If you have a child under 12 chances are you know Story Pirates, through their award-winning podcast, hilarious music, fantastical books, or their Creator Club, which gives families activity guides, invites to member-only events, bonus podcast episodes and more. Benjamin Salka co-founded the popular kids’ media brand in 2004 after a group of friends put on a sketch comedy show based on stories and ideas by real kids. They saw an opportunity to celebrate kids’ voices through storytelling. We asked Benjamin how Story Pirates has impacted his role as a dad, what stories inspired him as a kid and what he likes to do with his family in L.A.
What inspired you to start Story Pirates?
After growing up as a theater kid in Santa Monica, I spent my twenties in New York assisting some prominent directors and producers in theater and film, including Scott Rudin. He was legendary for being an A-list producer and, he was outlandishly brutal to his assistants. He fired me no fewer than nine times, and I left that job confused and conflicted about what to do next. On one hand, I picked up strong producing skills from him, and on the other, I felt burned by an entertainment culture that tolerated — and even celebrated — abuse of those with low status. When my co-founder Lee Overtree, who I’d met in college at Northwestern, approached me a year later about helping him start the Story Pirates, it was the most exciting idea I’d ever heard: an entertainment brand devoted to elevating the status of kids as storytellers. It felt like something I could pour my heart into and feel great about. We started performing in small theaters and schools, and the response from the kids, parents and teachers was amazing. That was 2004, and I’ve never looked back. We now produce one of the top podcasts for kids with 65 million downloads and I’m so proud of how far we’ve come.
Tell us about Story Pirates Changemakers and your upcoming benefit show.
Story Pirates Changemakers is the non-profit arm of Story Pirates. We created this literacy and arts education organization to make Story Pirates media available and accessible to under-resourced schools, children and communities. We produce annual fundraiser performances in Los Angeles and New York, and our L.A. benefit is coming up on March 11th at 4:30 p.m. at the Saban in Beverly Hills.
If you’re a fan of the Story Pirates Podcast, you’ll recognize the format. The show is entirely based on stories sent to us by real kids, adapted by professional comedians and musicians. We’ll be performing fan favorite songs and sketches, along with a running improvised segment created on the spot from suggestions by kids in the room. And we’ll be raising money for Changemakers to bring Story Pirates programs into Title I schools. The show runs just over an hour and is perfect for kids ages 5-12. This year’s L.A. benefit will include Peter and Eric from the Story Pirates Podcast, Alex and Andrew from SPTV (which airs on KLCS-TV in LA), plus a livestreamed video visit from DJ Squirm-a-Lot. The cast will also debut the first live performance of the kid-inspired original song “Fart Out Loud Day,” which is one of our hits.
How has running Story Pirates impacted your role as a father? Do your kids listen to the podcast and watch your shows?
Story Pirates fundamentally changed my view of childhood. In so many ways, our culture is really condescending to kids. They constantly feel like adults are telling them what to do, what to think, and who to be. Story Pirates flips that on its head and lets us see the world from kids’ own perspective. As a dad of two, I feel the same pressure everyone else does to raise kids who know what is expected of them. Story Pirates reminds me to take equal time to just listen. And what they have to say is so amazing! It’s almost always hilarious and often really profound. My kids love Story Pirates, especially the songs, and it’s a cool way to connect with them.
What was your favorite story as a kid?
I was obsessed with standup comedy as a kid. I had almost every comedy album you could get on vinyl and cassette. I also loved Garfield and The Far Side and my favorite book was “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I was obsessed with comedy.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I hated brushing my teeth as a kid, and low and behold, I got so many cavities. I want to go back in time and tell my younger self that brushing your teeth is great! He’d never believe me, though.
What is the most memorable moment you’ve had at one of your live events?
We’ve done thousands of live events, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but here are three standouts:
- Performing at the Kennedy Center for both of President Obama’s inaugural weekends.
- John Oliver performing a sketch almost entirely in Spanish while the audience laughed so hard, they nearly cried.
- A show where a kid got so excited to see the Story Pirates that he puked.
What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend in L.A. with your family?
My kids and I love to meet up at different parks around SoCal with my sister and her kids. Our families got really close during the pandemic, and we were always looking for places to gather outdoors. Parks are free, they’re endlessly fun for the kids, and there are a lot of them. It takes almost no planning and always feels fresh.