LOVE YOUR PODCASTS? Of course you do. Podcasts are an ever-growing medium and they’ve been captivating us for years. (Also they’re ideal for cubicle life.) Two early birds on the podcast scene are Keith and The Girl. AKA, Keith Malley and Chemda.
“Keith and The Girl” (KATG) began as a way for Keith and Chemda to promote their own projects (stand up and music). But today, KATG, consistently finds itself remaining one of the most popular shows around.
Keith and Chemda talk to TSJ about their roots, their relationship, and building an industry.
The Smoking Jacket: Apart from doing your own show every day – “Keith and The Girl” – you’ve started producing other shows. How long into KATG did you decide to build this empire of other shows?
Keith Malley: I want to say there was six or seven years before the spinoff shows. They’ve been around for about a year and a half now.
Chemda: They’re part of our VIP membership. It started with me having my own spinoff show. I found that I met really fascinating people but they weren’t really “Keith and The Girl” material, which I can’t even stand saying something like that but I knew they wouldn’t fit into our show, yet at the same time I found them so interesting. We had this show and this equipment and it was almost as if, Why wouldn’t I have a conversation with them on the mic so that other people know how fascinating and awesome they are? When we started the VIP membership program it seemed fitting that we take things that wouldn’t fit into KATG and put them behind the pay wall. That has been keeping the KATG show continuing.
KM: So now we produce nine or so spinoffs.
TSJ: But those started with each of you hosting your own, correct?
C: It started with mine, which is called, “What’s My Name?” because on the show my name is “The Girl.” Then Keith kind of made fun of my show by calling his spinoff “My name is Keith.” [laughs] That became his thing…
KM: Yeah, I get the guests drunk and then berate them with questions. [laughs]
TSJ: [laughs] So you do your show everyday for at least an hour and produce other shows just about everyday also? You’ve got to be the busiest podcasters in the industry.
KM: Yeah, we probably are.
C: But we’re now – thanks to our VIP program – hiring out. We have a bunch of full-time workers, some part-time workers and freelancers, and we just hired someone to post some VIP episodes. He’s really great. Hopefully we’ll soon be able to take some time off from the production end to do some other production-esque things and also focus on our own show.
TSJ: Does producing all of these other shows ever hinder on your time or focus to do KATG?
KM: No. It’s time-consuming, but nothing is more important than our show.
C: I think it just adds to our day, which can be frustrating – especially when it adds to your weekend – but we take our show very, very seriously. We never want to put out things based on laziness, which no one can accuse us of. We never base things on there being only 24 hours in a day so we can’t do something.
TSJ: One thing about your show that is different is the live aspect; it’s live streaming. I know some podcasters edit. You can’t really do that. Is it ever difficult to get guests because of that?
KM: When we first started, maybe, but it’s really only been one or two people. The truth is even if they were to ask us I couldn’t take it out because everybody already heard it, you know? And some fans record it as they listen. Also, no offense to the guest, but what they said probably isn’t that mind blowing. [laughs] Maybe it is to them but to everyone else it really isn’t.
C: Also, if we take it down it will be the most talked about thing. If you let it slide other people will too. We did take out one thing once but then someone on the forum put a post like, “Hey, I heard this and now people are asking where it is.” Then it becomes a topic of discussion.
KM: Then someone else will go, “I recorded it. Here it is.” So it’ll find its way somehow.
TSJ: I know this is going back some time, but you were pretty much the first podcasters ever. What made you start doing this? It’s not like you had a model to go off of like people do with yours.
KM: I was doing stand up and Chemda was singing. I had heard of this technology from my brother and her brother, RSS feeds anyway, but I thought I’d just put out little stories or do something to promote stand up. The thing was that I was never a fan of those one-man radio shows so I knew I wanted somebody else. At the time, Chemda and I were dating and getting along so it just seemed right. I asked if she’d be the co-host and we’ll see where it goes. I’d promote stand up and she’d promote singing.
C: I was really hesitant to do it. He had a very revealing blog, basically Dear Diary: Here’s everything fucked up that’s happened to me, including first and last names. [laughs] It was very personal. I never remember the name but he talked about a girlfriend with “flapjack banana tits…”
KM: Yeah, you got it right. [laughs]
C: I was like, “No, I won’t be that story.” [laughs] But I did know that I was dating him, a comic, and your art is your art, but I pleaded that whatever he write he not use my name. My name isn’t Jane or Jennifer. It’s Chemda; it is not common.
Eventually, on that blog he’d start writing things like, me and the girl. So when we started this, because of his crazy stories I wanted to be somewhat anonymous, which is pretty much over. [laughs]
KEITH AND THE GIRL, BEATING OFF, 900 NUMBERS AND ROOMMATES
TSJ: When you started, did you see what podcasting could be?
C: We didn’t want to put out a shitty product. We didn’t want to go, It’ll be a joke and they’ll listen or they won’t.
KM: She’s right. Even though it’s comedy we take the show very, very seriously.
TSJ: There must have come a point where you didn’t know where podcasting was going but it was going somewhere. How did you decide we’re going to treat this as a career?
KM: There was a scary point where to make our show what we wanted it to be we couldn’t work anywhere else. But if you don’t work you don’t have money. It’s the same with every entrepreneur.
TSJ: But the difference with you is that it had never been done before, which is a great risk. Obviously it’s worked.
C: We have to thank our listeners for making this show what it is. It’s so interesting, we don’t have degrees; Keith didn’t go to college and I dropped out. We don’t know how things work. Our listeners would be like, “Hey, where can I get your t-shirts?” And we found ourselves saying, We need t-shirts? Well, here they are! Then they’d be like, “We want to meet you. Why don’t you do a live show?” And so we did. And before we knew it, it was a thing.
TSJ: How long did it take for KATG to gain some traction?
KM: Honestly, not long.
C: Because podcasting was almost a joke or a throw-away to some people, I think they noticed the difference in ours. As opposed to someone who was doing half-assed production…
KM: The guy who gets a package halfway through the show, answers the door, and you can hear the whole conversation between him and the mailman. [laughs] That was never our thing. To us, this was real.
TSJ: When podcasting took off did you feel any ownership to it?
KM: Not really. I think big names doing this brings more attention to it. It doesn’t bother me. I think it’s only good.
C: It also makes us feel good when people mention us and use the term “pioneer.” I can’t help but feel good. It’s an acknowledgement. We were kind of here first, definitely one of the first. It’s nice that it’s acknowledged.
TSJ: Absolutely. As many know, you were dating when you started the show but eventually broke up. However, you couldn’t tell anyone of your break up because of a book deal?
KM: Yeah, we had a deal writing a relationship book of all things, which we still love, by the way. We’re very proud of the book and are not embarrassed by it at all. But in the contract there was something on page fifteen [laughs] that said we had to stay together for a year after the book comes out. We were like, it’ll never happen, just sign it. I know we could have chose not to sign it because it’s weird and it wouldn’t have been a problem but were like, why not?
C: Also, it didn’t become a problem until the editors kept pushing back the release date. So with that, and our relationship being over, we started dating other people but we stilled lived together. We lived together for over a year after we broke up.
TSJ: I’ve heard from musicians and comics when you’re onstage or on the mic you don’t know what happens. It’s almost like another person performed. With your relationship being over and things being weird, how was the situation on the mic? Was there any tension?
KM: No, that was the healthiest thing, doing the show. In fact, we’d sometimes finish the show and think, should we be together?
C: That definitely happened. I think we would have broken up earlier if it weren’t for the show. Imagine — you can’t stand this person, things are just not clicking, its over, decided. Then you get on the microphone and make each other laugh for an hour, telling stories and have a back and forth rapport with them that makes you think everything is good. You think, Maybe I could be with them. But in the end you can’t.
TSJ: Was there ever a thought to end KATG?
KM: We probably thought about ending the show more in the beginning when it wasn’t bringing money, but not really when we broke up.
C: I think as an adult you have to think what is the healthiest thing for me? We didn’t question the validity of the show or how good or funny it was; we questioned our sanity. Can we do this? We’d also ask each other if we still wanted one another as a partner in the show. It was always decided no one could replace either one of us.
TSJ: Your fans are some of the most loyal around. Not only do they get tattooes but they also get branded with your logo. Is that flattering?
KM: Very! Extremely flattering. It never gets old.
TSJ: It’s one thing to get tattooed but another to get something branded.
KM: It’s a super tattoo, definitely. There are 129 tattoos and three brandings. There’s even a black light one. It’s crazy.
C: Somebody also tattooed our signatures on them. And we’ve heard that people have gotten together and married because of our show. They meet at live events or our chat systems and it just works. In, fact, Keith met his now-wife from doing the show.
TSJ: That’s incredible! Podcasting brings people together like that quite often. What I love is that it also helps people through difficult times. Was that surprising?
C: It’s crazy! We’ve had people contact us about listening to our show right before their MRI or some surgery in order to not be nervous. We have a listener who recently contacted us about her daughter who constantly has to go to doctors and through surgeries, and this mother has our show in her ears in the waiting room. She was saying it must be so strange to outsiders to see her laughing in the waiting room while her daughter is getting surgery. [laughs]
When you think you’re just telling jokes or entertaining, and then you get feedback like that story, it really makes you feel better about what this is. It’s so much more than a comedy show.
TSJ: Why does podcasting have that effect?
KM: It’s real talk, I think. Whatever you get into, there’s a reason you’re into it. Maybe you relate or maybe it takes you away from your problems. The cool thing about KATG is that we are something of importance to somebody. It’s relatable. Unfortunately, we don’t see it. To me, it’s an episode number, but to somebody else it can really help them. I find that amazing.
C: We’ve always been told that we say things people are thinking. Sometimes we live in a world where people are saying nothing all day. The fact that we help with that is incredible. I know we’ve helped others learn to stand up for themselves as well, to step out of a comfort zone once in a while. I think people love how open we are about our insecurities and ourselves. It’s pretty cool.
TSJ: It seems from listening to podcasts you can realize you’re not the only one who is fucked up.
KM: I have a theory that everybody is fucked up. People hear us everyday and hear our personal stuff, but I think any problem that we have, a quarter of the world is going through it too. You’re not special, is what I’m getting at. That’ll be the name of my self-help book, “You’re Not Special.” [laughs]
TSJ: I’ve heard a little bit about this but what does your family say about you doing the show?
KM: Her family doesn’t know.
C: Yeah, I come from a Middle Eastern background and they have views about women that I don’t agree with at all. Anytime I try to tell them something about myself that is outside of their perception of what I should have been or should be it causes me too much grief so I’ve backed away from that.
I think in the last eight and a half years we’ve been doing this I’ve been asked once. I specifically tell them I “podcast” because they don’t know what that means. I told them once but they were like, What the fuck is that? [laughs] My brother started an Internet company a while back and they were very confused by that. Obviously, they’ve never Googled me, because like I said before, everything I do comes up.
KM: My parents both know I do this but they don’t like that I curse so much.
C: Keith’s father was a Catholic priest.
TSJ: Oh, shit that’s right. I heard that.
KM: And my mom sometimes listens to the show.
TSJ: Do you ever say something and think, I should not have said that in case my mom is listening?
KM: Before I say something, I will know that I shouldn’t say anything about my family on the show, but then I do it anyway. [laughs] I don’t think this’ll be that bad, that’s what I usually think.
C: And I don’t say anything about my family on the show. I always think that it’s crazy they don’t really know what I do but tens-of-thousands of people know. But I also didn’t give them grandchildren.
KM: They don’t understand that this is our baby. KATG is our child. They want a physical baby.
TSJ: So you guys started an industry. You’ve now started your own empire. What’s next?
KM: I would love to come in, sit in front of the mic, do the show, and that’s it. For example, we just did a show right before you got here. I’m about to put that show up. I don’t want to do that. [laughs] That’s it. All of that little stuff adds up. I don’t want to do it.
C: I like the production end of it but I would like to not be involved on every aspect. When we do a live show…
KM: Oh, with those I just want to sit the fuck down and talk.
C: Exactly. I’d love to have more people involved in our KATG world, a team really.
TSJ: Is it hard to find people like that you trust, given that this is your baby?
C: Yes, I think it’s hard for everyone who has a “thing.” And it’s a little bit crazy how many people in this world don’t know how to do things. Anytime we interview someone and they’re resume says they have “social media” experience I get so excited! Then they tell me they have a Facebook page. [laughs]
Even a receptionist job, I worked in an office for a minute and that job was the hardest role to fill because people don’t know how to do anything. Keith once went on an interview and was asked if he could multitask…
KM: Yes. [laughs] Can you multitask? I go, “Can I do different things?” [laughs]
C: It turns out you have to ask these dumb things though because people can’t do them.
KM: Things like, Can you file? There’s different folders, can you file them? Let’s see, February. I put that in F, right? [laughs] But all kidding aside, I think we both agree we’re psyched about the show and where it is…
C: And where it’s going, too. It’s great.