Inside the Return of ‘Superego’ with Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, Mark McConville, and Paul F. Tompkins
On September 1st, the incredibly funny podcast Superego is returning with the debut of its long-awaited fourth season. The semi-improvised sketch show will return from its year-plus hiatus with comedian Paul F. Tompkins, a frequent guest on seasons past, officially joining the group full-time as a regular cast member alongside Matt Gourley, Jeremy Carter, and Mark McConville. Since its launch in 2006, Superego has grown to become one of the comedy podcast industry’s best and most elaborate programs and has attracted a slew of famous person guests like Jason Sudeikis, John Hodgman, and Gillian Jacobs, just to name a few. I recently had the chance to interview Gourley, Carter, McConville, and Tompkins about Superego season four, trying to get David Sedaris to do the show, and the upcoming Shunt McGuppin album.
How did Paul joining the group come about?
Matt Gourley: We don’t know.
Paul F. Tompkins: I wouldn’t go away.
Mark McConville: He won’t leave.
Tompkins: I was recording with you guys a lot — I think sometimes invited and sometimes it would come up in conversation. Matt or whoever would say, “And hey listen, you can come by any time you want.” But I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I think it was very rare that I took you guys up on that offer where I would pitch myself as a guest at a recording session.
Gourley: That was no exaggeration. We were just like, “Any time you want to come, please come,” and we’d also say, “Hey, we’re recording tonight, so please come.”
McConville: Also, there’s a tale of the tape with the website where anybody who’s ever guested on the show, we’d make a page for them on our site, and some people are like “Episode 3:2 and Episode 3:5, they did these characters.” Paul’s is enormous. It’s by far the biggest list of contributions to previous seasons.
Gourley: Well, we asked him to be a member just so we wouldn’t have to update that anymore.
Gourley: So we could just save on webspace.
Jeremy Carter: We had talked about it, always hoping that that would be the case, but we didn’t want to presume anything. Then, we were backstage at a Thrilling Adventure Hour show, I casually said, “Hey, as much as you ever want to be a part of the group…”
Tompkins: [laughs] We were both kind of saying the same thing.
Carter: It goes as far back at least as a couple years.
McConville: The same history that we have with dating. We’re never like, “Let’s you and me go out, baby.” It was always, “Even if you don’t want to do anything…”
Tompkins: “If you ever find yourself just doing nothing, I’m around always.”
Carter: “If you’re ever not busy not dating me.”
It was a long break between seasons. Was it strange going back into the recording studio?
Gourley: We were refreshed, I think, ‘cause towards the end of the last season, I was sort of feelin’ the burn.
McConville: It’s all different for each of us, but I think overall, we all get a little fried.
Carter: We get fried out at different times. Fortunately, there’s generally always two of us to pull the other one along and go, “It’s all right. We’re almost there. We’re gonna do it.” Mark and I were okay at that point, and Matt was fried.
McConville: I will say getting back to it, I think we tried to get a little smarter about “let’s record more stuff and have a bank of sketches.” So, we do have a nice surplus of stuff that we can kinda put out slowly. In the past, we’ve been, “It’s Saturday. The new episode is up Monday. We have to record something in the next 48 hours and get it up.” We have been in that position before.
Carter: We had talked about that too, even as far back as season two, but for whatever reason…
Gourley: We did a little for season three, but not like this. We’ve got 23 sketches.
McConville: Getting back into it, there was an effort to say, “Let’s try to be smarter about building up a little library of stuff we can put out so there’s a little less pressure every month to crank out something.” That’s what we’ve been doing.
Tompkins: The thing about podcasting is you really have to self-police because your audience is unseen. You can’t just wholly go by what people say on message boards or Twitter or whatever because not everyone writes on those things. It’s really tough to trust what people want more of or less of or whatever.
Gourley: The vocal ones are not necessarily the majority.
Tompkins: Yeah! Absolutely! You have to be smart about the process. There’s a lot of trial and error. With my podcast [The Pod F. Tompkast], which is a produced podcast like Superego, getting stuff done in advance is key. When you feel like you’re under the gun and you have to not only come up with the content but edit it, do post-production on it and all that stuff, it feels like a crazy scramble and it increases your weariness.
Gourley: And the killer is you do it to yourself.
Tompkins: People get really vocal. “Where is this thing? I want this thing. You promised me.”
Gourley: We also literally set a timer on our sketch recordings too, so around 10 minutes, we’ll say, “Let’s wrap it up” because sometimes we can go like a half-hour and it became a monster to edit. It wasn’t like it gave us all that much better material. It’s a lot simpler to do it that way.
McConville: The longest is like 42 minutes or something like that where we just riffed and riffed and riffed.
Carter: Just improvising too, when it gets too far out — I can only speak for myself — I get lost with what can happen or where we are.
Gourley: “Stetch Maldonay” was the sketch. The whole concept was it was a commercial for a scissor sharpener. We should just put the raw audio of that out sometime. 45 minutes of tangent after tangent; it never came back to the beginning. It was like a pure choose-your-own-adventure novel of absurdity for better or for worse.
Tompkins: No one could remember how to pronounce the name.
Carter: That became the bit. It was like swimming out into the ocean but not coming back.
I feel like that’d be interesting for people to hear.
McConville: I think there’s some raw audio somewhere out there.
Gourley: There is. Here’s something we can also say too. There are easter eggs in all but two season three episodes, starting with Episode 3:3. If you listen really closely or watch really closely, there are little clues on how to find bonus content, and one of them is an unedited sketch if you know how to look for it.
Who are some of the guests you guys have for season four?
Gourley: Well, we’re very excited about Neko Case. She came in and was hilarious. She did a “Shunt McGuppin” thing that’s probably gonna be on the first episode.
Carter: Andy Daly.
Gourley: Thomas Lennon, Colin Hanks, Kristen Schaal.
Do you guys have a dream guest for the show?
Gourley: I have an announcement, by the way. This isn’t a guest necessarily, but I did email this person because I had heard they were a listener to Superego and they wrote back no less than 12 hours later:
Your email was forwarded yesterday by my lecture agent. I’m honored that you ever would have heard of me and ashamed that I have not donated to your podcas, which is the funniest thing ever. I listen over and over like a 12 year old. In my defense, I don’t have PayPal. I refuse to do anything that involves creating a new password…”
It sounds like I asked him for money in the first place; I just asked if he was ever interested in recording.
“…Can I mail in a check? Is there an address I can send one to? It would leave me feeling less embarrassed. As for joining you for a recording, the thought is making my head explode.
Tompkins: [laughs] Wow!
Carter: Oh my god!
Tompkins: By the way, hearing that name made all of the above make sense.
McConville: Somebody asked him in a Q&A “Do you like any podcasts?” and he mentioned us.
Tompkins: Take that, Ira Glass!
Gourley: He would be great. We’d have to do something interesting with him. I don’t know.
McConville: I love every guest we’ve ever had. The comedy community here is so good. I sort of want to get some straight actors or musicians or personalities who are not known as comedians to come and give it a whirl.
Gourley: Gene Wilder would be great. He’s one of my favorite actors, but who knows how that would be? You never know until you get in the room what it’s like.
McConville: I think Dave Grohl would be fun. We’re all just picking the people we’re fans of.
Carter: Katy Perry.
Gourley: I would love Al Franken, actually.
Carter: If we’re shooting for the moon, President Obama.
McConville: Yeah, absolutely. Pat Buchanan. Rand Paul.
Carter: Sean Hannity.
Do you guys know how long the fourth season will go on for? Do you have a game plan for how many episodes it’ll be?
McConville: Just that one episode, that’ll be it.
Carter: Season four is two hours long.
Gourley: It’ll be probably be shorter, I’d imagine. We probably won’t do it every month either. It’ll sort of come when it can come. We’ll try to keep it semi-regular. But I’m very excited. I think we’re all pretty refreshed and looking forward to it. I like forward to recording nights and stuff.
Do you guys have favorite characters or sketches from the new season?
Tompkins: I got to do something new, this minister character that is one of the few original characters that I do that’s not an impression of somebody. But I want to start doing more of that. Hopefully, I can do more of that on this podcast, but I don’t want to get yelled at.
McConville: There’s another sketch that’s a family at a portrait studio. I really like that one. that will certainly be out.
Gourley: We’ve sent some of these sketches out to people to get their reactions, and that one has come back one of the favorites from almost everybody.
McConville: I would say of the stuff we’ve got banked, a good portion of it is new characters, new sketches, new territory for us, which is cool.
What’s the process of recording an episode from start to finish?
Gourley: We set up this gear here. We used to all pitch ideas and write them on a whiteboard, and then we choose a good idea and anyone can chime in and out for the first sketch usually so that we can get warmed up. Then, we do some other sketches for the night. Typically, we’ll do 3-5 sketches maybe.
Carter: Go for about three hours.
Tompkins: There’s a definite period where we’re all tapped out, and then we go for another 15 minutes. ‘Cause it still feels like, “Okay, that was not that great, but now I’m gonna have a second wind.” Then, it starts to happen one by one…
Carter: People just hit the wall.
Tompkins: And then you know it’s time to stop.
Gourley: Then, I go away for a while with the files and come out the other end, going “Isn’t this funny?” to them. We’ll get usually about two sketches out of a night. Sometimes we’ve done better, sometimes we’ve done worse. Usually, the next time they come over, we might have a line or two in a sketch that we need to fix because there’s a motorcycle that went by.
McConville: The joys of home recording. Helicopters. Cars. People shifting.
Matt, do you and Andy Daly have plans to bring back The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project next year?
Gourley: It’s totally up to him, but the prospects look good. I don’t want to speak for him, but of course I would be game in a heartbeat.
Last time I interviewed you guys, you were promoting the Journeymen album, and you mentioned maybe wanting to do a prog-rock album to follow it up with. Is that something you still intend on doing?
Gourley: We have taken no steps towards that. Jeremy’s working on an album.
Carter: I’m working on a Shunt McGuppin album. I’m not sure what the name of it is.
Gourley: Do you have any contender titles?
Carter: I made a list of them today, but right now, I’m testing the waters if people wanna buy T-shirts so I can pay people. All three of these guys will be on the album. Right now, there’s a T-shirt on the Shunt McGuppin fan page on Facebook. It’s a picture of Shunt McGuppin and it says, “It Gets Real Hard.” That’s the T-shirt we’re pitching. I made a list [of album titles]: “It’ll Get Bigger.” “You Made Me Soft.” “Two in the Bush.” “You Gave Me Something.” “Why Are You Making That Sound?” “Object of My Infection.” “That Doesn’t Smell Right.” “You Have How Many Kids?” The last one is “Stupid Looking.”
McConville: Vote now!
Carter: I’m very excited. I loved doing the Journeymen album so much, and I knew these guys were tired and recharging and busy doing other things, so I said, “Well, I wanna do this because I had a blast.” Maybe one day a prog-rock album. Right, guys?
Tompkins: Don’t look at me. I don’t want any part of that.
Gourley: We do have the title for that. It’s The Leviathan Warned the Shorekeeper.