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‘Dead Eyes’ Podcast Team Focuses on the ‘X’ Factor

Why the hit narrative comedy podcast 'Dead Eyes' values the perfect take over technical purity.

'Dead Eyes' follows actor/comedian Connor Rafliff as he tries to determine why he was fired by Tom Hanks from a minor role 20 years ago.
‘Dead Eyes’ follows actor/comedian Connor Rafliff as he tries to determine why he was fired by Tom Hanks from a minor role in HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ 20 years ago.
‘Dead Eyes’ co-producers Harry Nelson (left) and Mike Comite. Comite: Erin Ortiz.

New York, NY (September 17, 2020)—All the fancy audio equipment and sound treatments in the world won’t save a wayward comedy podcast, say Mike Comite and Harry Nelson, co-producers of the hit podcast Dead Eyes. But with the right mix of talent, timing and post-production, it can all come together.

“[All] these amazing engineers and super-talented people are all using the same plug-ins and whatnot, they all have their little workflows, but you can’t make something sound awesome without raw talent somewhere in the mix,” says Comite.

The team behind Dead Eyes, a narrative comedy podcast led by actor and comedian Connor Ratliff, would know. The podcast follows Ratliff down the rabbit hole as he works to unravel an admittedly “very stupid mystery” that has dogged him for decades: why Tom Hanks fired him from a minor role in the 2001 HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. Along the journey, they’ve gone from working out of A-list podcasting studios in New York and Los Angeles to a blanket fort on a bedroom floor in Missouri.

Producing Dead Eyes During a Pandemic

“I love the reaction we get from the show, knowing that Connor is now recording voiceover with a $99 [Samson Meteor] USB mic, in a blanket, in his parents’ house,” says Comite. “Connor is literally lying on his stomach for episodes eight, nine and 10, which is so fun to me. And everything before that was in a Headgum Studio with a [Shure] SM7B.”

Naturally, that homespun setup generates “a ridiculous amount” of electronic noise, he says, but after running it through iZotope RX, he’s satisfied with the finished product for now. The performance and interaction among the guests are the most important ingredients of the podcast. In episode one, for example, a conversation between Ratliff and Zach Woods (The Office) takes place on a street corner, recorded on a phone—and it works.

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“There’s stuff sonically that I’m super proud of,” he says, “but the stuff that’s janky is almost more fun to me because initially I was like, ‘We can’t do it this way. It has to sound professional.’ [But] you wouldn’t have Zach remarking on people walking by him on the streets in a recording studio. [That’s] just the raw talent of Zach and Connor, being amazing improvisers with amazing comedic timing.”

Early episodes were recorded in traditional podcast studios, with Ratliff at Stitcher Studios in New York and guests like Jon Hamm at Earwolf in L.A..
Early episodes were recorded in traditional podcast studios, with Ratliff at Stitcher Studios in New York and guests like Jon Hamm at Earwolf in L.A..

Elsewhere in the series, the team relies heavily on tape syncs for interviews. The conversations between Ratliff and D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) that account for most of episode one were recorded pre-pandemic on opposite coasts—Ratliff at Stitcher Studios in New York and Carden and Hamm at Earwolf in Los Angeles. That trend has increased post-pandemic.

Co-producer Nelson, in addition to sharing audio duties with Comite, also had a hand in creating the storytelling tone of Dead Eyes, which plays the middle ground between emotional and absurd, veering from Serial-style seriousness to satire. Nelson recalls, “I was working in New York [with] former WNYC and public radio audio producers, really talented folks, [when] Connor and I set out to make a more straight-ahead comedy show. I think the influence of the people I’d been working with sort of creeped in, and Connor’s comedic sensibilities combined with [the influence of] the shows I was listening to and wanted to make at the time, resulted in the hybrid that is Dead Eyes.”

Comite says Nelson’s template opened a world of sonic creativity for the podcast to explore. Instead of playing the audio straight, they feel free to subtly enhance scenes that otherwise might sound stilted, such as the recreation of Ratliff’s script reading with “Hanks” (also played by Ratliff) in episode three. He recalls, “We ended up taking all of the audio from that interview and sending it through a couple reverbs and adding room noises and some fluorescent light hums and weird, awkward chair squeaks, really giving it a feel of actually [being] in the room with these people.”

Dead Eyes • https://headgum.com/dead-eyes

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