How The Once Struggling Podcast 'Never Not Funny' Raised A Million Dollars For Charity

Matt Belknap, Jon Hamm, and Jimmy Pardo in the 2018 Pardcast-A-Thon. (Leora Saul for Never Not Funny)

Jimmy Pardo's been a stand-up comedian for decades, but found a larger fanbase thanks to his podcast Never Not Funny. This Saturday, he celebrates 10 years of one of the show's signature events: Pardcast-A-Thon.

It's a 12-hour, telethon-style comedy talk show, running noon to midnight, with more than 30 guests. And it's always an instant sellout, quickly filling its Burbank venue — but you can watch the whole thing on Pardcastathon.com or YouTube. (Or right here!)

This year's announced lineup include Jon Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, and The Good Place's Jameela Jamil. They also auction off unique chances like being a guest on the podcast, getting a tour of Conan O'Brien's studio and more.

Comedian Jimmy Pardo (Bruce Smith)

PODCASTING TOO EARLY

Pardo got in early on podcasting, launching Never Not Funny in 2006. But for a long time, no one listened.

"I kind of felt like I was screaming at the sky, or I was some loser that was doing cable access television at 3 o'clock in the morning," Pardo said.

Pardo and co-host Matt Belknap developed a loyal fanbase, but it wasn't growing. Pardo thought podcasting might just be a passing fad. Before calling it a day, they decided to try out a pay model — and managed to retain the bulk of their audience.

And then the comedy podcast boom happened. Hosts like Marc Maron and Adam Carolla blew up while Never Not Funny remained behind a paywall with a small but loyal following.

WHY A CHARITY PODCAST MARATHON?

The charity event initially seemed like a good chance to get some attention.

"It probably started as a publicity stunt," Pardo said. "Like, how do we get people to notice us in this vast ocean of podcasting?"

It came together when Belknap mentioned another show that had done a marathon, and Pardo started thinking back to loving the Jerry Lewis telethons growing up. He thought that just doing a marathon without a cause behind it would be self-indulgent.

They'd already done a contest with a charity suggested by former co-host Pat Francis, Smile Train, so they decided to give it a shot.

"My dumb head was like, I can see the results of my money — $250 changes this child," Pardo said.

That's the cost of a single cleft-palate surgery. Much to everyone's surprise, they raised $6,000 that first outing. He said that, like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, he felt like his heart had grown three sizes.

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

With comedian Paul F. Tompkins at the 2018 Pardcast-A-Thon. (Leora Saul for Never Not Funny)

Jon Hamm was an early fan. He appeared on the show early on, and helped as the show discovered what it was going to be, popping his head back in throughout the marathon.

"Jon Hamm showed up, and then kind of never left," Pardo said.

In the first year, they held the marathon overnight, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Pardo had the idea because he always thought telethons were the most fun in the middle of the night — but after a couple years, they decided that it might be more sane to do it during hours that more people were awake.

"What are we trying to prove by doing this at 4 in the morning?"Pardo said. "Nobody's enjoying this."

The show hadn't even notified Smile Train that it was happening at first — the charity didn't understand why there were suddenly getting these crazy amounts of money from these strangers.

Pardo said that it felt like the Little Engine That Could — each year, the amount of money raised would go up. Last year, they raised more than $200,000 during the show. They also started partnering with Smile Train officially — they've traveled down to Mexico to see the surgeries being performed and to meet the families affected.

The show moved from being a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition to the spring, both in hopes of making it easier to book guests and to give the hosts more time with their families around the holidays. But the move didn't end up helping them book guests.

"It turns out people are still very, very busy if they don't want to do something," Pardo said.

While Pardo feels like maybe the Thanksgiving shows were the best time for Pardcast-A-Thon, he can't argue with results.

"I mean, hell, we're raising more money, so maybe I'm f—-ing wrong, you know what I mean?"

The Never Not Funny crew (from L, clockwise): Matt Belknap, Eliot Hochberg, Garon Cockrell, and Jimmy Pardo. (Liezl Estipona for Never Not Funny)

FINDING THEIR AUDIENCE

After years of feeling left behind, they also joined the Earwolf podcasting network in the last few years and started releasing episodes for free, helping them to reach a bigger audience than ever.

That's helped the show to raise the bar for fundraising as well. All these years later, Pardo said that getting the hourly totals is still his highlight of the event.

"And then having those weird hours where the money only goes up 300 bucks, and you're like 'holy s—-,' what's happening here?' And then the next hour jumps up a couple thousand, and you feel great again," Pardo said.

The show's raised more than a million dollars for Smile Train over the years, helping to treat 3,000 children.

They also always have a number of surprise appearances — past guests have included Conan O'Brien, Jon Cryer, Amy Poehler, Lisa Loeb, Kumail Nanjiani, among others. Every 20 minutes, a new guest comes out.

"Look, you don't like this guest? Wait 20 minutes, here's a new one," Pardo said.

"And then, oh you really like that guest? Well guess what, he's done, see you later, here's a new one."

The show starts at noon this Saturday, May 4, and runs until midnight. You can watch the show and donate at Pardcastathon.com or on YouTube.