At Brooklyn’s GimletFest, the Podcasters Meet the People

The fast-rising media company brings its hit shows, from 'Crimetown' to 'The Nod,' to BRIC House for a two-day jamboree

Gimlet Media founders Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber (Photos courtesy of Gimlet Media)

This weekend, Brooklyn’s own podcast company Gimlet Media will invade the Fulton Street arts-and-culture space BRIC House for a festival celebrating its eclectic, popular productions. With ten panel discussions, presentations, and performances, starring not only podcast hosts but many of their colorful subjects as well, GimletFest is advertised as “the best of Gimlet Media brought to life.” Two-day passes slung for $200 are sold out, but tickets to several of the individual events remain on sale.

Among the highlights is a competition in the tradition of Gimlet show The Pitch, kicking off the festivities Saturday afternoon. Three aspiring entrepreneurs will pitch company ideas to three judges, on the clock, in front of an audience. Later, the hosts of Crimetown, a podcast about mafia meddling in Providence politics, will discuss the making of the series, welcoming a few of its characters onstage, including a “wiseguy-turned businessman,” a detective and his “master thief nemesis.”

Sunday sees Gimlet’s Story Pirates–a show with actors, comedians, improvisers, and musicians performing original stories written by children–offer their greatest hits, live, in a sketch-comedy musical. On Sunday night, Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg chats with Julie Snyder, one of the creators of the S-Town and Serial podcasts—two shows credited with turning millions on to the medium. They’ll dive into the dos and don’ts of making a groundbreaking podcast.


The podcast Heavyweight is in production for its third season

On-air talent from The Nod, which “tells the stories of Black life that don’t get told anywhere else,” rounds out GimletFest by interviewing Wyatt Cenac of the HBO social-commentary show Problem Areas.

GimletFest serves as a marker in the company’s ascension from uncertain startup to niche powerhouse. It was in 2014 when Blumberg, a reporter and producer for radio’s This American Life and the Planet Money podcast, teamed up with Matthew Lieber, another audio-entertainment producer, to build a studio in a rented Brooklyn space for “less than $10,000,” as the New York Times reported. Anxiety-ridden pitches to investors–Blumberg left his full-time job to found the company, and Gimlet’s first show StartUp was all about the worries of building it from the ground up–eventually netted Gimlet $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such as Betaworks and the Knight Enterprise Fund.

Gimlet has substantially added to that total since. Last year alone, in two rounds of funding the team raised $20 million from lead investors WPP, the advertising giant, and the growth equity firm Stripes Group, among others. Lieber told Variety last fall that Gimlet yearned to become “the HBO of audio” and build upon the 3 million unique monthly listeners of its shows and its 12 million monthly downloads.

Gimlet Media, founded in 2014, is based in Brooklyn

Gimlet now sports 16 running, original podcasts with four more in the archives. They recently coaxed Kristen Wiig and Alia Shawkat, respectively of Saturday Night Live and Arrested Development fame, into starring in the fictional podcast Sandra about a disillusioned woman working on new A.I. robot technology. Meanwhile, the third season of the hit show Heavyweight, a series in which host Jonathan Goldstein has subjects revisit their past conflicts face-to-face, is in production. (Goldstein will also make an appearance at GimletFest on Saturday when he’s interviewed by Gimlet’s Reply All host PJ Vogt.) A new slice of Crimetown, which enjoyed a successful 20-episode first-season run last year, is also in the works.

At GimletFest, Blumberg says–fittingly, in an audio ad–“it’s a chance for [Gimlet stars] to finally meet you, the listeners; it’s a chance for you to finally meet us, the people you listen to; and it’s a chance for you to meet each other, to come together with other Gimlet listeners.”

And it’s all happening in Downtown Brooklyn, the epicenter of where Gimlet and a growing number of tech startups are realizing their digital dreams.

Michael Stahl is a freelance writer and editor. A former high school English teacher, he has written for Rolling Stone, Vice, the Village Voice, Narratively, Splitsider, Outside Magazine and other publications.