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the beautiful worst

1.17.17 vol. 3 - issue 2

Despite the bleak weather and lull after the holidays, January is always the most hopeful month for me--with a blank calendar showing all the possibilities in the year ahead. I thought January would be the perfect time to feature What If World, an improvisational storytelling podcast for kids and families. Each week, Mr. Eric narrates a story based on a "what if" question that is called-in by members of the audience. Questions range from "What if cats ruled the world?" to "What if there was a neverending bowl of ice cream?" You can listen to an episode of What If World on their website or iTunes. Check out my interview with creator Eric O'Keefe, below!
How did you come up with the idea for What If World?

After moving to LA, I started telling weekly stories over Skype to my nephew back in Boston. He'd give me a topic and make up a story. I'd also talk to his mom and try to sneak in a lesson he was learning that week. 
Some folks suggested I post the stories on YouTube, but it felt like intruding on my family's private life. I also didn't think the visual component was all that vital. The call-in podcast felt like a great way to let kids feel involved, make parents feel safe, and share my brand of stories with a wider audience. 
What If World is the title of the show, but it's also the setting: a fantastical world of possibilities. What are some of the challenges of using audio to build a world for an audience?
In live shows, I'm able to play off the kids, pair a character's voices with a physicality, and make silly faces to help bad jokes land. Without all that, I need to focus on strong pacing and character voices to keep my listeners engaged and my stories clear. 
The other big challenge is my "studio," aka my tiny apartment with two noisy dogs next to a busy street. I record at least an hour of audio for every 20 usable minutes, but I use the audio interruptions to refine voices and reflect on the direction of the story.
Do you have any tips for someone looking to start their own podcast?

First off, move to the country. I have a blue yeti microphone, a noise cancelling panel, and a pop filter (you can get all three for about $300), but I still need to record after rush hour under a blanket to get even passable sound. 
Then, choose a format you really enjoy and can realistically do every week. Don't worry if someone else has a slightly similar show. There's a podcast for almost everything already, so you'll only stand out if you do it your way and keep pushing to new listeners every week. If you take too many breaks, you're going to flounder, and if you aim too high, you're going to burn out. 

Finally, find a friend to record with you or to keep you motivated behind the scenes. If it weren't for my amazing producer, Karen Marshall, who does the lion's share of the editing and social media work, I'd be a monthly podcast with 16 listeners, all related to me. 
Are there any creatures or scenarios you haven't been asked about yet, but you'd like to feature?
Essentially, if it was in the 1984 film "Monster Squad," I want to do a story about it. And if kids ever have questions about real-life problems, I'd love the challenge of tackling a serious issue in an uplifting way. 
Is there a message you hope to convey to your kid audience members? What about the grown-ups?
Call me a hippie, but I hope my main message is one of empathy. I want my young listeners to hear other points of view and feel the challenges all different kinds of people (and creatures) face. I know they're goofy stories and I fall back on a few tropes, but I try to be socially responsible on the whole. Empathetic children are the future champions of kindness and equality. They can look outside of themselves and find joy and wonder at the simple beauties in this often ugly world. In lieu of that, I hope they all learn great pirate voices. 
Grown-ups are harder to teach, but I hope some of the same lessons sneak up on them. Mostly, I hope What If World gets them excited about all the great screen-time alternatives that exist for their kids. 
Call in with your own question for What If World: 205-605-WHAT (9428)
Eric is available on evenings and weekends for events and private parties in the LA area.
Email for details!
See you in two weeks!
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