The Earwolf Challenge Declares its Winner

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It’s a big week for the Earwolf podcasting network for two reasons: 1) Earwolf’s partnership with Funny or Die just kicked off on Monday, and 2) After two months of intense competition, it’s time to crown the winner of the first-ever Earwolf Challenge. In the contest that aims to be the American Idol of comedy podcasting, 10 amateur programs entered for a chance to become Earwolf’s newest show. The winning podcast will appear amongst the other shows on Earwolf’s official website (and on Funny or Die) for one year, providing a major boost in listeners from what’s become the leading network in comedy podcasting.

The final week began with the two remaining contestants, both chat shows — Australia’s own The Little Dum Dum Club and L.A.-based Totally Laime — going head-to-head, each producing a 30 minute episode for this round. Laime and Dum Dum have been the two podcasts to beat since the get-go. Totally Laime was the competition’s reluctant frontrunner early on, while Little Dum Dum Club has consistently performed well enough to avoid placement in the Bottom Three podcasts at risk of potential elimination.

Totally Laime’s submission, an interview with big-time actor Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses), was exactly the kind of delightful, laidback conversation the show specializes in. Topics hit all over the spectrum, ranging from trivial (college memories, awkward run-ins with acquaintances) to deep (religion, death). This installment of Totally Laime saw host Elizabeth Laime and sidekick Psychic Andy doing what they do best, and Charlie Day was a game participant who adapted to the show’s casual tone nicely.

The Little Dum Dum Club’s submission featured two Australian stand-ups as guests: Luke McGregor and Nick Cody. Mc Gregory and Cody, along with hosts Tommy Dassalo and Karl Chandler, riffed on a variety of subjects and exchanged stories about unusual stand-up gigs, the ingredients in Balinese coffee, and Nick Cody’s mother’s odd Facebook habits. On the whole, I agree in the judges’ assessment that having two guests weighed the episode down a little bit, and this submission wasn’t up to par with the best stuff I’ve heard from The Little Dum Dum Club. These are funny guys, but this just wasn’t their strongest submission. Maybe it has something to do with me being very familiar with Charlie Day and not at all with Aussie celebs Luke MacGregor and Nick Cody, but I thought Totally Laime blew these guys out of the water this week.

As always, host/judge Matt Besser was joined by two guest judges to help to determine which podcast to eliminate. This time around, though, the judges were appropriately two guys who have more of a stake in the competition than anyone else: Earwolf head honchos Scott “Hot Saucerman” Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich. Aukerman and Ullrich participated in a special two-hour-long finale today, and it was pretty fascinating hearing two of the luminaries of comedy podcasting give us a backstage look at the mechanics of this contest. Most interesting was that Jeff Ullrich had asked Scott Aukerman to be a weekly judge on the show, but he turned it down because of his busy schedule.  Aukerman and Ullrich’s discussion today made me wish these two had been judges every week.

After much deliberation and a vote by the judges that was split 2-1, Scott Aukerman crowned Totally Laime the winner of the Challenge, establishing the show as Earwolf’s newest podcast. This was a tight race, with both finalists performing excellently week after week, but Totally Laime edged out the competition this time around with a solid submission. This is huge, exciting news for Elizabeth Laime and husband Psychic Andy, and I look forward to seeing Totally Laime become a part of the Earwolf family in the coming weeks.

So, that wraps up the first season of The Earwolf Challenge, which I’d say was a pretty big success. Matt Besser mentioned last week that he wishes more people were listening to the Challenge, and Jeff Ullrich said today that he feels the show failed at what was his original intention for it: to draw in mainstream listeners who don’t normally download podcasts. The occasional sense of confusion over the process behind the Challenge may be a contributing factor to the lower-than-expected audience. Since the start, Besser and the producers have been working the bugs out of the show on-air, with Paul F. Tompkins even poking fun at them on another Earwolf podcast for the murkiness of the rules and for having conversations on the show about the contest’s mechanics that should be taking place off air. The hiccups were understandable, though, given the fact that no one has ever done a podcast like this before and there was so much to do. Making arrangements for The Earwolf Challenge must have been a complex, overwhelming process for producers Frank Cappello and Peter Moses. Syncing up the schedules of 10 different podcasts from various time zones across the planet with those of the big-name guest judges to create three hours of content each week couldn’t have been easy, and I’d say everyone involved did a damned impressive job given the Herculean task at hand.

One issue I had was that what I felt to be some of the better competing podcasts were eliminated rather quickly and not given a fair shake (Beginnings and Ham Radio, in particular), whereas Television Zombies, which isn’t a comedy show, made it very far in the competition (something Scott Aukerman addressed today). I guess it’s natural to feel these sorts of discrepancies, though, when it comes to reality competition shows. Despite a few podcasts being kicked off too soon and the baffling presence of a non-comedy show in the contest, it seemed like most of the Challenge’s best, most-polished shows were treated fairly and achieved the placement they deserved. Totally Laime feels like a worthy winner, and the top three podcasts (Laime, Dum Dum, and Left Handed Radio)  constituted a diverse and funny group of shows.

Maybe The Earwolf Challenge didn’t become as popular as Matt Besser and Jeff Ullrich would have liked, but the program has advanced the medium of podcasting by giving amateur shows something to shoot for and coaching them into being better programs. By the time Season 2 rolls around (if the bosses at Earwolf opt for a second year), the producers should have most of the kinks worked out and the guidelines more firmly established.

Check out The Earwolf Challenge for yourself on Earwolf.com and catch up on past episodes of Totally Laime here on the show’s official site.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.