Podcast Profiles: Anthony Crawford Drops Knowledge on Talkin' Shop

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.

Despite the glut of comedy content that podcast fans have to choose from, very few outlets offer any sort of insight into the inner workings of the industry. By brushing past the gatekeepers of this knowledge (or simply booking them on the show), Anthony Crawford's Talkin' Shop has become an invaluable free resource for fledgling and professional comics, as well as fans who want to deepen their understanding of the craft. There's no better host for such an endeavor than Crawford, a local standup with the joke-writing chops and stage presence of a veteran but the humility and work ethic of a promising novice. A fixture at nearly every open mic in town, Crawford is constantly hustling to improve, and over the course of Talkin' Shop's nineteen episodes, he's brought some of Denver's comedy kings to Mutiny Information Cafe, where he's picked their brains and documented it on his podcast for posterity. Westword recently caught up with Crawford to discuss his booking policies, his Thursday show with Adam Cayton-Holland, dream guests and what home-listeners are missing by not attending the free live recording sessions at Mutiny. 

Westword: So how'd the Troy Baxley episode go?

Anthony Crawford: It was awesomely random. That's the best way I can put it, man. It was cool because he kept talking about people walking by the window at Mutiny, and he kept doing crowd work. He'd still throw gems of advice in there throughout all the riffing and one-liners. It was cool to see how he reacted to some of the jokes bombing. 

It's almost as fun to watch Baxley bomb as it is to watch him crush. 

It was awesome, man! It turned out better than I expected. I hate to say it that way.

So, what's the basic premise of the podcast for the uninitiated listener? 

On Talkin' Shop, what I do is basically find the best people in comedy. Not necessarily just comedians. I've had the Nix Brothers on, I've had venue owners —I want to talk to people who are just engrossed in comedy, see the way they look at things and how they go about their business. The show ends with a Q&A, so if you go, you can really pick their brains. And the reason the whole thing exists is so that one day, I'll hopefully be able to sit down with Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. That's my big goal. If I'd had my way, I would've started eight years ago. 

It seems like there are still a lot of gate-keepers of that knowledge. Even with all the comedy content that exists out there on the Internet, there's still a lack of insider information.

Yeah, nobody's really sharing it.

Or if they are, they want four easy payments of $40 or something. Which I totally get! That knowledge is worth something and profit is hard to come by even for experienced comedians. 

At first I thought Deacon Gray —he's also been a guest— I thought he was going to do a real short one because his emcee class was coming up. But his was the longest one we've done so far.

Didn't he draw out some kind of diagram?

Yeah, he went to the whiteboard! He was just killing it for two and a half hours! 

So the recording is a live event, but you release them a day later, which is really quick.

That's all Isaac Miller, right there. And Sexpot, gotta shout 'em out.

Did Sexpot pick it up right away?

Yes, it was immediately a Sexpot thing. I had told Andy Juett about it, and they pretty much assigned Isaac to me. They take care of hosting fees and all that. Isaac is the man; he goes above and beyond for me. 

So he's kind of the unsung hero of
Talkin' Shop?

Yeah, he's literally my silent partner in all this. I couldn't see doing this without him. 

So between things like Deacon's visual aids, Baxley's crowd work and the Q&A portion, what experiences are people missing by not coming out to Mutiny?

A perfect example is the Phil Palisoul episode. He has what he calls his "box of cheese," and it's literally every accomplishment from his career in there. And he kept everything. His first check is in there, he has a check for a dollar in there, a check for 73 cents of royalties from a pilot that he wrote. You know what I mean? He handed me the script to the pilot he sold while looking for something else. It wasn't even that big of a deal to him. He just handed it off while he was looking for a door hanger from a Marriott, like a "do not disturb sign." What was crazy, and I remember like it was yesterday, man, he handed me another random piece of paper and it was contract that guaranteed him thousands of dollars for one set. The next thing he grabbed was the 50 First Jokes Flier. I'm on that flier! I'm in Phil Palisoul's box of cheese! That's one that people definitely should've been at. 

So, aside from Phil's, what other episodes do you recommend?

The High Plains one was really fun.

Who all did you wrangle in for that one?

Noah Gardenswartz, Ian Ambramson, Dan St. Germain and Ben Kronberg.

What's the selection process for guests? 

I treat it the way I see it. I'm swinging for the fences every time. Basically — and I start off saying this every time — this show is the most selfish thing I've ever produced in my life. Honestly, I only book people who I feel like I can learn something from. The problem with that is that I've been doing standup so long, only three or four of my guests so far have been at it longer than me. But Ben Roy had just landed a sitcom. Adam Cayton-Holland is in the same situation, and I want to learn all about that from them.

Very few people can speak with authority about what comedy is like at that level. 

I got Rick Kerns booked for the episode after Adam Cayton-Holland's.

He'll be a really good guest. There's so much mystery surrounding joke-writing. It can be a big earner, but nobody talks about it.

Exactly. And I told him that I want to focus on that. That's how I look at it. I book you for a reason. Like when I had Jake Browne on, I told him "just talk about promoting, man."

He's one of the best promoters in the scene.

I book you for what you're respected for. I'm not saying he isn't funny, but he's good as hell at promoting, so that's why I got him.

Well, honestly, what's your average open mic-er going to be able to teach anybody?

Yeah, and that's what infuriates me sometimes. So many people hit me up to be on Talkin' Shop, and I don't know what to say except, "You're new! No one cares! No one's gonna learn anything from an open mic-er, man!" Were you alluding to the comic's choice with that question?

I was!

Well, like I always say, Talkin' Shop is one of the most selfish things I've ever produced. So to prevent it from being a total dictatorship, I do comic's choice. Because I want the new comics listening. If I had my way, everybody who's been doing comedy for less than three years would be at every Talkin' Shop. You know what I mean?

There's so many people with so much to learn.

I try to book people who I can learn from. Somebody who's been doing comedy for a month isn't thinking about sitcoms, or how they can get an agent.

Nor should they be

They're just trying to learn how to be funny. The purpose of the comic's choice is twofol:  I'm giving my target audience what they want and also I'm showing love to guys I really should have been giving love to, but I'm not necessarily going to learn anything from them. So if ten comics request you, I'll put you on.

Who was the first comic's choice?

The first one so far still has the most votes. And it's funny; he still gets votes because people don't realize he already did it. It was Aaron Urist. He's only been doing it four or five years, but man, he's one of those prodigies. And I get it. He comes up with stuff off the top of his head really quickly, and it's fucking funny.

It's pretty unprecedented to get on the list at Comedy Works so quickly, but I doubt he could explain how to get bumped up to any non-Urist-based comics.

As soon as people started recommending him, I was like, "Hell yeah, that's a good choice," but I didn't just want to drop the hammer of approval on him myself because I can't really learn anything from him other than "be really funny." And I know how to do that already. 

So, Mutiny was the venue pretty much right away, right?

Immediately. That's where I wanted it from the get-go. 

How did you approach Jim Norris, and what do you think of his role in the comedy community?

Jim's the man. He's the King of South Broadway. I dare anybody to say otherwise. He knows everyone and he knows how business works, but he's super-nice. And he's always ready to say, "Hell, yeah, let's try it." I had talked to him a bunch of times during the mic at Mutiny, when he was tending the coffee bar, barista-ing or whatever. I remember that I used to complain about comics to him because I didn't want to do it with other comics. In my mind, I was too new here to complain about comics to other comics. 

That's literally one of my favorite pastimes, though!

Well, yeah, now I feel more comfortable complaining to anybody, but I used to just complain to Jim. One time, I was outside with Jim, smoking a joint or something, and a new comic had asked me about something and I just gave him straight-up advice. Then Jim was like, "Dude, you should do that as a show," and I told him that I'd been working with Sexpot on Talkin' Shop and I asked if it would be cool to do it at Mutiny. That's how it went, basically.

Mutiny has a very open-door policy and I respect that. They let that weird doomsday guy hang out in there all the time!

Now we've got Cool Shit happening at Mutiny right after us, so lately there's been an influx of people right during the Q&A. I'm still waiting for the benefit, but at least they're there, that's all I care about. The people who listen at home, it infuriates me. The same people who tell me that they just listen at home are the same ones who I can look at and say, "You didn't have anything else better to do. You don't work at night, and I know you didn't have show! It's free! You should've been here!"

Want to throw in a quick plug for Amuse Booze?

Hell, yeah. It's December 21, there's a ten-dollar cover (half-off for comics). You get a free drink with your entry fee. On the show we've got Aaron Urist, BrianHocker, Adam Cayton-Holland and Josh Blue. For anybody who doesn't know, Amuse Booze is a bar-tending competition with a comedy show wrapped around it, and I run it with Meghan DePonceau — can't leave her out, she's my rock.

Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up? 

One thing I want people to know is that I have a lot of guests who are on deck. Wende Curtis, the owner of Comedy Works, is on deck. Sean Patton, Matt Braunger and Kurt Braunholer are on deck. I still haven't finished talking to the Grawlix yet. Comics in L.A. and San Francisco are starting to pay attention to me, I'm starting to get a little bit of clout in New York. That means I can maybe get all these guys to come be on Talkin' Shop. Josh Blue's in the pipeline. What's coming up is ridiculous, but I'm not satisfied. I'm still shooting for the moon. I'm gonna get Chappelle to be a guest, I can feel it. 

Anthony Crawford and Adam Cayton-Holland set up shop at Mutiny Information Cafe at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 17; admission is free. The podcast premieres Friday on the Sexpot archive. And be sure to check out Crawford's other brainchild, Amuse Booze, at El Charrito at 8 p.m. Monday, December 21.