For TV nerd (and comic) Ken Reid, podcast scratches a niche
In the dining room of Ken Reid’s Stoneham home, there are three magazine racks, the kind that you used to find at the end of a drugstore or supermarket aisle. One of them holds a fraction of Reid’s vintage comic book and horror magazine collection. Those are very special to Reid, a pop culture wizard whose video library and head full of facts make him the envy of his fellow nerd comedians. But those other two racks are critical. They hold a sampling of Reid’s TV Guide collection — he claims to have almost every issue ever printed — the inspiration for his popular podcast “TV Guidance Counselor.”
The concept of the show, suggested to him by fellow comic Sean Sullivan, is simple: A celebrity guest — often a fellow comic — picks an issue of TV Guide, and then Reid hosts a conversation about what they would have watched that week. The show celebrated episode 150 in May with guest Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (Reid’s actually recorded more than 180 episodes, but he hasn’t numbered them all). He was thrilled when their conversation drifted into Peterson quoting her own dialogue from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
“[I’m] running lines from this movie she was in, with her!” he says. “That’s crazy.”
The 35-year-old Reid is amazed at some of the people he’s been able to snag to talk about TV. Among his guests have been Ben Edlund, creator of the comic series “The Tick,” musician Lou Barlow, former MTV VJ Karen Duffy, and former “Step By Step” star Christine Lakin. “There are literally people that I’ve had on that I’ve gotten to sit and talk to for hours that I would have entered contests to meet as a kid,” he says. “They’ll call me up and we’ll just chat now like people I know.”
The biggest catch for Reid was stand-up comedian and former “Simpsons” writer Dana Gould, a Hopedale native, who appeared on “TV Guidance Counselor” in December. Reid was a kid in Melrose watching TV compulsively when he first saw Gould perform. “He’s the reason that I do stand-up,” he says. “I saw him on TV and I recognized that he was from here because he would talk about that a lot, which was unusual at the time. And [he] also liked the stuff that I liked, and had a similar viewpoint, and it wasn’t, ‘Yeah, what’s up with these Chinese food waiters?,’ or whatever the kind of typical Boston-y thing was. He was talking about Vincent Price.”
Gould thinks of Reid as a long-lost brother. They both grew up feeling out of step in their blue-collar environments, and escaped into pop culture. Gould is just happy to see someone else who can traffic in the obscure as effectively as he can. “There’s somebody else that can go onstage and force the audience to listen to Val Lewton references,” he says, referring to the 1940s horror movie producer. “Right now it’s just me, Ken, and Patton Oswalt.”
Listenership of Reid’s podcast took a big jump after he appeared on “The Dana Gould Hour” podcast in March. His downloads, which had been averaging about 10,000 to 20,000 a month, spiked to 400,000 after he appeared with Gould. Since then, he’s been getting well over 100,000 listeners a month, and that success has started to spill over into his stand-up career.
In February, Reid traveled to the NerdMelt Showroom in Los Angeles, a theater tucked away in the back of a comic book shop, to record his new album, “The Vanity Project Volume 1: Hollywoodland.” Greg Proops and Laura Kightlinger, both former “Counselor” guests, opened the show. The independently released album went to No. 2 on the iTunes comedy charts in May, due in large part to support from his podcast guests.
“I put this out myself, I’ve had zero press about it, and it’s pretty much all because basically all these people I’ve had on ‘TV Guidance Counselor’ are tweeting about it or sharing it,” says Reid. “Amy Sedaris put it on her Instagram. It was a little overwhelming that they would do that. Because there’s no reason for them to do that. I can’t do anything for them.”
Surprisingly, Reid’s stand-up isn’t steeped in pop culture references. He’s more of a storyteller who mines his personal experiences, including his relationship with his father. In one tale, a theme park ride tears off his father’s pants, and Reid describes the scene of a trouser-less man walking a child out of the park, unchallenged.
Gould puts Reid in a class with Kumail Nanjiani, calling them the best conversational comedians on the scene right now. “The comedy comes from a very natural place,” he says. “He’s not a joke writer, per se. The humor comes from the way he will build a story, which is a testament to his abilities as a writer.”
Reid works hard at comedy — he taped 25 episodes of “TV Guidance Counselor” in the two weeks he was in LA to record his album — and he knows there is no one appearance or gig that will make him into a star overnight, but he says he’s not concerned with making it big. The job is to like what you do.
“There is no ‘life before and after’ event anymore,” he says. “There just isn’t. And so you just have to make good stuff that you like doing, and that is good. And if something happens, cool. And if something doesn’t, you made good stuff that you liked doing and that is good. And that’s a pretty good accomplishment.”