It’s funny how our interests can bring us together. Some people love knitting, others love music, and well, others just love Bravo reality shows. That was the genesis behind the Watch What Crappens podcast, co-hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam.
What started as a blog over time evolved into a web show and finally a podcast that dives deep into the Real Housewives series, Vanderpump Rules, and other Bravo TV shows that pique their interest.
That was seven years ago.
Since then, the podcasting pair has seen great success by using Patreon’s subscription model to connect with fans on a more personal level and create a safe space for like-minded individuals that need to discuss the ins and outs of shows like Project Runway. They’ve grown their live shows from 10 people to 750-plus attendees, with people traveling from places as far as Singapore to see them. Here’s how they remained flexible through it all.
The co-hosts heard about Patreon back in 2014 and started exploring it as an avenue to support their podcast venture. “I thought, why would anybody give us money for something we're doing for free? I didn't think it was possible to make any money podcasting at all,” says Karam.
After discussing with Mandelker, they decided to jump at the chance with low expectations. Not very long after, the duo was pleasantly surprised that their community and income kept growing year after year as they had carved a particular niche for their audience.
“It has given people a private place to talk and get to know each other,” says Karam.
Mandelker agrees that the personal connection between them and their fans has created a sense of pride among their community. Depending on the tier, people get more access to their content, and on the top tier, the co-hosts give shout outs during the show.
“They're like, yes, I support you on Patreon. It makes them feel more connected with us. Those in higher tiers, they feel like celebrities too because everyone hears their name in every single episode. It's been surprising to see how it has connected us to the audience, but also the audience with other members of the audience,” says Mandelker.
Podcasting is a rapidly growing industry, but there’s still no exact standard for the format. From the length of an episode to co-hosting duties, it may all vary depending on the topic or sensibilities of the creators. When Watch What Crappens co-hosts first started podcasting their Real Housewives thoughts, they pushed themselves to release four-hour long episodes. But how could they known that it didn’t have to be that way when the industry was still so young? It wasn’t until podcasts like Serial picked up steam in popular culture that listeners and creators started to truly understand and appreciate the medium.
Over time, the team learned that being specific and succinct will help you stand out. While they still talk about different TV shows, each episode has a particular theme.
“With the advent of Patreon and how we moved along to five days a week, we separated everything into subjects so people can find what they’re looking for,” says Karam. “Patreon is huge now, and there’s a ton of stuff going on there. If you’ve got something that’s about everything, no one’s really into that.”
Mandelker says he feels good about their path and organic growth as the timing was right for them to start their podcast. While they learned things the hard way, he says, he attributes the simple process behind making the show (episodes five days a week plus a bonus Patreon episode) and word of mouth from listeners to their success.
They’ve also never stopped learning and keep their eye for new technology available within the industry to bring more content to their fans. They’ve incorporated live-streaming, Google Hangouts, and other tools into their content creation to stay relevant.
“I think that we're privileged. Now seven years later, it's a lot harder for new podcasts to breakthrough. I feel really good about when we started and how we've gotten to where we are. And I'm just excited to see where it takes us next,” says Mandelker.
Mandelker and Karam speak very highly of their fans and their commitment to the cause — making fun of Bravo TV shows, but also providing a safe space for everyone to discuss and enjoy their guilty pleasures without shame. They call it, “the new watercooler.”
“Having a podcast is something that brings all of these people who are watching Housewives or Vanderpump Rules together. A lot more people are watching those shows more than they want to admit and we’re catching all of them,” says Mandelker.
Providing a forum for like-minded people to bond and connect over what Karam calls, “old rubber faces fighting for no reason” has helped people feel more comfortable with their guilty pleasure shows.
“There are so many different people in the Bravo closet. We’ll say, ‘Oh, we do a podcast about Bravo’ and we’ll always get someone to say, ‘I don’t watch that’ and then they go, ‘I mean, I do watch that show about the yacht. Is it called Below Deck?’” says Mandelker.
They’ve seen fans dress up as characters, have shirts made, and even exchanging inside jokes only known by actual fans of the reality shows. “Cracks us up every single time just to see how creative everybody is. That's one of the great things about this. You can do whatever the F you want to, and there's some weirdo out there who will like it and appreciate it,” says Karam.
Every once in a while, Karam says, the shows “stumble upon real-life issues that make people mad... It gives some levity to some darkness. It’s like a cartoon version of life.”
Up next, the Watch What Crappens team wants to keep growing, both their community and how they use technology to create content for their fans. While they work hard, Karam shares that it is fun, exciting work. He wants to continue putting it out into the world in different ways, like more live shows to create more personal interactions with listeners as well.
“We're basically just following you the technology at this point. You know, once I learned that all I had to do is open my damn mouth, I'm just finding a different place to put it in,” says Karam.
But beyond goals, they hope to keep the core of the show the same — friendship.
“At the end of the day, we're just recapping shows on Bravo and trying to put out the best, funniest content. I want to say that we're putting it out for the audience, but honestly, I always say at the end of the day, I'm just trying to make Ronnie laugh,” says Mandelker. “It's still ultimately two friends talking on the phone, laughing, you know?” Karam agrees.