By Ian Palmer
In our Ear Buds column, we interview our friends in the podcast industry to learn about their production processes, marketing strategies, and other tongue-in-cheek tidbits.
Joel Byars is a long-time comedian, writer, teacher, and host of Hot Breath!, a comedy-interview podcast with a slant towards education. His teacher-parents clearly rubbed off on him: Joel has dedicated most of his career to teaching comedians how to make a full-time living off of their passion for comedy. It’s no wonder then why Joel teaches FRQNCY’s Podcasting 101 course alongside our CEO Michelle Khouri.
Read on to learn how Joel found his niche, which hurdles he’s had to overcome, and which marketing tactics he uses to keep his listeners engaged.
Describe Hot Breath! In one sentence.
Hot Breath! is your weekly guide to comedy mastery.
There are a lot of comedy podcasts out there. When you started Hot Breath!, what were you hoping to contribute that was new or unique?
That’s something I was mindful of from the beginning. Every comedian and their agent seems to have a podcast, so how can I make mine standout? The show started out as a way to showcase Atlanta comedians, but as it grew I decided I wanted to really tap into the educational side of the craft through well-researched interviews. People aren’t just going to laugh, they’re going to learn!
Did you have a specific audience in mind when you started the podcast? And how has that audience changed or evolved over time?
I started out by targeting Atlanta comedians, but eventually the show’s reach evolved beyond local comics. My core demographic now is open mic comedians in general, aka people who are young in the comedy game, and are eager and thirsty for knowledge.
What were the biggest financial and technical hurdles you had to get over to really get the show off the ground?
Financially, the biggest hurdle was the entry costs that came with getting the equipment needed to create a quality podcast, because I really wanted to differentiate myself from other podcasts with the quality of my sound. Luckily, while I was saving up for the gear I wanted, I was able to borrow equipment from a friend in music recording, who also helped me to understand audio quality, and showed me how to set up for the best sound and record well. On the production side of things, I had the realization that even though people only ever see the final product, the initial learning curve of producing a podcast takes a lot of trial and error, and staying up till 3 in the morning to get an episode ready to post at 8 a.m.
What’s the most valuable comedy lesson you’ve learned from hosting the show?
Out of all the comedians I’ve interviewed, the number one consensus is being a good person. I’ve talked to some of the biggest names and tastemakers in comedy, and their most consistent advice is to be a good person and to be easy to work with. People ultimately want to work with people they like, so that’s where all the biggest opportunities come from.
What are your tools and strategies for marketing the show and staying connected to your audience?
I use the intro and outro of my podcast to speak directly to my listeners. I know I’m speaking to newer comedians, so I formulate my intros and outros to address them specifically and use those couple of minutes to connect with them. The whole goal of Hot Breath! Is to build a network, and a big part of that is providing as many different avenues as possible for my audience to interact. I listen closely to their feedback and apply it to the podcast, and I’ve created our own private Facebook group. Because of that, my listeners are actually my best marketers and word of mouth has become my biggest marketing arm. I do social media too, but really it’s that hand-to-hand marketing that has become the secret sauce to Hot Breath!
What podcast would you love to be a guest on?
The Joe Rogan Experience. First of all, he’s a comedian, so we’d connect on that level. But also this guy has revolutionized the podcast. He’s like Johnny Carson, in that people go on his show knowing its a platform to connect with the entire world. Plus he’s just a good person who likes providing opportunities to people, so I’d really like to get a look inside his mindset.
If you were to start a podcast about something other than comedy, what would it be about?
Education. I grew up in a house of educators, and as I’ve gotten more into that world through teaching comedy classes, I’ve become obsessed with how people learn and how to best synthesize information so people don’t just hear what you’re teaching, but apply it.
What would you call it?
I’d call it “Learning is No Laughing Matter.”