In case you don’t know, Superego is a groundbreaking podcast that combines classic radio drama with modern absurdist improv comedy. Admittedly, that explanation fails to capture just how funny this series is. So, if you have yet to check out Superego, stop reading this and go download a few episodes – any episodes will do – then come back and enjoy this interview with creators/performers Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, and Mark McConville. If you’re already hip to Superego, give yourself a pat on the back and read on.
Isaac Kozell: You started your podcast in 2006. How has podcasting changed since then? Where do you see it going in the next few years?
Jeremy Carter: The thing I have noticed most is, there are more podcasts now. Also, the sound quality for Superego has improved greatly since season one. I feel that podcasting is and will continue to be an avenue for actors and, producers, sound editors, etc., to develop things for television and other media.
Mark McConville: In the beginning, when I told people we were doing a podcast, I got a lot of puzzled stares. People simply didn’t know what a podcast was. That has improved, certainly. But I do think that most people are somehow convinced that podcasts are two people talking in an interview format. Interview shows are great but there are A LOT of them. Regardless, the term podcast is more ubiquitous and I think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t scare my relatives anymore. I can’t see podcasting really slowing down. Every laptop on earth has the ability to record, edit and distribute audio and video, and the podcast pool is already very very deep. There are THOUSANDS of shows, for better or worse and I think as long as people have ideas and ambition, the barrier to getting your stuff out there is very low.
Matt Gourley: Well, for a media that still generally flies under the mainstream radar, it’s at least gained a lot of really hardcore fans. Because of Superego, my parents now know what podcasts are but they still don’t listen! People who listen to podcasts are often loyal and fervent and that’s really nice. We hear from them more and more and that tells us the listenership is growing. Also, podcasts have really come a long way from regular old chat shows. Superego has always been a narrative character podcast but you’re starting to see a lot more people playing with the medium. I’m a big fan of quality over quantity so we don’t push ourselves to get something out unless we feel it will be good. I also happen to work as a podcast developer for Earwolf and we’re attracting great people like Andy Daly by offering them limited-run show deals. That way the quality stays high and nobody gets burned out.
IK: As with most projects, you had humble beginnings. What would you say was your big break?
JC: Meeting and recording with Paul F. Tompkins had a huge effect. Personally, as well. It was like finding a friend you hadn’t seen for a long time, even though we’d never met previously.
MG: Definitely when Paul F. Tompkins came on board as a regular guest. He was so instrumental in getting the word out. Plus, he’s so funny it forced us to up our game in terms of performance and production.
MM: Getting Paul F. Tompkins on the show was a huge help in broadening our audience. He was certainly a guest unlike any we’d had before at that point and he’s been instrumental in getting more people interested in Superego. In our second season, we had a sponsor approach us about ads on our podcast. It let us know that we must be doing something right. The fact that someone freely and unsolicited offered to buy ads from us let us know that this thing might be more than just a fun project. I prefer to think of our successes as a series of regular sized breaks.
IK: What drew you to the concept of psychological case studies?
MM: It’s an easy umbrella to house all of these characters. Comedy characters are largely flawed and it seemed like an easy way to corral all of these sketches.
MG: We knew we wanted to do character improv. Stuff that wasn’t really topical or premise-based. Things Jeremy and Mark and I would do anyway. The personality disorder was a loose enough concept that would accommodate most any type of sketch but still interesting enough to build a structure around.
JC: Who doesn’t want the title of “Doctor”?
IK: What creative differences has the group had to overcome?
JC: I don’t recall anything serious. It’s rare that we disagree on content. That’s one of the best things about the fellas, we have a similar sense of what works.
MG: Boy, I honestly can’t think of any real creative differences. I think we all share the same creative preferences. Maybe one of us will have a real out there idea and then see the reaction to it and realize it wasn’t quite what we thought when we were saying it to ourselves in the car, shower or in Mark’s case, debtor’s prison.
MM: Personally – and in a VERY minor way – I’ve found that my fleshed out ideas aren’t necessarily ideal for Superego. The podcast is 99.9% improvised and then edited later but that doesn’t stop all of us from writing down funny ideas and premises throughout the week. For a while, I was writing and developing these small ideas more and having little success when it came to recording them. While I think we are capable of writing funny sketches and scripts, I don’t think it’s ideal for the podcast. Our most potent and funny stuff is improvised in the moment. We have refined our recording process over the years, and trusting the improvisation has become paramount for me. Being willing to admit that these ideas aren’t as precious as I might think has been something that I personally have overcome.
IK: You’ve had tons of noteworthy guests including Patton Oswalt, Jason Sudekis and Dan Harmon. Which guest surprised you the most in terms of what they brought to the show?
MG: We recently had a singer/songwriter on to record. I won’t say her name because we’re keeping it a nice little surprise but she was fantastic. I was such a fan of her music but she was also a really great improviser. That was a wonderful surprise.
JC: I haven’t been surprised at what the guests can do. I know they’re amazing. I’m delighted to watch them work! What surprises me is that they wanted to do the show in the first place!
MM: The thing with pretty much every guest we’ve ever had that is delightfully surprising is that they’re more often than not intimidated. Once guests understand what’s going on, I am continually surprised with how quickly they just run with us. Rob Delaney is one of my personal favorite guests in that, beyond a Twitter relationship, we didn’t know each other at all when he first recorded with us. He didn’t know what to expect comedically from us and we didn’t know what to expect from him. Yet, we just clicked right away with Rob. Rob has a fearlessness and a willingness to try just about anything and had that with us almost immediately.
IK: I saw that you were recently announced as part of the LA Podcast Festival. Are you planning something big for that event?
MM: Yeah, a big, fat, live podcast recording. We did the LA Podcast Festival a couple years ago and it was a blast. We have streamlined the live show a lot more since then, so it’ll be fun to be back.
MG: It will likely be our usual show but that’s okay because every show is totally improvised and different.
JC: I don’t want to spoil anything but did you know, the Statue of Liberty, she has an extensive improv background?
IK: How difficult is it to transition from the audio show to a live stage show?
MG: At first it was tough to know how similar to make it. Our first ever show was more of a rehearsed sketch comedy revue. Now, it’s basically like watching a recording session but with the understanding that we can’t edit. So we know to keep it tighter.
JC: Initially, we were concerned that we might not be able to make the show as tight as the podcast but we quickly learned that wasn’t the case. There is an added pressure doing Superego in front of an audience. That gives us a kick and is really fun.
MM: Technically speaking, we had a lot of trial by fire. At a show the Kansas City Improv Festival, everything went wrong. Computers failed, the video projection failed and we were left with just us and a stage. It was very freeing to just do an improvised show and made us re-examine what our live show could and should be. The bells and whistles weren’t really necessary. With those elements stripped away, we have to really bring it in our live shows.
IK: Any plans for a second Journeymen album?
MM: The first album took a LONG time to make, so I think we’ll just let the music stuff be for a while. We did write some songs for The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, and that was really fun. We all love the musical element, so there’s no doubt we will have more musical output, but I’m not sure about another album. Time will tell.
JC: I would LOVE to do another Journeymen album. But until that day comes I am working on a Shunt McGuppin solo album. That should be available later this year. I’m very excited! You can check out updates on that at shuntmcguppin.net and danfranklinmusic.com.
MG: We’ve joked about the idea of doing a Jethro Tull-like prog-rock album. We’ll see!