Talking to Scott Aukerman and Jeff Ullrich About Earwolf’s New TV Production Arm
Big news in the comedy world went down yesterday when cable network IFC announced that they have a new first-look deal with the comedy podcast network Earwolf, host to popular shows like How Did This Get Made?, Sklarbro Country, Who Charted?, and Comedy Bang Bang, which has already served as the basis for the popular IFC show of the same name. Earwolf’s first TV project is a show they’re developing at IFC called The Embassy that stars Comedy Bang Bang fan favorite James Adomian (who’ll be playing multiple roles) as a hacktivist seeking asylum in the Washington, D.C. embassy of a fictional country called Costa Verde.
I talked to Earwolf co-founders Jeff Ullrich and Scott Aukerman (who is co-writing The Embassy with Adomian) yesterday morning about Adomian’s potential show, the state of the podcast industry, and Earwolf’s big TV plans.
How long have you guys been working on moving Earwolf into TV?
Jeff Ullrich: Probably about a year now. Earwolf has a production card on the Comedy Bang Bang TV show, which is based on the Earwolf podcast, but we really want to start actively developing some stuff using the great people that we have and the great people that we work with and just trying to make some cool shit out of it. So, about a year ago, we started talking to IFC about doing a deal with them where we bring them projects that we’re working on, and they take a look at them and decide whether they wanna make ’em there or not. The Embassy is the first one that we’re gonna do together.
Are you planning additional shows right now, or are you just sticking with this one first?
Ullrich: Yeah, we’re out there pitching a lot of shows right now. We have another one that I can’t quite talk about yet, but The Embassy is the first one that we’re actively working on right now. But yeah, we’re out there selling shows. If people are reading this who want to make shows, we want to talk to you. Any comedians or writers or directors out there, we’d love to talk to you. We’re meeting people all the time about what they want to do, and we just want to make really cool shit with funny people.
How are you guys moving the Earwolf sensibility from podcasts to TV?
Scott Aukerman: Jeff, take this one.
Ullrich: [Laughs] Well, I don’t think it’s really any different. Basically, what happened was we realized was that the strength we had was in the types of people who wanted to have fun with us and specifically Scott creatively. So I think this is just trying to make for a bigger sandbox for Scott to play in creatively and develop as an executive producing thing so that we can extend the Earwolf sensibility. We really pride ourselves on our podcasts being developed really strong in a way that you would develop a television show, so I think it’s just kind of a natural progression from there.
Aukerman: I love sandboxes, and I’m like “How big can they get?” I just want them to be bigger and bigger and bigger. I would love it if the whole Earth was a sandbox. Just a desert, a nuclear wasteland. I just think that what we do with podcasts, we want to do with TV shows, which is find the best available people to work with, from comedians to writers to directors, and talk to them first about “Okay, what do you want to? What’s your dream project that you want to do?” We’ll try to figure out how to try to make that, be it in TV — that’s what’s great about the IFC deal — or on web or really anywhere.
Do you have any other TV production companies that are ones you look up to or that you like what they’re doing?
Aukerman: I really like MTM ’cause that has a kitty saying “Meow” at the end of it. What’s the one with “Sit, Ubu, sit?” I like that ’cause it’s got a doggy at the end of it. And we have a wolf at the end of ours. Anything that incorporates an animal, I’m really into. Abso Lutely is great. They do my show, Comedy Bang Bang, and they’ve been doing a really good job. I think what we want to be is a little more of a creative partner than Abso Lutely is. Abso Lutely is a great production model where they make the show for you. They have great people that they work with and a super crew that you can enlist to put on your show. We’re trying to be a combination of what Abso Lutely does, where we’ll do production services for you, but also get involved creatively with the conception of the shows.
‘Cause they have kind of a hands-off way of working with shows, right?
Aukerman: I mean, at least they do for mine. I shouldn’t paint them with that brush because I’m sure they get in there and create themselves, but for my show and I think for The Birthday Boys, they’re just more of a production services-type company, and they do a really great job of it with Nathan for You and all that. So I kind of look up to what they’re doing and how professional they are, but also I have always wanted to be able to produce shows. Back from the early Comedy Death-Ray days, it’s been all about finding really great people and showcasing them to the world, so that’s what we really hope to do with making these types of shows.
Ullrich: I think we both realize that together, we weren’t enough to do this right so we brought in someone by the name of David Jargowsky, who is the head of development and production for the TV arm specifically, and he’s supporting Scott in making this a reality.
Aukerman: Yeah, David and I worked together on this. We’re out there taking a lot of meetings. He’s really great. People really respect him and look up to him. It’s been a great partnership so far.
How’d The Embassy come about?
Aukerman: James [Adomian] had the very basic idea of it, which you can read about in the press release that IFC sent out. He came to us right about the same time that IFC started talking to us about developing shows. They thought that we would be a great match to do it, and James agreed, so James and I got started developing it together and fleshing it out a little more together and came back to IFC with a pitch, which they really liked. And right now, we’re writing the script together.
Ullrich: I think one thing important to note on the timing there is that James’s idea for the show came many, many months before any of the Edward Snowden stuff actually happened, so I would imagine that people reading about the project now, it may seem a little more opportunistic than it was. It was actually just an idea James had that ends up dovetailing into current events.
Aukerman: We don’t really want to say how they dovetail into current events. We kind of want people to see it first, but yeah, I mean, with everything that’s been going on in the world right now, I think it’s a really interesting time to talk about this kind of stuff.
James is playing multiple characters in the show. Is he playing pretty much everybody or are there going to be other actors in there too?
Aukerman: I would love to never work with another actor again and just work with James all day and spend all day for the rest of my life with James, but we are going to be using other actors in it. We’re still trying to decide exactly how many James is gonna play, but when you have someone as versatile as James, coming up with new ideas… Like, “How about in this episode, you can play Paul Giamatti? Or how ’bout in this episode, Jesse Ventura drops by?” So there’s a lot of great possibilities.
It mentioned in the press release that you’d be turning podcasts into TV shows potentially. Are there any Earwolf podcasts that you’re eyeing to turn into shows first?
Ullrich: We’re definitely out there trying to figure out exactly the best places for each thing. Every show that we have, we’re definitely trying to figure out where the home would be for it. The cool thing about podcasts is people can do them and they can do whatever they want, so some of them are not naturally-inclined to be TV shows, but we’re definitely trying to figure it out. If anyone has an interest of turning it into a TV show, we’re definitely trying to figure out exactly what place in the marketplace would be the place for it.
It’s been a few years since the big podcast boom. What do you guys see as podcasting’s role in entertainment and in comedy now compared to a couple years ago?
Aukerman: I think it’s the best place for people to get their stuff out in a immediate fashion. There’s no other medium in the world that comedians can just put stuff out directly to their fans, other than I guess funny emails. Maybe there’ll be a funny email boom coming soon. You know, it really is such an amazing time for people to be able to reach all over the world. I’m on this tour right now, doing the Comedy Bang Bang tour. Just meeting all the people, talking to all the people, it’s incredible the reach that podcasts have. It’s just really exciting. I think they’ll just continue to be popular. If you were a comedian, why wouldn’t you have one, you know? Movies are so expensive to make that sometimes it takes such a long time, whereas you can record a podcast and put it out that day, so it’s really fantastic.
Ullrich: It’s been over since the Patton Oswalt JFL keynote speech where he talks about Scott’s show and Sklarbro Country as examples of how comedians don’t have to wait for someone to pick them anymore, and I think that’s ultimately what created the boom and why it continues. More and more people, as Scott said, are ready to just show up and be funny and do their thing and not be noted to death by a network and not be told they can’t do it anymore and that develops a really strong, engaged audience that then is transferrable to all other kinds of projects that you might have. So I think it’s just a continuation of putting the power and the control more in the hands of the creators than they had previously.
That’s all I have for you guys, unless you have anything else you want to add.
Aukerman: I’m glad that we’re finally getting the word out that we’re open for business, and if you’re a comedian or a writer or a director, come talk to us, ’cause we really want to start putting together some great stuff.
Ullrich: Now, here’s the boring, overall business guy thing of…
Aukerman: Oh good. That’s a great note to end on.
Ullrich: …it’s a very, very exciting time to be able to create comedy. There’s a lot more avenues to do so. There’s a bigger appetite to try new things, and we’re just excited to kind of be in the middle of that, trying to help facilitate that with people that we like.