Honing Your Comedic Approach

Christine and Alex Schiefer, Photo by Ja Tecson
Christine and Alex Schiefer, Photo by Ja Tecson

The hosts of Punch Up the Jam and Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet share wisdom about how to get your audience snickering.

We could wax philosophical about the world needing a good laugh, but there's really no need—podcast consumption proves it. Comedy podcasts are some of the most popular in the medium, bringing in the most consistent listenership from regular podcast consumers, according to Edison Research.

With Spotify's new podcast show pages, listeners can click on a podcast's category to find more shows in the same genre. This boost in discoverability means that your podcast is more likely to show up when a listener is on a comedy kick. How do you stand out in the crowd when listeners come your way? How do you make an impression that's hilarious right at the start and then keeps the listener hooked?

Miel Bredouw of Punch Up The Jam and siblings Alex and Christine Schiefer of Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet have established solid listenerships for their comedy podcasts. When we asked them how they honed their comedic voices, they shared some surprising insights. Comedy, they say, isn't usually about trying to be funny. Instead, it's about tapping into the controlled side of controlled chaos.

Embrace structure

Both Punch Up The Jam and Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet have structures that help each episode flow.

Each Punch Up The Jam episode features Bredouw talking to a guest about one cult-classic goofy-meets-fantastic song. The songs are usually nostalgic, released somewhere between the late '80s and early 2000s, but it all depends on what the guest chooses to discuss. Bredouw introduces the guest, asks them why they picked the song for the episode, and talks about her own history with it. Next, she talks about its history, how it was made, and anything else especially interesting she finds when researching. She then takes the guest moment by moment through the song, pausing to discuss everything from lyrics to production to music theory. Each episode ends in a "punch up," in which Miel creates a "better" version of the song based on her discussions with the guest. In a recent memorable episode, Bredouw made Len's "Steal My Sunshine" better by adding a cohesive narrative to it and setting the song inside a scene depicting a speakeasy in the 1920s.

In Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet, the Schiefers do dramatic readings of reviews they've found online for real establishments. Each episode features reviews for a specific type of establishment in a specific location—karaoke bars in Halifax, for instance:

As the hosts read the reviews, dramatic music plays and stops when the host stops -- either to laugh or ask questions about what’s been written.

When asked if they ever feel like structure hinders their comedy, all three creators are quick to say just the opposite. Structure, they say, helps them find ways to riff and make jokes. As long as there's room for flexibility, structure can lead you down interesting comedic paths.

Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet was planned in full before going live, including its structure and segments. In speaking about developing a structure, Alex started by saying, "That was a process." He and Christine came up with the concept in August 2018, started recording in November of that year, and first released episodes the following month; they wanted to make sure they had the structure down just right before going live.

Both Alex and Christine emphasize just how useful having that structure has been for their comedy. "If anything, it's made it easier to focus on the comedy and not scramble for an episode," Christine says. Alex adds, "I think we really honed in on what we're trying to do with this. At first, we were just doing this for fun; now, we know what reviews to look for, what people respond to, and we stick to that."

In comedy podcasts, tangents can make for some of the funniest moments, but they can also lead hosts too far off-topic if there's not enough structure. "Sometimes we decide to just go off the rails," Christine said. "Because we've created a structure, it's a lot easier to go off that structure, but then come back to it."

Don't focus on being "on"

If you're having trouble honing your comedic voice, there's a chance you might be overthinking it. All three creators acknowledge the importance of your own personality in your comedy and not trying to force something that isn't you. There's a good chance that what's actually fun for your audience is what's fun for you. "I want to hear you having fun," Bredouw says.

When they started making Beach Too Sandy, Water Too Wet, Alex Schiefer says he was in his head too much. "I know at the beginning of the podcast, I would really try to think about what I was going to say. Like, 'What will people think of me if I tell this stupid joke?' I'd focus too much on that. I'm really trying to block out that voice in my head saying, 'People won't find this funny.'"

Christine, meanwhile, wasn't focused on whether people would think her jokes were funny; she was worried about the amount of jokes she could fit in and being prepared. "Something I learned was that if you have a partner on the show and you're both trying to be equals, let the other person speak," she says. "Listen to what they're saying. I feel like in a comedy show, it's so easy to have your next joke ready and try to one-up each other. You have to learn how to communicate with one another. You have to be very intentional—you have to almost listen as a third party." And both siblings emphasize: Don't force it.

Get off the mic

When asked how she'd define her comedic voice, Bredouw responded, "I don't, but other people like to call me 'weird.'" Her background in comedy confirms this; outside Punch Up The Jam, she's probably best known for a Vine about high school lunch tables and hemorrhoids, among others. Before making a podcast, she made videos and worked for other online comedy platforms including BuzzFeed, and Funny or Die.

Likewise, the Schiefers sought out physical-world training and practice when they started podcasting, which Alex says was especially helpful. "We took improv classes here in LA," he said, acknowledging that not everyone will have the same resources based on their location or finances. Still, these classes were key for him. "I was not one to do improv," Alex says. "I am very shy, very introverted—and I put myself out there. That helped so much."

When you're honing your comedic voice for your podcast, focus on the practices that allow your authentic voice to come through. Having a solid structure gives you a way to get back on track when you riff on a tangent that you can feel coming to an end. Listen to your guests and co-hosts, and make sure you're not cutting off a great joke by trying to have your own prepared. Try to focus on being natural versus being "on." If it makes you laugh, it's probably going to make others laugh too.

— Wil Williams