the entire time. Right from the get-go, in fact, there’s a real sense of energy that’s lacking in Totally Laime’s leisurely chat with Charlie Day.

Earlier in the competition, one of the guest judges -- Jesse Thorn, I believe -- said that the problem with most “talk show” podcasts is that they operate on the expectation that a conversation alone is going to be interesting for the listener almost by default. What they don’t understand is that someone needs to drive that conversation forward and make it engaging instead of just hoping it’ll end up that way on its own.

Tommy and Karl definitely get that. The discussion never lags or slows. It just moves on to the next story. Within a short span of time, they and their two guests Luke McGregor and Nick Cody bounce from Tommy’s anecdote/riff about protesters outside a high-end chocolate shop, Luke’s disdain for their theme music and an email sent to the guys from Nick’s mother. None of this feels rushed. Everything gets its due.

Speaking of the guests, Luke and Nick, though likely unknown by most of the North American listening audience -- an inherent problem with Dum Dum’s location -- acquit themselves well. Luke comes off as a sort of nebbishy Australian. The closing story Karl buying him a lap dance and his subsequent awkwardness (especially the nipple-and-nose bit) was priceless. Nick, of course, was previously featured in Dum Dum’s submission for the Using the Guest challenge back in Week 5, and has some funny material about a cruise-ship gig.

By the end, it’s fairly open and shut: The Little Dum Dum Club is the clear winner in my eyes. However, if you’re Earwolf, would you rather produce a show whose hosts live locally in Los Angeles, or one that’s recorded on the other side of the world? And would you rather have a show that routinely features known quantities like Charlie Day, or one that interviews comedians largely unknown to most of your potential subscribers?

It’s a nice bit of suspense heading into the Judgment episode, which is...two hours long.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Jul182011

Earwolf Challenge Recap: Meet The Contestants Part I

By and large, reality TV, as the saying goes, is “lesser babka.” Enjoyable, no doubt, but usually with the unpleasant aftertaste of knowing something better is out there. Even at its best -- and here, I will cop to counting the likes of Top Chef, Survivor, and So You Think You Can Dance among my personal “best” -- the genre tends to benefit from taking down brain function a notch or two. And forgetting about the existence of “chocolate babka.” (Other acceptable metaphors: potato chips and chewing gum.)

Still, you can’t argue with ratings. Relatively cheap, easy to produce, plenty of drama, no need for those pesky “stars” or “scripts.It's no wonder so much of cable’s programming schedule is given over to real housewives, cake decorating and cat-flattening piles of living-room furniture. So, perhaps it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone from new media asked, “Why not us, too?”

That someone was Jeff Ullrich, co-founder and CEO of the Earwolf podcasting network. Last week saw the premiere of Earwolf Challenge, the Internet’s first reality podcasting competition. Ten pre-existing podcasts vie for the prize of a year-long Earwolf contract in this technically international battle of comedic skill and production values. The show borrows formats from Last Comic Standing, America’s Next Great Restaurant, and...I dunno, let’s go with Cupcake Wars. Who will succeed? Who will fail first? Who will win internet glory. You get the idea.

Matt Besser, of UCB fame, serves as host and head judge, with producer Frank Cappello chipping in as a de-facto co-host (at least for these first three episodes). Besser’s rather skeptical, low-energy vibe doesn’t exactly set the proceedings on fire, but I can relate. It’s about the same level of wariness with which a lot of podcastees approach a new show. And Besser has to approach 10 of them. At the end of the first episode, Besser asks “We only just did three?” A succession of guest judges will throw in their two cents in weeks to come. For now it’s all Besser and Frank.

So who’s our company for the next several weeks? Here’s a brief overview.

The Fort

Hosts Kevin, Ed, and Mike are into geek culture and video games, like a lot of men-children I call friends. They mix in sketches with banter. Past guests include the likes of Kyle Kinane, Ron Lynch and T.J. Miller. Those popular names mean they’d definitely fit right in at Earwolf.

  • Intro Clip: A fairly incoherent montage of sound bites from some of the 27 episodes they’ve done over the past year and a half. They joke that their show is “slightly funnier” than mediocre comedy. Based on the intro, the debate is still ongoing.
  • The Good: Besser praises The Fort’s production values and singles out composer and sound designer Mike as an asset. He also talks to the guys for a long time. Much longer than any other show. It’s either a good omen for The Fort or a skewed sense of how much time he had to fill. Plus, there are some Besser connections. Besser knows Ed. Mike tech’d a UCB show awhile ago. These connections probably can’t hurt. While Comedy Bang! Bang! and Sklarbro Country are mainly interview shows and The Apple Sisters concentrates on sketch, none of the existing Earwolf shows combine interviews and sketches the way The Fort does. Frank likes their style and finds them funny, but he’s not a judge.
  • The Bad: It’s unclear if the Fort offers content that isn’t already available on Earwolf. One potential new listener barrier is the length of their shows. Most run between 90 minutes and two hours. Hooray for extra content, but even CBB usually calls it quits before the 2-hour mark. This marathon show length is especially problematic, given what Frank calls their “frenetic” style. A comparison to morning-zoo radio DJs does not come off as promising.
  • Overall: The Fort seems to be one of hundreds of similar comedy podcasts on the Internet. This first exposure doesn’t really do anything to set them apart. Hope to see that change with our second and third exposures to The Fort.

Bob and Dan Cast

Self-described underdogs Bob and Dan are another couple of pop-culture-loving podcasting guys. Unlike a lot of their ilk, they aren’t performers. Bob works at a car dealership and Dan’s a writer. And...well, apart from their approximate geographic location outside Chicago, that’s about all we learn about the Bob and Dan Cast. It feels like someone was giving Besser the quick “wrap it up” sign.

  • Intro Clip: Amiable and kinda goofy. There’s movie talk and an old-timey but otherwise unremarkable radio sketch. The bit about Clint Eastwood becoming a serial euthanizer was funny, though.
  • The Good: America loves an underdog, right? There’s the sense that these guys are very much detached from capital “C” Comedy, which could be a refreshing change of pace. Let’s face it: the preponderance of comedy podcasts, including Earwolf’s shows, are ultimately designed to drive some kind of non-podcast business. I get the impression Bob and Dan Cast is just two friends hanging out, ripping on movies and making each other laugh. There’s something very appealing about its lack of commercial agenda.
  • The Bad: Of course, the disconnection from the comedy scene would make them something of an odd duck at Earwolf. It’s hard to tell how consistently funny they are from the intro. Bob and Dan might just not be ready for primetime. As Besser points out, if you’re not a live performer, it’s hard to get a sense of where you are on “the performance spectrum.”
  • Overall: I’d like to hear more from Bob and Dan, simply to further test my two-friends-laughing hypothesis.

The Complete Guide To Everything

Every episode, Tom and Tim pick a topic and try to nail it down as best they can. Naturally, this leads to a lot of tangents, which is where the comedy comes in. Sometimes they’re egregiously misinformed! Sound familiar? If you’re a regular Earwolf listener, it might.

  • Intro Clip: Tom and Tim zip through the show overview, then go into a bit about reality TV, cleverly working in a bunch of familiar elements: housemates, Steven Tyler, eating pig eyes, etc.
  • The Good: With more than a hundred episodes under their collective belt, “T&T” have the potential to bring a pretty polished product to the Earwolf network. Unlike many podcasts, The Complete Guide to Everything has a clear mission statement: to unseat Wikipedia as the final authority. Aside from the inherent joke about Wikipedia being any kind of authority, it gives the show a solid focus and sense of direction. Frank likes it when the hosts pretend to be experts on their chosen topic.
  • The Bad: The most obvious mark against these guys is their show’s similarity, in many ways, to Earwolf’s Professor Blastoff. They don’t concentrate on the supernatural, scientific, and inexplicable, like Tig and crew do, but it’s the same basic idea. Despite their potential for focus, Tim and Tom admit episode topics are merely excuses to start riffing. I’m not saying I need to finish every episode smarter than when I started, but not everyone is Paul F. Tompkins.
  • Overall: I’m not sure Earwolf can handle two shows with people discussing topics about which they know nothing.

Ham Radio

Seattle stand-up Brett Hamil puts on a one-man sketch-show with the aid of Audacity, copious free time (each 20-minute show can apparently take around 60 hours to put together) and his wife Susan, who we should assume has the patience of a saint.

  • Intro Clip: Brett’s nebbishy introduction is interrupted by what sounds like a 1930s-era gangster, a network goon and Andre the Giant -- all played by Brett, of course.
  • The Good: Besser’s obviously impressed by the sheer amount of effort that goes into each episode. As am I. Ham Radio’s production value and emphasis on sketch makes it unlike anything in the Earwolf stable. The fact that Brett’s been able to keep it up for a year indicates he’s found a groove. Plus, he cites Will Franken, Paul F. Tompkins and Superego as inspirations.
  • The Bad: Without having listened to the show, I can’t help but wonder how quickly listening to Brett talk to himself week after week could get old. Guests are rare, by Brett’s own design. So the show lives or dies on the funny voices he can bring to bear each week.
  • Overall: The weekly challenges are sure to stray from Ham Radio’s sketch-oriented format. It’ll be interesting to see how Brett handles the format changes. There’s real potential here.

Totally Laime Podcast

LA-based writer Elizabeth Laime (get it?) and her husband/sidekick, Andy, interview stand-ups and comedic actors with hilarious results.

  • Intro Clip: The two-minute clip consists of abundant past-guest name-dropping, including Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt and Kumail Nanjiani -- and two instances of the word “shit.” I’m no prude, but really? Twice in under two minutes?
  • The Good: Totally Laime’s list of past guests makes it look like it’s an Earwolf show already. And at more than 70 weekly episodes, Elizabeth and Andy bring a good deal of experience to the competition. Producer Frank offers up an attaboy for their lighthearted interview style.
  • The Bad: The shit-shooting format feels dangerously vague and undefined. I’m concerned the quality of the show might rest too much on the name of the weekly guest and the chemistry he or she may have with the hosts. The Totally Laime clip package concentrating so heavily on guests is a little worrisome. The clip package curiously glosses over Elizabeth and Andy’s hosting of the show. On an unrelated note, the show’s website looks like it’s been Bedazzled. In 1998.
  • Overall: Could Elizabeth and Andy be Earwolf’s only married podcasting team? I’m not sure what else sets them apart from every other podcast where a comic or writer talks to other comics and writers for an hour. I’ll take Frank’s word at face value when it comes to their light and frothy interviews and their contrast to WTF?, but I feel there are plenty of shows already tackling this format. Like, say, The Nerdist. Not an Earwolf show, obviously, but with Nerdist Industries about to become a podcasting network of its own and Chris Hardwick in production on a Nerdist TV show, the comparison would be inevitable.

In Part II: The other five contestants, judgmental statements on the show itself and predictions!

Tuesday
Jul052011

Earwolf Weekly Update: July 5

Chris HardwickEarwolf gave fans a heads up on some quality comedy programming this week. Via its weekly newsletter, highlights include a podcast meeting of minds when Chris Hardwick visits Earwolf co-founder, Jeff Ullrich on The Wolf Den, along with Nick Kroll talking fate with the Professor Blastoff trio, "Weird Al" Yankovic adding to the fun on Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Apple Sisters having some Indendence Day fun with their ol' pal Jason Ritter.

Check-out the full newsletter here.

Monday
Jun202011

Earwolf Weekly Update: June 20

Randy & Jason Sklar *Photo by Mandee Johnson - www.mandeejohnson.comStraight from the Earwolf weekly newsletter, it looks like another week of quality comedy from the Earwolf team. The comedy network is moving full-steam ahead with its new site design and great catalogue of weekly comedy programming.

Randy and Jason Sklar keep it all in the Earwolf family this week with their appearance on The Wolf Den, talking podcasting and Earwolf inner workings with co-founder Jeff Ullrich. They follow that appearance up by inviting the Professor Blastoff trio, Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan and David Huntsberger, to visit Sklarbro Country for what should be a very silly end of the week episode.

Get the full scoop on Earwolf's happenings this week from the newsletter.

Thursday
Jun162011

Plop List Talks New Website With The Earwolf Team

This week, Earwolf's Co-Founder, Jeff Ullrich, invited me to come to their studio and interview the Earwolf team about the launch of their newly redesigned website. Earwolf recorded the interview as part of it's weekly business of podcasting show, The Wolf Den.

My less-than-stellar broadcasting skills aside, it was a rare treat for some one-on-one time with a Ullrich and his talented wunderkind team. Along with Ullrich, I spoke with Shahruz Shaukat, the infamous Engineer Doug (Douglas Sadler)Andres Lucero,  Aaron Nestor, Ben Cordes and Frank Cappello. It was a great opportunity to have some face time with those talented and truly engaged guys. That's the key revelation from my interview. Earwolf is passionate about comedy and what they do. They give a crap. Hooray for that. Podcast and comedy fans are better off for it. Keep on on the lookout for more new shows and digital tools from Earwolf. 

For the Wolf Den interview, we talked over an hour about the nifty site design and the positives along with some self-flagellation just for fun. It was an easy going wonky session. In lieu of a full recap, check-out the show.

Special shout-out to Caroline Anderson for the great work on all the Earwolf updates and written descriptions for the Earwolf shows and guest pages.

Monday
May232011

Earwolf Weekly Update: May 23

With the launch of its new website on the horizon, Earwolf announced another week of quality comedy programming while you wait to enjoy the fruits of their binary labors.

Highlights include the first of two parts of a quality episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! featuring Paul F. Tompkins and Andy Richter, Liz Feldman and Erin Foley joining Glitter In The Garbage and the second part of Matt Belknap's (Never Not Funny, A Special Thing) talk with Earwolf co-founder, Jeff Ullrich, on The Wolf Den.

No word yet on the status of the currently on-hiatus Eardrop.

Check-out the complete Earwolf newsletter here.

Thursday
May052011

Project Tippy Toe: Earwolf To Launch Reality Podcast This Fall

The mysterious Project Tippy Toe Earwolf show has some details now. Earwolf's co-founder, Jeff Ullrich, announced on today's Wolf Den episode the network's plan to launch a competition reality podcast that will follow a group of ten amateur comedy podcasts over ten weeks of competitions and judging.

Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder and frequent Comedy Bang! Bang! contributor, Matt Besser, will serve as the main host for the show. Besser will be joined each week by two guest hosts - one from the Earwolf on-air family and one host from another established comedy podcast (Marc Maron, Doug Benson, etc.). Project Tippy Toe is set to begin recording on June 5th throughout the Summer. Ullrich indicated Earwolf plans on a tentative September premiere date for the show.

Ullrich stated each week will feature three episodes, plopping on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (the judgement episode). Earwolf expects each episode to run about 30-minutes. The podcast contestants will compete weekly in a series of competition.  No details on the nature of the competitions are available yet.

It's going to be fun to see Besser and some of the established comedy podcast personalities confront their medium head-on while messing with their amateur aspirers. Project Tippy Toe certainly has a ton of potential to entertain and provide yet another unique offering in the comedy podcast landscape. Earwolf continues to impress with its creative programming and push for additional and diverse programming. The reality competition format is kind of a sigh-fest on TV, a well worn format with little new to offer. Yet, it'll be interesting see what Earwolf brings to the format and how it plays out in an audio-only podcast format. In his announcement, Ullrich stated their desire to keep things constructive and not exploitative. Per Ullrich: "It's going to be low on drama for the most part. We want this to really be about the craft of developing a comedy podcast."

To hear more about Project Tippy Toe from Ullrich himself, check-out his brief announcement at the 39-minute mark of Episode #16 of The Wolf Den.

Monday
May022011

New Superego Plops With Patton Oswalt Joining The Fun

The crazy good sketch/improv show, Superego, plopped a new episode today featuring comedian Patton Oswalt. The episode is full of the usual dose of superb "case study" sketches with topics all over the map. Oswalt and comedy stalwart, Chris Tallman, start things off with an instant classic sketch about Superman's General Zod. The episode also features inspired sketches within the James Bond world and some serious Sam Elliott riffing.

Superego continues its 3-season run of expertly performed and produced audio sketch comedy. The Superego team is made up of Jeremy Carter, Matt Gourley, Mark McConville and Jeff Crocker. Each episode also features tons of special guest contributors. The creativity of characters the team builds through its great cast and chemistry, leads to a truly impressive collection of improvised sketches. The audio production always elevates the sketches beyond the standard bunch-of-dudes-in-a-room quality. The Superego team seamlessly puts the listener in each environment, elevating the comedy and listening experience. The show doesn't wait for the listener to catch its breath, bowling straight ahead from one absurd sketch to the next. Superego shows play out like distant cousins to joyfully absurdprojects of the past (two that come to mind: Monty Python and Ren & Stimpy).

To learn more about the Superego world and creative process, check-out, the informative and lighthearted interview on last week's Wolf Den. Earwolf's co-founder, Jeff Ullrich, and Matt Gourley, one of Superego's founding members, talk at length about the unique process of creating an episode of Superego.

Thursday
Apr142011

Splitsider Interviews Earwolf's Scott Aukerman & Jeff Ullrich

Splitsider posted an informative and playful silly interview by Jesse Fox with Earwolf's two head honchos, Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich. They discuss their homegrown podcast network, Earwolf, working relationships and general podcast shop talk. It's a fun read and nice to see some additional exposure on comedy podcasts, especially from the recent comedy media upstart like Spiltsider.

From afar we continue to enjoy the fun back-and-forth relationship of the two dueling personalities of Aukerman and Ullrich. The interview definitely highlights these differences. In addition to this personality fun, there's a ton of hearty tidbits about podcasting, in general, and Earwolf's forward thinking network mentality.

Check-out the full interview here.