Regularly ranked as one of the most popular podcasts on the charts, “Stuff You Should Know” is also one of the oldest shows in the relatively new industry of podcasting. Hosted by the funny and affable team of Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark, the show is a twice-weekly discussion of anything and everything. Street gangs. Sea monsters. Tupperware. Whatever.
Over the course of eight years, the pair have produced more than 750 episodes, which can run anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour. In recent years, the “Stuff You Should Know” empire has expanded from its home on the How Stuff Works website to include video segments, blogs, charity initiatives, a fictionalized TV show on the Science Channel and now a touring live show.
The estimable Messrs. Bryant and Clark will present a live podcast taping to the Carolina Theatre in Durham on Thursday. Speaking from “SYSK” headquarters in Atlanta, Bryant discussed the appeal of the podcast format, the new touring show and the societal benefits of podcasting about puberty.
Q: You’ve done one-off live events before, but is this a new thing you’re doing now, actually touring around to different cities?
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A: Right. In the past we’ve done some Comic Cons and South by Southwest, and these little science festivals. But then this spring, we did our first legitimate five-nights-in-a-row tour of venues. The plan is to do these once per season in different parts of the country – try to tackle about 20 cities per year.
Q: For fans of the podcast coming out to see you, what can we expect from the live stage show?
A: You know, it’s pretty much a live podcast taping. There’s no song-and-dance. We do an extended version of the podcast, with a little Top 10 feature and an audience Q&A at the end of the show. We don’t disclose the topic beforehand, so it’s a surprise.
Q: You and Josh have such good chemistry, and the podcast is conversational and often very funny. Do either of you have a background in broadcasting or improv comedy?
A: Neither one of us do. We were both hired as writers at How Stuff Works, and they wanted to try a podcast. We’ve just figured it out on the job. We’re both comfortable speaking with people, and we’ve gotten more comfortable with live situations, too. We’ve gone from being really nervous in front of 20 people at a conference to selling out 1,000-seat venues and really having a good time.
Q: You guys will cover pretty much any topic, but recently you tackled a particularly tricky one – puberty. I thought that was so well done, and you offered it up to parents as a way to broach the topic with kids. Was that difficult to navigate?
A: You know, it wasn’t. Because it was male puberty, both of us were pretty comfortable talking about our own experience.
We’ll do another on female puberty, but that will be a little more dodgy, because we can’t relate, obviously. That will be more straight-ahead presentation of research.
But I really enjoyed doing the male puberty show, because that time of life is so complicated. We tell parents up front, you know, this is a resource you can use if you choose to. Anytime we can put on a show that’s funny and informative, that’s great. But if you can add on top of that some sort of service for a particular demographic – those are the best ones for us.
Q: The podcast world is really growing rapidly now, after many years of being slightly obscure relative to other mass media. Why do you think the podcast has become so popular as a format?
A: I think the on-demand quality is not only appealing but really necessary these days. It’s where all media is moving – the ability to get to what you want when you want it. And then there’s just the sheer variety of podcasts out there. There’s not just something for everyone, there are 20 somethings for everyone. I mean – comedy, finance, economics, sports, mysteries, interview shows. ... There’s so much good, high-quality stuff that it’s like TV now. You have to plan ahead and hone your list.
Q: Speaking of, what’s on your podcast list these days?
A: Well, “Judge John Hodgman” is my all-time favorite. I listen to Marc Maron’s show. “Bullseye with Jesse Thorn” is a great interview show. His whole podcast network is terrific, actually. I still listen to “RadioLab” and “This American Life” pretty regularly. There’s a very funny new improv comedy show called “Superego.”
We’ve become friends with a lot of these people from attending conferences and events. We feel part of this great community, and we try to support each other, because it’s definitely an all-boats-rise thing with podcasts. It’s good for the medium when we help each other out.
Q: There’s a really powerful grassroots, word-of-mouth distribution thing that’s happening with podcasts.
A: Oh, totally. In fact, we’ve never had any kind of organized marketing or advertising push. “Stuff You Should Know” grew very organically. We were fortunate to get in there at a really good time. Now, eight years later, we find ourselves veterans of the medium. Who knew?
What: “Stuff You Should Know”
When: 8 p.m., Thursday, June 25
Where: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
Info: 919-560-3030 or carolinatheatre.org