This is another one of those confession posts again. Sorry to stir up controversy so soon after Uncle Jim Bob let loose at the dining room table. However, this is just one of those things that we have to talk about.
I think that improv podcasts are difficult to pull off. I'm sorry! I know tons of you love improv4humans and Improv Nerd, but I just can't do it! I tried, I know I'm broken, leave me alone, but keep reading because I'm going to get you back.
Now, it's one thing if you're Paul F. Tompkins or Matt Besser, who have years of stand-up comedy, improvisation, and performance under their belts. Their shows, Spontaneanation and improv4humans, respectively, are doing very well for themselves. A large portion of this success is because they know what their point of view is and they have an audience already. But for those of us who have less than 20 years in the business? It's going to be tough to attract that crowd of listeners you need to subscribe and rate your show on iTunes. I mean, not all of us can get a panel spot on @midnight despite how hard we try. I don't try very hard because 1) it films in California, where I don't live, and 2) with my luck, I'd be up against Ron Funches and Emo Philips.
The audio format also requires a lot of imagination. One would think that this would be perfect for improv because it is a form of performance that requires players and audiences to fill in the blanks. However, improv benefits most from being live in front of a crowd and they are seeing something that will never happen again. Emphasis on the word seeing. If you put a show format that requires quite a bit of blank-filling in a medium that also requires a lot of blank-filling, you're going to have a lot of blank spaces and you might be asking your audience to do most of the work. This is why outlines and scripted material usually work best for the audio narrative.
That being said, I do think that there is a way to make them work. Hello from the Magic Tavern is a good example of this. It is a weekly show that uses improv in a consistent fictional world with characters that you hear every week in addition to some new ones. That focus and consistency have me coming back to the show rather than losing interest. Does this mean you also need to create a fictional magical land with a Badger king and a Wizard as a co-host? No. However, I think what helps many podcasts is recognizing a niche or an interest that you love and then turning that into a concept that will bring focus to your show.
The beauty of improv is that it is a ball of chaos that is performed live on stage and the audience goes along with the ride. In podcasting, it might not work in its natural form. But we have the technology. We can make it better, stronger, more... wait, am I quoting something? You know what, I'm going to go take a nap, it's been a long Thanksgiving. You kids go have fun coming up with conceptual improv podcasts.
KC Ryan is an improv graduate turned Sketch Writing Level 2 student. When she’s not working at the day job, she is a writer and podcaster for everything that combines feminism, comedy, theatre, and nerdery. She also performs in the puppet improv troupe Empty Inside.