If you ask the average listener what podcast(s) they listen to, they’re going to respond exactly how you would expect: NPR (Fresh Air), This American Life, Radiolab, Stuff You Missed in [blank] Class. And then there are going to be the people who were introduced to podcasts with Serial, the show which "legitimized" the podcasting medium in the eyes of many. As well as the fans of Welcome to Night Vale, the bizarro, pulp-fiction community radio that topped the iTunes charts for years.
These are adults, teenagers, college students, kids, who are listening to these shows. But that makes sense. These are practically the same radio shows that people already listened to, and they have mass appeal to currently-existing markets. But now they're on demand, and they offer more variety.
What is on the Internet?
The Internet has always attracted a certain demographic of people, even from the early days of IRC, Napster, and Newgrouds at the turn of the millennium. And then today, when possibly the biggest outlet of consumer-media on the internet is YouTube.
YouTube is populated by kids and young adults creating content for other kids and young adults. The biggest channels with the most dedicated audiences and communities offer us internet personalities and span certain types of content: there are let's plays, covers of pop songs, vlogs, video game-related media (reviews, coverage), entertainment- and comedy- heavy slice-of-life and educational content, and parodies of all those outlets and more. There are dozens and dozens of each of these types of channels, each with millions of subscribers: liking/commenting/sharing subscribers, financially-supporting-patrons-on-Patreon subscribers.
But, now, on the Internet, seemingly out of nowhere, there is a flood of regular, non-internet 30-something-year-old adults who are producing and releasing content in mass quantities. And this content appeals to other 30+-y/o. Sure, it's popular with the kids and young adults, too. But it's not specifically aimed at teenagers like the pop covers and video games that saturate YouTube are.
So, there's a small clarification to be made. What is a "regular," "non-internet" adult? Well, as far as content creation goes, it's going to mean a couple of things. They aren't separately important, famous, or renowned outside of the internet, like the Ira Glass-es and the Bill Burr-s of the world. And they also aren't producing content that has the narrow and esoteric of internet-oriented producers, like Dave&Joel's Fast Karate for the Gentleman, Jim and Them, or SleepyCabin. Non-internet adult creators are creating something for an audience not inducted into the internet by way of NewGrounds culture and comedy or anime and meme fandom. They talk about "regular" things for "regular" people.
And What Happened to the Rest of Media?
Andy Warhol iconically said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15-minutes." But that trend is changing more and more. Webcomic artist Dorothy Gambrell (Cat and Girl) observed over 10 years ago (2005) in a comic strip the growing trend in opposition to Warhol's claim: "Instead of being famous for fifteen minutes, everyone gets to be famous for 1500 people. And you can register online."
Regular adults are adapting to this trend, too, as media changes and social identity changes. But those aren't the focus of this article. And mainstream media is by no means dead, either; plenty of people watch the news and talk shows and late night shows and ABC comedies. I mean, the ratings aren't what they used to be, and sure, Ken Bone got his 15 minutes of worldwide fame; but mainstream pop culture is in decline. And now, more than eve, these 30+-y/o adults are finding their place in these population-1500 niches and finding content that appeals specifically to them. And it’s on the internet.
(I will be focusing on podcasts for the case study in this article. You know, “radio on the internet”? This is where I’m most overwhelmingly seeing this trend of regular-people adults being introduced to the internet, and it is the media that I am currently most broadly and intimately familiar with.)
My Brother, My Brother and Me
My Brother, My Brother and Me: can you pack any more family into a single show? Well, I guess there’s the brothers’ other show together, The Adventure Zone, also featuring their dad. And all of the other side shows they do with their wives, Sawbones, Schmanners, Rose Buddies, etc. Needless to say, to brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, family is an important value. And “family” is a theme that the also-30+-y/o (excuse me, 30-under-30 Griffin) audience relates to and which isn’t as prevalent in the culture of younger folks.
And it’s a lot of these family and family-related values that find their way into the podcast hosts and their shows. People like parents. People trust parents. Especially adult-people. Justin is a father, recently followed by his brothers at the close of 2016. And we can tell in their characters.
MBMBaM features an active fan community on Facebook approaching 30k members now, and they host live shows with active listener involvement. The success-in-perpetuity of the show doesn’t just rely on the content; it has to do with the community and “family” of the show and listeners. Listener-couples have proposed and gotten engaged right up on the stage of live shows.
The fan community for MBMBaM acts as an open and welcoming sanctuary to people. The world is scary. The Internet is also scary, but now there are places to go where it’s not so scary. The MBMBaM fans offer an accessible internet community to the non-inducted. It’s full of people just like you; and if not, you’re still welcome. The shows and fan community promote a lot of those progressive values like equality and tolerance, but in a good way. Sure, this appeals to kids and adults alike. But kids already had places to go on the internet. Ever heard of Captain Sparklez? (implied wink)
The Dick Show
The Dick Show boasts a 20k/month-and-growing Patreon and a loyal fanbase stemming from the spiritual predecessor and host's previous show, The Biggest Problem in the Universe. However, The Dick Show features constant listener engagement, no holds barred**, with listeners calling in based on a "rage lottery" to rant about what makes them "a rage," as well as for advice from Dick or Dick's 'life coach;" Patreon bonus content and live streams; infinitely active fan groups on Facebook and Reddit and IRC with active participation by Dick and cohosts and a constant feed of shitposting and advice columns. But it's that community and these charismatic hosts that give the show its core demographic.
Host Dick Masterson and audio engineer Szeanh Jacobson are regular people. And so are most of the rotating cohosts, who often come from the comedy or political-activist communities or Dick's personal life. These people tend not to be up-to-date on the ‘dankest’ memes this week or the most recent WikiLeaks news or that news with the JonTron scandal. They’re regular people living lives in the world. Although, there are a few big names who occasionally appear on the show like Mike Cernovich of Danger&Play or Null of Kiwi Farms, but people like them are part of the appeal of The Dick Show.
The Dick Show, host and community alike, supports certain values. There are certain manly values promoted, like drinking whiskey, lifting (and skipping leg day), the art of mansplaining, and the art of flirting and getting laid. There are conservative values, too. In a culture where it's impossible to escape the oppressive air of SJW-ism, feminist-culture, and political correctness—in the news, all across the internet, from everyone around you, especially if you live on either coast—The Dick Show offers a safe-haven for conservative thought and political free speech and even supporting Trump.
And despite the population of "deplorables," it's not as bad as you'd think. There isn't cyber-bullying or doxxing or unnecessary censorship. Sure, there's shitposting and fun humor and taking-no-bs, but it's a ridiculously supportive environment. I've described it as being like "having 50 dads, and all of them are trying to get you laid." Dick has expressed repeatedly his sentiment that the only feeling better than getting laid yourself is being a successful wingman and getting your buddy laid. I mean, these are men we're talking about. But they aren't the desperate, dorky teenagers who would do quite a bit for a hand job from some mellow-thighed chick. These "Dickheads" are community: adults, mentors, teens and young persons, the occasional woman; and they’re all sharing their expertise to help make each other better people. They’re like a family. A contentious, disgusting, always-slightly-ashamed-of-that-failed-older-brother, greeting each other with a hearty “get raped,” family. But a family’s family. And that's definitely a value that our 30+-y/o demographic identifies with.
The Laser Time Podcast Network
Sure, the Laser Time podcast is a topic-based pop culture and media podcast. As are the rest of the shows in the network. So there's a fair share of esoteric geekiness going on. But like with the other shows and groups, it's not preclusive, and the host community does not use that pop culture expertise as a sort of ante or bargaining chip or proverbial “pay wall” (literal pay walls aside).
And these guys aren't all that up-to-date on pop culture at all, either, something I'm sure any of our "normal" 30+-y/o s can relate to. Laser Time hosts Chris Antista, Dave Rudden, Brett Elston, and Michael Grimm recently released an episode titled, "Are We Out Of Touch? An Ultra-Quiz!" Although these hosts produce pop culture and video game podcasts and mostly have backgrounds in video game journalism, they show that they are utterly out-of-touch from the top-rated shows on tv and top-selling games in consoles: you know, mainstream media. The Laser Time hosts prove themselves a bunch of un-hip old people, unable to grasp what the kids are into today. But then again: they aren't kids, and kids aren't their core audience.
But it's not just one episode. And it's not just being out-of-touch. For example: guest host Bob Mackey, joined by Chris Antista, Henry Gilbert, and others, host a Laser Time Network show titled Talking Simpsons. It's exactly like it sounds like. Well... what do you think it sounds like? It’s exactly what it sounds like if you think it sounds like a "chronological exploration of The Simpsons." And, boy do they know that show. And the references. Remember, The Simpsons started in 1989. And the references are from the then-30-year-old writers, hence from before 1989. And that is the environment in which the Laser Time hosts thrive. A newer Laser Time show, Thirty-Twenty-Ten, looks back 30, 20, and 10 years to that week in pop culture history. As much as it's an impressive historical bookmark, it's also a peek back at key moments in every 30+-y/o's life. Remember seeing original-trilogy Star Wars in theatres? Or playing the Ghostbusters game on NES or the Sega Master System? Or when The Simpsons referenced Citizen Kane for the tenth time in a quarter that many seasons? Or when Venom first appeared in 1988 in The Amazing Spider-Man comics? Or watching Ernest movies? No, not that last one? No worries, you’re not alone there. But the rest you may remember as an excited child or teenager, and that has a good mix of historical and nostalgic value for both the Laser Time listeners and hosts.
Adults are invading the internet. Ordinary people in their ordinary lives taking a peak into what was once thought a dark pit of despair (I mean, some places here still are). And why? To an extent, they’re just listening to the same radio shows they’ve always listened to. But these relatable hosts, exciting listener communities, family values, and convincing listener call-ins. And they’re on demand. And they’re on the internet. If I have to say one thing, I guess it’s this: “Welcome! Enjoy your stay, and don’t forget to like/share/subscribe.”