Colin O’Brien wants to make podcast history

Chad White

An entertainer doing too much can lead to over exposure with projects or thin, poorly planned work that is spread across too many platforms. More often than not, though, comedians can successfully transition from one thing to another. Colin O’Brien is much like his comedic contemporaries. He does sketch shows with OSFUG, starred and wrote on The Triplets of Kings County web series, hosts a live show turned podcast, and performs comedy music with Nancy.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with O’Brien to talk about his new podcast, Literati, and how social media is hard.

I was looking at you credits and everything. You have four huge components from Nancy to your sketch show and a web series and then a podcast. How do you find time to get yourself focused to do all that stuff?

Colin O’Brien: It’s tough. It’s sort of more than a full time job that doesn’t pay. And then you have to find a job on the side that pays rent too. For one, I work with my main writing partner Michael Wolf. We basically spend a lot of time together. That makes it a little easier. We like all the same stuff and it’s easier to write together. They also all organically happened just from spending a lot of time together writing stuff. The Literati one I went to a book reading at a bookstore and I’d seen a lot of comedians doing author characters and I thought a fake reading show would be good.

Speaking of Literati, I was listening to the first episode and, to me, it was as if NPR created Comedy Bang! Bang! for novelists. Is it pre-produced? You guys have a good repartee going back and forth.

O’Brien: Yeah. Again, Michael and I work together a lot. We still do the live show of that at Union Hall in Brooklyn. We’d been doing a live show version of that for over a year before we started working with Forever Dog Network. We had a bunch of material and we had a bunch of guests on the live shows we knew we liked. It was a pretty easy transition into that. The Forever Dog Network gang is really good.

You telling me that you’ve been doing it for a little over a year is great because it’s reminiscent of History’s new late night block with Crossroads of History and Great Minds with Dan Harmon. Have you ever seen that? Does it speak to you since you’ve been doing Literati for so long?

O’Brien: No. What is the Dan Harmon show?

Great Minds is if Harmon got a time machine and he’s bringing back all of these famous people like Da Vinci and the Wright Brothers and he’s going on adventures with them. Crossroads of History is from Elizabeth Shapiro and it’s like Drunk History without the drunk part.

O’Brien: That sounds great. I haven’t heard of those. I should [check them out] though.

How do you vet when people come onto the podcast with their characters? Do you ever get any moment’s notice? Do you suggest characters? Do they suggest characters?

O’Brien: Yeah. With a lot of them, they’ve done our live show before. We’ve seen those characters and we want those characters on the podcast. But sometimes they’re new characters and they [may] brief us on them. We might jot down a few ideas for questions during the interview part. Usually we’ve either seen it or we have an idea. It’s rare that we have [ones we don’t know about]. There have only been a few that we didn’t know about going in. Those are interesting. They’re comedians we work with a lot so we know them pretty well.

With podcasting being an audio format, is it easy for you and Michael to vamp or is it difficult because people can’t see you dick around and do stuff?

O’Brien: [laughs]. I think it’s a little bit of both. Maybe because they can’t see you, you in certain ways, feel less inhibited. You know it doesn’t matter what you’re doing physically. Other times it feels like both. It’s interesting. This is the first time I’ve ever done a podcast or something strictly audio. I also feel like I’m still getting used to it. At least the way we’ve been doing it, we don’t do a lot of takes of things. I’m used to “Oh, should we do that again? Should we try to get that joke again without stumbling over it?” We tend not to do that as much. It’s definitely something to get used to. Definitely different than film.

Something I wanted to mention to you definitely was – I’ve only listened to two episodes – but in both intros, you were trying to start the podcast but, what I found stupidly funny was that Michael was also doing something else. Is that a trope you’re going to do for the entire run of the series? Are you going to bring anything else in there as well?

O’Brien: We do that a few times, yeah. There’s definitely a few things we’ve tried to have come up in different episodes to varying success. We wanted to have a backstory that Michael refers to his son as “The Man He Made.” But I think we’ve abandoned that. Sometimes we’ll just reference it. Michael likes to write those ones.

With the podcast and doing this other stuff, there’s a point that comes to a comedian’s career to promote his/her crap. Are you positive on the whole social media thing? Do you view Facebook and Twitter as a viable way to promote things and actually get points across?

O’Brien: I definitely think it’s a viable way to promote yourself. I, unfortunately, am bad at it. I do have Facebook and that’s my main self-promoting social media tool. I’m not on Twitter, Instagram or Vine. We started a Twitter and Instagram for our web series, The Triplets of Kings County, but no one took it upon themselves to stay on it and keep posting stuff. I was actually talking to someone last night about a Literati Twitter. I could see that being an easier one to maintain. You could have book jokes and when you have something to plug. I don’t know. I think I might’ve missed [everything]. I have such a tough time making myself do that stuff but I really should [try it]. I do think it’s a good way of self-promoting.

With your feet in several different ponds from folk band Nancy to everything else, where do you find yourself wanting to go? At this point in your career, where do you want to be? Do you want to do TV? Do you want to do web? Do you want to just focus on sketch?

O’Brien: I’d definitely like to do TV. I could see [it]. I like doing sketch a lot and I could definitely write sketch for TV. Eventually, I’d want to move toward a more narrative thing. I like doing The Triplets of Kings County. I’d definitely like to write for something like that on TV or just a weird show like that. I want to move into TV eventually.