Lord knows it can take years for a Broadway musical to hit the stage. Now imagine creating a brand new musical every week. For comedic wunderkinds Zach Reino and Jessica McKenna, it’s become their claim to fame. The two have gained a following ever since they unleashed their popular podcast Off Book: The Improvised Musical.
Known simply as The Zach and The Jess, the quirky duo has garnered plenty of attention for their hi-larious, on-the-spot musical sketches and razor-sharp comedic stylings. Now they’re bringing their insanely popular podcast Off Book to the Kansas City Improv Festival on August 16 & 17. From Buzzfeed to FunnyOrDie.com, these two have had plenty of accolades heaped on them. Fans, meanwhile, are eating them up. We caught up with The Zach and The Jess to discuss life, love, and other sundry items.
When did you two realize you were on to something with your musically inclined podcast shenanigans?
J: “Hahaha, I’m not sure. We knew before we started the podcast that musical improv in general really resonates with audiences so we had faith it would translate. And if anything the audio medium allows us to make big character choices and fast transitions we can’t always pull off on stage. So it’s been a fun fit for us and hopefully for listeners too.”
Z: “I knew when it bought me my first yacht.”
How’s fame and fortune been treating you?
Z: “Most people get into improv/podcasts because of how lucrative they are, and we’re both really enjoying owning multiple yachts. For real though, every time a fan reaches out to tell us about how much they enjoy something we’ve made, it feels really good. We’re very lucky to just to get to do something we love.”
J: “Sorry Zach, I couldn’t hear your nice sentiment over my money counting.”
Z: “Oh, I pay someone to do that.”
You’ve gotten plenty of good buzz (and even better press). Why do you think that is?
J: “First off, thank you. Second off, links, please? But honestly, I attribute a huge part of our appeal to the fact that people respond to joy and we are very joyously making these episodes.”
Z: “Also doing a musical is a big, exciting, crazy hurdle for us to jump over every week. We get to work in a genre that is full of other genres that people have very strong feelings about. We have a lot of listeners who claim to hate musicals butlove our show.”
You two are taking your act on the road to the Kansas City Improv Festival. What should patrons expect?
J: “We won’t have a guest so it will seem a little different than the podcast but that really allows Zach and me to have even more freedom when we perform. They should expect a fun and ridiculous musical and probably at least one animal and/or coming-of-age storyline.”
Z: “Yeah, and whatever it is, they will be the only audience to ever see this musical.”
With 18 billion podcasts out there, why do you think yours resonates with listeners?
Z: “We love making this show, and I think the joy we feel making it is (hopefully) contagious. On top of that, musical improv is pretty new to most people, so getting to listen to a fully improvised narrative musical with awesome guests who may be doing something outside their comfort zone is really exciting to people.”
J: “As someone who loves podcasts, I know I get hooked to ones that either have loose banter or good story-telling. We are attempting to do both!”
Speaking of listeners, I’m guessing you appeal to everyone. You don’t exactly have a target demo—or do you?
J: “Like you said there are exactly 18 billion podcasts—so a target audience leaves a lot of ears on the table. Is this a good metaphor? But we’d like to appeal to everyone.”
Z: “Our table welcomes the ears of anyone who wants something fun and ridiculous and generally uplifting and, hopefully, impressive.”
Finally, ever been to KC before? If so, thoughts? If not, how can we dazzle you?
J: “I have not! Happy to change that. I suppose roll out the red carpet at your finest tiki bar, please?”
Z: “Yes, tiki bars are huge for us. Also we’d like to see some of your best dogs. I don’t know if you’re known for either of those things, but those are our only interests.”