If you’re looking for the answer to your comedy needs, the hit podcast Huff & Stapes is it! “The show is an irreverent look at everything comedic. It’s like drive time radio. But funny. At night. And on the Internet”. It is one clever podcast and now their show is moving to the stage for live performances at the Jon Lovitz Club at Universal. We caught up with hosts Scott Huff and Joe Stapleton about how they catapulted themselves into the airwaves spotlight.
I’ve known Huff & Stapes for a few years now, personally, so meeting them for a coffee in Beverly Hills to talk about the success of their podcast, the impending move into live performances, and where they see themselves among the myriad of voices competing for our attention on TV, radio, and the Internet, was not all that surprising. Their success is even less surprising to me. I’ve always known them to be funny guys and the fact that their show has caught on and is about to tip the scales to become a word of mouth sensation, seems fitting, if not overdue.
If you find yourself tired of watching the same boring SNL skits (supposedly reinvented) or watching Jay Leno crack the same bad jokes on The Tonight Show, or perhaps are just done with channel surfing through morning radio which wouldn’t even be funny if you added a laugh track, then this show is the alternative. Scratch that, this show should be your choice. It’s the best of morning radio, stand-up, and late night in one, and this Friday is your chance to experience Huff & Stapes as even they have never been heard before.
PPLA: Tell me the backstory of how Huff & Stapes came to be created.
STAPES: I’ll tell my version of the backstory of our show and then Huff can see if he agrees. Huff and I were both working separately in the entertainment industry. We both achieved some success in the poker world doing creative things. We were doing bullshit jobs in entertainment and doing creative things in poker. Then the two of us thought, ‘God, it would be really nice if we did something where we actually had any sort of idea what we were doing.’ Instead of pretending to know so much about poker, we do know how to make each other laugh. And so, we were basically just trying to make each other laugh when we started this thing…
HUFF: (Interrupts) That’s Wilmer Valderamma and a really hot girl. (Huff motions to the pair that just walked by us at the coffee shop). I was just thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a really hot girl. I wonder who she’s with, and I went to look at the guy and thought he’s kind of chubby… and it was Wilmer Vaderamma.
PPLA: He’s not chubby.
HUFF: No, he’s not. He’s actually just very handsome… Sorry to interrupt your back story. We should probably ask Wilmer what his entertainment backstory is. (Stapes laughs)
STAPES: This is the kind of thing I am talking about. We just do things that make each other laugh. Anyway, we decided we should do a show about making each other laugh and that is how the show started. It’s still to this day, Huff and I messaging over IM (instant messenger) and thinking that if this makes us laugh, it will probably make other people laugh too. At the time, I was working in production for MADtv and no one was paying attention to me as a comedy writer. I wasn’t really trying all that hard either. But, no one was like, ‘Hey, do you want to be a writer on this show.’ No one just asked me that out of the blue… (laughs) like I thought they would. So Huff and I decided we should just do something ourselves. We were lucky that from the poker world we already had a small fan base, maybe a couple of hundred people, who were willing to listen to our show. Huff was hosting a poker show for a while called The Circuit and then it went away.
HUFF: No, It didn’t go away.
STAPES: Okay, well there was a horrible version of it for a while after Huff left.
HUFF: Right, there was another version of it, and the host I had been working with quit. So then Joe and I started doing our podcast but kept some of that fan base.
STAPES: At the time, our podcast was just Blogger.com. We got a blog spot and would just post it there and plug it on social media sites like MySpace. We didn’t have guests then, and we didn’t do it with any regularity either. We did it maybe once every couple of weeks and it was not live.
HUFF: It was heavily edited, HEAVILY edited. It was not even close to live.
STAPES: We would go back and take out things that didn’t work. There were at least two times that I even added sound effects after the fact because we didn’t even have a person to do sound drops live during the show. I thought, ‘Oh! This would be funny here. Let me throw in a light saber noise, and those were like the first six or seven episodes.’
HUFF: We literally started this thing with a laptop and two microphones from Radio Shack which were literally the worst microphones ever. We would have to stack them on top of books to make the setup fit right, and we would do it on the equivalent of your grandma’s card table…
STAPES: …And we had a seventy-five dollar mixer, seventy-five dollars tops! We did the first three episodes in Huff’s kitchen and the next three in my really big closet in the house where I was renting in the Hollywood Hills.
HUFF: At that time, my main day job was that I was working for Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal’s parents as a Hollywood assistant. We were just doing that show for fun once a week. Sometimes we would try do to it more but we would always get it done once a week and swear to do it more often. We’re still doing it once a week (laughs). So at that point, we just did it out of our houses and hadn’t moved it to a studio.
STAPES: So I was at MADtv and Huff was an assistant and then there was this show Poker Wire that came about but he wasn’t into hosting anymore. Another company decided they were going to try to recreate the show Scott had created. Scott’s show had been the most popular show in poker at the time he did it (before his assistant days) and then I was lucky enough to just be able to take over this thing he had created. I put my own spin on it. That show remained successful for a while, but I only did that for about ten months (something like fifty or sixty episodes). Around that time, some new government regulations on poker came down and the poker company decided they didn’t want to spend the money on it anymore. So that ended and that is when we started doing our podcast.
HUFF: Our good friend and professional poker player Joe Sebok had created his own website at the time called PokerRoad.com He told us Poker Road would pay for us to do our own podcast on their site if we also did some poker shows for him. So each of us individually had our own video shows and podcasts that we were doing about poker, and together we had a show that was only comedy and had nothing to do with poker. It was called Two Jacks in the Hole. It had nothing to do with poker other than the fact that it was hosted and paid for by a poker site. We did about 120 episodes over almost two years.
STAPES: So part of our pay for working for Poker Road was having our own show at no-cost in this awesome studio on their air time. The site Poker Road eventually went into hibernation mode in terms of producing content, although the owners still update the site. This was due to government restrictions on online poker and related circumstances, but we continued to do our show. We decided to re-brand after that and call the show Huff & Stapes because to this day, people thought and still think it is a poker show. At first, it helped us because we used our poker influence to ‘steal’ an audience, but then it started hurting us. People we had known for years would say things like, ‘Oh man, I love your show. It’s the best poker show out there.’ We clearly knew they were lying to us and weren’t actually listening because once we re-branded we didn’t allow poker talk at all.
PPLA: How would you describe your show now?
STAPES: It’s hard to define what the show is because it really doesn’t have a set topic. It’s partly about entertainment. When people ask us, we say it’s a comedy show because it makes you laugh, but it’s not really about comedy… although sometimes it is. It’s not about any one thing necessarily. It’s just about how two guys, of our status in life, how we view the world. What our take on things is. It’s like morning talk radio at night.
PPLA: Your show just got picked up by Toad Hop Network and is on Extereme Radio. How did this success come about?
HUFF: Toad Hop Network is owned by Frank Kramer of Frosty, Heidi, and Frank which was KLXS, which was 97.1 before it became AMP Radio and was flipped to Top 40 by my sister. (Huff laughs. His sister does work for AMP Radio). But the Frosty, Heidi, and Frank Show was a nationally syndicated radio show on about a dozen markets in the country. They were a huge show, and Frank decided that he wanted to start doing his own thing with podcasts. He has a subscription podcast of his own on Toad Hop, but he also decided he wanted to start helping up & coming talent. There’s really, honestly in this world, no place that does that. There is no where that is helping young radio people. There is Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Glenn Beck and then there is everyone else in the world. Then there’s Adam Carolla and Frank Kramer doing podcasting. The thing about Adam Carrolla’s podcasting is that it’s mostly only other famous people or people that are really good friends with Carolla. While Frank is really giving up & coming radio talent a chance to stretch their legs.
PPLA: How did this connection between your team and Frank Kramer come about?
STAPES: We basically cold-called him.
HUFF: Well, this lawyer at the production company where I worked was a listener of our podcast and thought we were hilarious. He told me he was going to have Frank Kramer check out our show which he did. Two days later, we got a call and Frank said he wanted us to join his network. We started working out of a studio in Frank Kramer’s house. Then Frank built a new podcast studio inside the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club and that’s where we are now.
PPLA: You’ve been doing your live podcast there for weeks but your first stage show is this Friday?
STAPES: We’ve been doing weekly live shows in a studio from the Jon Lovitz for a couple of months now. So we broadcast live from the studio and people can come watch us through the glass booth, but what is coming up Friday is a live stage version of the show. It will not be broadcast. It will have like a late night talk show theme to it. We will try to make it interactive and produced. There will be a lot of visuals incorporated. As long as we have the projection abilities, and the stage, and the live audience, we really want to engage people differently then we would in the radio show.
HUFF: Basically the Lovitz Club now has live stand-up shows and other live performances like Kevin Smith, SmodCast, and Carolla. Live podcasting has really become their bread and butter. A lot of these shows have their own theme. We’ve just chosen- that since no one has ever given us a late night show before- we are just going to make our own. We are making our ideal version of what a late night show should be.
PPLA: Is it your hope that this will become a regular thing for your podcast?
HUFF: They would like us to do the live show once a month. And hopefully after we do it, they still want us to do it once a month! But they have already asked us sight unseen. So let’s hope after Friday, that is still a reality for us.
STAPES: My hope is after this first live show, which will be heavily populated by our friends and family and existing fans- we already have one fan flying in from St. Louis- that our fan base will expand. We have an amazing fan base who are very passionate. The problem is that we have a worldwide audience and most of our fans don’t live in Los Angeles. So it’s tough to get our fans here. They are in Norway, Germany, Ireland, Japan or wherever. My hope is that the show becomes one of these stage shows in L.A. that becomes a thing, through word of mouth like Point Break Live or Lucha Libre. That it can catch fire the way they did. I would love it if we could somehow come up with a new style of entertainment. What we are trying to do is fairly original. Of course it borrows heavily from a number of things, but most late night talks shows are on television. We would like you to come see ours live.
PPLA: Your podcast includes a mixture of banter, live guests, games, prank calls, caller interaction, personal stories and pretty much whatever else you throw in there. What can we expect fron the stage version?
HUFF: There will be all of those elements, but no guests. We will have a band, multiple video packages (like on a late night show), sketches, our version of a monologue. We are giving away a gas generator. (Laughs). But seriously, we are. We are going to play a game with video reveals that is extremely raunchy.
STAPES: It is a strictly an 18-plus show. I don’t even think our friend can bring his seventeen- year old girlfriend, (Laughs) but I’m going to ask for him. We will probably call out a few people in the audience, and we will be bringing audience members up on stage with us to play games and interact.
PPLA: How do you come up with these games?
STAPES: I don’t like the fact that I get credited for coming up with the games. I like to think that everything on the show is created by us, not one person…
HUFF: …He’d never say that if you weren’t recording this!
STAPES: I would say it actually, because I want to make sure I get credit for Scott’s ideas too. So I am more than willing to give him credit for my ideas because I definitely want to get credit for his. The games are pretty simple for the most part. The original game we made popular was called “Strip Club or Hair Salon” and it is a free app now and it’s been downloaded hundreds and thousands of times. We give you the name of a place and you tell us if it is the name of a strip club or a hair salon. That is it. The game for this week is probably our most shocking game yet. I don’t want to give away what it is.
PPLA: So I should just tease it in this interview?
HUFF: Yes, you’ll tease it and we’ll tease it on stage. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a really raunchy game but we are going to try to do it in a classy way. A classy, raunchy game. It involves pornography, but we will not be showing any nudity. That’s all I will say.
PPLA: Where do you see this show progressing long-term? Do you hope to return to a TV element at some point?
HUFF: I think everything is moving in a positive direction. There has been no point where we have done this show, as we alluded to when we were talking about our backstories, that it hasn’t moved forward. You know, we started doing it in our basement and maybe fifteen people listened. Then we moved to the next thing and 3,000 people listened, and then we moved to the next thing and maybe 7,000 to 10,000 people listened. As long as it keeps progressing, we are going to keep riding the wave of wherever that takes us. I think we are both doing our best. Both of us are doing individual stand-up shows and open mics around town to gain momentum. We hope that all of our efforts combined lead us in the direction that we are hoping which is that one day we do get that late night talk show together- not separately. Not with one of us having to be the couch guy! Or I think, in both of our perfect worlds, a daily morning show or afternoon drive show. We just like working together and…
STAPES: …Do you know anyone who could give us that? Seriously? I agree with what Huff said. We would be happy to do anything in this realm, where we get to do it on a more regular basis and reach more people.
HUFF: The thing that we always discuss is that if we had our full time to dedicate to something like this, I can only imagine what we would be capable of, given what we have progressed to at this point while both working other jobs. When Joe worked at MADtv, he was working like eighteen hours a day. I worked thirteen hours today. But I think anyone who is out here in L.A. creating something- even you with Press Pass LA- know exactly what we are talking about. You could do so much more if you had the time and opportunity to dedicate fully to it. That’s what everyone is trying to do. Do what they love full-time.
STAPES: Huff and I have never made a dime off the radio show which sounds like a bad thing, but it shows how dedicated we are to it and how committed we are to its future.
HUFF: And in a way, it has opened a lot of doors to us that we didn’t have before.
PPLA: Your show was just in the Top 25 Comedy Podcast list on iTunes. How does that feel?
HUFF: We are in the Top 25 consistently and every other podcast in the Top 25 is by every other famous comedian you’ve ever heard of in your entire life!
STAPES: Jay Moore, Adam Corolla, Dane Cook. We’ve beaten Dane Cook. We’ve beaten Rick Gervais. Not for a year, but we’ve beaten them in ratings for a day or for a week, so that’s something to be excited about. One thing we have been lucky enough to have is that both of our day jobs have helped us. I am lucky enough to have added exposure to our show because I have been on a few shows that have been aired nationally. I currently do voice-over work for poker TV shows that air internationally, not in the U.S., but about twenty countries worldwide. People then find me on Twitter or wherever and then I can plug our radio show. Huff’s been able to use his day job for us in that he has made a lot of connections and contacts throughout the years. Huff got our podcast on Extreme XM through people he knows.
HUFF: I host a fantasy football radio show on Playboy (seasonally for the NFL season) and the producer on that also produces for Extreme XM and that’s how we ended up there.
STAPES: So a lot of the advances we have had in our show came from deals through Huff’s contacts, and my exposure is what’s help to really build and grow our audience. We hope that continues.
For me, it seems clear that it is more about hard work and talent than luck. Though in Hollywood, luck always plays a role. Still, Huff & Stapes might be the hardest working duo in comedy. Stapes literally showed up for this interview straight off a plane from doing voice over work In London Scott worked a full day and the two are planning hours of prep work for their upcoming show starting as soon as our interview concludes. And it is well after ten PM, when most people are getting their laughs from their couch watching whatever sitcom is on their DVR.
If you ask each of them, they will tell you the other is the hardest working. “Huff was born in Massachusetts and moved to Florida when he was twelve or thirteen. Then he went to school in Boston where we met. He moved out here after school and has been hugely successful since, hosting shows on TV like Poker2Nite,” says Stapes. “My family is still in Boca Raton, Florida. Stapes and I solidified our college friendship here in L.A. And Stapes also hosted a TV show, The Big Game on Fox. Stapes moved here five days after graduation, and he graduated early. He was like the Doogie Howser of the film department. I call him Doogie Spielberg,” says Huff. “It’s not really a big deal to graduate early from the film program. I mean, my friends would be working on these really long statistics problems and I was just comparing Star Trek to the social mores of the day,” downplays Stapes.
The banter continues. One thing is clear, this team has had some time to perfect their shtick and their very real friendship shines through. The show even added a third component, a female voice, Jackie Bray, who breaks up the testosterone driven two hour podcast with her female perspective as the show’s official news girl.
Perhaps Huff & Stapes have not lost all their ties to the gaming world, because they sure seem to be wearing their poker faces when I ask how they think the live show will debut Friday night. “If people come see the show from Press Pass LA, we will give them a shot,” responds Huff, probably assuming I’ve shut off my recorder. He just might be sorry he said that, because our fans may call his bluff.
Huff & Stapes airs every Tuesday evening on The Toad Hop Network at 9PT/12ET and on Extreme Talk XM 165 (Sirius XM Satellite Radio) on Thursdays at 6PT/9ET. To learn more about Scott Huff, Joe Stapleton, and Jacki Bray– @scottbhuff, @jackibray, @twojacksjoe.