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Six Voices, One Podcaster, No Problem: Inside Kelcey Ayer’s One-Man Show

Moving from radio to podcast format changed how Kelcey Ayer approaches his multi-character, improv-informed comedy show.

Kelcey Ayer performs his characters into a Shure SM7 mic leading to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, run into Ableton.
Kelcey Ayer performs his characters into a Shure SM7 mic leading to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, run into Ableton.

Los Angeles, CA (February 18, 2021)—Improvising a comedy podcast with multiple characters voiced by the same person is exactly as complicated to execute as you might think. Kelcey Ayer, whose imagination and voice are the engine behind The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio from Headgum, says keeping the production running smoothly comes down to his methodical creative process.

“I’ll go back and forth and try to go kind of fast,” explains Ayer, who also plays keyboards and sings in L.A.-based indie rock band Local Natives. “I record a voice and then back up a little bit, enable a different track, and then record another person’s voice in response to that person’s voice … for 10 minutes or something, and then look over it and tighten things up and change a line here or there.”

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio is a podcast is about a fictional variety TV show that has been canceled but revived on radio. Inspired by shows like 30 Rock, The Larry Sanders Show and even The Muppet Show, which brought viewers behind the scenes to see the making of fictional variety shows, the podcast actually did begin as a radio show on Eastside Radio before Ayer retooled it as a podcast.

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“It’s interesting to call it a podcast, because it’s not really a podcast in the normal sense of a person interviewing someone else—it’s half scripted and half improv,” he says. “I’ll write out ideas with my wife and we’ll bat around story arcs and things like that, and then I’ll just go into improv mode and then kind of run with ideas. It’s a one-man show. I make the music, I engineer everything [and] I write everything with the help of my wife.

Ayer voices all six characters himself, using different speech patterns and accents, as well as the Soundtoys Little AlterBoy plug-in to manipulate pitch. To keep his improvisations moving quickly, he keeps a Shure SM7 set up at a level that works well for every voice, plugged into a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface and preamp, which he runs into Ableton; listening back is handled through over-ear Sony MDR-7506 Dynamic Stereo Headphones. He also uses this setup to record original music as well as fake commercials, which serve as intermissions between the action.

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio
Kelcey Ayer voices six different characters for the comedy podcast.

When he first produced the series for radio, Ayer sent all the audio sources through one bus to be compressed, limited and mastered for that medium; for the podcast version, all the voices run through their own mic buses, and the music is separated and less compressed, so it retains the dynamics. “When you put out music or a podcast on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever, they will either bring the volume down to their normal level or they’ll bring it up to their normal level,” he explains. “I think it’s better for it to come up to their level.”

Taking the show from radio to a podcast also gave him time to reconsider and change some artistic choices he made the first time, when he was producing a full 25-minute episode in a matter of days.

“I’ve kind of gotten some of the voices to a better place … as far as who they are in my mind [and] how it should sound,” he says. “I had to go back to a few of the earlier episodes and re-record Bronco’s voice. I changed all of that for the first three or four episodes, and then changed Sally’s voice because people thought she was a robot, and it’s understandable because she sounds like a robot, but I … tried to bring the fact home that she is using a vocoder and is just a sarcastic person.”

The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio