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Jan 20, 2020

POD SAVE ASTORIA WEEK: The History of Podcasting with ‘Keith and The Girl’

When we started looking into local podcasts a few weeks back for story ideas, there were so many good opportunities for content that we decided to make it a week-long (…)

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Photo Credit to Anne Whiteman.

When we started looking into local podcasts a few weeks back for story ideas, there were so many good opportunities for content that we decided to make it a week-long series! So, welcome to “Pod Save Astoria” Week, where we’re interviewing local podcasters about joining (or in today’s case, starting) a super popular medium, recording locally, the laughs (and tears) along the way, and so much more. Enjoy (and start downloading…now!).

For day one, we’re chatting with Keith and The Girl (KATG), aka Keith Malley and Chemda, who started their beloved podcast back in 2005, making it one of the (if not the) longest running podcasts in history. They’re known as the pioneers of podcasting, having the most podcast episodes ever released. And they started (and still record) right here in Astoria! Even Marc Maron consulted with them at the Astoria studio when he wanted to launch his own podcast (which of course would become the super-successful WTF).

They record five days a week in a conversational tone about relationships, comedy, current events and more. They’ve had guests like Ilana Glazer, Hannibal Buress, Eugene Mirman and more.

Now…for the conversation!

Photo credit to Phil Provencio.

WHA: Tell us about your history in podcasting: since you were arguably the first people to start doing it…how did you think of the idea? What were people’s first reactions to it?

CHEMDA: When we started, podcasting was only known to people who were tech savvy—aka “nerds.” Luckily, geekdom ran in our blood. One of mine and Keith’s brothers, separately, happened to tell us each how the technology behind subscribing to an online newspaper or magazine can also be used for audio, and that Keith can start recording stories of his life that he was already blogging about.

I reluctantly agreed to be Keith’s co-host. I wasn’t as open about my life as he was. He was comfortable talking about taboo, intimate details of his sex life, failures, drug use, everything. What I didn’t know is that podcasting would lower my inhibitions. I was quickly at ease with chatting about big and small moments that I was used to being embarrassed about.

Because we were talking about things that usually stayed secret, people had strong responses.

Some listeners were excited to hear us talking openly and with dark humor about subjects that they were raised not to bring up. They were relieved. Others took offense and were angry that we would joke while talking about serious subjects like abortion, religion, and family relations. We even got death threats.

KEITH: But it was so freeing. Not the potential of murder. I mean being open about the everyday feelings and secrets we all carry around. I think there’s such a change in people’s outward honesty from when we started podcasting 15 years ago to today. I soon realized that stopping to keep events we all go through a secret was so…joyful. Is that corny?

CHEMDA: Yes. It’s corny. But we love it! Don’t be embarrassed, Keith! The thing was that most people didn’t know what a podcast was. It was hard to answer the question, “what do you do for a living?” It was “so long ago” that it was easier for us to say, “We work on the internet,” than to explain, “We’re podcasters.”

Photo Credit to Phil Provencio.

WHA: Did you know right away that the medium would be successful? Did you ever question if it would take off? Why did you decide to invest your careers in it?

KEITH: We didn’t know what success would be or mean in podcasting.

We worked to be entertaining and consistent. From that, a secret world developed because of the people listening. It felt like: if you were in the KATG world, it was a wink that said you’re okay with laughing through some serious subjects. A community grew around the show.

We started finding ways to make money by giving fans what they were asking for: shirts, live events, extra episodes, etc. They helped us decide how to build a business out of the show. At a certain point, we had to commit our full attention to Keith and The Girl, so we quit our jobs to take a chance that we could survive through podcasting.

Credit to The Village Voice / Photo by Jena Cumbo.

WHA: What are some of your favorite podcasting moments over the years?

KEITH: When someone got a Keith and The Girl tattoo… and then over 150 more people did the same thing.

CHEMDA: When I got love and support from the KATG community as I went through my open-heart surgery to remove a football-sized tumor.

KEITH: Oh yes, the tumor support. I’ll take THAT one.

CHEMDA: We got inducted into the Podcasting Hall of Fame.

KEITH: We did a 10-day, 10-city KATG Tour to celebrate 10 years of podcasting.

CHEMDA: We broke up with each other!

KEITH: lol, we sure did.

CHEMDA: Every year, Keith and I go out on Keith and The Girl anniversary (March 7) to celebrate another year of podcasting. We go to a fancy restaurant and indulge like a high-falutin’ son of a gun.

Photo credit to Anne Whiteman.

WHA: Yum! that sounds like a perfect way to celebrate. So why do you think podcasting has blown up in popularity, especially in recent years?

CHEMDA: Podcasters don’t have to answer to bosses about their content, we don’t have to book anyone we don’t want to talk to, there are no language regulations, you can listen whenever you want, and the shows are usually more intimate than other forms of radio.

KEITH: We don’t have to get approval to talk about my father leaving the priesthood to marry my mother or when Chemda openly described the experience of getting an abortion. Or two.

CHEMDA: Keith!

KEITH: Sorry! They asked!

WHA: And what about starting in Astoria. Why was/is the neighborhood such a great place to start doing it?

 

CHEMDA: Astoria has an incredible amount of amazing comedians in the area. They originally started moving here decades ago. It was important for them to be close to Manhattan where most of the big comedy clubs are, but they also need close proximity to the airport so they can do their road gigs. You’d be surprised how many popular comedians you would spot if you look around Astoria.

KEITH: It’s filled with so much joy and laughter. Is that corny?

CHEMDA: Yes. But we love it.

WHA: Us too!

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