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Chris Jericho On Journalism, Johnny Carson And Booking One Of The World’s Hottest Podcasts

Chris Jericho has chased his childhood dreams to the floor of a sold out Tokyo Dome and the main event of Wrestlemania. He’s charted hit singles at the helm of his own rock band, Fozzy. He’s hosted his own paranormal, Travel Channel special and remained a weekly fixture on the global stage as the face of “AEW Dynamite” on TNT. 

For the past eight years, he has done all of that while building one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. Each week, “Talk is Jericho” blends the epicurean dreams of Jericho into a digestible, binge-worthy show that regularly nips on the heels of Joe Rogan and Adam Carolla in the U.S. podcast rankings.

This week, we sat down with Jericho to better understand his journey from unlikely podcast host to industry stalwart.

Joe Sills: Podcasts and travel are really intimately connected. Podcasts can become the soundtrack of a journey. Do you ever think about the places people go while they’re listening to “Talk is Jericho?”

Chris Jericho: That’s one reason I don’t do a video version of the show. If someone is in the car or in the gym, I want them to listen to the show. I want people to go on long distance drives or flights and put “Talk is Jericho” on and enjoy it. Everyone wants to do visual, too, these days; but to me, audio will never go away. You can put it on and enjoy it and still do what you need to do. You don’t have to sit down and watch it.

I listen to podcasts all of the time now. Sometimes, even more than music, because I can enjoy them while I am doing other things.

Joe Sills: I want to dig into “Talk is Jericho” with you, but first tell us what shows you are listening to on the road.

Chris Jericho: There are so many great KISS podcasts out there. There aren’t a lot of Beatles or Metallica podcasts, but for whatever reason, there are a lot of great shows about KISS that have also branched out more into music. I listen to “Shout it Out Loudcast,” and “Pod of Thunder.” I love the Wrestling Observer podcast that comes out daily with Brian Alvarez and Dave Meltzer. 

Those are the standards on a weekly basis. 

I also listen to every episode of “Talk is Jericho.” It might take me a week or two, but I like to listen, because I don’t just sit back and do the show and say ‘whatever.’ I take a lot of responsibility for the show. When I’m recording, I have to worry about sound levels and orchestrating the conversation. I have to think a few steps ahead of what I am asking. But listening gives me a chance to hear my ad reads and rate my delivery. I take notes on what I can improve on.

If this was my only job, I would want it to be the best podcast on the planet, because if Joe Rogan is getting $100 million for his show, I want “Talk is Jericho” to be shooting for that exact same figure and level of prominence. If I’m not doing that, then I should just quit.

Anything I do that has my name on it, I take it very seriously. I never, ever phone in a show. I enjoy listening, too, because these guests are on for a reason. I find them interesting and I like to hear their stories.

Joe Sills: Those stories come from rockstars, wrestlers, monster hunters, explorers, paranormal investigators, and other celebrities. It feels like you can’t really pigeonhole your show. What thought process goes into booking guests?

Chris Jericho: Backtracking a little bit to before the podcast, I had just finished a show with Nikki Sixx on Sirius XM that was a kind of a music show that had interviews on. I did that for a few weeks, and right when it finished I got a call from Steve Austin, who was really the first ‘wrestling’ star to do a podcast. 

Steve told me that Podcast One was looking for more hosts and they wanted to talk to me. So, I talked to the guy at Podcast One, and I told him I didn’t want to just do a wrestling show. I told him if they wanted someone to just do a wrestling show, to find someone else.

In my mind, I’ve never seen myself as only a wrestler. I’m an entertainer, and I have so many interests and things I am into. That’s where my podcast started.

I was a big Art Bell (Coast to Coast AM) fan growing up. I am really into the paranormal. At the time, he had just retired, so I wanted to pick up the slack where there was kind of a hole. Out of the gate, we were just doing one show a week, but when we got to two shows, I started trying to book one wrestling guest and someone else each week.

I’m also a big Johnny Carson fan. Always have been. Johnny, and now Jimmy Fallon, have this thing where you like the host so much that you don’t even care who the guest is. That’s where my mind was at. Anyone who I feel is entertaining—musicians, comedians, porn stars, athletes and, of course wrestlers—will be there. There’s a pro surfer. There’s a mob wife. And whether or not you know anything about those guests or not, you’re going to tune-in because you like the host.

Joe Sills: I’m not sure most people realize you went to journalism school. Help us fill in the blanks. You started wrestling in 1990, were you taking journalism classes while you were learning the ropes?

Chris Jericho: No. I graduated from high school when I was 17. You had to be 18 to go to wrestling school, so in the interim I found a course in journalism at Red River College in Winnipeg to basically kill time. I learned about advertising and public relations, journalism and radio and t.v. I did all of that prior to leaving for Calgary to go to wrestling school when I was 19.

I think I got my degree in May of 1990 and by the end of June I was off to wrestling school.

Joe Sills: How do those two worlds collide? Does the storytelling you do on the microphone in the ring translate to journalism?

Chris Jericho: I don’t know if it translates to journalism, but it definitely translates into show business. The thing about being a journalist and a broadcaster that ties all of those things I learned back at Red River together is that you are public speaking.

A lot of people don’t realize it’s not easy to host a podcast. You see some of the biggest names in anything start podcasts, and they come and go so easily. It’s like when Wayne Gretzky tried to coach. Where was it? The Phoenix Coyotes. It sucked. Just because you’re a great player or a great front man doesn’t mean you’re a great podcast host.

On the show, I can use my journalistic instincts. I understand you don’t want dead air. I understand peeling back the layers of an onion. And I also know what it’s like to be asked the same questions a thousand times. I generally know when I go into an interview, if the other person pulls out a bunch of questions, that it’s not going to go well.

You have to listen to be a good journalist. 

Johnny Carson was able to do that. It was the Johnny Carson show, but he would let the guests be the stars. He didn’t jump in all of the time. 

When you have a podcast, you have a proclivity to tell your own stories. But if I have Hulk Hogan on, I don’t need to tell stories about Hogan to Hogan. I need to let him talk.

As a host, you should be listening. I learned that from William Shatner, too. He always says he doesn’t do podcasts, but he has done mine a couple of times. He will say, ‘But I’ve done my friend Chris Jericho’s podcast.’ So, I think that’s pretty cool. What he does great is he listens to what you are saying. You could mention off-hand that you almost had a car wreck on the way to the studio, and he might say, ‘Stop right there! You almost had a wreck?’ He doesn’t care about what the question is. He is listening to what you say, looking for what you throw out that is interesting and getting you to talk about something you might not have thought about.

That’s a great way to conduct interviews. That’s how you get an honest interview from somebody.

When guys like Shatner or Lemmy or Vanilla Ice or Gene Simmons—people that have had thousands of interviews—tell me that my show was one of the best interviews they’ve ever done, that’s a real feather in my cap. I think it’s one reason the show is popular with guests. People know they can come on and have fun.

Joe Sills: A lot of journalism is dealing with rejection, reaching out to people over and over again to try and get the interview. Does that happen to you even though you’re a global star?

Chris Jericho: Yeah, I get that quite a bit. It’s really interesting how these interviews and guests come together. Greta Van Fleet—it took me probably ten times to get them, because they would keep cancelling and cancelling. Meanwhile, I’m a huge Police fan and I knew someone that knew Stewart Copeland’s publicist and three days later I am talking to him in his private sanctuary in one of the best interviews he’s ever done.

I am always trying to book Keith Richards or Paul McCartney, and a lot of times they’ll ‘people aren’t doing press right now.’

I had one guy on my show four or five times. I reached out personally to have him back on, and I kind of got railroaded and jobbed out, ghosted. Meanwhile, the guy is doing press on every little thing.

You can’t take that stuff personally, but it can piss you off.

Stacey Pera is my producer. She’s been with me from the start, and I won’t do my show with out here. She’s awesome. But with our AC/DC episode, I called her and said, ‘Stacey. Angus is on cable television with ‘Fern Gully Tonight.’ They have 47,000 subscribers and I have 5 million. What the hell is going on?’

I was trying and trying and trying to get AC/DC on, and I finally got them because I wouldn’t give up.

Joe Sills: So is there still a rush when you do land a big guest like that?

Chris Jericho: Absolutely. I want to get to the point where people come to me on their press tours. I would love to get a Matthew McConaughey or a Johnny Depp once in a while, and once in a while I do, but it does kind of piss me off when Paul McCartney is on Chris Hardwick’s show and I’m like, ‘F***. I should have interviewed Paul McCartney! Mine would have been better!’

Then you realize how many requests McCartney gets to do any kind of interview and you start thinking you just have to keep rolling.

At this point, “Talk is Jericho” is one of the top podcasts in the world. I think it’s top 100 or top 150 out of a million, so hopefully those will start to come through. But in the meantime, I have so many other interesting guests coming on. There is always someone with a cool story to tell.

Joe Sills: You have a lot of outlandish interviews. One of my favorites is with Rachel Stavis, the exorcist. But for people who aren’t familiar with the show, where should they start to dive in?

Chris Jericho: That’s hard to say, Joe, because we are almost eight years in and at about 800 episodes. There’s so many great ones: we’ve had almost 30 Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame members and maybe 20 Hollywood Walk of Fame-type stars along with everything else.

To me, a podcast is a great place to have a conversation with a friend. When you’re backstage at a rock show or a wrestling show, you might talk for two or three minutes, then everyone is going to go do their own thing. This gives you a reason to sit down and talk for an hour.

The other side is it gives you a chance to meet your heroes, and in some cases become friends with them.

I’ve had Paul Stanley on four times. Kevin Smith and I almost went into business together doing podcasts, and we might still one day. Eli Roth and I sat down to discuss 1980s teen comedies and slasher films.

Pick one you like and go from there.

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