Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson and Chris Ivey are two of the Magic City’s most recognized comedians, both in the city and around the nation. FunnyMaine has risen to stardom after years of stand up, radio shows, and his famous video series that shows what the typical Alabama fan looks like watching SEC gamedays. Chris is also rising in the national stand-up scene, and brings some of the finest touring and local comedic acts to Birmingham with Goulash Comedy and the Birmingham Comedy Festival–now found at Ghost Train Brewing. The two comedic heavyweights are combining forces to bring joy to the world through a podcast titled Free Cable, which is now available on Spotify, Youtube, and most podcast streaming platforms.
“We sort of got in to wanting to do a podcast because I’d open for Jermaine and we’d take these drives to gigs, and I mean we would just talk about anything and everything the whole ride,” Chris shares, “We’d get in the car and be like ‘Let’s listen to music’, then we’d start talking about music then it would veer into entertainment, politics, opinions.” It only made sense when FunnyMaine reached out to Chris in December of last year to get the ball rolling.
“We really only wanted to do a podcast if we could add to the conversation and do something special that people aren’t doing,” the comedians share, going on to say that they think there is a market for funny Southern podcasts that make “sure everybody can listen and like it regardless of their age.” This show is funny for everyone–they aren’t even cussing in this show, unless you count Chris telling a story of Jermaine bringing a “whole ass” crockpot to a comedians’ Thanksgiving potluck at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the pilot episode.
The podcast isn’t just meant for the Birmingham area, but the hosts both call the city home and use their experiences as point of reference often–meaning we get lots of great Magic City quotables. Jermaine is a long-time Alabamian while Chris moved from Memphis about 7 years ago, and the differences can create some hilarious banter. The first episode, which was a skeletal outline of the show, featured a heated discussion around Birmingham barbecue–with Chris taking some jabs at our beloved meats and sides. “I think it’s perfect for people who want to have fun,” he explains, “I’m not going to say you’re going to agree with everything, but Jermaine and I are both different people–you’ll agree with one of us.”
The Youtube comments mostly agreed with FunnyMaine in regards to the quality of Birmingham barbecue, but all were in good humor–except for a touching comment relating to a brief divorce reference in the show. “I hope you enjoyed it, this wasn’t supposed to be depressing,” Chris jokes to that specific viewer, “That was like 5 seconds.” Another hilarious recurring segment in the “Cultural Blindspot” bit where the two comedians get to ask questions they’ve always wondered about their co-host’s race.
Chris started things off by asking Jermaine why he doesn’t see too many Black toes on display. Jermaine said he didn’t know what Chris was talking about, then Chris “looked down (at FunnyMaine) and he’s wearing socks with the sandals inside his own place.” Johnson returns the favor by asking “What do white people hook up to?”–a hilarious and understandable inquiry. “We just want to get into stuff, and show people how similar we are,” the hosts share–and learn a little something about each other in the process. For example, one episode includes Chris learning more about various Founder’s Days and discussions on the differences between black and white fraternities.
The comedians had a fun time exploring options for a show name, and eventually chose one that reminded them of childhood memories of free cable television. “This is kind of bootleg. We’re not going to be right all the time,” they joke, “but you can’t get upset–it’s free cable.” The “bootleg” aspect doesn’t apply to the behind-the-scenes of the podcast. The two comedians spent hours testing ideas, exploring producer options, and more. The podcast’s cover artwork, created by Hannah Adamson, is one example of how pristine the laugh-filled audio adventure truly is.
Chris says much of the organization of the podcast comes from his comedic partner, who has lists, goals, calendars, and more to help FunnyMaine keep tracks of his crazy schedule that includes comedic appearances, being an ambassador for the upcoming World Games, and now being a member of the Birmingham Public Library board. “His level of professionalism. How hard he works–it motivates me,” Ivey shares, “The more I’m around him, and the more I’m around professional comedians, I’m like ‘This is hard work.’ Because being a comedian is running your own business.”
Chris considers Johnson a friend now, but when he first met FunnyMaine Ivey was first beginning Goulash Comedy at the beloved Syndicate Lounge, and considered Jermaine a distant legend. “I looked up to Jermaine, he was like a famous person. Him and Eunice Elliott were big time to me. And Jermaine came to the third show I did at Syndicate, and it really put a stamp of approval once he came there,” Ivey remembers, “and it was a big deal to me, because it felt like I was moving in the right direction.” The duo now have many nights of standing on comedic stages together and Chris is excited for people to know the Jermaine outside of Crimson Tide football and confederate statues (all of which could be on the conversation block as well). “The guy that I know is so different than the guy that a lot of people know,” Ivey shares, but that will change as they display their thoughts to the masses.
“We’re trying to put out something that a lot of people can enjoy. You could listen to it at work and still laugh,” the comedians share–and it seems the first release was a success. The most streams actually came from Philadelphia, which doesn’t surprise Chris Ivey. “Jermaine always sells out Philly. I think people don’t know Jermaine goes all over the country and sells out,” the comedian shares, “I think people don’t know because Jermaine’s so out in the community and so accessible, that like when I go out of town with him it’s insane. People like tailgate at his shows, like it’s a college football game. People are obsessed with this guy out of here, and we’re very fortunate that he lives here. He could have very easily went to LA or New York like anybody else, but he chose to stay here because he loves the city.”
FunnyMaine’s passion for Birmingham has inspired comedians like Ivey to firmly place their bets on being successful while calling the Magic City home as well–and this podcast is the perfect representation of how that can be done. Two great friends streaming funny thoughts to the world from Alabama. They plan to release an episode every Tuesday starting off, and are going to make the podcast an interactive experience for their listeners. Reading comments on air, shout outs, and fun challenges anyone can take up like who can do the most steps in a week are all part of the plan. Chris is ready for the steps challenge, saying “All I’ll do is walk. If we were doing this meeting I’d be like ‘We gotta pace.’”
From Danny McBride (aka Pineapple Express) to Joe Rogan to all-things Southeastern living and comedy, this podcast is a fun one. “I hope (listeners) learn something. Whether it’s about the comedy industry. Whether it’s about Birmingham happenings or whether it’s political or racial lines,” Jermaine shares, “I just hope people learn something because we definitely bring two different points of views to a lot of different topics.”
We’re certainly thankful for entertainment that is Free Cable, and the two great guys behind it.