Podcasts are Pointless: Comedian Brock Wilbur on Two Years in a Mid-Level Podcast

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Earlier this summer I released the one-hundredth episode of my podcast. You didn’t listen to it, and you didn’t listen to any of the ninety-nine that came before, and that’s perfectly fine. Honestly, I don’t expect you to listen to any of the next hundred either. We’re all super busy and there’s just so much free engaging content that if you set aside time for my dumb voice on a weekly basis, I might even be concerned about you.

You might be able to tell I’m not exactly a podcast fan myself. According to iTunes, I’ve only downloaded nine ‘casts since I got this laptop. (Are they called ‘casts? What are the insider terms I’m messing up?) That’s why no one was more surprised than myself when two years ago we started setting aside Thursday nights to have fun people get drunk around microphones in my living room.

The impetus to start producing BROCK PARTY arose, not as an extension of my stand-up career, but as a reaction to it. I kept finding myself in terrible bars across LA every night of the week, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to grab a beer outside of a show with my two best friends. So to keep those important relationships alive and well, we made a pact to set aside our evenings forever, and drag cool people into my eternally Christmas tree-lit den for the most casual conversations with the most interesting people we could kidnap. With touring partner, comedian Joe Starr, and videogame producer Rob Ondarza, we dived into dismantling our guests, starting with an award winning theater lighting director and then a character actor portraying a Bowie-esque glam icon with his own hyper-sexual children’s education show on the BBC. (I’m re-listening to these episodes now and boy did we bite off more than we could chew.)

Again, this is a celebration of two years dedicated to getting drunk and getting close to strangers in equal measure. There have been some goddamned triumphs. Richard Elfman from Oingo Boingo brought bongo drums into my apartment to perform a ten minute epic poem about a sexual monkey. Jon Schnepp from Metalocalypse pitched us his documentary about a Nicholas Cage Superman documentary before it became the hit film The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? We breathed new life into an original drinking game attached to a Nickelodeon property for our annual celebration of “Are You Afraid Of The Drunk?” I found a comic related by blood who performs shockingly similar material on the opposite coast, forging a Bizarro life-partnership I never saw coming. I got to hear the heartbreaking experiences of cancer survivors, trans women, actors whose stardom was tragically aborted by failed shows, teenage drug dealers turned directorial heroes, musicians who defeated addiction, comedians who defeated themselves, journalists who believed they could change the world, and an Eisner award-winning comic book author who inherently understood that America would accept superheroes that could control time only within the height of an orgasm. I’ve also experienced the lows of kicking drunk former friends out of my apartment for comparing the physical abuse of women favorably against the cultural childhood rape of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, or for demanding proof that Jews died in 9/11. A mixed bag, indeed. In the end, no matter what happens with this whole dumb thing, at least I have episode 57, where we taught the actress who played Lisa in The Room how to play Cards Against Humanity while honestly discussing Tommy Wiseau’s pock-marked face/ass.

In writing about this celebration of two solid years of dedication to this endeavor, it feels like I should be offering advice. Regrettably, I have almost nothing to offer. The only rule of producing my show is asking each guest what their booze of choice is, and then making sure it is available, and occasionally drinking only this, even if you haven’t got rum & coke weird since college. In an effort to even understand what sets this show apart, I reached out to a few of our outspoken fans, and most of their responses boiled down to a universal “heh you’re funny and odd, I guess.” Again, I don’t know why anyone listens to podcasts, so finding out that we offer nothing game-changing is almost a relief.

What all this builds towards is a thesis that is equal parts honest and bummer-town: Podcasts are pointless. Anyone who tells you otherwise is the literal devil. No one is going to get rich or famous or gain any level of following from this medium ever again, because it is hilariously dead. Your idea to share caustic observations about an ongoing TV show? Pointless. Your idea to interview interesting people? Laughably misguided. Your idea to discuss each individual episode of a decade-old CW show? Well… shockingly successful.

So why keep making a thing you never had interest in for the benefit of an audience you’re convinced doesn’t exist? Until tonight, I really didn’t have a universal answer for this, beyond the somewhat personal “Well, it’s an excuse to get black-out drunk—socially.” But then, and I swear to God this is real, I recorded a podcast before my podcast this evening. The host expressed the high esteem in which she’d held my stand-up and then asked a question that was new for me: “When did you feel you were officially a stand-up comic?”

When I first moved to LA, I’d been rewatching Patton Oswalt comedy specials daily, and had convinced myself that stand-up was the next phase of my life. Right out of the gate, I wound up attending The Comedy Store to support a friend, without understanding that I’d signed up for the Monday night bringer show, and by the time I’d covered ticket, drink minimums, and parking, I’d lost more than a hundred dollars to the worst three hours of entertainment I’d ever experienced. I walked out of the The Store that night, convinced that if this was what comedy was, I would never inflict it upon anyone I cared about. A few years later, I wound up at the first few shows held at Meltdown Comics, and realized there was a whole indie world where your friends would never be bled dry to see you tell jokes about dating and Hitler.

Hilariously, despite all of this, my first time performing stand-up wound up being a twelve minute slot on the Monday night Comedy Store bringer show. And boy did they love everything I had to say about dating and Hitler.

Hey. I’m not losing you. I’m still answering a question and all of this is important, so hang on for like one more paragraph.

Right after getting my toe in the stand-up waters, I flirted my way into running a weekly stand-up show at iO West in Hollywood. It was in the secondary black-box theater, at eleven p.m. on Sunday nights in deep Hollywood, and the PA was broken so most shows sounded like they were being broadcast from within a haunted vinyl jazz record that the Devil himself rejected. This was a show that I booked, ran, and took seriously for over a year. Our final show was a star-studded event, shockingly attended by less than three audience members.

And that’s when we get back to the thesis. When asked about the moment an aspiring comedian feels like a true stand-up, my answer had nothing to do with a killer set or a special night, but rather that moment wherein you realize you’ve built up enough resentment, disappointment, and specific unanswered failure to accept that stand-up is what you’ve achieved. Becoming a stand-up is not making in-roads with a set number of performers, rather it is an acceptance of blisters. When I first got into comedy, so many people told me I’d burn out on celebrating other comics’ sets, and I felt a weird pride that this disenfranchisement never set in, but only tonight do I recognize that it simply took a side-street. Comedy is about the belief in bigger, better, beautiful opportunities, but far more importantly the resignation to give the same percent of yourself even in the face of absolute zero.

So that was the answer. I felt like I was really a comic after spending fifty-two weeks producing a show for no-one in a haunted black-box theater named for a heroin addict, and showing up each week with an honest belief that this was worth our time. And it seems obvious that this question of what defines a podcast should piggy-back off the spiritual inflection of everything else I’ve experienced in comedy.

This isn’t a bummer, and I know that feels like a twist. This is a consolidation. One year into this show, someone asked why I was doing it, and I shrugged and cynically suggested “I guess everyone needs a podcast.” But two years in, I have a much clearer perspective. Comedians do podcasts because comedians irrationally dedicate themselves to forms of expression that can exist without a single modicum of palpable support. We shout thoughts into the abyss of dive bars across the country, why shouldn’t we do the same thing in an electronic space, and feel just as justified in doing so?

BROCK PARTY has existed for over two years now, and along with Joe and Rob I get to share surprisingly insightful interviews that expand my understanding of creators from every walk of life. I always knew that we did this without a next-level reward, but only now do I understand that we do this for the same reason we do everything. If success finds us, gosh we’d be pleased, but we never chased it, because that was never the point. So if you’re considering starting a podcast today, ask what your end-goal is, and if there is one, you’re wrong.

You can listen to BROCK PARTY here.

Brock Wilbur co-hosts the Laughing At Archaeologists podcast with comic Rye Silverman, wherein they plow through fifty years of Doctor Who. Brock hates it.

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