Lance Anderson is a Los Angeles-based podcaster and storyteller. His podcast, Verge of the Fringe, can frequently be found near the top of the rankings at Podcast Alley.
I met up with Lance recently at a Pasadena coffee house to chat about his origins in stand-up comedy, his transition to storytelling and later to podcasting, and the power and potential that the phenomenon of podcasting brings.
For the full-length version of this interview, check out Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #6 for the first half, and DB Radio #7 for the second.
For a quick explainer on podcasts and podcasting, click here.
Check out Verge of the Fringe here.
Eric Berlin: How did you get involved with podcasting?
Lance Anderson: Well, I was a storyteller – I still am a storyteller – and I’ve been telling stories live on stage for years.
Dan Klass, of The Bitterest Pill, told me pretty early on that there’s this thing going on out there called podcasting. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “It would be perfect for you – you can tell your stories.” We’ve worked together over the past ten years, and he knows the situation I’ve been in. For show business, my stuff isn’t “stand-up comedy” enough. For things like This American Life, they say there’s too many jokes. So I don’t really fit anywhere.
So Dan had me on his show a couple of times, and we did some stuff together, which I thought was pretty cool. And maybe we’ll do some stuff in the future together – I hope! But he just told me about it and kind of got me hooked up and I got rolling. And I love it.
It’s just a fantastic thing, podcasting. I think it’s really cool and it’s going to get bigger and bigger.
EB: So what exactly is a storyteller?
LA: I would say that storyteller is kind of broad term in the same way that spoken word is a broad term. But for storytelling, I see it everywhere, even in the “couples shows” that I see in podcasting. And it’s basically when you’re not focused on telling a joke, you’re focused on telling a story. And maybe it’s funny, and maybe you put things in there that you know are going to generate laughs. But it’s not about that. It’s about the story itself.
It’s taking the focus away from the short-term goal of the laugh. You know, six or seven a minute for stand-up. I might talk for three or four minutes, but there might be a big laugh at the end of this bit that I’m doing. So the focus is changed from just getting the laughs to telling a story.
EB: How did you get from there to Verge of the Fringe?
LA: In my description, I say that I live somewhere between the verge of success and the Bohemian fringe of Hollywood. To me, it’s a play on words obviously: I’m really like on the verge of the fringe. Not really on the verge of success, but more like being on the verge of being a fringe person my whole life.
Podcasting is kind of fringe, but it’s fringe in a good way. It’s fringe because we can do unfiltered material, and it doesn’t have or need to have that corporate stamp of approval. We can just be real. And the one thing that people see, whether it’s storytelling or anything, is that it’s real people. It’s like, there’s a real person back there! There’s not some corporate thing, where we’re supposed to sound a certain way, and that’s the appeal to it. Including your show – there’s a person behind it.
EB: I think it’s the Bohemian fringe of media, which is a different thing and attracts those kinds of people, doesn’t it?
LA: Totally, and I think that’s where it’s going.
EB: You’ve mentioned stand-up comedy a little bit. How’d you make the decision that it wasn’t for you and that you were more of a storyteller?
LA: I trace a lot of it back to when I saw the film Swimming to Cambodia. I think I saw it in about 1986 or 1987. I was in college up at Humboldt State University, and I saw that and I said, “You know what? That’s what I want to do.” I knew of Spalding Gray from watching David Letterman but I hadn’t really seen his act. And after I saw it I realized that that’s what I wanted to do: I wanted to tell stories.
I didn’t know how to do it and I didn’t have a forum to do it. But I knew I wanted to perform material so I knew there was stand-up comedy. So I started writing jokes and I tried to do stand-up comedy for about a year, and my heart wasn’t really in it. It’s like that thing I was talking about earlier where it was just about the laughs. And I wanted to tell these stories. So through a couple of year battle of figuring out how to do this and going back up to school, I finally decided that I was going to get up on stage and tell stories.
So that’s where I started. I started telling stories around 1990 or so, and I love doing that.
EB: I think that your storytelling style resonates with a lot of people. How did you develop that style? And particularly, you have a very clean format on your podcast in which you have an introduction where you talk a little bit, and then you go right into a story.
LA: I didn’t know how I was going to format it. I just experimented with it that way the first time or second time and thought that it kind of works. On what I call my pre-ramble, I thank people, talk about some podcasting news, and then go into the story.
I am a little bit limited by that because I feel like people expect that, and I want to continue to provide that. So I will have to venture out to some more pop culture-oriented things like you’re doing, which I’m interested in.
EB: How do you put each show together?
LA: Basically, I start with the story. For instance, the piece I did called “No, I Didn’t Even Kiss Her.” I’ve told that a bunch of times on stage. And I said, “You know what? I’ll break it up into three parts.” Which was kind of a different way for me to do that.
So right then I had three shows. And then it just became about whatever I was going to say in the pre-ramble beforehand, and that’s just based on – at least early on – I was able to thank pretty much everyone who had gotten a hold of me through an e-mail or a comment.
This is my little art project in a way. I’m a storyteller, and hopefully it’s kind of smart and cool and people like it. People are liking it – that’s the whole thing that’s insane, that people are really starting to dig it. So far people have been really kind and generous to me.
EB: Do you have prepared notes that you speak from while you’re recording your show?
LA: For my stories, I’m not using any notes right now. I’ve used notes even when I’m on stage sometimes, but for this I’m just going casual. That’s not to say I won’t use bullet points, but I certainly won’t read, and I think anyone who listens to the show knows that.
It’s freeform. I’m reliving the story, and one of the comments I get from people is that it feels like it’s a friend talking to you at the bar or the coffee house or whatever. And I just try and tell it like I’m talking to somebody and not get over-the-top. Like, “Hey, this funny thing happened to me,” while you’re driving in the car or whatever. “This funny thing happened…” And by the time this guy has told the story, you’re twenty miles down the road and the time has flown by. That’s kind of the premise of it.
EB: A recent show you did called “The Pope of Podcasting” was the first I had heard and I was really struck by it. If I’m not incorrect, my takeaway from that story is that each person has the power to enact positive change on the world.
LA: I think so, yeah. I hope so. I believe in podcasting. I think it’s a great thing. I believe that right now, it needs more diversity of voices. It’s a lot of white guys from the United States right now. I think it’s going to be a way to record and hear each other’s stories internationally.
I think it actually has the potential to bring people together and even countries together. Not the UN, but just to a point where people understand each other. I think a guy in Iraq, who has survived all the stuff that has happened, would be an interesting story. I’d like to hear that guy’s story, of what it was like to live with Hussein, what it’s like to live now, or whatever. So there’s a variety of stories out there that need to be told.
Unfiltered stories – real people talking about their real lives.
EB: Future plans for Verge of the Fringe -- what do you have in mind?
LA: Keep on doing new content, surprising people. I’ve got some stories in the queue that I think people are going to be surprised about, like, “Wow – how come you didn’t lead with that story?”
I’m building an audience every week. Every week my numbers are going up. Every week I’m getting new people. It’s international – South Africa and Australia, Scotland, the UK, the Netherlands. I’m really excited about it, and one of the things that I’m want to do is help promote the art of storytelling. Or forget the art – the act of storytelling.
I’ve been up and stage, and I’ve got a certain vibe to what I do, but I believe anybody – if they’re enthusiastic about what happened to them – can tell a good story. We’ve all done it when we’ve talked to our mom on the phone or whatever. I really want to promote storytelling as a way to communicate to a larger audience.
The truth is that we’re more alike than we are different. I think through stories we learn that.
EB: Where do you see podcasting going in general?
LA: At the end of the day, this what I love about it. If Adam Curry’s not into what I’m doing, or Infinity or Clear Channel, I can still do my act. None of those people can stop me. Nobody can stop me! And that’s the beauty of podcasting. That’s what people will tune into – not just with my show but with their own lives, their own interests. And nobody can you say you can’t do it. You can do it.
EB: What are some of your favorite podcasts that are out there right now?
LA: A new one I really love is the Tartan Podcast. It’s a guy in Scotland – he’s playing cool music, Scottish music. He also does some storytelling. I think he’s actually doing to do his own storytelling show that’s separate from his music show. I mentioned The Bitterest Pill, Dan’s show. He’s really top-notch, a real pro, but still accessible and still doing it on the homegrown level. So I think people can learn a lot by listening to his show. Reel Reviews is an excellent show. Viva Podcast is a cool show. So there’s a couple there that I do listen to on a regular basis.
And I’m starting to listen to your show.
EB: Thank you very much. You mention some of the people out there who have been influential to you. Who specifically has been influential to you in terms of podcasting?
LA: Going back to Adam Curry, there’s a lot of controversy but the truth of the matter is that the guy has done a lot to create this opportunity for people. I listen to the Daily Source Code here and there, and he’s out there experimenting with stuff, trying new things, software and stuff. He’s in the trenches. You can say whatever you want, but he’s in the trenches. So I’m certainly learning from him.
Really, I’m learning a bit from everybody. You listen to a show and you take a little bit from it. Even your show – I listened to it and thought, “You know, it would be great if I could do a show and talk about pop culture, have a phone conversation, argue Goodfellas versus The Godfather.” You know, that kind of stuff. I would just love to do that.
So, just listening to other people’s show and gathering ideas and sharing ideas and supporting ideas.