Elizabeth Laime and the Lessons Learned From Podcasting

elizabethlaimeElizabeth Laime knows all too well that all good things must totally come to an end. Her flagship podcast, Totally Laime, is winding down its five-year run with a final flurry of episodes, the last of which will drop on January 23rd. It’s shaping up to be a fond farewell that won’t leave fans of Laime and her cohost/husband, Andy Rosen, completely empty handed, considering that a mini-empire of Totally spinoff podcasts are still going strong. We talked to Laime about how luck, laziness and low expectations can somehow be the perfect recipe for success.

Well, it’s the final countdown. How are you feeling?

You know, I’m pretty excited. We have some exciting plans for the final episodes.

Are these episodes already booked, or are you still looking to fill a couple of spots?

I’d say they’re almost all ready to go. I have who I want and I have a few words out. I’d say it’s sixty percent booked. Hopefully we’ll be able to pull it off. We’ll see.

What inspired you to start your podcast with Andy?

Actually, do you know Too Beautiful To Live?

Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Was that a radio show?

I think it was in Seattle. It’s Luke Burbank, who eventually came on Totally Laime. We used to listen to it on road trips. We had moved to LA just before we started the podcast. Andy was a record producer, so he had all this recording equipment. Luke’s format is that he records every single day, so it was barebones in terms of prep. They just dive in. I had come from New York and had been performing and writing. When we got to LA I focused mainly on writing. I was feeling kind of isolated in the comedy community, so I thought that it would be so cool if we just had our funny friends over. We could do this! So we did. We just started doing it. I think when we started, I was like, “Let’s do twenty of these and see how it goes.” Then five years later, we’re pulling the plug. But I never, ever thought it would turn into what it did for me.

When you first started, how did you get the podcast out?

We put it up on iTunes and it’s been wild because it’s so awesome to see how podcasting has grown. When we first started there weren’t the thousands and thousands there are now. We went through the process with iTunes of submitting something and got it up there and that was our distribution… and I think on my website. I don’t really remember.

Do you recall what your numbers were like for those first twenty episodes?

Yeah, I think we had like 60 listens. I think I made a joke on Episode 16 that my sister was the only one listening and then it turned out she hadn’t listened yet. We were having so much fun doing it that we didn’t even care.

You said that you had felt a little bit isolated in the comedy community and that starting the podcast was something that you thought would help you. Could you define what you meant when you said you felt isolated? Did you feel isolated within the community, or just stuck in a bubble with other comics?

I felt isolated because in New York at UCB I was performing and I was on a Maude team and I was interacting all of the time with fellow comedy peeps. Then when we moved to LA, I was just writing. I was writing spec scripts and I was basically just in a house. Like, literally isolated, not talking to people, or catching up with people. I just missed the camaraderie. This gave us a chance to have a structured hour every week with someone who was funny and in comedy. First, it was just my friends, pretty much, so that was really wonderful.

You said that you were stuck in the house writing but… you still decided to keep your podcast at your house?

Yeah, I guess I’m kind of lazy in that. I don’t know where else we would have been able to record at that time. So we were just like, they’ll come to us, I guess.

Since Earwolf is located in LA as well, did you get any pushback after you won the Earwolf Challenge in that you were going to keep your podcast at home and not bring it to the studio?

Do you mean from Earwolf?

Yeah, was that a part of the terms of the contract or something?

No, I think they were thrilled because for them it means way less overhead and their engineers don’t have to do work. I think they prefer it, actually. By then, I think we were about 80 episodes in when we won Earwolf and we had built a little following. Something that became very much a part of our podcast is the, “We’re just in someone’s house hanging out.” Like, Patton Oswalt is in our living room hanging out with us. So I think that became an important part of the podcast in and of itself.

Other than people that you know directly, how did you go about getting guests like Patton, or some of the other, what we could call “high profile” guests?

There’s no great way. I will say that we had an intern for a while who did a really great job at getting pretty high profile guests. She got Jimmy Pardo for us. I think by then we had more of a platform to sell. But it’s usually best for me to just do it because I’m usually booking people who I’m truly a fan of and I usually fan out on them. I’m being very sincere that it would mean so much to me to have them over. Like Patton for example, this is really embarrassing, but I saw him at a coffee shop and I went up to him and told him what a big fan of his I am. I think I referenced his standup special that had just come out and something specifically in it that spoke to me. I interrupted a lunch meeting he was having. The suits who were with him were kind of looking at me like, “Go away.” But Patton was so gracious. I had told him that we had Maron on and he was like, “Well at least you have good taste.” I mean, that was a miracle. I was like, “I would die and go to heaven if you came on.” He wrote down my email address and I swear to god, I wasn’t even home yet and he had emailed me. There are a couple of stories like that that didn’t happen that way. [Laughs.] So, I think there’s just no one way. I’ve just been lucky, I guess. And stupid. Lucky and stupid.

It sounds like you have an attitude like, “Let’s just try it and see if it happens,” and that works a lot of times. If you’re open to just trying things and seeing where the chips fall, you’re usually not too disappointed if somebody like Patton would say, “Why are you bothering me at my lunch meeting? I don’t want to be on your podcast.”

Right. For this interview, I made a list of things I had learned from podcasting and that’s one of them. Just to have low expectations. Which kind of sounds sad but you’re absolutely right, I think. When you go in having low expectations and just doing it for the fun of it, you can just go along for the ride and enjoy it.

I completely subscribe to that. I do it. I don’t think it sounds sad at all. I do it with people in my life. When you keep your expectations low, when they do something good, you’re so surprised and happy. When they do something bad, they don’t have as far to fall in your eyes. It might just be a self-preservation method. I’m probably fooling myself. But it seems to work.

Yeah, I like that. It’s funny, I think I do subscribe to it but I think I’m also like, “Oh I wanna be that person who sees the best in everyone.” But I think in the reality of my life, I do kind of operate with somewhat low expectations.

I think you can still see the best in people and keep low expectations. I think that the contrast, if you went to the other end of the spectrum, would be that you have such high expectations for people that you can’t see the best in them because they’re never going to be good enough and you’re always going to be disappointed.

I think that’s so brilliant. That’s exactly right. This made me feel so much better.

Okay, great. Awesome. What prompted the spinoffs, Totally Married, Totally Mommy and my favorite title, Totally Beverages and Sometimes Hot Sauce?

[Laughs.] I think at the point we started Totally Married, I had come to the conclusion that podcasting had just been this easy road for me, maybe because of the low expectations, that I had been focusing so much on writing and the hustle and the struggle and podcasting was always like, “Oh, that’s a fun side thing that doesn’t really count,” just because it was so easy and fun for us. It was around that time that I was like, “No, I need to nurture this thing that loves me back.” Just because something is hard, that doesn’t mean it’s more noble or valuable. That was when I was like, maybe, based on a couple comments of the few episodes we had done that were just me and Andy, it seemed like a natural way to expand. I wanted to expand in the podcast world and that’s what we did. That was great, then Totally Mommy came. Totally Beverages and Sometimes Hot Sauce started off as a joke because it’s ridiculous but it’s actually going really, really well and Andy’s having a blast. There you have it. He just has been so into beverages that, like every Totally Laime we would have an unofficial beverage part and I’d be like, “You have to stop talking about beverages. It’s getting out of control.” So he was like, “Well, maybe I’ll start a podcast.” Now he has a podcast. Now he has companies sending him all of this loot. It’s hilarious.

I have a friend who’s really into blankets. He’s like, a really tough, burly guy but he loves collecting various blankets. He doesn’t know what to do with his love for them other than just stockpile them. I’m going to recommend that he starts a podcast because anybody can do it with something that they love and it might be great.

Oh my god, I love that. I love your friend just based on that. I love people who are just passionate about stuff. I honestly feel like that’s what podcasting has sort of become to me: Just fun. I can’t get enough. Well, I guess I can because I’m bringing one to a close but that’s because our lives are so overloaded right now.

What prompted the decision to bring Totally Laime to an end?

Honestly, as I was thinking about it, I thought, “Is this something that I’m going to do forever and ever?” I look at Maron and other podcasters like Pete Holmes and that’s just going on forever. It would be weird if they ever stopped it. For some reason, I feel like that could be the case for Totally Married. But Totally Laime for me has always seemed like it had a shape, a beginning and an end, giving it five years and having a new baby, although, I had given this thought before she was even born. Now I have a writing job and there’s just so much going on that it feels like the right time. I also — in booking guests — my reach has been sort of exhausted. We’ve had these incredible guests but I’ve been cycling through guests, which is still fun, but I like the notion of always having new people and introducing new people and I’m just not in touch with the up and coming scene like I was before. That element of it informs me that it might be time to bring the chapter to a close. I ran into Paul F. Tompkins and he was asking about this coming to a close and he was like, “Why are you stopping?” I was like, “It just feels like it’s the right time and booking is so intense.” He was like, “Booking ruins everything.” Booking is so hard!” I was like, “Oh, good. I’m not the only one who thinks booking is hard. Booking is hard.”

Let’s revisit the list. You talked about it earlier. What are some of the top things you’ve learned during your time podcasting?

These two are kind of the same: Nurture what loves you back and do it for the fun of it. These are things I’ve learned from podcasting that I also apply to my regular life. People will email me who are starting podcasts and sometimes they’re very over-thought, very convoluted, it’s like they’re doing it because they want it to be successful. Which is always funny to me because even with success, podcasts in and of themselves, the rewards you get are more emotional than financial or career-oriented. It certainly can parlay into stuff, but I think you’ve got to just do it because you love it and it’s fun. Don’t create a situation for you where it’s not gonna be fun. We don’t do any prep. I don’t do any editing, hardly, because I know that would make it not as fun for me. Just do what you love that’s fun. So that’s a big one. Finding your own voice is super important and in the bigger scheme of things, your own voice and your own path. In anything creative, it’s very tempting to look at how a person does something and try to copy that, but just letting it be your own and allowing yourself to find your own voice is really important.

People often want success without having to go through the growing pains or learning hard lessons and finding their voice. All those things we’ve talked about in podcasting, they really work with all creative aspects, whether it’s dancing, singing, painting. You have to start somewhere and if you look at people who are super popular now and you go back to their early body of work, it’s sometimes almost embarrassing. It really changes the way you think of the person. “Oh, they weren’t always clever and brilliant. They were kind of dumb like me when they started.” I think that’s important. Do you have one more from your list of things you’ve learned?

I’m looking at these and I feel like they’re all so intertwined. I feel like they’re all variations. Another one is: Perfection is boring. I still have episodes where I feel like they’re not the greatest, but that’s totally okay. You have to be okay with that and kind of be gentle with yourself.

Do you have a favorite episode, or favorite guest, from the last few years?

For some reason, whenever I get this question… honestly, we’ve only had two guests who came and seemed like they didn’t want to be there.

Can you say who?

No, no. I think it shows in the episodes, honestly. We’re at 250, which I think is pretty good. But the thing that always comes to mind, in the original episode that we did with Adam Pally — and I think we’ve played the clip a bunch of times — he went on this diatribe about his friendship with Mayim Bialik and it was just one of those perfect moments. I was crying laughing so hard and I think there have been a ton of moments like that since, but that one just stands out.

Do you have any sneak previews for the final episodes? Any surprises or confirmed guests that you can give us a little sneak preview on?

I can confirm that Megan Amram, Scott Aukerman, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Artemis Pebdani will all be on.

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