July 27, 2011 5:23 pm

Podcasting an essential tool for comics to attract new fans and sell tickets

MONTREAL – It used to be that the surest way for a comedian to surge to fame was to play clubs and and appear on TV. Now if they’re serious about making money being funny, they’d better have a podcast.

Comedy podcasts are becoming increasingly popular in an expanding medium that seems to offer something for every taste. In fact, comedy provides a huge – and growing hunk – of the content.

“It’s been the best and most innovative thing that’s happened in the last several years in comedy,” says funnyman Greg Proops, who will host a panel on podcasting at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival on Thursday.

”We’ve taken back the means of production,” says Proops, who records his “Smartest Man in the World” podcast before live audiences, mixing his wry observations with questions from the crowd.

“It allows the comedy audience to go directly to the source and communicate one on one. A podcast is as intimate as a telephone call and I think that’s what makes it so vital.

“You can listen to it when you want to. It’s portable.”

It’s also free.

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Like most people putting content on the Internet, comedians have yet to figure out how to make money off it but Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst, says that’s not really a problem.

“There are very few for-pay podcasts and for good reason,” said Levy, who is based in London, Ont. “The idea is to maximize your audience and then use that audience to market your other offerings.”

That can include selling CDs and DVDs as well as tickets to shows. A popular podcast can also draw advertisers who will pay to be featured on its creator’s website.

“It is a means to an end but it is not an end in and of itself to generate revenue,” he said.

“The savvy podcaster doesn’t see the podcast as a generator of revenue. Instead he or she sees it as a way to build eminence, to build audience and then figure out a way to make money off that.”

You don’t need an iPod or any Apple device to download a podcast. It’s not tied to any particular brand of device and actually predates the iPod by a few years.

Podcasting used to be commonly known as webcasting but seems to have been dubbed with its current moniker because it has helped fuel sales for a lot of Apple devices over the years.

Levy estimated there are millions of podcasts on a variety of subjects and billions of downloads.

“It’s as difficult to nail down as the number of websites,” he said, noting the iTunes store alone has thousands of podcasts available.

“You basically need a computer with a good enough mic and an Internet connection and you’re in business,” Levy said of the ease of putting out a podcast.

“If you’re a comedian, you absolutely need that podcast there. Otherwise, you’re just out of touch with today’s social media reality.”

Proops says comedy podcasts allow people to be entertained without having to deal with traditional constraints.

“It’s removing all of the things that show business has put on comedy, which is that you have to pay admission, you have to go to a certain place, you have to do this, you have to do that – there’s all these rules. It’s removed all that and made the connection really vital.”

He said he also thinks the podcasts have revitalized comedy.

Proops, an alumni of TV’s hit improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” said while the comedy boom of the 1990s put more comedians out there, it also spawned a lot of bad, formulaic comedy.

He said that resulted in the entertainment form becoming a parody of itself and often narrowing its material to what would appeal to certain audiences such as young men.

Proops says the variety of podcasts has put more edgy, personal, point-of-view comedy out there, with less emphasis on old standby types of material.

“I think podcasting brought it back like alternative comedy did a few years ago,” Proops said.

He added the podcasts have an additional appeal because people are tired of what they’re getting on TV and radio, which he says is too commercial in its programming.

Proops says he doesn’t listen to as many podcasts as he should but has several favourites while Levy tunes into Weird Al Yankovic and whatever his son puts on his iPod.

Levy says his son is a big fan of comedy podcasts and uses them to learn more about particular acts he may have seen elsewhere, like on YouTube.

Proops says he’s not worried about running out of material for his weekly podcast.

“What I’m more worried about is repeating myself like a drunk and telling the same story 15 times,” he said.

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