The best standup comedian I've seen in person was the late, great Mitch Hedberg. My favorite movie comedy is Bad Words. (Two words: Jason Bateman.) Once upon a time my favorite comedic storyteller was Artie Lange, but after hearing him describe how he robbed a train with the Russian mafia, now it's Bert Kreischer. (After all, he is The Machine.)

Bert is an amazing storyteller, which makes him perfect for long-form content like podcasts. Subscribing to his Bertcast podcast is an easy way to keep up, but what if he appears on other podcasts? How would I find out?

That's the problem a new startup, Laughable, has solved. Laughable is an iOS app that lets you subscribe not only to podcast series, but also to individual comedians -- which means you can find all their appearances as a host or as a guest. And it's convenient, letting you listen to podcasts from within the app itself.

"Even the most prolific standup comics typically only create an hour a year of new content," says Ned Kenney, the co-founder and CEO of Laughable. "Plus, people don't like to listen to something more than once, it's onerous to license the content... and there's not a whole lot of money in streaming standup. Streaming models barely work for music. So why would they work for comedy when there's a smaller market, less operating leverage, etc?"

So Ned turned to podcasts, since most comedians host their own shows -- and appear on other comedians' podcasts on a regular basis.

"We started this company from the perspective of a comedy fan," Ned says. "I wanted to get my hands on this stuff, and it was so difficult. iTunes hasn't invested much in search functionality. Google results are fairly fragmented. So we decided to create an app that identifies every show a comedian has been on as a host or a guest -- and let you subscribe to different artists and receive notifications every time he or she does something new."

Focusing on podcasts also makes sense because unlike standup specials, podcasts sit on publicly-accessible RSS feeds. Not only do the rights holders allow others to distribute their content without direct payment, they actually rely on third parties to do so.

"The major way podcasts monetize their content is through advertising," Ned says, "so they want distribution. When people download podcasts through us, comedians get a larger audience and greater advertising revenue. That has allowed us to create greater value for artists. 87% of our users say they have discovered new comedians and/or podcasts. And that has allowed us to develop our technology at a very low cost; we've created the largest database of comedians from scratch."

The revenue model for podcasting is straightforward. The overall advertising market for podcasting is between 200 and $300 million. Most of it is direct response; brand advertising is relatively rare. So podcasters make their money from ads, some on a CPM basis but more often through CPA (cost per action.) Even so, the CPMs for podcasts are significantly higher than for, say, banner advertising, largely because of the relationship that develops between a popular podcast host and his or her audience.

Even so, the primary reason podcasting is important to most comedians is that it helps attract people to their live shows. "We have close relationships with a number of comics," Ned says, "and we've validated the fact that podcasting is an important way to reach their fans and let them know about upcoming shows, about merchandise, about appearances on TV or in movies..."

Data shows the power of podcasting to drive ticket sales definitely works. While surveys show that the percentage of adults who saw standup comedy live in the past year is in the single digits, close to 50 percent of Laughable users have been to a show in the past year.

"I make a fair amount of money from my podcast," says Greg Fitzsimmons, the host of Fitzdog Radio. "But podcasting also helps when I do live shows. It's easier to fill the venues. And the audiences feel more like a community."

The Laughable app also provides actionable data to the podcast hosts. "We've invested very heavily in technology and data," Ned says. "Comedians are really smart. They're constantly taking in information. They're like scientists. We can show podcasters the geographic location of their listeners, how long people listen, when they fast forward, when they stop listening... all on a minute-to-minute basis. That helps them better structure their podcasts, helps them know where to place their ads, etc. Our goal is to help fans find more great content and to help comedians find more fans, and providing actionable data is part and parcel of that mission."

"I pay attention to the analytics," Greg says, "and that helps me think about where to put the ads in the show. I can also tell that there are some guests who are better on a shorter podcast, while others I can go longer with.

"I could do two hours with Artie (Lange)," he laughs.

Of course building a great app is just step one. "Our goal is to put everything in place for the comic. We already have podcast content and direct links to social media pages. We want to add tour dates, and then layer on functionality that allows our users to buy tickets to shows directly through the app. We'll start that this fall when we sell tickets to our Comedy Cellar shows directly through the app.

"The interaction of tech and comedy will transform the space, and we're excited to be at the forefront of that revolution."

Published on: Sep 11, 2017