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Spotlight on Skid Maher


Photo courtesy of Glass Cannon Network

Skid Maher is 50 years old and he plays Dungeons & Dragons for a living. Sweet gig if you can land it. The Denver-bred star of a very specific subculture of geek is one of the founding fathers of the Glass Cannon Podcast, whose live gaming shows have garnered more than 20,000 active Patreon supporters and fans that number well into the tens of thousands. Maher and the rest of his Dungeon party swing into eTown Hall in April to what will likely be a sold-out room full of people to watch them slay dragons or orcs or something? We’re not sure how it all works, but we do know that in nerd circles, these guys are absolute rock stars. Here, Skid tells us all about the role-playing world, what it’s like to play a game for a living, and that time he hung out with superfan and Scream star Matthew Lillard…

French Davis: What the hell is “Glass Cannon?”

Skid Maher: Glass Cannon is a company that my friends and I started in 2015. We basically, we play games, role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, and we record ourselves playing them, and then people listen to them ostensibly to be entertained. So we started off with a one podcast and then that became a few podcasts and we do some video streaming and we have a live touring show that we do.

FD: How many people are listening to your podcast now?

SM:  I’m not really sure. I know we are usually in the top-five gaming podcasts on iTunes, and sometimes we’ll sneak into the top-50 overall or something. But yeah, honestly, I have no idea. I know we have… I think we have 20,000 patrons, so those are people who pay. So actually, it’s probably a lot more than 50,000 because it’s usually one in 10 are paying for it. So yeah, I think it might be over a hundred thousand now.

FD: And so, is this your full-time living now?

SM: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been doing this full-time for three years, four years.

FD: How often do you guys tour?

SM: We were doing one show, a live show a month, sometimes two a month, for nine months out of the year. But we cut that down quite a bit because that was getting to be kind of a lot…I think we’re doing 10 shows total this year. We’ll go to a destination, do a show, and sometimes we’ll combine two destinations in one trip. So we’re doing LA and Seattle as one trip over five days, doing a show in LA and a show in Seattle. Like for GenCon, this is the big gaming convention in Indianapolis, we’ll do two shows there in Indy in August, which is always very fun. But yeah, I think we’re at 10 shows.

FD: That’s wild. How did the eTown Hall show come together?

SM: I know we’ve been trying to book a show in Denver or Boulder for three years now, but it’s hard because most of the venues that are the right size in Denver don’t have seated arrangements. So the Bluebird, for example, that would be my dream place to play in Denver. But they only do standing-room-only shows. So they can’t really accommodate because it’s a two-hour show and it’s nerds and you can’t ask them to stand for that long. We actually have done that a couple times and they don’t like it. So yeah, we can’t do that. So it’s been hard to find a venue. But we have a booking agent and he’s been working real hard. I’m really grateful because I’m incredibly excited to be coming home to do a show.

FD: For the uninitiated, what could be a draw to get them to try something new here and show up to the event?

SM: So the show is basically, it’s an episode of an ongoing series, which is … This is how we’re doing it for now. I think we’re going to, in the future, we’re going to kind of change it to be more of a standalone kind of experience. But basically, it’s an hour-and-a-half show, where we will get up and we are playing our characters and we’re playing through this adventure/drama sort of live on stage, improvising it off of this framework of this written adventure, with the dice informing the outcomes of our decisions and everything. Yeah, it’s really just sort of an episode of a really dumb Game of Thrones. All the back episodes are up on YouTube—people can go back and get caught up if they want. Or you don’t really have to, you can just show up and it’s goofy enough that you can probably still have a good time. But it’s great. There’s a lot of hardcore fans [who] will show up and they get super into it and there’s a lot of catchphrases and stuff that they get excited about…it’s a little bit Rocky Horror too, in a way. There’s some kind of little traditions and stuff that people get excited about.

FD: In this particular game you’re playing right now, is this a Dungeons & Dragons game right now? Or is it a different role-playing game?

SM: No, no, we play a bunch of different games now, but our main focus is a game called Pathfinder, which was … It’s a long story, but it was created by a bunch of people who used to work for the people who made Dungeons & Dragons. And there was an addition of Dungeons & Dragons with a lot of changes that a lot of the hardcore D&D fans didn’t like. And so Pathfinder was a new product, made to appease those people who wanted it to be more the way it was before they made those changes. So it’s a spinoff of D&D.

FD: How many of your fellow players will be with you on this trip?

SM: Right now, we have a cast of seven. Troy Levallee is our game master. He’s running things. And then we have Joe O’Brien, Grant Berger and Matthew Capodicasa. Then we have two newer cast members. It was just a bunch of dudes that were friends and we were just like, “We should probably expand our scope a little bit.” So now there’s these two women that play with us who are awesome. Sydney Emmanuel and Kate Stamas. They’re fantastic. Is that six or seven? But yeah, so it’s a pretty big crowd onstage right now. But it’s great.

FD: Is it a prerequisite, would you say, for the folks in the show to be people with acting chops or stand-up comedy background or something like that?

SM: So Troy was a stand-up comic and an actor, and Matthew, he has a little bit of performance background, but he’s just a fantastic writer. He teaches screenwriting at Julliard. He’s amazing. Joe was a national champion debater in college, and Sydney, she has a big acting background, and Kate really doesn’t have any acting background, but she’s just naturally very good…Part of the appeal I think, is that we’re not a bunch of performers getting together and performing. I think we try to give off the vibe of just a bunch of friends playing a game, some of whom are just pretty good at just presenting the character that we’re playing.

FD: From the perspective of the audience: So we’ll be sitting in a chair watching this happening onstage. You guys are just what, seated around the table, or are there other props? Is there a camera so we can see the board of the table, if there’s a board on a table. Is there a map and little figurines or what’s happening there?

SM: Yeah. What we do is we have a set of tables lined up facing the audience who’s sitting on the other side of them.

FD: So, like “The Last Supper?”

SM: Exactly. Exactly like “The Last Supper.” And then we use a virtual tabletop and online, so we all have our computers up on stage and we’re all controlling our characters on this virtual kind of map, which we then project on a screen behind us, so everyone can see what’s going on. And we have lighting and stuff. We have lighting cues, and I have a sound drop board. So I’m like a shitty morning DJ. I’ll throw in a DMX drop, whatever. Because it cracks me up, to have all that stuff. So yeah, it’s a scene. It’s a whole thing.

FD: Do you have any interesting anecdotes about being on the road or weird things that have happened or anything like that?

SM: Yeah. I’ve met some really awesome people. It’s been really cool for me meeting gamers my own age, because there’s this new sort of generation of … Gaming really exploded in popularity in a different way after I became an adult. And it’s really nice to connect with people my age who grew up playing in the early ’80s and have a similar kind of background. I’ve met so many people like that. But one of the best things was we were doing a show in Indianapolis. We were doing one of our shows in Indianapolis at the Helium Comedy Club, and we had a really good show. It was super fun. And I went backstage and there’s this guy back there and he’s just like, “Oh, it was awesome. That was so great.” He’s just shaking all our hands and giving us hugs and everything. And I was like, “Who is this?” He’s like, “Oh, I’m Matt, I’m Matt.” I was just like, “Oh shit, it’s Matthew Lillard.” And he came, he loved the show. And a few months later, he’s throwing a party for us at his house in Pasadena, and it was crazy. He’s a great guy. Lot of energy. So that was not something I expected to ever have happen. That was a surprise.

FD: So, do you guys experiment a lot with the format? I mean, it feels like this as a form of entertainment is still very young and new and fresh. Clearly, there’s a niche, clearly there’s an interest for it and a market and people are into it. Are there a lot of other competitors in your space as you see it?

SM: I see it as we’re sort of the top of the second tier of the most successful at what we do. The best of the best, the most successful, the most famous is a show called Critical Role, and they do actually play Dungeons & Dragons, and they’re run by this guy, Matt Mercer, who is actually… he was supposed to be at that party at Lillard’s House, but he was in the Switzerland.

They’re hugely successful. They have an animated show on Netflix now, and they’re really good. They really are performers. They’re real actual performers and they do a good show, and Mercer is great. He’s a really good writer and good performer and great Dungeon Master. But they play houses 10 times bigger than the ones we do. So they got started a little earlier than us. They play a more recognizable game, but they’re playing with Stephen Colbert and stuff like that. So that’s the pinnacle of the industry. And then there’s a lot of other people doing actual play stuff like we do, but I think that we are near the top. There’s us and there’s a show called Dungeons and Daddies and Not Another D&D Podcast. There’s a couple other kind of people in that sort of level, comparable to where we are, but it’s not really … I don’t see them as competitors really, because I think every one of us does something so differently.

I think every one of these shows offers something really distinctive from the other ones. So yeah, it doesn’t feel like a competition.

FD: Sure.

SM: But I never expected that anyone would ever want to be involved in my tabletop role-playing game, anyone would care. So whatever. It’s a win. Everything from here out is a win as far as I’m concerned. This is all a bonus. So yeah, I’m happy regardless.

FD: Absolutely. What would you say is your favorite part about what you do here? What makes you happy every day to get up and keep doing this?

SM: I think honestly, well, a lot of it is just the people that I’ve been able to meet and work with. We’ve had a really varied sort of group of performers that we’ve been able to hook up with. Most of them are out in LA, so it’s nice when we do go out to our West Coast swing, to actually see a lot of these people in person because we’re almost always playing online together. So it’s great to actually be in the same room with some of these guys.But honestly, it’s just being able to play these games with my friends. This is something that I’ve loved doing since I was in third grade, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. When we started the company, it was just like, even if we’re not successful, at least we’ll have an excuse that we can get together and play this game. We can tell our wives, significant others. It’s like, “I’m sorry, we have to. It’s for the show. We have to play.” So just having that opportunity to just be playing a bunch of different games all the time and learning new games. We play a lot of new games and we get to work with a lot of the publishers and developers and stuff. Yeah, honestly, just getting to play as much as I do is really, I think, the best part of it.

FD: Have you guys fielded any sniffing around or interest in taking you into a new direction, another sponsorship or things like that?

SM: We did actually just sign with a new agency a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure if we actually announced it yet. But yeah, I mean, there’s occasional talk about stuff like that, which would be cool. But also, I have this real aversion to actual work and it’s really overshadowed my ambition as I get older. It’s just like, I work on TV and it’s just like, man, I’d have to do that every day. I’d have to show up, sit down and write every day. I don’t want to do that. So I really, I’m just enjoying not wanting it as much. It’s just enjoying what I have. But I don’t know. If something like that were to happen, I would just play along, try to stay in the background as much as possible and collect the check while doing as little work as possible. That’s my plan. But it would be great. It would be great. That would be awesome. But we’ll see.

FD: You’d be the member of the group project at school who just shows up to the day of the presentation.

SM: That’s my plan. I’ll shout out helpful suggestions, but I just don’t want to sit there typing. The only thing. I’ll be in the room riffing, but I don’t want to do anything other than that.

FD: Understood. I can respect that. Do you guys have any longer term plans or visions or goals that you’re shooting for? Or is it just more of a, “Let’s just keep riding this right as it goes and see what happens”?

SM: Yeah, we do. I know that we’ve been trying to expand the company and we have been growing, I think we’ve got eight employees now, so we just got a new office space in Astoria. So we can record in person again. And yeah, I think we just really want to just expand our opportunities to do bigger and better stuff than we’re already doing.

I know there are plans down the road. We want to do a convention in Vegas. It was actually Joe and Troy, they went scouting locations prospectively to do a convention out in Vegas. And three of the hotels, they flew them out there and they put them up in the luxury suites and paid for everything. And I was like, “Why do you get to fucking do that?” I didn’t get to do that. They didn’t pay for anything. A convention could never happen. It was ridiculous. But that is something. But that was pre-COVID. That was something that we planned to do pre-COVID. COVID disrupted what we were kind of hoping to do, but that’s still a possibility down the line. One of the big things, one of the jokes from earlier on, one of the early episodes of the show, we realized it came out that Troy, our game master, has never seen Jurassic Park and has still never fucking seen it. And so that is one of our big goals is to get him to watch Jurassic Park. We had that as a Patreon goal. If we get, it was like $150,000 a month or something, we will make Troy watch Jurassic Park and do a whole thing. It’s like, we’re going to rent out the Alamo Theater in Brooklyn. We’re going to make an event out of it. It’s like we can bring our big supporters, they can show up, make a whole … Everybody can dress up like a whole evening out of it and we’ll sit down and make him watch this fucking movie. But yeah, we’re still hoping. We’ll see.

FD: I think that’s an admirable goal.

SM: I think so.

eTown Presents Glass Cannon Live! on April 23. Doors open at 6 pm, tickets are $40, visit eTown.org for more information or GlassCannonNetwork.com.


French Davis
Meet Dave Flomberg | Writer, musician, creative director (aka French Davis). There is so much to say about Dave aka French that we think you should read these articles: https://yellowscene.com/2020/02/29/french-davis-a-master-of-many/ ••• https://shoutoutcolorado.com/meet-dave-flomberg-writer-musician-creative-director

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