A member of our Radio Pro Facebook group asked a question about the creation and introduction of a new character for his show.
“I have a character I have been playing with adding to the on-air line up — sort of the flip side of my own personality. I have tested the character on a few friends and everyone loves the idea. Planning on recording a couple dozen bits before adding it to the on-air side of things. Just not sure how to introduce the new person to the audience. Advice?”
One of our group members responded, “The best character is you.”
While I agree that to sustain an entire and recurring radio show “the best character is you,” for a peripheral character I would change that to “the best character means something to you.”
That might clearly be a facet of your true personality.
Or it might be your personal reaction to a type of person very unlike you — even a type of person you dislike.
When presenting a character who is fundamentally different from you, the key is to play it as honestly (even if exaggeratedly) as possible.
Rather than “Here’s me, mocking this kind of character,” it should be “Here’s me, doing my best to present this character just as he would present himself in real life.”
I have strong negative opinions about people who con other people by claiming to have “psychic powers.” But my “psychic” persona is one of my more popular “characters.” The voice is pretty much just my regular ol’ voice.
Having a fair knowledge of the mechanics of how they con people I simply create a fun situation, put the character in it, and let him react to it as he naturally would.
I don’t really have strong feelings about “self-help gurus” (some are good, some are terrible) but usually I find them funny-to-ludicrous. I also have a strong background in psychology. So I find it easy to adapt that persona when that character can serve a scene.
I suspect that character doesn’t resonate with my audience as much as my “psychic,” simply because I have stronger feelings about the “psychic.” But it’s still entertaining, probably because I’m able to bring in my psychology background to help inform the bit.
What is the character like? What will he be bringing to your show? (Injection of outrageous point of view? Unique perspective based upon his profession, geographic or family background, etc.?)
There’s no “right” way to introduce a character.
The character is “Edward,” who is more or less the flip side of me. The stuff I would not say, Edward would be able to voice a little better.
I don’t hunt or fish; he could talk about those, for example, but with a humorous caricature type voice. I’d let Edward have the punchline while I play dumb.
Edward giving a review of “What The Fox Say” and explaining that they actually make a bark or yip like a dog
Me asking if that means my neighbors might be housing one and calling it a chihuahua
Edward explaining that the better question in our area is “What The Deer Say”
– Me asking what that might be
– Edward saying “damn a bumper!”
(We have a lot of deer/vehicle accidents in our rural area)
For some reason trying to explain it doesn’t seem as funny as it actually plays out when joking around…
Well, going from “seems like a funny idea” to “here’s the fully realized funny piece” is where the work lies.
But the structure you’re suggesting has a lot of promise. It’s a way for you to bring in a broad topic in which much of your audience is interested but about which you know nothing.
Rather than faking a personal interest or pretending to know about the topic, you’re acknowledging and using that local topic to add relevant entertainment value to your radio show.
Being willing to give “Edward” the punchline is smart. Too many radio DJs think they themselves need to “get the laughs.” But it’s their show. If the audience laughs at their show, the host gets the credit.
You also have a good ear for material:
What The Deer Say: “Damn, a bumper” — that’s a solid joke that fits the character and the topic.
How To Introduce A New Character
You don’t need to make a big deal about the introduction of a new character to your radio show. And you don’t need to indicate it’s the introduction of a new “running” character or cast member. Instead, just do the bit.
You might casually remark about “What Does The Fox Say?”:
“Actually, around here it might be more appropriate to ask what does the deer say.” Just drop it in there as an amusing little aside, and move on.
Then you take a phone call.
YOU: Hi, (Radio X).
EDWARD: Yeah, this is Edward (Surname). I’m a ( ) here in ( ). I’m what you’d call an outdoorsman.
YOU: Ah, yessir…?
EDWARD: I can tell you exactly “what the deer” say.
YOU: What would that be?
EDWARD: Damn, a bumper!
If the audience responds — or if in your gut you feel it worked — do two or three more similar calls. If the character clicks with the audience, then you can simply continue to feature him as a regular.
If it flops…Don’t worry. People don’t remember your failures.
Here’s the first on-air appearance of one of the best radio characters ever — Howard Hoffman’s “Mr. Stress” on Z-100/New York.
Note how the jock (Ross Brittain) simply takes a phone call from a listener. There’s no signaling to the audience, “Hey, here’s a new character!”
Ross was in charge of the Z Morning Zoo’s comedy. But Scott Shannon (his on-air partner and Z-100 program director) didn’t like the bit.
So Ross did what any self-respecting morning jock would do: He waited for the PD (Scott) to go on vacation, and then he played the bit. (You’ll hear Mr. Stress refer to Shannon’s absence from the show.)
By the time Scott returned, Mr. Stress was a hit.
Questions to Jump Start a New Character
What does he care about?
What is he passionate about?
What gets him angry?
What makes him deliriously happy?
Whom does he view as the world’s “villain”?
Who is his all-time hero?
What secret is he trying to hide? (Mr. Stress, for example, might be hiding the fact that deep down he’s insecure, and he tries to cover that up with his bluster.)
The Character’s Catch Phrase
Most attempts at manufacturing “catch phrases” fail. Usually you discover the catch phrase only after the character has been introduced.
The ones that “go viral” somehow represent the core of the character.
For example, “Answer me!” immediately became Mr. Stress’s catch phrase. But why? “Answer me!” isn’t funny…at least, not without the right context.
But this character is a guy who is so stressed out that he doesn’t have the patience to wait for an answer a question that he just asked. That’s why “Answer me!” caught on; it expressed his core character.
By the way, “What Does The Fox Say?” is the creation of a couple of friends of ours, the Ylvis Brothers. If you haven’t already heard it, check out this wonderfully good radio bit of theirs from several years ago.
Here’s a great resource for Creating, Sustaining and Growing Radio Characters.