After the introduction of the 10 contending podcasts last week, the Earwolf Challenge kicked off its actual competition on Monday, with the podcasters being given their first specific challenge. The stakes were certainly raised by yesterday’s news of the Earwolf network’s partnership with Funny or Die. That one year Earwolf contract — the competition’s grand prize — is looking more and more valuable by the day.
Each week, the Challenge will focus on a specific aspect of podcasting that it will task its contestants with mastering. This week, the competition centered on theme songs and intros. Monday’s show was the first coaching session, in which host Matt Besser briefly talked to each of the 10 podcasts about what aspects of the theme and intro the specific show should focus on. A lot of different types of podcasts are in this competition, but Besser is doing a fine job tailoring his advice to each show.
On Tuesday, Matt Besser was joined by two guest judges, Jason Sklar (host of the Earwolf podcast Sklarboro Country) and Jimmy Pardo (host of the podcast Never Not Funny) to go over each show’s intro and theme. I had some trepidation about the podcasts being eliminated solely on the basis of their openings, since intros aren’t a part of the main content of their podcasts, but Matt Besser laid my fears to rest by explaining that he wouldn’t boot off what he considers to be a good podcast just because of a mediocre intro. Nevertheless, the theme and intro are the first things the audience hears and most of these shows are at a point where they’re trying to pick up new listeners, so developing a strong opening is crucial for these shows.
Besser, Pardo, and Sklar picked a Bottom Three out of the competing podcasts: The Fort, Left Handed Radio, and Beginnings. The judges called up the hosts of each podcast, one by one, to let them know they’re in danger of elimination and then called them all at once to announce the podcast that would not be coming back. It was a little heartbreaking hearing Besser and company deliver the bad news to the podcasters, but I guess that comes with the reality competition territory.
By the end of today’s episode, Matt Besser announced that Beginnings would be the first podcast to be eliminated, on the basis of the show’s unclear premise and lengthy cold open. 10 podcasts is a lot and I haven’t had time to listen to every one of the competing shows, but Beginnings is one I have heard and enjoyed. Beginnings is an interview show hosted by Mark Bisi and Andy Beckerman, who have a funny and natural rapport with their guests and have created a great environment for riffing. While the judges’ critiques were valid, Beginnings is still an enjoyable listen and I urge you to check it out.
As the competition kicked off this week, I’m finding myself delighted that the Earwolf Challenge is using professional comedians to determine who stays or goes, instead of taking in votes from the dumb, dumb American public. Last Comic Standing is the only other comedy-centric reality show I can think of; and that show’s love for democracy has allowed some mediocre comedians to rise to the top, while more deserving ones have fallen by the wayside. It’s hard to keep track of 10 podcasts, but as eliminations continue and the number of contestants gets whittled down, it’ll be easier to gain a sense of who each of the contestants are and what the aim of their shows is. Elimination may be painful, but it’s the nature of a competition show. Even the podcasts that get voted off will have gained a sizeable audience by association with Earwolf, and with the Earwolf network growing into a comedic force to be reckoned with, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.