After more than 20 years in the business, Scott Aukerman has turned his side project into a mini-empire.
The writer-comedian, previously best known for his work on “Mr. Show,” began podcasting in 2009 with “Comedy Death-Ray Radio,” based on a popular stage show he did in Los Angeles that was a hybrid talkshow-improv routine. By May 2011, the podcast was retitled “Comedy Bang-Bang!,” and in June 2012, IFC debuted the TV show, which the network just picked up for a fifth season.
Aukerman now has branched out into distribution. He runs the Earwolf Network, which owns more than 30 podcasts, including ones from prominent comics such as Tig Notaro and Paul F. Tompkins, whose “Spontaneanation” debuted in the No. 1 spot on iTunes on its April release.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Aukerman admits of the boom in podcasting in recent years. “I was sort of screwing around when I started my show. When we began the network, we couldn’t get anyone to advertise, because nobody had ever heard of podcasting. It’s gratifying to see people making a living at it now.”
Now, podcasting has erupted into the mainstream, and recently got a big boost from the popularity of Chicago Public Media’s “Serial,” which generated more than 77 million downloads during its 12-episode run in late 2014. Podcasts even held their own upfronts event alongside last week’s round of digital and cable presentations in New York.
“ ‘Serial’ really made people interested in podcasts,” Aukerman notes of the show, hosted by Sarah Koenig, which follows a true story over the course of a season. “The listenership is growing. Now the question becomes, how do you stand out in a crowded field?”
Earwolf personalities are often popular comedians, but their subjects are far-ranging. “How Did This Get Made?” focuses on bad movies, while “Professor Blastoff” is about science and philosophy. Aukerman doesn’t oversee the podcasts — or even listen to them all. “When we started Earwolf, we wanted to guide people to make a good show and then be totally hands off. People are in charge of their own shows, and free to do whatever they want.”
Though his TV series and podcasts are popular and profitable, Aukerman is aware that they haven’t broken through to the mainstream “Key & Peele” audience, or achieved the popularity of viral videos like Jimmy Kimmel’s. But he thinks that’s just fine. “We’re super specific,” he notes.
“Do I sometimes wish the show was bigger? Yeah, definitely. But comedy sometimes isn’t about that, it’s about aiming for the margins.”