Local improv podcast finds national audience

By Alex Stedman

Comedy lovers are often drawn to improv for its fast-paced, unpredictable format. One Columbia alumnus is using podcasts to feature improv talent, and his show is receiving nationwide attention.

Jimmy Carrane, a Chicago-based improviser and author of “Improvising Better: A Guide to the Working Improviser,” launched a podcast on PodBean.com in October 2011 called “Improv Nerd,” which was recently picked up by Feral Audio, a Los Angeles-based podcast collective that focuses on comedy. The first show produced by Feral will air Dec. 10.

“There are so many little pockets of improv communities throughout the country that there never was when I started back in the late ’80s,” said Carrane, who is a 1987 marketing communications alumnus. “I really hope we reach more improvisers out there.”

Carrane described “Improv Nerd” as a combination of “WTF with Marc Maron,” during which comedian Marc Maron interviews other comedians, and “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” a Bravo show that features actors, directors and writers reminiscing about their careers. Carrane invites comedians—including Brody Stevens, Chelsea Peretti and Duncan Trussell—on the live podcast to perform a 15-to 20-minute improv bit. Afterward, Carrane deconstructs what happened during the bit and takes questions from listeners.

Dustin Marshall, founder of Feral Audio, said Carrane reached out to him and expressed interest in the collective, even though the majority of the collective’s original content is produced in Los Angeles.

“The stuff that [Carrane] is doing is pretty cool because it’s really coming out from the heart of where improv comedy was born,” Marshall said. “I’m really excited about that. Chicago’s my favorite place in the world.”

Marshall said many podcasters have contacted him about getting involved with the collective, but he had to turn some away because they didn’t fit the focus of its website,


Marshall said that until “Improv Nerd,” the collective had never had a show on which the podcaster and guests play improv games together.

“What really turned me on to ‘Improv Nerd’ was that it’s a live show and very sentimental,” Marshall said. “I think it’s hard to capture improv in a podcast, but ‘Improv Nerd’ just does it perfectly.”

Carrane said he prefers podcasts to other mediums he has dabbled in because they give him more time and creative freedom. He used to host a segment on WBEZ’s “Studio 312,” during which he interviewed people working in comedy. He said he believes that improv appeals to a younger audience.

Doing a live show is important to Marshall because of the participatory nature of improv and what an audience can bring to the show, he said.

“Anyone who’s a performer/improviser, they really come to life in front of an audience,” he said. “It’s electric [being] in front of an audience.”

Marshall said he believes that “Improv Nerd” is becoming quintessential listening for those involved in improv, and that the podcast already boasts an impressive following that will bring new fans to Feral Audio.

Jennifer Estlin, president of The Annoyance Theatre, where Carrane used to perform, said Carrane is well-known in Chicago’s comedy scene, particularly for his improv.

“It’s not hard for somebody who jumps into this community right away to hear about him,” she said. “He’s able to bring a lot of people on to talk about their personal take on how they approach improv, and I think it’s neat that it becomes a more immediate look at what they’re talking about.”

Carrane said one of his goals for the podcast and his work with the collective is to bring more attention to the craft, as he believes improvisers don’t get as much spotlight as others in comedy.

“I think improvisers are the most underrated artists in the food chain,” he said. “People can work and work, but they never get any credit. I kind of wanted to change that and I hope with ‘Improv Nerd,’ people are going to get that exposure.”