Scary Stories Told in the Dark is a popular podcast that features professional narration of some truly spine-tingling tales from a range of authors. The series has proven to be massively popular and is approaching 13 million downloads. On iTunes, it is consistently in the “Top 10,” usually within the Drama genre.
Within two years, the show has produced 98 hair-raising episodes and are now just about to kickstart Season 5. Master narrator and professional voice actor Otis Jiry is an essential part of the team that brings these stories to life. Otis has had a storied career working with his voice in commercials and with his hands through the business of cabinet and furniture making. Having recently returned to his native Canada, Otis now dedicates most of his time to producing quality narrations for Chilling Entertainment, the company that runs the popular Chilling Tales for Dark Nights YouTube channel and is the powerhouse behind Scary Stories Told in the Dark.
Otis recently discussed his experiences working on this series and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your excellent voice acting skills and how did you break into the field of professional narration?
Otis Jiry (OJ): I have had this ‘voice’ since I was 13 years old. I constantly had been told, ‘you should go into radio’. Well, the years went by and I was in a wedding party for a friend. One of the bridesmaids was a local DJ on a station in Vancouver, BC. She advised me I should look into doing radio. So, I checked it out; enrolled in The Columbia School of Broadcasting in 1977 and things went from there. I had a knack for it, and I moved quickly. I did some local co-op radio while going to school, then when I finished at CSB, I enrolled at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in their Communications – Radio option program in 1980.
Within three months, I was working part time at CKNW in Vancouver, BC which at the time was the most prestigious station you could work at. The largest station in Western Canada at the time. They used to own the NHL Vancouver Canucks, which I later covered, and they also covered the CFL BC Lions.
Legends of radio in Canada abounded in their station. While there, I was doing the local traffic reports, and the Sports Director, Al Davidson, came by one day and said he heard I used to be an athlete (I played football to almost the pro level in Canada. Had a couple tryouts with the CFL BC Lions, but not quite good enough). I said yeah, and he said my days doing traffic were over. I was now part of the sports department. Pretty heady stuff for me at the time. I also got to learn doing the news overnights when the Iran Hostage Crisis was taking place in 1980. So, I learned my craft from the best. Interestingly enough, my very first broadcast doing sports on air, was about five hours after John Lennon was killed.
On occasion I got to do some commercials which I really enjoyed. From there, I took some time off to go to learn Recording Engineering at the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe Ohio. I loved doing the production and commercials. After that I moved on to doing sports and commercial production in Calgary, Alberta with CHQR who had the Calgary Flames NHL broadcasts, where I ended up on their broadcast team. I was also the backup commercial production guy, which is where my Voice over career really started. After a couple years in Calgary, I came back to Vancouver to work at the Vancouver division of CKO which was a country wide all news radio network. Pretty much Canada’s version of CNN at the time.
I was the Sports Director there for about a year or so. After that, I got out of radio but off and on for the next 20 years I did some VO, but moved on to other things. I got a Paralegal Certification and ended working for the Canadian Tax Department for a decade and also got my IT Analyst Certification and did that as well.
I moved to Baton Rouge Louisiana, in 1996 and found my skills from Canada didn’t really translate so I had to find a new career, which I did, ending up as a custom cabinet maker. I had always done woodworking as a sideline, and at that time it ended up being what my primary employment was when I lived in Baton Rouge. Then, one day, tragedy struck. I ran my hand through the table saw and needed two surgeries to repair. Consideration was given to amputating my hand! While I was on the gurney waiting for my first surgery, I said to myself, “What the hell am I going to do for a living now?” Then I got an epiphany: VOICEOVER! That was 2012, and I was again back in the voiceover game. Eventually, my hand healed and I was able to return to cabinet making, but I continued building my VO career as a side line initially.
MM: How did you start working with Chilling Entertainment and what is it about the horror genre that you most enjoy?
OJ: Quite by accident. As a voice actor you are always marketing yourself, and trying to find ‘clients’ who are looking for voices. I was doing searches for production houses and came across Chilling Tales For Dark Nights. I got a hold of Craig Groshek, the owner. One thing led to another, and I started slowly doing work for him. At that time, in 2012 he was just getting started and wasn’t a very big outfit like now. He was working full-time, and doing CTFDN part time. Things just grew from there.
To be totally honest, prior to CTFDN, I wasn’t a big horror fan. I liked Stephen King and Peter Straub novels, but that was pretty much it. My favourite genre was mystery; John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, that type of thing. I loved narrating, so Craig continued to send me stories to narrate and things grew from there to what it is now. I think what I like most about the horror genre, is the talent that resides in the authors who do it. The really good authors come up with story lines and complexities that are really interesting. I’m not a slasher, screamer type of narrator. I do best reading more ‘cerebral’ types of fiction. And the good horror stories fill that void for me.
MM: How did you get involved with the “Simply Scary Podcast” and have you been surprised by just how popular it’s become?
OJ: To be honest, I’ve been involved from day one. At first, I was a contributing narrator and I did a LOT of narrations for Craig. Over time, as I have come to know the genre, I’m astounded at how huge it is worldwide. On my YouTube channel, Otis Jiry’s Horror Story Time, the last time I checked, I have close to 44,000 subscribers, from over 140 different countries. That blew me away. I have people listening to me from places I didn’t know existed!
MM: How many stories do you typically read each month and which have been the most memorable?
OJ: That varies. On Scary Stories Told in the Dark, I do between 3-5 stories per week, with 24 episodes per season. We are now starting Season 5 and our 2nd episode. I will do the occasional narration for Craig on The Simply Scary Podcast, as well as guest narrations for others like The No Sleep Podcast, Conservatively Speaking, between 18-20 narrations per month would be my guest. Given I’ve done over 1500 narrations in the past six years at a minimum, only the really great pieces stand out. For me, I think my favourite is by an author, Jasper DeWitt, who has become a good friend of mine. “The Patient Who Nearly Drove Me Out of Medicine,” was actually a short audio-book we did on both my YT channel and on SSTITD podcast. It was so good, he sold the story to Ryan Reynolds, and it will be made into a movie soon. That stands out more than any of the stories I’ve done.
MM: What sorts of horror stories (i.e., ghosts, witches, zombies, monsters, etc.) do you personally most enjoy?
OJ: I’m not particularly stuck on any one type of horror story as much as I am particular about how well written and what a good story it is. When you’ve narrated as many as I have, you quickly can tell what’s good and what’s not. The better the craft of the story, the more I like it.
MM: You just started working on season five of the podcast, so can you tell us anything about the featured stories…or give us any hints about what’s coming up?
OJ: Your guess is as good as mine. Craig picks the material I narrate, and I have no clue what it will be until the day it arrives in my email inbox, which is usually a day or two prior to being posted to the podcast. Sometimes there will be a theme throughout the podcast, or a seasonal thing like Christmas stories, or part of a series. Anything and everything seems to come up eventually!
MM: What’s your favourite thing about working on the Simply Scary Podcast and Scary Stories Told in the Dark?
OJ: Over the years, the quality of what I get to narrate improves all the time and that allows me to enjoy what I do more and more. The other thing that has struck me is how what I do, affects the people who listen. I always joke, I just go into a padded 3.5 x 5.5-foot padded room and talk to myself … and the therapist says it’s helping! However, I have found out, from comments and personal texts and emails, that what I do, profoundly affects people’s lives.
Over time, seven people have contacted me to tell me I prevented them from committing suicide. Numerous people tell me my narrations have gotten them through dealing with life threatening ordeals like cancer, or other medical dilemmas. A ton of people suffering from depression get solace from what I narrate. Single parents tell me I’m their kids ‘grandfather’ telling them bed time stories. Others listen to me eight hours a day to get through their workday. When I first started doing this, none of this type of thing entered my mind. I was just telling a story and hopefully someone would like it.
These days it’s grown to the point that the podcast will at the end of this month have 13 million downloads in just over two years of existence. That’s a lot of love for someone sitting alone in a 3.5 x 5.5 padded booth talking to himself!
MM: What other projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
OJ: With the horror narrations, I never know what’s on the horizon, but it’s always exciting when it shows up. On other fronts, I do audio-books, and other genres of voice-over I have a VO website www.otisjiry.com where you can listen to my demos for various type of work and can contact me if you’d like to have me do some VO for you. I’m getting close to the point where I can do VO full time which is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time. I’m 63 years old, and just had a total knee joint replacement done last July. Physically, my days of doing cabinet making are close to being done. Hopefully if I can make enough with voice-over, I can support myself financially without too many worries.
To learn more about Scary Stories Told in the Dark, see here. More audio recordings by Otis Jiry can be found via his website and YouTube. Otis can also be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.