By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – “Not to get too sidetracked again,” warns Dave Shumka, co-host of long running, local podcast Stop Podcasting Yourself with co-host Graham Clark, “I looked up the “Let’s Talk About Sex”, CD release of the single and the track listing was “Let’s Talk About Sex”, “Let’s Talk About Sex (True Confessions edit)”, “Let’s talk about Sex (Super crispy mix)”, “Let’s Talk About Sex (Original Recipe Mix)” but there was another one that was “Let’s Talk About AIDS” and like three skits.” A conversation with the two hosts of SPY is filled with funny pop culture diversions like this, a product of the chemistry and comic instincts gained over nearly 10 years of making the podcast. There is also a lot of tagging of each other’s jokes and observations. Shumka’s comment above itself was a tag of Clark’s story: “I had this Salt and Peppa album and the last track is this high school drama club doing this sketch about drugs. So that would come up when you have things on shuffle.”
This October Stop Podcasting Yourself will be recording their 500th episode, a milestone few podcasts can be said to have reached. They started out nearly 10 years ago, in the pre-Serial years when podcasting as a format hadn’t yet fully sorted itself out. Clark and Shumka weren’t entirely sure what they wanted to do with the medium. They started by working with fellow comedian (and early guest) Ben Mills. As Clark explains, the idea was a little different from how the podcast ended up: “we thought we’d write sketches but we weren’t very good.” The three would get together and brainstorm. Shumka follows up, “we had a lot of ideas but mostly didn’t follow through.” These brainstorming sessions formed the basics of what SPY ended up being. Shumka, again: “that’s kind of what the podcast became, the brainstorming would be funny.” Adds Clark, “I remember one time we got together to write sketches and we ended up looking at every video at YTMND.com… …I think we thought that’s what a podcast was.”
This history of the podcasts genesis helps makes sense of the fact that if you listen back to the archived episodes of the podcast’s early days, it was a much different show, with a number of segments and bit ideas. Shumka recalls, “we didn’t know how we’d fill the time. What are we supposed to do, just talk? I’m not that good at that so we need an artificial thing to make us talk.” Clark continues, “also it seemed like watching David Letterman or whatever, that that was what a show was. Now we’re gonna do this thing, now we’re going to do that thing.” The show now has pared a lot of the segments down, Shumka puts it thusly, “now we only do the two segments, really. And it feels like anything else would derail what we’re doing. We struggle to keep it to 90 minutes with those parameters.”
For a podcast with little in the way of format, or organized topic to centre itself on, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the (immense) appeal of it is. Shumka describes what fans suggest, “it has no hook to the show. It has no concept to it. So when people describe it they say it’s joyful and it’s consistent. I don’t think we have bad episodes anymore.” Consistency is definitely a factor. Not only is it one of the most consistently reliable podcasts out there in terms of never missing shows and delivering them on time, it’s also notably consistent in tone, and speed. This is true whether the guest is a famous LA comedian, or a smaller local one. As Clark puts it, “we came to a point where we realized we could have just about anyone on and it would still be fun. There was awhile when we were starting out where we needed someone whose gonna be bigger.” Shumka adds, “the perfect guest isn’t necessarily the funniest person in the world but someone who is the right speed. We work at one speed I think… …and the truth is that at this point [the listeners] are here for us.”
Another part of the appeal of SPY is that it never takes itself too seriously, while fairly life changing events have happened over the course of its existence (Many moves, new jobs, Shumka was married (but his wife Abby remains her own person) and has had two children) they never seem to affect the light tone of the show. It’s rare in this day and age that you can listen to hours and hours of a podcast and completely avoid hearing about politics. With SPY, you can. Shumka explains , “I avoid it in life. I don’t want to talk about that. I probably agree with Charlie [Demers, frequent guest, and co-host of the leftist book club podcast, Well Reds] in most things. In our show and in life I just want to talk to people who make me laugh. I hate small talk, I just want to talk to people who do bits.” For Clark, it’s a matter of expertise: “I don’t know too many people who can make politics funny. It’s a rare breed. It’s hard you have to know so much to make all the references. We know Van Dam movies and dumb things.” Tags Shumka, “but we know a lot of dumb things.” In their first episode of the show, the hosts suggested they’d keep making episodes until they hit 1200, so with 700 more to go, hopefully we’ll get to know a lot of dumb things too.
Download Stop Podcasting Yourself’s 500th episode on October 16 on itunes, maximumfun.org or wherever you download your podcasts.