Podcasts are in tune with the democratized spirit of Internet media; anyone with a microphone and a computer can offer their listeners unlimited hours of recordings, usually for free. Limited only by their imaginations, podcasters have a freedom of expression unrestricted by commerce, censorship or geography. Several great podcasts have blossomed in Denver's flourishing arts community; here to celebrate them is Podcast Profiles, a series documenting the efforts of local podcasters and spotlighting the peculiar personalities behind them.
Superhero fans are living in a golden era, as tales of costumed crime fighters permeate mainstream pop culture and inspire goliath film and television franchises worth billions. As comic-book stories shift from page to screen, it's helpful to have pithy guides lead listeners to the best and worst that all their cultural obsessions have to offer. Broadcast Geeks, an alliance between El Charrito proprietor Matt Orrin and local comics Chris Baker, Jeff Albright, Mitch Jones and Nate Balding, is a weekly podcast that examines every corner of the geek universe, with a special emphasis on in-depth discussion of ongoing television series like Arrow or Daredevil. Each episode welcomes a special guest (usually a comedian) into El Charrito's Comedy Room Room for a wide-ranging and riff-heavy hour of nerdy discussion, focusing on a particular theme each week. Westword caught up with the Broadcast Geeks members to discuss their origin story, banter about comedy and talk plenty of shit about Batman v Superman.
Westword: Give me the Broadcast Geeks origin story. Whose parents got shot, who got injured in a freak lab accident?
Mitch Jones: It all started when Matt and Jeff were bitten by a radioactive podcaster.
Matt Orrin: As far as I know, I used to write a lot of geek-related posts about all these shows. Jeff said we should do a podcast on it. We enlisted other heroes, including our male Oracle, Nate Balding, and then Baker and Mitch. But that's the story we use, that podcaster that bit us. And that's a trickier story.
Jeff Albright: Almost every time I was at El Charrito for a show, I seemed to end up chatting with Matt at the bar about superhero shows and movies and the like. I started recording my other podcast with Deacon in the Room Room, and about three weeks in I started chatting to Matt about him starting a podcast based on his love of all things comic book. I offered to produce it using my existing equipment, and we started brainstorming. Our lineup arose out of suggesting comedians we liked who enjoyed geek culture as much as we do — and a podcast was born.
You guys do pretty wonky breakdowns on an episode-by-episode basis. Why'd you decide to take that approach, and what shows do you cover every week?
Nate Balding: It's entirely conversational. The shows break down into discussion of whichever thread gets pulled first and transitions as input occurs, so there's not a ton of structure to our review. The shows we discuss vary, but if it has been a comic book or features super heroics, we'll probably talk about it. A lot of why we decided to start was discussing the CW/DC universe and how it was opening up this new world that comics fans have been wanting to see for decades, so the focus falls there a lot of the time.
Albright: We'll cover just about any show or movie that is geek- or comic book-related. Being that there are five of us, it makes it easier to cover a broader range of shows. I, for one, am not into Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, but the fact that the other three or four hosts may be into it makes it possible for us to talk on any given show or movie with a fairly deep knowledge base.
What are the benefits and hazards of having so many co-hosts?
Chris Baker: Having five of us is great, since we all have different knowledge of comic books and different perspectives on them. I love being able to pick Nate's brain, since he seems to know everything about every comic book. I've never been much of a comic-book reader, rather a cartoon/movie watcher followed by extensive Wikipedia research to get the whole backstory. Granted, I'm the most frequently absent cohost, but it's still the best part of my week. Always. It's so nice to be able to geek out with the guys while eating tasty breakfast burritos to cure my hangovers.
Why did you decide to focus on your particular corner of geekdom? Movies and shows based on superheroes do seem to be going through something of a golden age; what do you think is the nature of their appeal?
Balding: Now that adolescence occurs between the ages of 30 and 45, we finally get the whole responsible-wielding-of-power thing.
Albright: For me, it was the fact that I could no longer afford to collect comic books. I was falling out of that world, particularly Marvel and DC, and was missing it dearly. This recent flood of new television programs and superhero movies has made it possible for me to enjoy those worlds again without having to break the bank or screw the artists by downloading comics to my computer.
Balding: In seriousness, I think a lot of it is having the technology to make comic-book movies and TV look good. If it wasn't superhero, there would be a tent-pole action movie or two every summer — but after Iron Man was successful, studios realized there were eighty years of content to pick from that were previously vetted by an audience, so I think that's a no-brainer. Beyond that, I think heroics tend to favor eras of uncertainty, and since 2000 — I'm including the election theft as lead-up to 9/11 and entry into our longest military conflict as a nation — we've been in a fractured, vulnerable state, and people will turn to fiction as emotional panacea. There's probably some lingering Gen X "Fuck you, Dad!" rage that's manifesting culturally because our peers are in a position to express it in popular media now. I mean, there was a Children's Hospital episode where the plot hinged on being a fan of X Los Angeles, so our tiny heyday is definitely here.
Orrin: We focus on it because it's something we've always talked about with each other, at least from a comic-book perspective. Now that we can disassociate occasionally by watching some of our favorite characters, even some obscure, on the TV and see that world come to life...well, it's like watching a big sports event. From an excitement level, at least. We can see sporadic movies with TV tie-ins — which is unheard of anywhere else! Also, we can get all types of emotions from these shows, with characters we are vested in rather than the bland characters on sitcoms like Friends. Characters that we've seen grow over decades are now more accessible to us, and they're interacting with each other in these expanded universes.
Jones: I think that talking about superhero TV and cinema is just one of those topics that is both widely popular to be enjoyed by the masses, yet still intricate enough to be dissected by the hardcore fanbase.
I fall behind on the CW shows a lot, but could go on for days on end about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What are the benefits and hazards of having so many co-hosts?
Orrin: The benefits come from the multiple perspectives we have. The differences of opinions that spark good conversations. The observations we each bring to the table also help our understanding of what we're watching, such as Nate's knowledge of the comic-book source material. The cons would be the times where we need to coordinate all of us recording together. It doesn't always happen. It's also hard not talking over people, which I do frequently with my naturally loud voice.
Albright: I think the biggest thing is that we have fun and enjoy each other's company and viewpoints. Hopefully the listeners can hear that in our episodes and, in a way, we hope they feel like they are part of the group every week.
Who among you would you guys say is the biggest expert? What do you each bring to the table?
Baker: Nate is the expert.
Balding: I wouldn't say I'm the expert. All of us bring deep cuts from different parts of nerd-dom that play into the conversation and help to keep it fresh. Hopefully we're treading different ground than other shows with a similar bent. We have been accused of being overly positive with our reviews — with the near-total exception of Batman v Superman, we pan that one on the regular — which is a fair assessment given that we tend to talk about what we like rather than lament what didn't work for us. We're probably a lot closer to a recommendation show than a straight-ahead review.
Jones: Everybody brings something different to the table as far as being an "expert" on anything. It's especially neat when the guests chime in and give us a perspective outside the "group." Just like the Avengers, there is the core group as well as a rotating cast of contributors to keep things fresh.
Orrin: I'd say everyone has their skill sets; however, I would say Balding is the fact guide for our group for most things. Jeff has Star Wars, amongst other areas. Mitch gets data to work with, while having a strong comic background, and Baker has a lot of geek exposure from cons. We all have our comic-book tidbits, some more than others.
You have a very simple recording setup. It's nice to have unfussy gear, but do you lose anything due to audio problems?
Balding: Jeff probably has the most info on the setup as its owner, but we've had no significant audio issues as yet. We typically record in the Comedy Room Room inside El Charrito on quieter days, but if there were an event or something that could mar our recording we could easily go to someone's car or head upstairs to one of the old haunted '70s heroin rooms in the former hotel above the bar, provided our PKE meter reads below a three five spectral manifestation, according to Tobin's Spirit Guide. New listeners should know that I will commit overlong to a reference.
Albright: As far as I have heard through feedback, people are very satisfied with the sound. The great part about using an iPhone and a small mic is that we can record virtually anywhere. No cords and wires is great. We have done an episode in Mitch's van on our way to a movie and it sounded great, so we will be doing that more in the future.
Jones: Too bad that movie we were on the way to go see was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice!
Orrin: Yeah, but it was still a great experience. I feel our personalities mesh well together, too, 'cause everyone is pretty laidback and into the material.
What does the Sexpot sponsorship entail?
Balding: Sexpot has the same deal with us that Westword has with you, only minus any pecuniary returns.
Albright: Sexpot has our podcast on their podcast page at sexpotcomedy.com, and they send us special guests like Billy Wayne Davis and others who are in town doing Sexpot shows. That is something that is going to happen with more frequency as we move forward. It helps to have a new podcast that is on a site with great podcasts like Dead Things, These Things Matter, Empty Girlfriend and so many more. Sexpot also does a great job of sharing and promoting the podcast on all of their social networking sites.
How do you track your listenership?
Balding: I mainly track listenership by running into people on the street or on Twitter. I know for sure that JD Lopez from Left Hand/Right Brain tunes in and we have one superfan, Marcelo Duran, @guyincognito on Twitter, who regularly chimes in on social media with direct references to the show, which is exciting. All of us are super down to extend our conversation beyond the hour.
Albright: The main way I track listeners is through our host site, Podbean. That being said, I am not quite sure if that reflects numbers from iTunes and the Sexpot Comedy website. That is something I will be working on with Sexpot in the near future so we can get a better understanding of who is listening.
Do you have plans to expand into live shows or event coverage? A comic con episode, perhaps?
Albright: Being that we are very mobile, on-location podcasts are something we will be definitely be doing in the near future. We have discussed doing live shows as well, as most of us do stand-up, so it's now about finding the right way to package it so it feels fresh and new. If that is possible.
Baker: A con episode would be amazing. Denver Comic Con is the best con around. It's grown at a killer pace, and the staff has kept up to adjust for it and keep things amazing. As a con veteran, it's been great to see how it's grown and only gotten better.
Jones: I think the logical next step is to do a "live at Comic Con" show, but that is still down the road a bit. I'd love it if we could get a video camera and do a correspondent bit around the con floor.
Balding: Along similar lines, I feel okay speaking for everyone that we would fucking love to get involved with cons. We've talked a bit about doing something for Comic Con Denver — getting a vendor slot and doing some on-site interviews and building networks with the event coordinators, etc. — but as to the specific shape that would take, we haven't entirely ironed out. In terms of the live show, I'm not completely sure that at this point we have the draw to make it work. I'd love to reach a point where we can pull an audience for a live show, and I think we have that trajectory, but right now just having people occasionally wander into the recording space and sit down for a minute is as close as we are to a live event.
Orrin: I would entertain the idea of a live recording, maybe make it part of a show, but that isn't necessarily the point of what we are doing. We enjoy the conversations, the topics and each opinion given, similar or different. The overall discourse is the best part, and we just happen to be recording it. I truly wanted to do a comic con episode, and we still can. I was hoping for a table to talk with people walking around, or featured there, but I think we might have to set up somewhere and record, which is a huge benefit of our audio equipment. We recorded in Mitch's car after BvS and it had a great quality. We haven't talked about it much, or planned anything. I have my three-day pass but I'm not sure who else does.
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Do you guys have anything coming up that you want to plug here?
Balding: I will be high-fiving strangers on the D train most days, am doing the June Nerd Roast and will be in Arcata for the Savage Henry festival in late August. Watch out for the return of Werewolf Radar — we're working out the details to make it work with comedy wunderkind Jordan Doll estranged from his beloved mountain homeland, so we'll be bringing it back in some form sooner than later. And especially pick up copies of the comic book Rat Queens. I have nothing to do with it, but it rules.
Orrin: Comedy Room Room has free weekly showcases every Friday from 7 to 9 p.m.
Albright: Follow us on Twitter @broadcastgeeks!