Inside jokes can offer fun potential for your podcast, but also some potential costs. Here are some brief things for you to consider as you engage with your podcast audience.

In my signature fashion, I started preparing a whole list of pros and cons, and some big thinking on inside jokes.

But it's really not that complicated!

An inside joke is some form of callback, trope, catchphrase, or similar that only those “in the know” will get and enjoy. Because of this, inside jokes can be hilarious, but only for those who get them. Inside jokes can be a sort of reward your loyal audience, but alienate your new audience.

I've heard some people advise against inside jokes exactly because your new audience won't get them. But that seems overly focused on the new audience and at the cost of engaging your existing audience and making them feel special.

I think it really comes down to this simple guidance: avoid inside jokes with your cohosts and guests, but embrace inside jokes with your audience.

Where inside jokes come from

First, some examples of inside jokes I've heard from podcasts:

If you've been a loyal follower of any of these shows, then you probably know exactly what these jokes are about, or at least can laugh at them.

So where do these come from?

Some jokes will arise naturally as your audience essentially feeds their growth. That's what I've seen with inside jokes from That Story Show, No Agenda, and Serial. While other things become inside jokes because of how often the host(s) use them, such as the examples from Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend and Pitch Meeting.

It's the audience-feed jokes that I think you should work more to embrace because they will more deeply reward and engage your audience.

What about the new listeners?

There are three approaches I've seen and experienced with podcasts regarding inside jokes:

  1. Letting your podcast audience eventually catch on with your inside jokes (even if they might not know their origins).
  2. Occasionally explaining or pointing to the origins.
  3. Making a glossary of inside jokes—this could even be a supporter-exclusive or email opt-in incentive.

Your goal should be to both engage your existing audience and make them feel special and to create an environment welcoming to your new audience. This comes from having a good balance so that your podcast is not overfilled with inside jokes, but it does mature with loyalty.

Think of inside jokes like extra seasonings for a meal. They can add something special, and especially be appreciated by your “insiders,” and celebrated when your new audience gets in on the jokes.

And I think there is something special, like a sort of “leveling up,” when your audience becomes familiar with your tropes, catchphrases, and inside jokes. Then, they'll feel like one of the “cool kids” when they can throw around the inside jokes, too. And that's a precious moment for them!

Turn inside jokes into swag

When your audience starts using your inside jokes too, or further feeding them, that's a great time to turn those jokes into swag you can sell or giveaway. Consider putting them on T-shirts, posters, stickers, and more (like That Story Show does with several of their inside jokes). If you want to be on the cutting edge about it, maybe you could even turn those inside jokes into NFTs!

Community Corner

  • Thanks for the streaming satoshis from Dwev, Dave Jackson, and Bryan Entzminger!
  • 5-star review by John Moore from June 14, 2021 on Podchaser: “I’ve listen to just about every episode of this show over the last year. Excellent content and advice. I particularly like his SEO episodes.” There will be more podcast SEO content in the future!

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This post may contain links to products or services with which I have an affiliate relationship. I may receive compensation from your actions through such links. However, I don't let that corrupt my perspective and I don't recommend only affiliates.

About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.
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