Part of my intrigue and desire to listen to podcasts is yearning to learn and experience something new. I know this isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s bears repeating. Some of the podcasts I listen to are philosophical, some are historical, some are literary, some true crime, and so on. Character is a podcast that fits nicely into this purpose.
Character is an anthology podcast that explores a persons background and upbringing to analyze the choices they’ve made to become the person they are today. The first season explores the life of Chris Friesen, a co-worker of Character host Ben Grynol. Ben had assumptions, like all of us do, of how Chris was raised to become the person he is today. However, after sitting down with Chris, Ben learns a great deal that rebuked his assumptions. I got a chance to speak with Ben about Character and where he plans to take it. Below is our full Q&A.
Discover Pods: What’s your podcast about?
Ben: A true, unedited story about the life of Chris Friesen.
DP: What’s unique about your podcast?
Ben: Chris’s life and upbringing has been unconventional, to say the least. With 25,000 downloads in 3 months, people are immersed in the podcast which tells his story, week by week.
DP: Why did you choose to podcast?
Ben: I’m a podcast junkie, who has been listening to a wide range of casts for more than 10 years. With 12,000+ hours of listening under the belt, I felt it was time to create a podcast to tell a good story.
DP: As someone who’s unfamiliar with Chris’ life and upbringing, can you give me a short synopsis on why it’s unique and you decided to do a podcast on it?
Ben: Each person’s character is a calculation of life experiences. The premise of the Character podcast is to tell the stories of everyday people. Often, the most interesting stories are staring us right in the face. Many people have very fascinating stories that never get told, and they don’t even realize that their stories will be as interesting as they are to other people.
As a society, we tend to focus on telling the stories of high-profile people (or celebrities), which can be fascinating. However, there are 7.5 Billion people in the world, and there are unlimited permutations of life stories that are eye-opening; no two stories are the same.
In regards to Chris, he and I worked together closely for a year. I thought I “knew” him as a person, until one day when he started telling me a little bit about his life growing up. It was completely the opposite of what I thought his life was “probably” like. It was so fascinating that I thought it would be a great story to tell through audio, and a good fit for the first season of Character.
DP: You’re quite the podcast fan. What have you learned simply from listening that you wanted to incorporate in your own podcast?
Ben: I definitely love audio, and tend to enjoy it the most out of any media source. I listen to so many different types of podcasts, so Character is this amalgamation of many influences. As much as I try to keep it in my own voice and give it its own feel, I’m positive that other audiophiles can hear (and probably guess) the podcasts that I listen to.
I like the way the Marc Maron (WTF) steers stories through his interview style; I love the empathetic approaches of Ira Glass and Guy Raz (This American Life / How I Built This); I love the curiosity and unedited conversations of Joe Rogan (Joe Rogan Experience); I can’t get enough of the pace and descriptions of Joey Diaz’s storytelling (Church of What’s Happening Now); and really enjoy the well-produced podcasts that come out of Gimlet Media.
Ideally, I’d love to have a higher production value for the podcast, but I felt it was most important to start telling stories and build an audience, then iterate on the content over time. There is something intimate about the unedited conversations we’ve been capturing, but I just love podcasts that sound like audiobooks (S-town) and can be listened to multiple times if they’re really good. As we release more content, I want to put more focus into the production value and quality of each episode we release.
DP: What are your future plans for Character? Do you plan on making it an anthology?
Ben: Chris’s story is almost done being told; it ended up being about 18 episodes. I’ve continued to record with different people and have a catalog of episodes to release. I was debating whether or not the podcast should focus on seasons and tell the story of a new person (6-8 episodes) each season, or if I should just tell a person’s story (at a macro level) in one episode.
So far, the single episodes seem to be working well, because people’s lives are so complex that when you get into the granularities of their stories (which are interesting), you could easily have 20 episodes per person. It’s a big time commitment for guests to record that much content and too much for listeners to digest. The best episodes are the shorter, more digestible ones which people can follow the path of one person’s story.
DP: Do you think we’ve reached “peak podcast”
Ben: Although it might seem like it, I think audio is still in its infancy. Podcasters in 2017 are probably where YouTubers were in 2009. Think of how far YouTube has come and how much new content has come out. I’m positive that there will be lots of new unexpected content to come out of audio in the next few years.
DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ben: Thanks to everyone who has or will invest the time to listen to any of the content that we’ve put out. Time is a finite asset and we only have so much of it to invest. Each person’s support, interest and feedback really means a lot.
DP: What are your top 5 favorite podcasts?
Ben: Narrowing this down is nearly impossible for me. I’ve listened to over 12,000+ hours of audio and currently have 60+ podcasts in my library. If I really had to narrow it down, I’d say (in no particular order):
- S-Town (subjectively, I think it’s the best podcast ever produced)
- Reply All
- StartUp Podcast
- Joe Rogan Experience
- How I Built This
DP: Where can listeners find you?