From hosting a podcast about periods (the First Time Podcast is real and it sounds glorious) to hosting a weekly standup showcase with the Brookyln staged The Sensible Show, Emma Willmann has inched her way closer to the late night show she’s always coveted. Now, WiIllmann has entered a new venture working with Sirius XM and the channel Raw Dog Comedy Hits as she begins hosting The Check Spot, a monthly interview show dedicated to showing listeners previously unheard of talent.
The New York based comedian is all about getting talent, both new and old, some play time. Here’s some advice for those who want to submit: “The clearer the audio makes it a lot easier for us to listen and go through stuff. And one tip I would give people if they were doing a submission tape, just start with material right away. If they’re doing a lot of crowd work up top, that’s great; I totally get that. But, now that “m on the other end reviewing tapes, [I’m looking for]: good audio, go in and joke. Just joke joke joke.”
I recently had the chance to talk to Willman following her very first airing of The Check Show. She was excited, elated and all around energetic.
How was your first show yesterday?
Willmann: The show was good. It’s all actually prerecorded so we recorded the show maybe three weeks ago and then it was just in editing. So yesterday was the first time I got to hear it. But it wasn’t a live show. If that makes sense.
It does. Definitely. So you guys prerecorded it and tackled whatever you could put into an hour, two-hour show and send it out into the ether?
Willmann: This is what was great: the guy who was producing the show is originally in programming. So originally the show is supposed to be an hour. We were going to do an hour right after The Bennington Show and then we did the interview with Paul [Virzi] about him and his album and everything that was going on with the album release and get to a little bit of his backstory. And I thought we would actually cut that interview down to twenty minutes but we ended up having a full forty minutes. So we did that plus we featured two albums that are not in rotation on Raw Dog without interviews so in total I think the show is about an hour and a half, an hour and forty minutes. So they were flexible with us about the time.
The gist of this show is to give new comedians a chance to show what they’re made of with clips from their albums and these interviews.
Willmann: Exactly. And they don’t have to be new comedians. They just need to be new to Raw Dog so any comedians that have not previously been featured on Raw Dog.
So you’re actually taking a lot of submissions.
Willmann: Oh my god. So many submissions. It’s going to be a mix of getting submissions from people that [have just started]. Two of the clips on the next episode are people who have been doing comedy a couple years and they just sent in great clips so they don’t have albums yet. We’re going to have a highlights section where it’ll be comedians who don’t have albums out but they have some really good jokes they feel strongly about and we’ll be able to feature those towards the end. But the premise of it is – are you familiar with the Check Spot comedy club at all?
No, I am not. Is that in New York?
Willmann: It really is a New York thing. In New York, how they do it is they’ll have a new comedian go up and perform while everyone is paying their checks. It’s kind of a new way for a comic to get into the club. I used to do them. Honestly, they’re brutal. But we wanted to find a way to reclaim that so this is the Raw Dog equivalent of a Check Spot. Obviously it’s more cushy than a check spot because you’re just getting your album featured or clips from your set that have not been on an album yet.
How long are the check spots if the comedian’s going up there while someone’s trying to pay their check?
Willmann: Listen, it can be anything! You can have a check spot that’s like five or ten minutes – say it’s a small crowd. I personally did a check spot once at Broadway Comedy Club where the credit card machine broke. Of course there was no way to communicate that with me while I was on stage. I think it was like twelve o’ clock on a Friday and, this was my first year in New York, I think I was on stage for like half an hour, maybe forty minutes. I probably had five minutes of material at the time. So I was just up there trying to do crowd work. “Who ate what? What’s going on? You guys eat a lot of those? Okay, how much was your check?” When you’re actually doing a check spot at a club, you have no idea. But probably, ideally, it’s like a ten minute spot. On our show we’re going to just feature – it’ll probably actually be about the same – we’ll feature two to four sets and whoever we’ll interview we’ll feature a couple more cuts from them.
It sounds like you really got your mettle tested when you were first getting started in the biggest possible way.
Willmann: Absolutely. I started doing comedy in Boston and they don’t have check spots in Boston. Usually the checks will get [passed out] and whoever’s on stage will absorb them. But, in New York, it’s like a whole thing. That’s when they’ll throw up a new person. Which is good if you’re not doing that spot but then when I started leaving New York and doing clubs, they would drop checks on me. I’m all of the sudden not used to it because I’m used to not having to do the check spots. So you have to learn a different muscle; you have to figure out a way to keep the audience engaged while they’re doing their check. Me personally -- I’m dyslexic, I’m bad at math – so when I try to do a check, everything is phased out. So it’s definitely an uphill battle usually.
I watched a promo for The Check Spot and you said that your inspirations were Besty Ross, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and Karrine Steffans. Are you channeling them as you interview these new comedians or are you channeling somebody else like Conan or John Oliver or somebody of that caliber?
Willmann: That is a great question. When I answered that, I always go to Margaret Cho and Wanda Sykes as comedic women that I look up to. I’ll usually think in terms of what someone has done necessarily instead of gender or something. I’m a girl but very boyish. So when I’m interviewing, usually, I’d like to think of it kind of like an edgy Ellen. Very friendly and inviting but maybe a little bit darker too. When I said Besty Ross and Karrine I was definitely thinking of women that I think are great; not necessarily try to emulate. Even though I’m down to try to learn how to stich the flag, I’m not saying that. I would happily stich the American flag.
Willmann: But I’m not trying to sleep with a bunch of rappers.
Understandable. How is hosting a radio show on Sirius versus hosting your podcast, [First Time], or The Sensible Show?
Willmann: When I did the podcast with Dear Kate, that was actually done in an extremely professional way so I treated that as if it were a big production radio show. So that was a pretty easy transition. It’s very different from hosting a live show because – one, you can go back and edit it – but what’s harder is, when I’m not doing the interview, it’s just me in there by myself. I don’t have an energy – the producers’ there but I have to figure how to keep the energy up as though I’m at a live show without any people in the room. That was definitely an adjustment for me.
Also, I’m used to hosting live shows, I would say things like “Up next we’re going to see this person” but it’s radio so I had to adjust that to “And now we’re going to hear…” Little adjustments like that. But they’re very open. Sirius is very open. I don’t have to censor myself. You can really say anything that you want. If anything it’s even more open; when I’m hosting the podcast for Dear Kate, that’s a sponsored podcast by an underwear company so I have to make sure that things are in line with their mission statement. On The Check Spot, very much anything goes. Besides needing to get licensing for some of the clips we play, we can pretty much say [whatever we want]. It’s not rated. Unrated!
How many do you have in the can? Are you able to hear yourself from the first episode compared to doing something now? I guess you’re always changing all the time.
Willmann: Yes, definitely! We’ve only done the first episode. We’re going to record the interview for the second episode on March 11 and that’s going to be with Giulia Rozzi. We’re going to be doing her album. It’ll be a good way to track stuff. As of now, we only have one interview.
Are you going to try to make this show, as good as possible of course, but then would you like to see the show go to a weekly format?
Willmann: Yeah! Oh man, the more the better. The trick with this particular show though, the reason we actually wanted to do it monthly, is we really want to vet. We have to find albums that are really good that are not already in rotation on Sirius. It’s actually a taller order than you would think. So we’re actually going to look at albums that have been out for a while from road comedians that never got put into the mix but also new comics but in terms of the albums. We wanted to keep that portion of it monthly just because we wanted to make sure we were coming forward with new really good product. In terms of me, Emma, absolutely. My ultimate goal is to have a late night talk show. So I want to have the late night, daily talk show. I don’t know if this show will turn into that. This show is most conducive, to keeping it really good, to being monthly. If we start getting so much material that we need to showcase more stuff every month, then we would definitely consider making it weekly.
I would love to see more women in late night. Anything different. Anything other than a white guy.
Willmann: [laughs] Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who’s your favorite late night host now?
It has to be Conan [O’ Brien]. 100% Conan. I love that guy. He got me into comedy.
Willmann: Oh really? That’s great! That’s huge.
What about yours?
Willmann: Well he’s my favorite now but I also love Jimmy Kimmel too. I went to go see Jimmy Kimmel Live! Years ago when I was in L.A. with my mom. Nicole Richie was on talking about Paris Hilton. The whole time we were watching him, my mom almost got us kicked out because she was like “Who is that? Why is she a reality show star? What does that mean?” So people had to keep coming over and bee like “Shhhh!” So my mom almost got me kicked out of Jimmy Kimmel. That was my first experience with late night TV. She was not impressed with Nicole Richie. She was like “She’s someone famous’s daughter? What skill is that?” But I love Jimmy Kimmel and I love Conan.
You have to take her to somebody she knows!
Willmann: She doesn’t know any of them! I think that maybe they would be deceased. I gotta find a way to get her to Johnny Carson.