Here’s How I Accidentally Started A Successful Podcast (And You Can Too!)

Comedy Features

I didn’t listen to podcasts until I already had one. That was dumb. If you’re planning on starting a podcast, listen to some. I hadn’t been planning on starting one, though. When Barbara Gray, Brandie Posey and I started Lady to Lady, we did not conceive of it as a podcast. Originally, Lady to Lady was a live stage show.

At the time that Lady to Lady started, Barbara, Brandie, and I had all been doing stand-up for a number of years, and had become good friends with each other over a series of dive bar shows and whiskey-fueled camping trips. One night, Barbara, myself, and a few other friends were standing outside of a stand-up show. We were riffing about a fake talk show kind of like The View that was called Lady to Lady, and laughing about how hilariously on-the-nose it would be to call one of those shows where women wear blazers and “get real” about issues Lady to Lady. The next day, Barbara emailed Brandie and I and said, “But seriously, we should start a talk show.” Three and a half years and countless instances of all three of us being brought up as one of the hosts of Girl on Girl, the show is, of course, still called Lady to Lady.

The live version of the show, in its first incarnation, was at a theater in Hollywood that was then-run by our now-producer David Janove. We all wore various idiotic dresses (Barbara fringe flapper; Brandie sequins; me bridesmaid) and this is one of the most fun things about hosting a show with all girls — we all want to play dress up and we all get that it matters to have nice covers on the chairs and coordinated logos on our notecards. Even from the first show, David added impromptu visual elements to the show that took our jokes to a whole new level and somehow managed to land on our absurd sense of humor, which, collectively, is like if Monty Python fucked an episode of Ab Fab in the middle of a deleted scene for Mrs. Doubtfire.

After a few live shows, a handful of people suggested to us that maybe there were more people on the internet than there were those who we could wrangle into showing up to a live event in Los Angeles, and thus the idea to start a podcast was born. David told us he could produce it for us and this is absolutely the reason the Lady to Lady podcast got off the ground.

I think for all of us, podcasting was a natural transition from stand-up because each of our stand-up styles kind of inform the way we discuss things. Brandie’s stand-up is very silly and smart and pointed; Barbara’s is all about her being this kind of cool party girl who’s also a goofball doofus; and I tell crazy stories that reek of TMI. Each of these elements really comprise the fabric of Lady to Lady: we have these immature jingles and sleepover games stories about the ways we’re fucking up — but then we’re also ranting about why we think everyone else is fucking up more than us and even giving people advice.

Getting advice questions on the podcast has actually also been really helpful for me as a writer. I’m in relationship, but I write a lot about sex and dating, so having a stream of queries from single people dealing with the shit show that is dating has really helped me find new things to write about and led me to think about a lot of dating issues beyond my own experience.

Another thing that helped us run smoothly off the bat was having such a great producer. If you want to start a podcast, find a producer who understands the technical elements, but also has strong artistic sensibilities that are aligned with yours, and who is a generally brilliant person. This might be tricky because most people aren’t even half of one of those things, but a solid producer is essential in producing a good podcast. For Lady to Lady, it’s really helpful to have a producer who is not one of the hosts because David keeps an eye on everything so that we can focus on talking about what it would be like to have penises for hands. Shut up. It’s art. If you don’t have a capable person who can produce your show for you, learn the technical elements yourself. Be the David you wish to see in the world.

After podcasting on our own for about a year, we wanted to be on a podcasting network. We went away for a Lady to Lady retreat at Brandie’s dad’s timeshare in Big Bear. There, we prepped choreographer for a dance routine to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” for our upcoming live show at the Comedy Central Stage; made a break-away shirt for the same show; and edited together a “best of” demo of the podcast to send out to networks. Putting together the “best of” was much more tedious than we’d thought it would be. We pulled an all-nighter, pacing round the condo getting sick of the sounds of our own voices. We absolutely watched Magic Mike when we were done. When we got back to L.A., we sent the reel to a handful of networks. Jesse Thorn, the proprietor of the Maximum Fun network, listened to what we’d sent him (as did his wife, Theresa), and they liked what he heard. Jesse took us out to burritos and told us he’d like us to join his network. He immediately gave us some really helpful tips like “have segments,” and “say who you each of you are,” but then also said that we were “so fun on the mic, that even if we wanted to stay a trainwreck, he would like us.”

Maximum Fun is essentially a collective of broadcasters who have banded together to form this mighty community of weirdo hosts and listeners who help one another out. Jesse has, like, uber-cool taste in everything, so it’s a very well-curated network where shows like Jesse’s Jordan Jesse Go!, Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson’s Throwing Shade, and the McElroy brothers’ My Brother, My Brother, and Me work with shows like Lady to Lady to advertise one another’s shows, have each other on as guests, and participate in these ridiculously fun and whimsical MaxFun Events like MaxFunCon — which is this insane weekend festival Jesse organizes to bring listeners and hosts together.

I still forget that what we say on Lady to Lady goes out to the entire fucking internet. Barbara and Brandie are two of my best friends, so there’s no real difference between what we talk about on or off mic. This means that I frequently have people introduce themselves by saying things like “I know you like to hover when you pee at public restrooms” or “I threw up once during a blow job too!” I think, though, that this is probably what makes people listen to the podcast: They’re into stories about bodily fluids. Also, in podcasting, as, in my opinion, all comedy, honesty and candor are always going to be most interesting.

On reason co-hosting a podcast that books predominantly women works really well is that women are naturally very candid with each other. It’s not at all uncommon for a woman, for example, to walk into a public bathroom at a bar and tell a stranger that she’s thinking about fucking this dude she’s on a Tinder date with. Most of the funniest conversations I’ve had in my life have taken place while drunk in a women’s bathroom somewhere. We have that short hand with a lot of guests right off the bat. We hadn’t known Margaret Cho for more than a half hour before we’d already started doing absinthe shots and talking about Louis CK’s balls, for example, and immediately upon meeting guest Tamara Yajia recently, we were talking about her recent foray into the fun world of butt sex.

Having a podcast has also been an ideal way to hang out with women in comedy who I would love to have an hour long conversation with, but wouldn’t have otherwise because who has the time to socialize just to socialize in Los Angeles. This also goes for Barbara and Brandie. They really are my BFFs in IRL but all three of us are so busy that we often only see each other while recording. Even when we do just hang out, though, there are major things that happened that we won’t tell each other about until we’re podcasting. This is really hard and sometimes impossible when Barbara or I have been drinking, but when possible, we do try not to blow our wads in the locker room or however that phrase goes.

One challenge of podcasting with hosts that are all the same gender, sexuality and race is that we want to make sure that our voices all sound unique enough. I mean this in both the actual tonal qualities of our voices as well as our points of view. Barbara, Brandie and I are fortunate because while we’re all different Spice Girls if you will. Barbara’s probably Ginger, Brandie’s Scary, and I’m maybe Sporty (if Sporty smoked an ass ton of weed.)

Having a wide variety of voices is also key in booking — especially if your hosts are all relatively similar. We try to book people of all sexualities, ages, races and both cis and trans women. Doing this not only makes the episode easier to track because listeners can tell who is talking, it also just makes for a more interesting show. We recently brought on a booker, the hilarious Marie Collette, who has been booking a diverse line up of guests we might not have even known about, and who has also helped book some of our dream guests like Margaret Cho and Kay Cannon. Again, I think a key element in being good at something is surrounding yourself with people who are better at it than you.

Running a podcast is running a business if you’re serious about it. I guess in that way, choosing co-hosts is kind of like choosing roommates. Sometimes it’s a great idea to go with friends, and sometimes you realize why no one else wanted to start a podcast with them. I’ve been so fortunate to watch Lady to Lady grow alongside hustlers who I also really care about. Recording is one thing, but there are also less sexy jobs like promoting that are crucial to a show’s success. There are also long, tedious nights, and road trips if you tour with the show. All of this is easier if you like the people you were insane enough to do this with. Lady to Lady is bigger than just my relationship with Barbara and Brandie, though. Our recorded sleepovers are proof that it can be interesting to show that women get along. They are also proof that funny women in the entertainment industry are in no short supply.

Tess Barker co-hosts the Lady to Lady podcast on the Maximum Fun network.

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