The fabulous Chicago Podcast Festival is what you need to recover from your election hangover

It’s the first Chicago Podcast Festival! It’s comedy! Intriguing conversation! Diverse points of view! Intimate stories! Behind-the-scenes secrets! Celebrities! Friends!

The Chicago Podcast Festival is November 17th to 19th. You’ll hear conversation and stories you won’t experience anywhere else with people you won’t meet anywhere else. You’ll connect with people who used to be strangers. Vistas will explode with new ideas and perspectives.

“This is the fastest growing art form of this century,” says Festival producer Jonathan Pitts. “Come be a part of it!”

Jonathan along with Tyler Greene, the Festival’s artistic director, will bring thirty-five podcasts from all over the country to five Chicago venues for three nights. Some may already be your favorites. Some are destined to become favorites. All sound irresistible. The programming eases the decision-making agony. On several nights, one ticket will get you two and sometimes three podcasts.

On November 18, for example, buy one ticket, get admission to

  • The Kevin McDonald Show (with guests Bob Saget, Scott Adsit and Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats).
  • Tim Barnes’ It’s All True (featuring Rhymefest)
  • Jimmy Carrane’s Improv Nerd (with guest Scott Adsit)

Tim and Jimmy are both known for inspiring hilarious and unflinching honesty from their guests. And yes, that is Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall fame.

Podcasts during the Fest also include:

  • The Room Where It’s Happening, the Hamilton-themed podcast where one of the musical’s actors will appear, limo’d in immediately after that day’s performances
  • Guys We Fucked (two comedians discuss just that)
  • Too Hot for Radio with host Kevin Townley and star-studded line-up Kirsten Vangsness (Criminal Minds), Justin Kirk (Weeds), K. Todd Freeman (The Dark Knight), Peter Sagal (Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!) and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers).
  • Hello From the Magic Tavern which originates from a magical portal behind a Chicago Burger King.

Comedy favorites Susan Messing, Rachael Mason, Charna Halpern, Dave Pasquesi, Kelsie Huff, Dwayne Kennedy and Marty DeRosa are also all scheduled to appear as podcast guests or hosts.

Bob Saget
Bob Saget

You’ll want to check out the full schedule and get tickets soon. Some shows (My Favorite Murder) are already sold out and all tickets are going fast.

So what exactly happens at a podcast festival? What makes it a singular event? How does a blockbuster like this come together? Jonathan and Tyler kindly took time out to tell all, to talk about podcasts’ unique ability to connect and uplift, and how to know if you have a podcast in you.


Teme: How did you become involved in storytelling and comedy?

Jonathan: I started out as a writer and I’ve done theater all my adult life. I taught at Second City. I’ve done over 1,500 improv shows. I also do storytelling. I love writing and I love a story. One of the things I love about podcasting is it’s a place where you can combine all of those things.

Tyler Greene
Tyler Greene

Tyler: Podcasting is a place where storytelling and comedy and everything in between come together. I did a lot of improv when I was in college. My name-drop moment is that I improvised in college with Stephen Yeun, who just died on The Walking Dead. Then I went into directing traditional theater. I also produce the Moth StorySLAM in Chicago.

Teme: What attracted you to comedy?

Jonathan: For me, it was the original cast of Saturday Night Live. They were like the Beatles or Elvis were for other generations.

Tyler: I remember watching Chris Farley as a kid. I still to this day watch the “Lunch Lady” sketch at least once a year. It sends me into stitches every single time.

Teme: How did the Chicago podcast festival come about?

Jonathan Pitts
Jonathan Pitts

Jonathan: I had an insight that we ought to do a podcast festival. Similar to the insight I had twenty years ago when I realized we should do the Chicago Improv Festival. I’ve been producing it ever since.

Back in 2015 about a week before the Chicago Improv Festival, I was in a room with all the people working on it and I had a similar insight. I said, “We need to do a Chicago Podcast Festival.”

Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. We were a week away from the Chicago Improv Festival and we were up to our eyeballs in work.

I reserved all the URL’s for Chicago Podcast Festival that day. We finished the rest of our production and I thought, “Okay, now I can start focusing on the Podcast Festival.” I reached out to a friend of mine, Don Hall at WBEZ, and he said “There’s one person you’ve got to meet. You’ve got to meet Tyler Greene.” I met Tyler Greene. We hit it off. I saw what an expert he is in podcasting as an artist and producer. Immediately I thought, “I want this guy to be our artistic director.” We said, “This is the right year. Let’s make this happen!”

Teme: What are the most exciting things about seeing a podcast live?

Jonathan: A special relationship already exists between the podcast fans and the podcaster. These are people who literally have been hearing these voices in their head and they have an empathetic reaction to them.

When they finally get to see them live, there is an immediate celebration and an intimacy at the same time. All these people who didn’t know they were fans of the same podcast all celebrating the interaction between the podcast artist and the audience.

There is a level of communication that is different than, say, a standard theatrical play where the actors are performing and there’s a fourth wall.

In podcast performances there’s a level of communion that is unique. It’s astonishing to me the level of communion and interaction that exists between the podcasters and the audience.

Tyler: One of the shows that we’re featuring is My Favorite Murder, which had been the number one comedy podcast in the iTunes store for a while. That show sold out in just a few days, which speaks to what Jonathan is saying about community.

It’s a very unique kind of community. After listening to Marc Maron’s podcast for years I feel like I know him. I went to see his stand-up special at the Vic, which actually was recorded and is streaming now on Netflix. If you look really closely, you can see me and my cute husband in the fourth row. Going up to him after the show and shaking his hand felt different than going up and shaking the hand of anyone else famous. With a podcast you hear and create this experience in your head. It’s very simple, but it’s also very profound.

Jonathan: Another thing that makes a podcast performance so exciting is that while improv comedy is about the moment, podcasts are of their time. Podcasts tap into the larger culture, the larger social and political scene. Improv is only about this particular moment. Podcasts are about what’s going on in the world now. When you see that performance, you’re getting the zeitgeist of the world and you’re engaging in it.

Teme: What are some of your goals for the Festival?

Tyler: The primary ambition for me is creating a program that’s as diverse as possible. I mean that in every way. I mean that in gender and race. I mean that in the type of show. I mean that in where the show comes from, be it east coast or west coast or middle coast.

I mean that in different types of comedy podcasts, even. You have Hello from the Magic Tavern, and then you have Kevin McDonald doing a variety show.

We’ll continue that mission through the next years as we do this thing and hopefully, forever. It is a guiding principle.

Jonathan: We have such a great array of styles and voices. I’m excited about the pairings of different ways of telling stories. For example, we haves Crybabies and Mortified.

Mortified is people reading from their teenage diaries or love notes.

In Crybabies, the guest is Rick Kogan from the Chicago Tribune. He will present the elements of art or literature or a movie that have made him cry. Where else do you get to hear people talk about things like that? “This was embarrassing” or “this is what makes me cry.” That element of storytelling is just amazing to me. That’s part of what’s amazing about podcasting. We have so many different, incredible voices.

We have a duo coming from New York, Minority Korner. An African American man, an African American woman. They have such insight into where things are right now with the world. It’s important that we, as an organization, present those voices to people who may not always be familiar with those voices. That’s part of what I find exciting about what Tyler’s done with the selections and pairings he’s made. Fans of one podcast will come to see a show and they’ll be introduced to the work of somebody else.

Everybody wins. Horizons get expanded. It does something for the art form, it does something for the artist, and it does something for the audience. That’s what makes it special rather than just commercial.

Teme: Podcasting is such a vast universe now. How do I find the right podcasts to fit my interests?

Tyler: I’m so glad you asked. First, come to the Chicago Podcast Festival. There are shows you might not know and if you do know them, they’re partnered with shows you’ve probably never heard of before. I know it’s a risk for a lot of people to go into a show they’ve never seen. But it’s exciting and it’s affordable.

If that’s not an option for you for whatever reason, ask your friends. Ask the people you hang out with or who challenge you.

You’re right. There is so much. It can become overwhelming.  For me, podcast consumption is connected to how I spend my free time and what my hobbies are. I listen to a lot of meditation and wellness podcasts and some comedy podcasts and stuff about the mind. I’m really interested in things that make us laugh and things that move us.

Jonathan: My recommendation is similar. Whatever it is that really excites you, type it into Google and then add the word “podcast.”

Tyler: Totally right. I’ve done that. I’ve done it this week.

Teme: Who in history do you think would have been a fantastic podcaster?

Jonathan: Alexander Hamilton.

Tyler: There’s a nice bridge to mention the Hamilton podcast (The Room Where it’s Happening) in our festival!

Jonathan: Charlie Chaplin would have been a great podcaster. Listening to him talk, hearing about his process. Everybody from that time period. That would have been interesting.

Tyler: Good point. I hope Oprah has a podcast at some point. I love the way she interviews people. I’d love to have it in my ears because I don’t have a television.

Jonathan: In terms of choosing someone from history who is alive, I think Barack or Michelle will have a podcast after they get out of the White House.

Teme: I hope so!

Tyler: I would listen to that. Yeah. It’s a great question. Let’s see. You didn’t say someone who is dead. You just said from history, but I immediately went to dead. Abraham Lincoln!

Jonathan: Vincent Van Gogh as a podcast would be crazy. Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Van Gogh, and Abraham Lincoln. Don’t forget Hamilton! He wrote tons.

Teme: I would listen to all of those! And how do you know if you should start a podcast? I think a lot of people think about it, but how do you know if you should?

Jonathan: If you have something to say, then do a podcast. Or if you have someone you really have a great rapport with and really like talking with, that’s a possible podcast too.

Tyler: The barriers are none at this point. Well, that’s not true. But the barriers are technological in nature. You have to have a microphone and a computer to publish the material.

Jonathan: When it comes to microphones, we always recommend Shure Microphones.

Tyler: That’s right. They are the festival sponsor this year. I like that Jonathan just made that recommendation.

Jonathan: I don’t know how I thought of that.

Tyler: Good taste in microphones.

Teme: Good to know! I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Tyler: There are a lot of tutorials. There’s Third Coast, which is fantastic at teaching people how to make stories or podcasts. If you get to the point where you’re like “I’m really going to make this thing,” there are tons of resources out there that I’d recommend you read although you don’t have to follow. You can make your own audio journey.

Shannon Cason is one of our podcasters this year. He was recording out of a coffee can microphone for a while. He looked online, found out how to do it and asked radio professionals how to make it sound great. Then he created his own style. The information is out there if you want it.

Jonathan: For the length that we’ve talked now, this would’ve been a podcast.

Teme: That’s pretty cool. That’d be my first podcast.

Jonathan: You’ve got it on record.

Teme: I’ve actually got it on four recorders because I’m so neurotic about recordings failing.

Jonathan: Well, then you definitely could release this as your first podcast.

Tyler: Play them all at the same time and then they would be distorted. It would be really cool.

Teme: Ha! I did that recently with a Nirvana music video and its Weird Al version! So tell me, the Festival is just before Thanksgiving. Which aspect of the Festival are you most thankful for?

Jonathan: That’s a good question. That’s like an Oprah question.

Tyler: I’ve already started crying.

Jonathan: I’m most thankful that we have two shows on a gigantic Broadway-size stage, Guys we Fucked and My Favorite Murder and that they all have women in charge and creating them and that they’re selling that many seats and that many tickets. It’s not “history,” it’s “her-story.” In 2016, I am grateful for that.

Tyler: I would echo that. One of those shows is sold out and one is almost sold out. They are two of our most successful shows at this point.

I’m thankful for so much. I’m thankful that we are able to represent diverse programming this first year. That’s very important for the city of Chicago and very important for us and our mission.

Specifically one evening of programming I’m very excited about is the closing night. We’re doing an 11 p.m. show of the new Hamilton podcast, The Room Where it’s Happening. Two hosts are coming in from out of town. A podcast called Open Ended will open for them.

Open Ended is part of a podcast network called “Post Loudness” here in Chicago which focuses on representing diverse voices. They have two other shows in our festival, Roboism and Black Girl in Om, a podcast about wellness for women of color.

The hosts of Open Ended are Cher Vincent and James Green, who are part of the team that runs Post Loudness. I’m thrilled that they are able to close out our festival and celebrate this new year, this new form, with the Hamilton podcast also. It’s another example of two very different shows with different missions coexisting. Very exciting.

Cher and James, I would add, are the next generation of leaders in the industry. I couldn’t be prouder to say that they’re from Chicago and that we’re all in the game together.

Teme: What is it about Chicago that generates diverse, interesting voices?

Jonathan: Chicago is the city that is constantly recreating and regenerating itself. There have been so many different Chicago’s. To me, Chicago is the city of improvisation. There’s always another thing being created and generated.


The first Chicago Podcast Festival is November 17th-19th and takes place at The Promontory, The Athenaeum Theatre, Schuba’s Tavern, Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater and The Vittum Theater. For schedule and all details, visit the Festival site here.


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