Podcasting And Stand Up Comedy: Q&A With Joel Fragomeni
March 8, 2016
Joel Fragomeni is a stand-up comedian and podcaster based out of Ferndale, MI. His podcast was among the first on the internet and the first by a working stand-up up comic. A complete archive of all of his shows can be found at his website.
1. You were the first comedian to do a podcast. How did you get into podcasting?
Myself and another Detroit-area Comedian, Corey Hall, were always having really funny phone conversations about all kinds of arcane topics and we thought it would make a good morning radio show. So after seeing an ad from a local station looking for on-air talent, we borrowed some equipment and recorded a demo on a 4-track cassette. We sent it in and heard nothing back. We tabled our dreams of being radio stars and went back to our comedy careers. This was sometime in 2003.
Then late in 2004, I read an article about people making "podcasts," so I said to Corey, "Hey, we can make that radio show now and distribute it on the internet." At this time, we were still thinking this was all a demo for commercial radio. By early 2005, I had read enough about how to do it, that we marched down to Guitar Center with a $300 check from a comedy gig and bought some equipment. We plugged the mikes and mixer into my computer and recorded our first show that night. That was in March of 2005. You can still download that one!
2. What was the reception from other comics when you started? How have you seen other comics embrace podcasting over the years?
At first, it was mostly comics as our guests, so we'd have a great time getting drunk and telling road stories on the show. We were basically recording the same conversations that we'd have with our co-workers after shows at a diner or something, just making ourselves laugh. Eventually, other comics asked me for advice on doing their own shows. I've helped out a few over the years, including Jimmy Pardo, who started his show after guesting on mine, and he still does it to this day. So Jimmy should get a lot of credit for being a pioneer, too. His show is quite popular - much more than mine!
Now almost every big-name comic has a podcast and it's comics like Marc Maron that most people associate with the format. I'm sure much of the public thinks comedians invented podcasting, but it really all started with me!
3. How has the format of your show evolved over the years?
The biggest change is that the show was originally "The Corey and Joel Radio Show," but Corey got burned out, so it just became "Joel Radio" and I did a bunch of them by myself or with other people. Eventually, Corey came back to co-host, but now I have the flexibility of doing the show with whoever I want, whenever I want, which is really nice. So it's my solo podcast now, but I'm much more comfortable and more funny doing the show as a team.
In the beginning, we were doing multiple shows in a week and limiting the length to 60 or 70 minutes so people could burn the show to a CD. That's how many people were listening back then, as iPods were expensive and the first smartphone wouldn't come out for a few years. Now the show can be as long as I want - it's usually 90 minutes to two hours - as people can listen much more easily. I also do it less frequently, but with a longer run time; it's the same amount of show.
And over the years I've done lots of experimenting with the format. I recorded the first live stand-up comedy show as a podcast, recorded from various live events like comedy festivals, did a "Roast" of myself and Corey as a podcast, and a million other wacky things. It's fun to get out of the home studio and do the show wherever I want. With the technology now, I can do a studio-quality podcast from almost anywhere.
4. How has the podcasting changed in the time that you've been doing it?
It's become mainstream now, and for many people has completely replaced radio as a form of entertainment on the go. It's ironic that I started a podcast to get into radio, when now so many people are going the other direction.
It's also so much easier to distribute the shows and get people to listen. When I started in this there was no iTunes for podcasts! When they added podcasts my show was one of the only comedy shows on there and we got a ton of new listeners from all over the world. There was a real novelty to the whole thing. People would email and say they were listening in Australia, Germany, wherever. Now if you started a show it would be really hard to get anyone to listen because there's just so many shows.
Another thing is that it's not just people doing them in their house anymore. Big broadcast outfits like ESPN and Comedy Central are distributing their shows as podcasts now, so it's really hard for the little guys to get noticed. My show never got really big, but it's got a small, loyal following. I credit that to starting it early and being consistent with the frequency of the shows and the quality. I can't imagine trying to start a podcast now. I think for most people it's too frustrating to find an audience, so most of them quit.
5. What impact has the podcast had on your comedy career?
As a promotional tool, I think it's somewhat overrated. Podcast and stand up comedy shows have different audiences. Podcasts are usually being listened to by most people alone in their cars or with earbuds, and stand-up comedy is an activity that is best enjoyed by people in large groups. Still, Marc Maron, Bill Burr, and Adam Carrola have become much bigger comics from their shows, but I think that's the exception more than the rule.
There's also been some geographic challenges as I've toured mostly in the Midwest of America and people are listening all over the world. I'd love to do comedy shows wherever there are fans of the podcast, but that's not always possible. Still, I've had many people come out to my shows because they are fans of the podcast. There's even one crazy German guy who flew all the way to Detroit to come to some live shows because he liked the podcast so much! A real nut! I love that guy.
Mostly, though, I think doing a podcast has benefited my comedy career as many of my bits have grown out of conversations on the show and it's given me the freedom to be a little more conversational on stage. Stand-up should be a routine - carefully written and honed to a point - but you also want it to sound like you're having a conversation with a friend. That's something I've been lucky to do on my show for the last eleven years. And I see no reason to stop in the future.