EXCLUSIVE: Nearly 90% of comedy podcast listeners have a parasocial relationship with their hosts

New whitepaper from Global highlights wide appeal of comedy shows

Comedy podcasts thrive on the parasocial relationship between hosts and their audience, according to new research from media company Global, with 87% of listeners feeling like they’re chatting with or hearing from friends. 

Global’s Show Me The Funny whitepaper is based on a survey that the broadcasting company conducted in April 2023 with 926 monthly comedy podcast listeners aged 18+. The research follows a previous report that Global released in January this year on the growth of news podcasts. 

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global financial crisis and political disasters, the report shows that many listeners turned to comedy podcasts as an escape (91%) and made them feel as if they’re a part of something due to their ability to be relatable (80%) and intimate in nature (84%). 

“Comedy podcasts give comic talent a platform to be unfiltered, raw and true to themselves, very much like live comedy has done for decades,” said Global’s head of comedy and entertainment podcasts Chris Lander. “In that respect, comedy podcasts can give audiences the unfiltered content they can’t get anywhere else in the broadcast space.”

The report also showed that when comparing podcasts to other forms of comedy such as stand-up or scripted TV, more than 79% of audiences are turning to podcasts because they feel more real, more natural, and less edited and censored than other forms of comedy. 

Comedian and podcaster Elis James told PodPod in a previous episode of the podcast that he didn’t notice how different his podcast audiences were until he and his co-host John Robins started doing live shows. James' career now includes significant amounts of podcasting after the success of his comedy audio series The Elis James and John Robins show, How Do You Cope?, and the newly-released history podcast Oh, What A Time…

“I realised that the audiences were very, very different to the kinds of audiences I used to get as a stand-up comedian and they were far more loyal and far more engaged,” said James. “You didn't have to introduce yourself, because they already knew you because of your work, and so the gigs were easier and more fun.”

“I didn't have that audience prior to doing podcasts, this all comes from doing podcasts, and so I'm very, very grateful that there's this medium that I enjoy doing.” 

In the comedy scene, there has been a growing trend of traditional stand-ups turning to podcasts as a way to reach a wider and more engaged audience. This includes long-running shows such as Birthday Girls' House Party with sketch trio Beattie Edmondson, Camille Ucan, and Rose Johnson as well as newly-launched shows like Handsome with comedians Tig Notaro, Fortune Feimster, and Mae Martin. 

For audiences that are already fans of comedians prior to them launching a podcast, the report shows that 67% of listeners are keeping up to date with their favourite comedians and presenters through listening to podcasts. It also allows the hosts to be more open and personal with their audience, as over 70% feel that they get to know the hosts in a more intimate way and that they are less afraid to voice their opinions in a podcast environment. 

“I don't feel like I [approach] a podcast with the same nervousness and need to deliver as I do when I approach stand-up,” said Johnson in a previous episode of PodPod. “I also feel like with a podcast, you're not trying to get a laugh every five seconds and to be honest, when I listen to podcasts where people are trying to do that, I find it really off-putting.”

“I want to hear natural conversation, I want to hear people's genuine relationships, and how that’s generating humour.”

Due to the authentic nature of comedy podcasts, listeners are highly engaged and often listen to more than one podcast at once. The report shows that 72% of the survey respondents are listening to up to six different comedy podcasts in one month while more than 60% listen two to three times a week, and feel the need to keep up to date with the regular comedy podcasts that they listen to.

The number of listeners is also expected to increase in the next year, with 71% saying comedy podcasts are a larger part of their routine compared to a year ago, and 57% of respondents saying that they plan to listen to more comedy podcasts going forward. These shows present a key opportunity for brands that want to invest in podcast advertising, as 90% of listeners answered that they already expect to hear advertising when listening to a comedy podcast. 

Although 83% say that the ads inserted into comedy podcasts don’t necessarily have to be funny, over half of listeners prefer ads to be host read, as they feel more personal. Comedy listeners are also more likely to be engaged with brands; over 50% find ads in comedy podcasts more memorable and better to concentrate on than other formats, and 49% act on them or visit the brand’s site.

“Comedy podcasts are a great home for audio ad campaigns - from host reads to spot ads and integrated features, there’s something for every advertiser,” said Global director of commercial for audio Katie Bowden. “And rest assured, there’s no need for laugh-out-loud humour from brands."

“The relationship between comedy podcast hosts and their fans is particularly unique and positive, allowing brand and product messaging to be seamlessly integrated into a show, to inspire listeners whilst they’re feeling relaxed and happy.”