This weekend marks five years of the Los Angeles Podcast Festival, aka L.A. Podfest. They've been presenting live editions of the shows that get everyone through their commutes, or just those times they're bored.
Festival founders Dave Anthony, Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini have been doing it as podcasts have continued to become more mainstream (thanks, Apple Podcasts app!), but that also means increased competition. Just a month from now, the Now Hear This podcast festival is debuting in Anaheim — and it's a festival with a big corporate backer that also owns the Midroll podcast network.
"There's a million film festivals around the country, and I don't think they're getting hurt by the competition," Anthony told KPCC. "Now Hear This is a little more geared toward one company, and I think that we're just trying to bring in the best podcasts from all over."
5 Podfest podcasts to start with
Both Anthony and Elwood said they're always trying to find the hot new thing, while also bringing back podcasts that fans know and love. Here are five shows Dave and Graham suggest you check out:
My Favorite Murder
This show features comedian Karen Kilgariff and Cooking Channel host Georgia Hardstark discussing their favorite true crime stories, as well as hearing hometown crime stories from their friends and fans.
"This year we have My Favorite Murder, which is kind of exploding on the scene," Anthony said. "And that's one that's just been around for a couple months. So we always try to have that sort of fresh new thing. Because I think the fans want to find new podcasts, as well as see the old ones that they really enjoy."
Everything's Coming Up Podcast!
A smaller show that's coming to the festival this year, it features comedians Allie Goertz and Julia Prescott reviewing and talking about "The Simpsons" in enough depth to make Comic Book Guy happy.
"Because they're based in L.A., they've gotten amazing interviews with writers, and voice actors, and producers from that show," Elwood told KPCC. "And it's like, I think it's a fantastic show, and I want more people to learn about that."
Welcome To Night Vale
A show with a huge fan base, it tells a twisted story in the form of community broadcasting updates for the small town of Night Vale — a place that feels like "Twin Peaks" meets a jauntier version of "The X-Files." Podfest's founders didn't know what they were in for when they first bright the podcast to the festival.
"The first year 'Welcome To Night Vale' really took off, they had a very young audience when they first started, and so we had them on a Friday," Anthony said. "So it's about a 6 p.m. show, and all of the sudden, all these 16-year-old girls show up, and they're all dressed up in characters, and we had no idea what was happening."
Anthony's own show, this one examines the most ridiculous, little-known parts of American history. They're stories that you won't believe and almost no one remembers.
Comedy Film Nerds
The show hosted by Elwood and Mancini, it covers both comedy and film. The hosts are both comedians and filmmakers. Their marquee guest for their Podfest show: Wil Wheaton, geek icon of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and playing himself on "The Big Bang Theory" fame, as well as being an outspoken advocate for tabletop gaming.
The festival's superhero origin story
The festival started thanks to fans of Anthony's previous podcast "Walking The Room" demanding he and co-host Greg Behrendt do a live show. They did, and people flew from around the world to be there.
"I just thought, 'There's something here that could be bigger,'" Anthony said.
He contacted Elwood and Anthony, Elwood and Mancini started working together on the festival. Anthony said that it's changed his life.
"I basically had no career when I started my podcast. I was pretty much washed up and done," Anthony said.
Now Anthony has been able to develop an audience, while Elwood has directed a documentary about podcasting after raising $140,000 on Kickstarter.
You can buy a ticket to see 40 different podcasts this Friday through Sunday at L.A. Podfest at the Sofitel hotel in Beverly Hills. You can also buy a ticket to be one of the expected close to 10,000 people watching the livestream online at LAPodfest.com — and watch out for episodes from the festival to eventually be released on various podcasts.
More interview highlights
Why someone who doesn't know anything about podcasts should come
Elwood: Really, it's like a combination of a comedy festival, with a little bit of a Comic-Con vibe. And also, you're going to see a lot of name people. ... And they're just hanging out in this hotel. They're not sequestered or anything like that — it's a blast. And you're going to just see one interesting show after another. And you don't have to be a part of this. New podcast fans come every day, and they're like, "Oh, I heard about this," and they start listening. And they all say the same thing. They all go, "Oh my God, this is amazing! Why haven't I been doing this sooner? I've heard about it, but this is great!"
If you're a passive fan, and you're like, "I've heard about this," I would encourage you to come, because you're going to get opened to a really fun, cool world of people that are super accepting. I had a guy come up to me a year or two years ago, and say, "You know, I've always felt like a nerdy outsider my whole life, and this weekend is the first time I've felt like I belong." And that is a cool environment that we have helped create.
The problems with livestreaming
Elwood: GoDaddy, I have no problem badmouthing them. They really hurt us. We bought a scalable website, so no matter how many people bought it, and they, we paid for this and they capped out, and then they shut it down. And then GoDaddy's customer service was like, "Oh, well you can fill out a trouble ticket, and we'll get to it in 48 hours" — during our event.
So we've switched companies, and we've brought in people that really know what they're doing, and we've put in safety measures and all that. And the other thing is, everyone's got to understand about technology in general is — and we're doing everything we can so it doesn't happen — sometimes it doesn't work right. I mean Apple, which is a tech company, a couple years ago, during a product launch, their livestream went down. So if it can happen to Apple and the NFL, it potentially could happen to a festival like ours as it did a little bit last year.
But I think one of the things that was great that I took away from last year was we immediately had comedians pulling out their phones and Periscoping the show, and then we had our tech team working literally overnight on that first night and fixing the problem, and that was something I was really proud of, because it goes to what we're talking about: the podcasting community rallied around this situation, that was mainly created by a giant corporation. Which, this year, we're very confident it won't happen.
Giving podcasters opportunities
Elwood: We have the podcast lab, and we've had this since the second year, where fans — we have this room, and you can bring your own recording equipment. If you weren't programmed into the festival, you can bring your own equipment and get interviews with anybody. And we've got people now that set their whole year around this.
They've got a little podcast that they do in some small town, and then they come to L.A. PodFest, and they're getting interviews with giant name people, like Aisha Tyler, who's in this year's festival, and Todd Glass, and Bill Hader's going to be on KCRW's "Guest DJ Project" podcast at the festival. So if you're a small little podcaster and you don't have 200,000 downloads, you can still come to our festival and get amazing interviews with some of the top names in comedy and podcasting and entertainment that you would never get anywhere else.
Anthony: When we first started it, we didn't know if the podcast lab would work. But the first year, Marc Maron's walking around the table and taking an hour to interview with these people, and all the big names, they felt very comfortable. And I think there was something about, they're giving back to the people that have helped us.