There is something to be said about breaking the rules. As someone who, for so much of his life, did things by the book, I never thought I'd owe so much of my success to doing everything the wrong way. I studied, went to school, got the degrees, and took the jobs I was supposed to take. But, when it came to show business, doing everything the right way never seemed to work.
One of the hardest parts of working in entertainment is hearing the words "This is how it's done" or "that's the way it works." And make no mistake, entertainers hear it all the time. Dozens of books are out there extolling how it's supposed to be and ten times that many people are sitting behind desks somewhere right now swearing by it.
But don't be fooled; the list of people who have had success by ignoring the rules is just as long as the list of people who played it by the numbers. With technology and social media changing the entertainment industry every single year, the truth is that "This is how it's done" means something different with each passing day.
Four years ago, Allison Dore and I teamed up to record a daily podcast called "Ward & Al". Podcasting was already the thing that every other comedian was doing, so we were hardly pioneers blazing a new trail. But we still felt it could be a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
And, deep down, we hoped it would lead to a daily talk radio program where someone actually paid us to argue into the microphones. Other people were seeking sponsors and contributions, but we were hoping to turn the podcast into a job.
Very few people thought this was a good idea. Almost no one thought it would work.
The truth is the idea of taking a daily podcast and turning it into a talk radio show is one most podcasters have and few actually make a reality. Because that's not traditionally how it's done. Radio shows start small, in smaller markets, and then grow. The small town DJ becomes a big city DJ. The guest host branches off and gets his own show and, hopefully, builds into something bigger and better and so on. Podcasters rarely become broadcasters.
But, for two broke comedians who had nothing to lose, there was no reason to do things by the rules. One of us (this guy, right here) felt he was likely too old to start over after years of eeking out a living as a standup comic.
So we took a cue from Humble and Fred. Howard Glassman and Fred Patterson are radio veterans and the legendary Toronto personalities had recently stepped away from terrestrial radio and started podcasting their show from their own studio. Branded as HumbleAndFredRadio.com, their new take on their popular show pleased their loyal listeners and -- even better -- found them growing in popularity on a whole new platform.
Their network included other shows, too, and we were one of the first shows to follow their lead: five days per week of talk radio...that just happened to be heard on the Internet. It was working for Humble and Fred (and still works to this day; they've found a home on SiriusXM's "Canada Laughs" channel), so we just hoped it would work for us, too. To their credit, Humble and Fred believed in our show, even if--according to traditional radio rules--the odds were against it. Many people figured we'd burn out after a few weeks.
By the time we had recorded over 100 episodes, Al and I knew we had something special. Refusing to be the typical "DJ" with the female sidekick, we tossed out the sexist roles that so many people insisted were necessary. We decided to ignore it when programming people told us "that's the way it's done". The chemistry between us worked despite us being two Alpha dogs stuck in a tiny room together. Neither one of us was "the lead". We worked as equals. Straight talk, without the shtick. Listeners started to find us, and we were nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award.
With our following growing and the show format established, we went looking for work. But having bucked the traditional FM radio format (and not being political enough for AM radio), we knew there was only one place we really wanted to work: SiriusXM satellite radio.
Again, no one thought it would work. And yet it did.
Less than a year later, we were on SiriusXM, part of the new "Canada Talks" channel. Even then, we were a long shot. We were new hosts with a new format on a new talk channel broadcasting all over North America. But SiriusXM believed in what we do, and the gamble paid off. The listeners found us, and they remain loyal, sometimes traveling across the continent to see our live shows and standup comedy performances. The guests started taking notice, as well, and we found ourselves suddenly interviewing our idols and some of the most famous people in show business.
...And it was all because we didn't follow the rules. We did everything the wrong way and--as it turns out--we were right to do it. We were right to take the chances we did. Sometimes it's important to remember that "that's just the way it's done" is just another rule that could maybe use a little breaking. And, just because no one else has succeeded at it is no reason for you to not at least give it a try.
I have no doubt that our story continues because we second guess the system while not second guessing ourselves. And, hell, just because we're crazy doesn't mean we're wrong.
Follow Ward Anderson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wardanderson