Hosts Bryan Quinby and Brett Payne, who will host a live variety show at Ruby Tuesday on Friday, on navigating a growing media company without losing sight of their blue-collar roots
When Bryan Quinby and Brett Payne launched Street Fight Radio in June 2011, the idea of it evolving into an actual business was the furthest thing from their minds.
“And we have a staff now, which is really weird,” said Quinby, who joined Payne for a mid-December interview (the pair will host a Street Fight Radio live variety show at Ruby Tuesday on Friday, Dec. 27, with guests Lindsey Martin, Garbage Brain University and the Trillbillies). “It’s been a weird two or three years, because when we started the podcast I don’t think either one of us thought we were going to travel the country, and I don’t think either of us thought we were going to make a living doing this.”
“And I think at this point we’ve replaced our former income from when he was a cable guy and I worked at an insurance leads company,” continued Payne, who added that the podcast has now been a full-time career for the two for more than a year (the Street Fight Patreon page currently has 3,225 subscribers who generate $14,267 a month).
“I mean, we’re still broke. I’m an astoundingly irresponsible person with money,” Quinby said, and laughed.Learn how to be more responsible with your own money by signing up for our daily newsletter
True to the show's politics, the hosts haven’t (solely) enriched themselves, instead spreading the income around to a network of artists, performers and makers. Payne said contributing work is reimbursed at a rate of at least $20 an hour, so it's little surprise the two have spoken fondly on-air of the types of economic proposals currently being pitched by Bernie Sanders. “I remember being 22 and doing art for free and hoping someone would see it,” Quinby said. “But when you give $800 to a young artist, I think that can change their circumstances more than 'exposure' would.”
Despite the success, the pair hasn’t lost sight of the show’s anarchist roots (it’s dubbed “the #1 anarcho-comedy show” for a reason) or the lifelong financial struggles that bond the two to their blue-collar fan base. Call-in episodes regularly feature listeners and hosts sharing workplace horror stories and debt-avoidance schemes, such as Quinby’s former practice of parking his car several blocks from his home to prevent it from being repossessed, or the time Payne took out a payday advance loan to pay off an overdue payment on a different payday advance. There’s also a shared language between hosts and audience, so a joke about a woman unknowingly sporting a Godsmack sun logo tattoo on her body requires no further explanation or dissection.
“I thought that I was going to be a cable guy for the rest of my life, or a roofer for the rest of my life, and that was the understanding I was working under when we started the podcast,” Quinby said. “And now I study radio, and I’m really obsessing over it, and I don’t feel like any of those guys got the working class comedy thing right. Howard Stern spoke to working class people, but I don’t think he ever got the experience right. None of those guys did, because they didn’t live it. And me and him have done it. ... And when people hear you say out loud the same situation that you’re in, it draws them closer to you.”
“We are our audience. [Bryan] talks about his money mistakes, and I talk a lot about self-improvement and trying to break those old habits to better myself and get out of poverty,” said Payne, who, like Quinby, grew up in a blue-collar suburban Columbus household. “We have set it up so we’re not on a pedestal. You fall off those things, and we don’t want that at all.”
The two have also maintained a chip on their respective shoulders that serves as further motivation, whether it’s the frustration that New York and Los Angeles shows tend to be bigger, better attended affairs than hometown gigs, or simply a broader need to continuously prove their capabilities to any doubters. “The mini-series is me saying, ‘I can fucking do anything,’” Quinby said of the multi-episode deep dives into single topics the podcasters have recently developed. “I can do six episodes about being a teenager or Kid Rock or shock jocks or mega church pastors. I want to show I can do anything. … We both have this urge to make things people have never seen before.”
One thing that has changed, at least subtly, is the hosts’ individual politics, which Quinby described by saying, “I think we started off [podcasting] by being a little more nihilistic than we ended up being.”
“At the beginning, I thought nothing good was going to happen until we overthrew the United States government,” Quinby said. “And now I don’t think we can think like that, and we just have to figure out how to make good things happen for people.”
“I think at this point, it’s really just about day-to-day joy, or day-to-day change,” Payne continued. “I don’t know what the future holds … so it really becomes about today. Can I do Food Not Bombs today? Can I do Meals on Wheels? Can I go to a [Democratic Socialists of America] meeting? Can I contribute to a fund? That’s where I am at this moment. It’s about how I can make myself useful on an individual level today.”