Posted // 2012-12-05 -
I've talked about the Mediocre Show on this blog before, the long-running podcast out of Pennsylvania that has impacted Utah by having a loyal fanbase. But the effect of that one show has led to a lot of related shows getting a boost from a Utah audience. Take, for example, Obviously Oblivious. The interview-based comedy show founded by Mediocre's co-host Mike Pilot has become its own phenomenon as a top-rated show on iTunes and features a number of Salt Lake City's prominent minor celebs, such as Kerry Jackson and Jimmy Martin. The show's popularity has earned it a place in the local culture and even rivals many of the local shows for appreciation.
Today, I have an extra-long discussion (two-parts in fact) with the three minds behind the show: Mike Pilot, Cat and South Philly Paul, to talk about their love of podcasting, getting involved with the medium, the launch of Obviously Oblivious and doing the show, thoughts on podcasting in general and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of Obviously Oblivious.)
Evil Cheshire Cat, South Philly Paul & Mike Pilot
Gavin: Hey, guys. First thing, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Mike: My name is Mike, I like things and stuff. Those who have listened to my shows over these years might be surprised to read that I don't feel comfortable writing about myself. Talking about myself on the show is different. I get a kick out of saying how great a man I am or how much I rule, but that's because it's the opposite about how I truly feel. Text is different -- things can be taken the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, what I say via audible word gets taken the wrong way all the time, too, but you can at least hear me laugh or I can win [a listener] over from thinking I'm a real shitbag. That all being said, I am Mike Pilot ,aka "Tha Mike Pilot," aka "Tha Mike," aka "Leonardo 'The Salami' Nitardo." Okay, no one calls me that last one, but I have been called much worse. I grew up on the mean streets of Reading, Penn. (yes, mean streets; one of the highest murder/violent crimes per capita cities in the U.S.). I have a love for useless trivia, science, Discovery- and History-Channel documentaries and amazing television. Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and about 30 other shows are what I'm really into. The free time I do have I spend with my lovely wife, Ariana (who I fell in love with when she took care of my football injuries way back in high school), and my beautiful daughter, Anyah, who shares my love for Star Wars, super-hero movies and old classics like Ghostbusters. Anyah has been heard on my shows since she was old enough to talk and by now is a seasoned veteran. She's very sweet and kind to everyone, like her mother, but has my sense of humor and ball-busting abilities. I love playing video games, but I've been so busy with work, family and my shows that I, sadly, haven't played much at all the past six months. After college, I worked for a steel-fabrication company, and I was a DJ at a radio station, which was my true love. Unfortunately, I had an accident at the factory, and a really terrible car accident, and I couldn't do either job anymore. While I was recovering from the injuries, I taught myself Web and print design and I am still working in that field. My current day job is design and technical support for a company that does work for many large, globally recognized corporations. Over six and a half years ago, I jumped into podcasting without ever even hearing a podcast. I did radio for years and figured, 'Why shouldn't I?' And that's how the Awful Show was born. After a three-year stay of leading that show to the Top 10 comedy programs on iTunes, I left the show, but fortune smiled upon me. I landed in the second seat on the Mediocre Show, a program created by the Kingmaker of Fake Talk Radio, Eric Tomorrow, that was even more renowned than my first show. Around the same time, I started Obviously Oblivious (OO) with my good friend Cat, and my pet project/guilty pleasure was born. I've been doing Mediocre and OO ever since.
Cat: I go by the Internet handle Evil Cheshire Cat, but people just call me Cat. I'm a 28-year-old research scientist by profession but podcaster by night ... well, at least every other Sunday night. I like most things geeky or nerdy or food related. I'm a fantasy/sci-fi kinda gal when it comes to books and movies. I love gaming, especially role-playing games of the aforementioned genre, but you'll rarely find me gaming online. I don't like the competitive pressure. I just wanna shoot things. I often come off as stuck-up or self-righteous, but my intentions are usually good and motivated by my own ceaseless self-improvement seeking. I think most of the time I'm just ranting about science, healthy habits, or lack of evidence of bigfoot, to the annoyance of my two wonderful co-hosts.
Paul: I reside in South Philly, Penn., hence the moniker bestowed upon me by the honorable Mr. Eric Tomorrow, founder and facilitator of the world-renowned Mediocre Show. By day, I'm a litigation-support specialist -- transcript production. By whenever I have time to myself, I'm a wannabe musician, songwriter, comic, gamer and podcasterist. If I continue explaining who I think I am, it will turn into an online-dating profile. So, I think that's more than anyone can stay awake for.
Gavin: How did each of you first discover podcasting, and what were some of the first shows that you loved listening to?
Cat: When I was stuck on the microscope for long hours, I realized that listening to music wasn't distracting my brain enough, so I started listening to audiobooks first, then streaming radio programs, then made it somehow to podcasting. I tried a few podcasts but wasn't impressed. I was just about to give up on the medium when I saw in iTunes a show called The Awful Show with happy and devious smiley faces as their logo. I thought there was no way, with expectations that it would be awful already, that I would be let down. Immediately, I was stunned by the casual talk about stuff in your head that you never talk about because it's just so wrong. SOLD! Ever since, I branched out to other podcasts -- mostly those recommended by the co-hosts of The Awful Show. This included Mediocre Show, Vomitus Prime, and later on The Geek Show. Of course, I also, being the nerd I am, listened to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me in podcast form. Great show. Without a doubt, my greatest loyalty, though, was the show that started it all for me. The Awful Show's cast, Tha Mike -- sound familiar? -- Nerraux, Keyz and Joel made me laugh so much that I got involved in their little online family, too, by participating in the forums, and later, I developed friendships with the hosts themselves. Been a long time since those days ... that was in 2007. Currently, I'm still on the podcast addiction with Cort and Fatboy and StarTalk Radio being more recently added to my playlist.
Paul: I discovered the audio crack we call podcasts through the iTunes. I've always been a comedy- and talk-radio connoisseur. Howard Stern was the precursor to what so many are trying to accomplish with prerecorded and streaming shows now. It was a natural progression for me to start listening to podcasts. Some of the first shows I listened to, and still do, are The Mediocre Show, Never Not Funny and The Forty Year Old Boy.
Mike: Back in the day, I listened to Howard Stern and an Internet show called The Dan and Scott Show nonstop. Dan and Scott taught me a lot about how to treat an audience. Their listeners called themselves the Freak Army and they were like an extended family; it was a really cool thing that I never seen or experienced before. In early June 2006, having never heard a single iTunes podcast, I talked to my friend Nerraux and we quickly decided to start a podcast we called The Awful Show as an homage to the Slippery Rock University College Radio station show that Nerraux and his friends were involved with years earlier. I heard that the iTunes store was allowing ANYONE to post a show -- sadly, they still do. I figured, why not us? After a few weeks of us doing our own show, growing and hearing about other shows, I listened to my first podcast, but these guys called it Fake Talk Radio. That show was the Mediocre Show, hosted by a young and upcoming, interesting dude named Eric Tomorrow and his buddy, Taylor Ramsauer. I mostly listened to them and some episodes of Sick and Wrong, Idiot Box Radio, Puckertime and -- through hearing him on Mediocre -- the South Philly Paulcast.
Gavin: Mike, how did you first break into podcasting with The Awful Show, and what was it like for you learning the ropes while the medium was still growing?
Mike: As I said before, I knew nothing about podcasting. NOTHING. I knew how to use a mic and the equipment. My first attempt at a studio was a fail; the recording equipment actually caught on fire, smoke everywhere. Over the next week, I learned the first truth of QUALITY podcasting: It's really fucking expensive!!! After spending a ton of money, I built a new studio that week with new mics, a mixer and several computers. I learned how to make the XML feed by trial and error and submitted it to iTunes, and, as the weeks went by, I learned more, as needed, incorporating what I learned from Dan and Scott -- how to treat people, keep them listening. As the amount of hosts on the show grew, it gave me new challenges to figure out. With Nerraux in studio and two other hosts in different areas of the country, the question was how do I include them with Skype, when at that time broadband wasn't so broad and Skype was new and not very stable. So, as the show grew, so did the equipment in the studio. We then started streaming the show live after being approached by Cringe Humor Radio. Now I needed more computers to stream in the chatroom and to the radio network. In the end, the overwhelming support of the listeners both live and the download made all the time, troubles and money spent more than worth it. Two constants I have always believed with podcasting are: 1) No matter what you have to say, no matter how amazing your content is, if it sounds like shit, no one will listen; and 2) Respect your audience. Give them a quality show and treat them like friends and family. They CHOOSE to listen to you; you're talking to nothing and no one without them. Include them and their personalities because that is what makes the show special. Sure, the hosts are giving you the content and laughs, but the listeners are the fuel that runs that engine. I have met some of the most amazing people from my time on The Awful Show. Many are still very good friends online if not in real life. After a few months, The Awful Show was showing up in the Top 10 comedy podcasts a few spots away from the powerhouse Mediocre Show. I started becoming friends with Eric since we lived so close to one another, were so similar in so many ways and from having appeared on each others' shows. The audiences started crossing over, as well. One of the things that I had in common with Eric was we became the experts on how to start a podcast, from conception to completion. There were no free or paid services that do it all for you like there is now. We had to figure it all out ourselves. We had that understanding of each other, and from that a lot of respect in each other. There were no online guides or how-to's; iTunes had a few documents here and there, but, overall, we used trial and error and made things work. Since those days -- and to this day -- I get contacted about how to start a podcast. I've seen literally hundreds come and go. Maybe five or six are still around, claiming THEY did it all on their own and THEY developed these processes. That always makes me laugh. Did I invent podcasting? HELL, no, that's not what I'm saying. I got really involved three-quarters of a year into it. I'm just publicly complaining that we fought HARD to get where we are; the time, money and effort involved in this all these years is honestly unimaginable. It wasn't laid out for me in an e-mail or a how-to website. It's not easy and, no, NOT everyone should do it.
Gavin: During your run with the show, when did you first start interacting with Cat and bringing her on for episodes?
Mike: My first memory of Cat is a picture she posted on ThaMike.com. Back then, the website served as not only a forum for The Awful Show but was set up as a place people could come on and complain about anything, from bad service from companies to the Internet. There was a section where listeners could post their pictures. Remember, this was in 2006 or 2007, so Facebook wasn't big, Twitter didn't exist and social media was in its infancy. So, Cat posted a picture and said something about working in the science field. Honestly, I thought she was at least somewhat Asian. Hey, I think Asian women are attractive. Anyway, back then -- as I still do -- no matter how you looked, if you listened, I took an interest in getting to know you. I honestly think it's important to know your audience. They feel welcome and included and are more likely to stick around if they are personally invested. Cat called in or sent a voicemail a few times and was pretty funny. Around that time, I announced we were setting up a contest for Ms. Awful Show with some of our female listeners. Cat e-mailed me about something else and I invited her to join. She did really well with her bits and songs and I believe she lost by one vote. We offered all the girls their own show. They accepted, and Cat would e-mail or instant message about ideas and technical stuff, and, over time, we became good friends. Hell, my family has vacationed with her and her husband several times. As shitty as I may seem to treat her on the show, she is one of my best friends. My wife, Ariana, Eric and Cat are the three people who probably know me the best. Anyway, more and more I'd offer her to come on my mini-show (called Awful Snacks). I honestly think those were OO in its infancy.
Gavin: Cat, how did you originally meet Mike and become friends, and what made you want to go on the show at the time?
Cat: Like I said, my introduction to podcasting also introduced me to Mike. After snotting myself on several occasions due to something ridiculous he said, I became a bit of a fan girl and tried to get his attention by being witty on the show forums. We shot e-mails back and forth every once in a while, and, eventually, the show came up with the idea for Ms. Awful Show 2008, a skit-based contest for the lady listeners. My attempts to be funny landed me in the competition. From there, I learned a lot about producing audio, which I never used again, and the other ladies and myself were given our own mini-show under the main show. If The Awful Girls never existed, I would have still been submitting skits or sending in voicemails to the show to see if I could make Mike laugh. Since I find him so funny, I know I've really done something special making him laugh. If you can make him pass out or get a nosebleed, even better. I think a large part of me missed my theater days and wanted another creative outlet. The other part of me just liked being friends with Mike. He's a good dude.
Gavin: What did you think of your run with the show doing occasional episodes?
Cat: Compared to then, I think I'm much more boring now. We talked about all kinds of dirty and wacky things on the girls' show. It did prepare me, maybe, in some immeasurable way for doing Obviously Oblivious -- timing, diction -- but I don't think I'd argue that I have improved much since then. The best part of being a part of the show was that I was even more a part of the community they built. Really great times. Met so many great people.
Gavin: Mike, what eventually led to your departure from the show, and what made you decide to join up with the Mediocre Show shortly thereafter?
Mike: For a year or so, I started questioning how much more we could do. I was doing 40 hours a week of work for the show --prep, skits, bits, recording, editing, responding to listeners, etc. Our daughter wasn't an infant anymore, she was 2 or 3 by then, and I felt like with all that work I was not giving enough time to my girls. I thought about leaving, and then something in life would happen and the listeners were so supportive and I didn't want to disappoint them, so I stayed. Then, I was ready to leave in early April 2009 when our rottie and my first dog, Samson, was having terrible hip dysplasia. I was CRUSHED; seriously, listen to Awful Snacks number 103A. We left the vet after watching him fade away as his head was on my lap and I went straight home, crying the entire time, turned on the studio and just opened up. Looking back now, I'm happy I did that; MANY people have cursed and thanked me for that episode. Sorry, I digress; I never really suffered a loss like that and, again, the listeners brought me back from that funk and sadness with their love and support. I couldn't leave them. I feel that I am a very loyal person, if nothing else. They were there for me, so I should be there for them. Since the beginning of the show, I told my wife, Ariana, that if she or Anyah were ever brought up in a negative way I would leave the show. Unfortunately, a few weeks after losing our dog, someone posted as me on a website talking about me doing horrible things to my family and I was furious. I tracked down the IP address with the help of certain friends and found out who the person was, but by that point, I realized I no longer cared to do the show or waste the time and effort on it or that coward hiding behind the Internet. I left the show that week. I did a solo show explaining my reasons and thanked everyone for everything and the response from that show was overwhelming. I wanted to stay, but, by this point, I couldn't. The listeners close to me understood, and so did my co-hosts. I gave them the show and that was that. I had much more free time. A month or two earlier, Matt Kittensparks left the Mediocre Show for work reasons and Eric asked me to fill in for a few shows, like I had when Matt would take off for the week. That first show was great. Just broadcasting and talking with friends, it was awesome. Eric offered me the co-host chair that night and I wanted to take it, but I was also worried what my loyal listeners would think. Was it all a set up? It wasn't for sure, but I wanted to speak to Ariana about it. She actually supported me and pushed me to do the Mediocre Show. So, if you love me there, she's one of the main people you should thank. She could tell even after a few short weeks I missed that outlet. She knew it was what I was supposed to be doing. I called Eric the next day and accepted his offer, and, the next week it was announced via the 'Mediocre Co-Host Draft' skit.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up this brand-new podcast between the two of you, and where did you get the name?
Cat: Well, it was during the transitional period in podcasting for the both of us. He was either contemplating leaving or had already left The Awful Show and the Awful Girls were on hiatus. We talked a lot about the frustrations we were having putting it all together, and somehow we thought it would be great if we could create a podcast that's very low key, just hanging out, and without all the production, but with still being interesting. Our chats online and phone conversations were very effortless and, most of the time, hilarious exchanges. On my part, I figured the best foundation for any podcast would be a genuine, banter-filled friendship. We decided to go for it -- no expectations or plans, just, "Let's try this out for fun."
Mike: Cat stopped doing the Awful Girls show, I was gone, starting Mediocre, and she said, "Hey, buddy, we enjoy science and geeky stuff, let's do a science-type podcast." At least, that's how I remember it. The name? I was instant messaging back and forth with Cat for a few hours, trying to think of something and everything sucked ass. I called her later that day and pointed something out to her and she said, "Well, clearly I'm OBVIOUSLY OBLIVIOUS." I instantly knew that was it! Cat may say something different -- she has a terrible memory -- and usually makes her own memories up and is stubborn as hell. Don't believe any answer she gives for this. It has been a longstanding, funny argument between us.
Gavin: The first episode seemed to be recorded on a whim before a wedding. What was it like putting that episode together, and what made you decide you were going to stick with it?
Mike: Honestly, I knew Cat loved doing a show. By this point, she was one of my closer friends; I found her funny as hell, she laughed sincerely at everything I said -- her laugh was infectious; I knew I was saying something funny if she was laughing. I had the studio already and I had the extra hour or so a week -- or every other week -- while Ariana was working and Anyah was sleeping, so it was easy to do. Plus, one of my favorite pasttimes is busting Cat's balls and getting her all pissed off. I find her reaction absolutely hilarious. So, Cat was going to be in the area for our friends Zack and Kelly's wedding and I offered for her and her hubby, Steven, to stay at Pilot palatial estates. That way, we could try an episode out and see what went from there. We enjoyed it. There was promise in it, so I decided to get an intro made up by three of my favorite Nerdcore artists: Zealous 1, MadHatter and Kabuto the Python. Kabuto and Hatter were slow on submitting their recordings to Zealous 1 that he just did the whole damned intro himself. I loved it, so, about a month after the first show was recorded, I finally released it to the patient masses.
Cat: Well, we had already planned on doing the first show that weekend. We didn't know when that weekend, but since my husband and I were headed that way for mutual friends' wedding celebrations and we were staying at the Hotel del Pilot, we knew it would be a good time to try it out sans Skype and see how it would work. I had my topics prepared before even driving up there. I was so thrilled to see The Awful Show Studios that I was just genuinely excited and nervous to be doing the show. I listen back to that giddiness and it makes me smile. I'm not sure even after the first show if we knew whether we were going to stick with it. We had plans for intro music that hadn't happened yet, so the first episode took a while to be released after we recorded it.
Gavin: The show itself doesn't follow a normal podcast-recording schedule. How exactly do you decide when you're going to record episodes and what topics to bring to the table?
Cat: Oh, gosh, it's been a scheduling ... challenge. We all have pretty packed lives and so finding a time that works for everyone --families included -- was difficult. It has changed around maybe several times as new circumstances come up. The every-other-week schedule on Sunday nights just ended up working the best. Having them spaced that way makes it easier for me to scrounge up topics and makes everything much more relaxed, in my opinion. I come up with the topics and really nothing is off-limits. Philosophy, space, pop culture, biology, physics, politics ... if I find something that is interesting to me through various go-to websites, then I grab it. Paul and Mike are hit-and-miss with whether they find the things I find interesting interesting as well, so I found it works best if I just find something that I could really talk about, then they can either join in or beat me down. Most of the time, it's the beating down -- oh, the beatings. People seem to enjoy that, though.
Mike: With me, it's always been that Sunday nights around 7 or 8 p.m. worked best. As Anyah got older, 8 or 9 p.m was better, but, by then, Cat was ready for bed and pissy. For a while, the show was recorded when Princess Cat had the time. That eventually led to me getting annoyed with it and we argued about it for real. Not "show" arguing where we laugh it off, but "almost-show-ending" arguing. We took a month or two off and eventually figured out that once every other week at 7 p.m. worked the best. I didn't have plans to stream live, but knew that if it was ever asked for that we needed consistency. Some weekends, we'd still have to switch if one of us had something else we had to do, but, since we started streaming back in the early spring, I believe we've had no issues. As for topics, every once in a while, I send Cat something I saw that I think we should discuss. I lean on her to grab the science news -- that is her field, after all; I LOVE the science talk. She does, too, so, of course, most of the time, I'm just an argumentative dick in order to get her all worked up. Paul brings his "Dude or Douchebag" segment to the table, but, overall, most of the show is just what happens, happens. Back with The Awful Show, I always had every second of the show planned out. With the Mediocre Show, I mostly just respond to what is happening. I think that is my strength so I just go with the flow. Of course, we have our weeks to discuss if something worth talking about went on and voicemails and such, but we can fill an hour and a half really easy between bullshitting and Paul and I egging Cat on. Sometimes for the audience, I wish we would do something more meaningful, but everyone who contacts us loves the show, as is -- bullshitting, real, ball-busting and overall ridiculousness.
Gavin: At what point did you decide to start bringing in guests, and what were the first few interview episodes like?
Mike: It was at least three-quarters of a year before I decided to fill in the off week with interview shows. In the infancy of the show, the nerd community was having some contests and also some battles that they asked me to judge. Just like with The Awful Show, these talented nerds were our bread-and-butter -- funny guys and ladies, really talented, and the music I listened to the most; the only new music I'd listen to, to be honest. Cat and I interviewed a few of them as one of their challenges. They went okay, so I called Neil deGrasse Tyson's office and requested an interview on a whim. I always looked up to him and took a chance. He called me back out of nowhere about three months later and, the next thing I knew, we were interviewing him-- like, the NEXT day. The interview started on Skype and he had a webcam on. I asked him to shut it down because of the "bandwidth," but that was bullshit because I knew I'd watch him and listen like it was one of the TV shows or documentaries he was on and that wouldn't be good for an interview. He was really kind and scheduled 20 minutes with us but ended up staying on for a full hour. It was amazing, but, if you listen to the after-show of that episode, you'll hear some hilarity. I talk about how much I think he disliked me, which really wasn't true, but I needed to break the intense stress that we both had from not wanting to fuck up. What's really funny is that Neil has that full episode on his websites and, at the end, I'm talking about him thinking I was a dick and that I was going to stick my head in the oven, but i'ts not a gas oven so I'd have bad sunburn from the electric coils.
Gavin: Who are some of your favorite guests to date, and who do you hope to have on down the road?
Cat: I really, really -- and this sounds self-serving -- enjoyed the South Philly Paul interview. I think it's been a long time since I just heard a completely open and honest conversation between two people, something that I heard mostly through Mike's mini Awful Shows in the past. That's what I love most about podcasting -- the innermost parts of ourselves tend to be more likely to leak out in this medium, for whatever reason. Maybe it's that we aren't worried about sponsors, number of listeners, or other statistics of approval and we can just be ourselves. But, I find that the SPP interview was the pinnacle of honesty for our show.
Mike: Mos Jef from Top Dead Celebrity started off this new series of interviews. I asked him on because I think he's a cool dude, a great friend and I'm also a HUGE fan of his band. The reviews coming in after that show were spectacular so I kept it going. I enjoy showing the listeners the sides of the people I interview that they don't readily know. I've been told people love them because they always feel like they are learning something, and they walk away from the episodes fans of the person, even if they weren't before, and bigger fans if they were already. I enjoyed all the interviews -- all of them. The Eric Tomorrow, Kerry Jackson, South Philly Paul, Bryan Young and Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews are the other ones I'm most proud of. More interviews down the road? Absolutely. We've booked straight through May 2013 -- only because that's as far as I got thus far -- and I have a huge list of others who have already agreed to come on but haven't been scheduled yet. Upcoming ones I am looking forward to are Fatboy Roberts from the Cort and Fatboy Show and Ham-Fisted Radio, as well as Dawn Taylor, also of Ham-Fisted Radio. I'm happy to announce, after getting a text from him last night, that Shannon "The Wild Card" Barnson from the Geek Show Podcast wants to interviewed as soon as possible, as well.
Want to read more? Check out part 2 by clicking this link here.
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