Matt Gourley attends 'The Pistol Shrimps' Seeso original film premiere

Matt Gourley attends 'The Pistol Shrimps' Seeso original film premiere (Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images)

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You might remember Matt Gourely’s smiling face from a series of Volkswagen commercials he’s done, or maybe you saw him beyond sloshed on a few episodes of Comedy Central’s Drunk History. But what many avid podcast listeners know Gourley for is the magic he brings to their “ear holes” (his words).

Gourley first made a name for himself in the podcasting world with Superego, the sketch comedy podcast he created with his good friend and fellow improviser Jeremy Carter. Launched in 2006, the show brought the pair’s supremely strange and silly brand of humor to the masses, and their fan base grew to include many prominent comedy stars, such as Patton Oswalt, Jason Sudekis, and Paul F. Tompkins, all of whom appeared on the show. (Tompkins even became a full-fledged member of the Superego team.)

Earlier this year, Gourley and friends put the regular seasons of Superego to bed, as the labor required to create the sonic universe that the podcast inhabited exhausted Gourley. (The crew continues to perform live and record specials episodes for the Howl Network.) But by then Gourley was already doing several other podcasts, including James Bonding, I Was There Too, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project and Pistol Shrimps Radio. He even helped co-found the short-lived podcast network offshoot of Earwolf, WolfPop. So of course the Earful wanted to talk with him as he is rich with podcast knowledge and experience, and as you’ll see, imaginary words.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

You started Superego in 2006, just two years after the medium was created. What was it like having a podcast back then?

I think it was nice only in that we were doing something completely for ourselves. It wasn’t just that people weren’t listening because they didn’t know the show; they weren’t listening because they didn’t know the medium. To get people to listen, first we had to explain what the show was, and then we had to explain what a podcast was.

In the beginning, we had some of the sketches up on our crude website and Quicktime audio files, and people were probably listening more that way than anything else.

You’re self-taught and Superego had high production values, especially in the end. Were making them a lot of work?

The episodes from Season 1 were very short and actually pretty simple in their production style, so the editing and recording wasn’t taking long — I wasn’t really editing out that much at the time. But the publishing … it was miserable. Trying to get those things published to iTunes back in those days was so difficult. To troubleshoot meant you had to publish something and wait hours for iTunes to catch up. Even if it was working, iTunes wasn’t going to recognize it right away, so there was no real way to check your work.

There were many nights where I’d literally stay up the entire night waiting to see if an episode went up, and that was so funny because nobody was really listening or had subscribed yet, so it was this self-imposed deadline I was putting on myself. I don’t know what I was doing. Later on, when we had large listener base and we’d have tech problems, I wasn’t that concerned and would just go to bed.

The production work became more and more as the seasons went on, when I felt like the quality needed to be better. But the Star Wars “Brown Squadron” sketches, because there was so much going on sonically and basically every line was a joke; every line was a reference to what was going on in that world, usually something to do with a laser blaster or or an explosion or a fly by. I just had so many tracks on these sketches and eventually they became too complicated, which is why we couldn’t sustain the podcast. It was a natural progression and I don’t mind that it went that way.

There was also a “Swampbuckler’s Stunts” sketch that had so many levels and sound effects — usually sketches with a lot of action had a lot of sound effects. There were labors of love because I love Star Wars and I love theme park stunt shows. For me, when I was producing those sketches, I wasn’t a saying, “it has to be good;” I was just enjoying the act of creating an environment and forgetting that it was a product. I was so enamored with a theme park stunt show for good and bad reasons, and when I listened back to it, it reminded me of my childhood.

When you were teaching yourself production, what resources did you use?

It happened so gradually that I don’t think I even knew I was teaching myself. I had done a little audio work prior to Superego on a fake radio show, which was kind of like the Colbert Report before it existed. It was a fake conservative, Rush Limbaugh-type radio show, and I had put together some pitch examples of it using a digital music recorder that didn’t even have a visual display; it was all done by ear. Actually, some of those made it onto season one of Superego because back in the day, we needed material.

I learned the basics doing that and doing some music recording. But as time when on, I learned about where to find sound effects, how to make sound effects and how to layer them in. I had also done a fair amount of Final Cut editing and the process was really the same, except instead of it being visual, it was sonic. As time went by, I just fixed things that I didn’t know were problems until the end, where I at least figured out what the process was for Superego, and I even feel that it was season 3 before I really got to where I knew what I was doing.

And actually that’s a lie; I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

How much time is too much time spent on a podcast?

Well I think the only rule for me would be if at some point you stop enjoying it. I don’t mean to belittle it, especially as someone who kind of makes their livelihood from it. I love it and it’s a wonderful thing. But I think it’s so important as to sacrifice parts of your life. If you’re working so hard you’re taking away from other things and not having fun, then it’s probably too long. And if you’ve worked so hard on it, and you’re concentrating on details and losing the big picture, you’ve been working too long.

Otherwise, have it as long as you want and enjoy it! There’s no rules and that’s a good thing.

Do you have one that you’ve invested so much time and energy that you hold it up as a personal achievement?

I think in the first episode of season 4 of Superego, there’s a Shunt McGuppin sketch with Shunt and Neko Case. The recording session for that I think was 20 minutes or something. It was really quick and easy, she was super funny and Jeremy was super funny. But, to make the music after the fact because they were improvising songs…

I had to first put together a precise edit, and then James Bladon and I sat together on multiple sessions to record the music. Plus we brought Mark (McConville, a member of the Superego team) in to play live pedal steel and we recorded some live guitar. And it was all to these songs that were improvised through acapella singing.

Putting it together time-wise and pitch-wise, and then add on top of that a fault in the recording where every few seconds there was a pop or a glitch, so we had to go into ProTools and take that millisecond of a glitch out and blend the two sections together. I think if it was just an ordinary sketch and didn’t have Neko Case — whom we’re all huge fans of — we probably wouldn’t have bothered. Ultimately I felt it was really worth it, not just to have her on the show but for the work she did and the way that it turned out.

Finally, though a little off topic: you are a master of making up words. What’s your favorite word you’ve invented?

Off the top of my head, “diabecities.” I think that goes back to that conservative talk show host, though I don’t know exactly what it was. I did a fake AM radio talk ad and it had me going, “Do you suffer from type I diabecities?” I just like it when people misspeak, so much so that I end up doing it more in my real life and not on purpose. But I’ve learned to embrace it.

Matt Gourley on Podcasts’ Early Days and Learning Production on the Fly 11 August,2016Kevin L. Jones

Author

Kevin L. Jones

Kevin Jones reports on the Bay Area arts scene for KQED. He loves his wife and two kids, and music today makes him feel old.