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Live podcasts—even obscure ones—are starting to draw a crowd

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By Steve Annear Globe Staff 

In the expanding world of do-it-yourself podcasting, there seems to be an audience for almost every subject.

Want to hear two men dissect episodes of the family drama “Gilmore Girls,” with a comedic twist? Look no further than the “Gilmore Guys,” a twice-weekly show hosted by Demi Adejuyigbe and Kevin T. Porter.

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Comedian John Hodgman plays a judge on his weekly podcast, presiding over courtroom-like debates on whether chili is a soup or a stew.

Now, such shows are also proving that podcasts are not just entertainment for people’s ears. Podcasts have steadily and stealthily been taking over the main stage at large venues, sidling up comfortably to traditional standup comedy routines.

In the next few months, The Wilbur has scheduled eight “live podcasts,” where popular podcasters like Adejuyigbe and Porter get on stage in front of an audience to record their shows. And experts and booking agents predict this type of entertainment will continue to draw in audiences.

“Live entertainment has expanded beyond going to a rock show or to see a standup comedian,” said Andrew Mather, promoter and director of marketing at The Wilbur.

The theater has been booking “live podcasts” since around 2013. But in the past three years, the number of those shows has burgeoned, said Mather.

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“We did a couple in 2013, and then a few more, and then they, all of a sudden, became way more available,” he said. “I can’t even keep up with how many we have on our calendar now.”

The transition from audio to in-person performances isn’t necessarily new. On the West Coast, live podcasts have been a popular form of on-stage entertainment for some time.

The weekly quiz program “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!” has been airing on NPR for years, and tours the country — it recently made a stop in Providence and is coming to Tanglewood in September — to record in front of a live audience.

And locally, Boston’s WBUR-FM radio station has been home to “You’re the Expert,” a podcast recorded before a captivated crowd that features comedians trying to peg what it is a professor does.

But as podcasts become easier to create for anyone with access to an Internet connection and a microphone, live tapings are no longer just a luxury of networks like NPR.

“At one point, if you wanted to go on tour or sell out shows, everyone in the country needed to know who you were,” said Chris Duffy, host and creator of “You’re the Expert.”

“Now, because you can directly reach people [through podcasts] — even if only 5,000 people know who you are, but all those people care about your show and like it, they’ll buy tickets. And that’s more than enough to go on tour,” he said. “The Internet has made that possible in a way that it wouldn’t have been 10 years ago.”

Adejuyigbe and Porter ventured into the world of live podcasts in 2015. The “Gilmore Guys” already had a solid following online. Since visual theatrics are often part of each episode, they thought it only made sense to perform for a crowd.

“We realized the energy of the podcast would work for a live show,” said Adejuyigbe.

They were right: Many of their shows have sold out (They hit the stage in Boston in June).

“People are more invested [in podcasts],” said Porter. “It’s more personal.”

It feels like watching a friend take the stage, he said.

Experts on emerging media attribute the fascination of watching people record a podcast to the intimacy of the occasion. They also believe that the feeling of “being a part of” a broadcast plays a major role in fans scrambling to secure tickets to watch impromptu conversations on subjects that may seem obscure to a broader audience.

“Why do people go to watch [Saturday Night Live]? Why do people go to watch late-night talk shows? It’s just like in the old days, going to watch Johnny Carson — you’re watching what is becoming a taped show,” said Robert E. Rosenthal, chairman of the department of communication and journalism at Suffolk University. “It’s a sense of community.”

John Gallaugher, who teaches about podcasts and is an associate professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, echoed Rosenthal’s assessment.

Gallaugher called live podcasts an extension of what’s been done forever — audiences watching radio shows, spoken word performances, and standup acts.

“Listening to podcasts is very intimate, and the audience can feel a real attachment to the artist. An opportunity to see and be part of the performance brings the fan base closer,” he said.

It’s just easier to get in on the action these days, especially with social media.

“This fits very well with the eliminate-the-middleman revenue and vitality benefits of podcasting,” he said. “Fans snap and share on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as trophies and endorsements for being part of the experience.”

Duffy added that people may also just enjoy pulling back the curtain on their favorite shows.

“People like to see how the sausage gets made,” he said. “They want to see what’s behind the scenes.”

Mather, The Wilbur’s promoter, doesn’t see the trend slowing down.

“The ‘Gilmore Guys’ sold 500 tickets in the first hour. Who would have thought?,” he said. “There’s a podcast for everyone.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.