Business

A Podcast Answers a Fast-Food Question That Nobody Is Asking

As funny as the show is, it can induce winces, particularly when Mr. Thompson is talking to minimum-wage workers, who have little choice but to treat the oddball on the phone diplomatically. It’s a pitfall Mr. Thompson is acutely aware of and tries to avoid by making himself the butt of every joke.

“I don’t want this to be a prank show, as much as I love prank shows,” he said. “I really want to be the dumbest person in the room at all times.”

Mr. Thompson grew up in northeast Louisiana and originally hoped to write fiction. He segued to stand-up comedy after graduating from college, then started a daily science news podcast in his late 20s. That landed him a job with a science education nonprofit in Los Angeles, which quickly imploded. He started performing and writing for the Upright Citizens Brigade, a comedy group, and has spent recent years writing for TV comedies and doing voice-over work.

Nothing he’s done, though, has resonated like his podcast. The day after he posted the first episode, he checked a Twitter account he’d set up for the show and found a batch of enthusiastic messages. This included a tweet from John Darnielle of the indie rock band the Mountain Goats, who wrote: “New favorite thing alert.”

“To me, it’s a show about branding and the way podcasting has grown,” Mr. Darnielle said in an interview. “We watched it go from an industry with no real boundaries, no rules about how you do it, to a medium that was trying to emulate what TV was, with umbrella companies with seven podcasts.”

In the years since Mr. Thompson began “Whatever,” the business of podcasting has boomed, with shows and podcast networks snapped up in deals worth millions. Mr. Thompson has no beef with money, and he recoups his costs — about $100 a month in podcast hosting fees — through ads automatically added to the show. But he’s irked by podcasts that blur the commercial and editorial by having hosts read advertisements, a throwback to TV’s early days.

It’s a practice he lampoons on “Whatever.” In each episode, he writes an ad for a real company that hasn’t paid him a cent, including Audible and Spotify. For a while, he called the podcast “ZipRecruiter Presents Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s.” Then ZipRecruiter sent a cease-and-desist letter.

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