By Suzie Harrison
Ascending a spiral staircase to the North Laguna Beach set, a cheering crowd goes wild for “The Duke Fightmaster Show,” a weekly Friday podcast like no other.
Energy-pumping fans pack a temporary studio so cramped it was impossible to notice that the set was a bedroom.
Fresh, funny and original, Duke Fightmaster, yes, that is his real name, quit a job in the mortgage business to pursue a life on stage. His is a creative endeavor on a shoe-string budget with oversize ambition. Fightmaster’s goal is transform himself into a celebrity contender to replace television’s late late-night talk-show king, Conan O’Brien, who is succeeding Jay Leno in 2009.
Fightmaster’s show, along with another new podcast by a Laguna college art instructor, illustrate the online revolution underway undercutting traditional producers of television, cable and radio programming. While low-cost technology permits anyone with a video camera and a microphone to turn into a content provider, fewer people, including Fightmaster, have conquered turning a podcast into cash flow.
“The format is a variety talk show with an ever evolving ensemble cast,” explained Fightmaster, who opens with a monologue and well-written jokes that elicit roars from the audience. “I banter with my wife, Lesley, who is my number one sidekick.”
Their ribbing is much like Larry David and actress Susie Essman on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Lesley has sarcasm down. “The banter, a lot just evolves naturally. During the day, if we have an argument, we’ll use it for the show,” said Lesley, 37.
Together, they have young sons to think about. Since escaping from cubicle hell, he now watches the kids while Lesley is at work as a yoga instructor. She is supportive and wants his dream to become a reality.
A second sidekick is his best friend Ryan Wesierski. “He’s like Andy Kaufman, people either love him or hate him.”
Wet Dream, the house band, warms up Friday night audiences with antics, which play an integral role in the show. Popular segments include “Metal Moment” music reviews; “Flux this News” done in rap and movie reviews by Chipper Starkenburg and Chiquita Banana.
Tawyna Holland, a model perfect beauty with a wit to match, is responsible for a lot of the shows’ viewership. Holland plays a range of characters, including Tantalizing Tawnya. Fightmaster concedes he uses clips of her on www.youtube.com to entice audiences.
With a line-up of comedians, on the street interviews, local bands such as Jason Feddy and World Anthem, Fightmaster has fashioned an engaging variety show for a new medium.
After five months, Fightmaster has recorded 45 episodes, racked up 194,000 online views, and its popularity with audiences is forcing a change of venue to the Legion Hall, 310 Legion St. Those who want a spot should arrive by 8 p.m. Taping begins at 8:30 p.m. Friday nights.
Tonight’s guests include Craig Ferguson Show Comic, Matt Baetz, local comedian Chris Edwards and musician Jeremy Paul and show favorites.
Soon, cable viewers may also turn on the Fightmaster show on Cox channel 3, according to Fightmaster.
“It started off really bad, not as easy as you would think to start a talk show. The guy with the camera almost looked like he had Parkinson’s,” admitted Fightmaster.
The show now runs 40 minutes; he originally aspired for seven.
Still, without capital, Fightmaster counts on friends in Hollywood, scriptwriters and editors to help line up talent, including comedians and bands. Holland and both Fightmasters write as well.
So far “The Duke Fightmaster Show” continues to stand in the ring, against all odds. Winning O’Brien’s crown doesn’t seem entirely farfetched.
Yet an entirely different type of podcast is the creation of Laguna College of Art and Design illustration department instructor, Brian Apthorp and his wife, Lori.
Their “For Art’s Sake” show is a more traditional one that evolved from scouting by the Pixel Corps, a guild of media developers, where Lori is a member. Members were asked to create new shows that give perspective on modern and contemporary art. She won the contest.
The new media company has 26 original shows and over 400 episodes produced in high definition, offered on-demand for multiple digital platforms.
Switching mediums proved a challenging endeavor for Lori Apthorp, helped by her background in graphic and industrial design.
Their 12-episode show on contemporary art features one-on-one interviews with artists, a behind-the-scenes look at their work and creative processes.
“For me to have my first podcast supported by someone else is quite amazing; 98% that are done are not paid,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn, have the skills and funds to upgrade my equipment.”
Their goal is to offer a spectrum of perspectives on modern art that foster appreciation for the medium.
A comic book enthusiast since boyhood, Brian Apthorp teaches an LCAD class on the graphic novel, has penciled for well-known comic books such as “Batman” and “Poison Ivy” and is at work on his own.
Lori produces, edits, story plans, records sound, creates graphics and animation. He interviews and serves as an associate producer.. Brian delves into personally compelling issues but also sets up shots and lighting.
A typical 60-minute shoot is edited to six minutes, Lori said. “It’s all in the editing.”
The show can be watched at www.forartssake.tv.