Creator Download: Ashley Ray

How the TV critic and writer is flipping the script on TV discussion

In 2020, former TV critic turned writer and stand-up Ashley Ray was in quarantine, watching so much television and “losing it”. She needed an outlet to talk about all the TV she was watching, and so sometime between the week she watched the entirety of Sex and the City (including the movies) and getting into Big Brother, she started TV I Say, With Ashley Ray

At that time, her studio was underneath her bed, soundproofed by blankets and pillows, and recorded using a Yeti mic she bought from Amazon. Eight episodes in, she got Seth Rogan and Roxanne Gay on the pod to talk about 90 Day Fiancé. That’s when she realised that she was onto something. 

Earlier this year, TV I Say relaunched on SiriusXM’s comedy network, Earwolf. While Ray is no longer recording the podcast from her bedroom, she continues to break down the TV everyone is talking about with other comedians, actors, and TV writers. We sat down with Ray at Podcast Movement to talk about how the show survived before it was picked up by Earwolf, what’s so appealing about it, and how it came to be a top ten TV podcast in Sweden.

How would you describe your podcast?

Fun! I always want fun to be the first thing that comes to mind. I think the best podcasts are the ones that you listen to, and you're like, ‘This is my friend, these are my buddies.’ So I would describe it as camaraderie, [and] fun; it's the watercooler conversation that you miss from the office when everyone would just get around and be like, ‘Did you see Lost last night?’ It's that energy.

Why did you start your podcast?

I felt like there wasn't really a platform for those of us who just love television as it is, and just want to celebrate it. We consider something like 90 Day Fiancé to have just as much of an impact on the culture as something like The Sopranos, because it does. You look at the numbers, more people are watching 90 Day Fiancé than Succession. 

So I think it is worth it to dig into that conversation, and to give that a platform. I wanted a place where I could be like, ‘No, this reality show that you all want to ignore is actually saying a lot. Oh, you guys don't take Emily In Paris seriously over at the Rolling Stone podcast? Well, we're here to talk about it.’

What advice do you wish you’d been given when you first started?

The way Yeti microphones work is that they're omnidirectional. So don't talk into the top of it. That was something I learned when I recorded one interview, ‘Oh, my vocals are bad because I did not realise how this microphone works.’

I also wish someone had told me how important it is to have a central brand and branding that people can really click with and identify immediately. That's something I figured out when I came to Earwolf. Prior to that, I had worked with some artists to create my own promo. So some days I would just be like, ‘I don't know, I'm making this on Instagram. It looks cool. People are liking it’. And then I go make something else and it wouldn't fit what I made the week before. It created this problem where people were like, ‘Oh, I didn't realize that was TV I Say. I thought that was something else.’

How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?

Four of us; including the guests we usually have four or five of us. We have my amazing producer, who's now Anita Flores. Abby [Aguilar] is our sound engineer. She is the person in the room with me. She's the one giving me the like, thumbs up, or recording, or holding up signs, hey, this person's name is this, and also doing a lot of background research on shows [and] our guests.

Do you monetise your podcast?

We do; When it was independent I really didn't, because I didn't fully understand how I could…

It was truly a labour of love, I would just fund it from my pocket. Eventually, I did start a Patreon that a lot of listeners and fans supported and it was enough to cover paying [costs]. I'd make $400 and be like, great. 

Actually, the thing that saved the podcast [when] I was in a hiatus mode, waiting for us to start with Earwolf, and I was like, ‘I can't keep paying to host all these episodes. I don't know what I'm going to do’ - and Bowen Yang from SNL literally sent me the money to keep my podcast hosted and on the air. For me, [it] represents a labour of love and just truly a community of people who love TV and the podcast, coming together to keep it on the air.

How do you promote your podcast?

Earwolf is great with making all the promotional assets, which I love because everything looks the same now. Mostly I promote through social channels. I am pretty big on Twitter; I'd say that's where I have my biggest audience. And I also think, to me, it's the one that makes the most sense for podcast listeners. When I do my show, I want to have a conversation with people. I love it when people message or tweet at me and they're like, ‘Oh my god, I just like did my laundry and listened to the latest episode and I love this and this.’ So I spend a lot of time promoting on Twitter.

Because I have this background from TV writing, I have a pretty solid fan base of people who are seeking out my writing and my work. So I also go through my Substack, through the Patreon, I'm always promoting the podcast.

Who listens to your podcast?

It's the podcast for the girlies! I think we have a really diverse audience from what I've seen. Truly I think the biggest audience is people in their 20s or early 30s who are big TV nerds. They probably used to read the AV Club every single day and now they read Vulture every day. They read TV recaps, they follow a lot of TV Instagram posts and Twitter accounts — real TV people who love the behind-the-scenes insight, and who want to know how their shows were made. And then I think there's a lot of comedy fans who are coming from my stand-up. And I think those people tend to be a little older… my age.

I always love it when people tell me that their moms listen to the podcast. I think a lot of people kind of dip in when they see, ‘Oh, there's someone I like’ or ‘Oh, she's talking about a show I like,’ so they'll dip in and then get hooked. But I've had a lot of people be like, ‘Oh yeah, my mom started listening because you had Captain Sandy from Below Deck on’. We're really strong in the Midwest, especially Chicago and Dallas. So I think that speaks to the show's ability to do what I wanted to accomplish - become that watercooler show and not just be the pretentious TV podcast. Oh, and also a lot of Swedish people listen. I'm, like, a top 10 TV podcast in Sweden.

What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?

I've learned that I truly am so thankful for the following and fans I've built, in a way that I never really appreciated, as a writer and a stand-up comic. There are people who love your work and will come out to see you perform, but it's really different to have people every single week actively want to consume what you're putting out. The biggest thing I learned is that I'm creating something people are paying attention to. 

I have an opinion and perspective that fits into this world which, to me, for so long just seemed so male, white-dominated. People do want another podcast about TV from people like me who have these different perspectives, and who are shining a light on the shows and content that usually aren’t getting attention.

What was the last podcast you listened to?

It was probably the latest episode of Why Won’t You Date Me? with Nicole Byer. It was her 100th episode. I love her; I've done that pod. I'm a huge Why Won’t You Date Me? fan.