Ever since Serial invented podcasts (or at least rocketed podcasts into the mainstream), it’s been impossible to exist without hearing a friend or coworker or random commuter tell you about their new podcast. They’re everywhere—iTunes, Podcast Addict, even Spotify—and have taken the leap from pre-recorded media to Live Shows.
If you’re a fan of listening to podcasts on your commute, during housework or staring blankly at a screen while you should be working, it might be time to step up to the fan-plate and see your favorite show in person. While I could go on for hours about my love of podcasts and live shows specifically (maybe it’s time to namedrop my podcast about podcasts?), I’ll keep it short and sweet:
5. You Get to See the Podcasters Perform
In January 2016, I was living in Brooklyn and managed to nab tickets for "Welcome to Night Vale" at El Museo del Barrio. The show was amazing, even if I did have to go to work the next morning after an hour and a half train ride home.
One of the great things about podcasts—"WtNV" especially—is that you have no idea what the world looks like. Sure, there’s normal story components like the romantic subplot between beautiful, perfect Carlos and narrator Cecil, there’s the shaky transition between leadership when the station is bought out by StrexCorp, and then there’s characters like The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home and Literal Five-Headed Dragon Hiram McDaniels. While there is a plot you can follow, there are also beautiful little quirks that never fail to throw you for a loop, like Khoshek, the public radio station’s cat who floats four feet off the floor in the men’s room and maybe killed an intern or two with their poisonous spine ridges. But getting the chance to see these performers, to watch the people who voice these characters, adds a fun layer to the show. Does Carlos the Scientist look anything like Dylan Marron? Who knows (though they both do have perfect hair). But getting the chance to see someone act out the little expressions we only ever hear adds something to all subsequent episodes of Night Vale that were definitely worth the late night train ride home.
4. Cutting Room floor scraps don’t get cut
While podcasts allow people to sound like the Height of Humor and Sophistication (shoutout to my friend editing their podcast’s audio to erase every unnecessary “um” and “like”—my California heart bleeds for you), it can sometimes leave you with a low-level case of FOMO. But when you see a show live, you don’t miss out on all the hilarious and (often visual) gags that don’t make the final, polished cut.
In September 2016 (Fall 2016 was a golden time for podcast live shows), before their HBO fame, "2 Dope Queens" did a show in Brooklyn that doubled as a celebration for Phoebe Robinson’s birthday. The show was amazing—the rosé was plentiful and the music was a chefskiss.gif. Dope Queen Pheebs danced her way on stage a la Ellen, and while the dancing was great, the struggle to keep her skirt from flashing the audience was #relatable. (Listen, wearing a skirt when you’re gonna take the subway is an exercise in quick reflexes and idgaf’ing your not-so-quick reflexes).
Rosé in hand and feet numb from standing through the show, the highlight was definitely at the end, after the video message from "I Love Dick" co-star Kevin Bacon, when the crew brought out a Dad Bod cake, Jessica Williams trying and failing to keep a straight face while Phoebe nearly collapsed in laughter at the cake. While the episode kept in the cake reveal, it cut out a few wheezed jokes, from counting the cake’s chest hairs to… describing the rest of the cake.
3. It gives you the chance support your favorite podcast directly
While we all love our free podcasts, it’s also great to be able to support the media makers we love. And sure, most podcasts have ads, but not everyone wants to buy a meal delivery subscription, or a mattress that pops out of a box, or micro-modal underwear with fun patterns (I mean, sure, we want to, but how many pairs of underwear does a person truly need?).
And, while some podcasting networks have the opportunity for monthly donations, not every listener can swing a monthly payment. But, when a live show tour rolls into town, it’s a little easier to justify the price of a ticket as a one-time treat (or two, if there are multiple shows in a given location #treatyoself). Not to mention, if going to a live show is a treat...
2. Your weekly/monthly routine gets the Fun Night Out treatment
This past July found San Diego chock full of fun things to do as Comic-Con took over. One such event was "The Adventure Zone" show. McElroy Brothers and Patriarch hosted a book signing for their graphic novel adaptation of their podcast by the same name. While not your typical podcast live show, the book signing featured everything fans know and love about their good D&D podcast—goofs, jokes, and a vague if a hilarious interpretation of the function of Zone of Truth. The show took place far enough away from comic con that the audience wasn’t part of the constant crowds of the gaslamp district, but close enough that it was easy to make the show the crown jewel on a fun day out. Instead of just trekking down to San Diego for a 2-hour show, it became an all-day event full of cat cafes, gelato, and pool-side bar service, all culminating in watching three boys and their dad read through their new graphic novel with the guest stylings of Carey Pietsch.
This is the second year in a row that I’ve managed to make it out to San Diego during comic con—not for the convention itself, but for the fun of seeing "The Adventure Zone" live and making a day out of it.
1. Enjoying the energy of being around a bunch of fans who won’t roll their eyes at your podcast obsession
Podcasts can be a pretty isolating media. While it’s entirely possible to listen to podcasts in groups (or to trap your friends during long road trips and forcing them to listen to the great new podcast you’re obsessed with), more often than not it’s just you, headphones on, laughing or crying to yourself during your commute while you try and avoid eye contact with the dude selling incense on the train. It’s like a book in that way—it’s something you can share, but mostly it’s just your time.
I rounded out June 2018 by making my way to the Largo in Hollywood for a special live episode (the first live episode!) of movie review podcast "Who Shot Ya." The show was great—a not-too-late night show where they screened "Attack The Block," the 2011 film featuring John Boyega’s breakout performance as a South London street tough who has to defend himself and his friends when aliens crash land on earth and attack his block. While I went with a group of friends (none of us who had actually seen the movie before), we ended up chatting with a few people before the show, talking about our love of WSY and other podcasts we were currently obsessed with, a great experience since we all knew what we signed up for ahead of time. (I’m not saying you can’t talk about podcasts, but they’re like dreams—unless someone asks you about them, try to avoid going on 40-minute tangents about them over the water cooler.) We all walked away from that night happy, terrified of aliens, and with at least 5 extra podcasts added to our queues.