For those engrossed in the NPR lifestyle, even the most avid listener has to agree that the programming can be a tad too serious for it's own good, and needs the occasional breath of humor. --- With names like Lakshmi Singh becoming an online meme and shows like Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me earning a cult following, NPR news and programming have become a part of the parody culture and have mainly been a reference point for broadcast and reporting jokes for most comedians.
Consider Our Knowledge is a locally made podcast focused on creating a parody NPR show, complete with their own array of reporters, events, sponsors and up-close-and-personal microphone talk that only longtime radio listeners could appreciate. The show has earned praise from local comedians and writers, and even gotten the attention of KUER reps who have enjoyed the programming. Today we chat with show founder Conor Bentley about his career, creating show show and where they hope to take it. (All photos courtesy of COK.)
Gavin: Hey Conor, first thing tell us a little bit about yourself.
Conor: Well, I'm an only child who was born and raised in the safe, insular bubble of the 9th and 9th area. I went to Rowland Hall (a private school) from pre-school until 12th grade, hence my penchant for polo shirts, golf and the word ‘penchant.’ I went to Whittier College in California on a theatre scholarship, but I came back to the 801 to attend the University of Utah after one year. I have a B.A. in History from the U and a Master’s in Education from Westminster College. My day job is with Utah Symphony | Utah Opera in the development department. I'm married to my high school sweetheart Mary Anne, and we have a dog named Basil.
Gavin: What first got you interested in comedy and writing and what were some early influences on you?
Conor: I was always performing as a kid, making my family laugh with little jokes and skits and stuff. I was really good at mimicking things I saw on TV and in movies, especially old Saturday Night Live sketches from the Dan Aykroyd/Bill Murray years. I was always interested in making people laugh- I liked it. Monty Python, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and David Letterman were my early comedy idols. When I was a little kid I used to do the news. I would dress up and pretend to be a newscaster- I wanted to be Bruce Lindsey from KSL.
Gavin: When did you first start listening to NPR programming and what really got you hooked on it?
Conor: Like a lot of people, I totally poo-pooed NPR for a long time because I thought it was for old people. My mom and my friend Jessica kept telling me to listen. Finally I did, and I was really impressed. Doug Fabrizio and the Radiolab guys were the first ones I took notice of, but after a while I was listening to it all. I liked it so much I got an internship up at KUER on RadioWest which was awesome. I learned a lot from them up there. I fully drank the public radio Kool-aid.
Gavin: Prior to the show, what was your experience like in performing arts and writing material?
Conor: I was an actor as a kid. I did theatre and commercials- I even did a Hardee's commercial with Karl Malone. I did theatre all throughout high school, and went to college intending to be an actor. That obviously didn't pan out, but I always liked performing. I started writing stuff in high school, and kept writing little sketches and things throughout college. I also did stand-up comedy for a while. I actually just started doing stand-up again. I also did a podcast with my friend Ryan Shattuck called Audio Vaudeville before Consider Our Knowledge that was a combo sketch show and talk show.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up a parody podcast, and where did the name come from?
Conor: We did some NPR parody sketches and impressions on Audio Vaudeville and I really enjoyed that. I thought maybe that could be a whole show. When Ryan moved away, we stopped doing our show, so I decided to take that idea and run with it. I looked around and saw that nobody was really doing a news satire/NPR parody, which was strange to me because The Daily Show and The Onion are so popular. I created the show and the website to be the radio equivalent of The Daily Show. The name came from trying to make up something that sounds like an NPR show title, but a little off. It's like a combo of All Things Considered and To The Best Of Our Knowledge, but more pretentious because we're saying Consider Our Knowledge, like we have all the answers and you need to listen to us.
Gavin: What was it like planning out the show's formula and making it sound like an NPR-type program?
Conor: I wanted the show to sound and feel like a regular public radio news magazine. I also wanted the show to be short and sweet. A lot of podcasts get too long, so I tried really hard to keep it tight and on point with the segments and jokes. It was hard at first to walk that line of being silly and funny without going too far. I feel like we have a good balance now, but setting the tone was important because I definitely had an idea of how I wanted it to sound.
Gavin: For the voice talent, who did you recruit and how did you know everyone prior to the show?
Conor: I started off trying to do all the voices myself, but it became obvious really quickly that that would be impossible to sustain. My wife was the first person I recruited. She's done lots of theatre and performing, so I knew she could do what I needed. Then I just asked my close friends who I knew had done theatre before, or had been guests on my other podcast. I'm pretty lucky to have such a willing, talented group of people at my fingertips. I've had a few other people come in from time to time, but its been the same core 5 or 6 people for a while now.
Gavin: Equipment wise, what did you get to form the audio setup?
Conor: I was given a pretty sweet soundboard and mics for Christmas back when I was doing my old podcast. Before that we had a pretty crappy mic that we used, and Doug Fabrizio told me how bad it sounded without good equipment. It didn't take long to get better stuff after that.
Gavin: As time progressed, how did you end up deciding on show characters and recurring themes?
Conor: Characters come from different places, some are based on real people, some are just created as a function of the topic we're covering. I also try to have characters that are like someone you might hear on NPR, but not as good, or a little weirder. We also directly parody NPR personalities, like Terry Gross and Ira Glass. The characters that are recurring are ones that are too good not to hear from again. I really love our hypochondriac health reporter, Alex Truman- she's so easy to write for. I also love having characters that I know I can plug into certain situations- like anything that needs real gravitas has to be covered by Marta Margolis who has a Barbara Walters-esque speech impediment. I think of our characters as the type of people you see in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries. You believe they're real, but they're just not quite right somehow. My function as host, and our other host character, Dinah Jones-Mallow, is to be normal amid chaos.
Gavin: What's the typical process in making a new episode, from script to final product?
Conor: I write little fake news pieces for the website throughout the week, but by Friday I start thinking about the show. I usually write the show on Saturday and Sunday because unlike the jokes on the website, it takes more time and care. To get ideas, I pretty much just troll the NPR website until I find something good to make fun of. I want the show to be topical, so I try to pick stuff that everyone might have heard about in the news. I started off making stuff up out of thin air, but that was too hard, so now everything is, in part, based on a real news item that NPR has covered.
Gavin: What kind of a struggle is it sometimes making sure the bit you're recording will work on a comedic level?
Conor: Comedy is not an exact science, unfortunately. Some of the jokes and sketches I'm most proud of were not that popular or well received, and then some of the stuff I wrote in two seconds as a throw away got a ton of attention. You never know, so I just have to throw a lot of chum in the water and see what happens. I do know that if I think it's funny that's a good start, and then if my wife and friends think it's funny we probably have something good enough to go on the show. Sometimes something I'm not that happy with will be transformed by a performer into something hilarious, which is great.
Gavin: What's the public response been like, and have you heard from anyone in radio about the show?
Conor: Mostly positive, which is good. I just wish I knew if people were listening. It's hard sometimes because you just don't know with a podcast how many people you're actually reaching. People who are fans of NPR seem to like it, and understand what we're doing.
Gavin: What do you hope to achieve with the show down the road?
Conor: I'd love for the podcast to become a thing. I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that, but I'd love to get picked up by a station or a podcast network, so we can reach more people and make them laugh. I love the idea of our show being like The Daily Show or The Onion- something that everyone knows and is a part of the collective consciousness. I also want all of us who work on the show to be rich and famous with our our own clothing line and fragrance: Consider The Smell.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Consider Our Knowledge over the rest of the year?
Conor: More parody and satire from the best looking news team in public radio. We're just trying to be consistent and put out a good show every week. I'd like to do a live show at some point, so I'll keep thinking about that.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Conor: Consider Our Knowledge! Listen, subscribe, like, re-tweet, re-blog and share us! We can't do good work in a vacuum!
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