The Freedom To Fuck Up – on Podcasts

To escape from the quicksand of demographic groups, to be free of market research, to fail on your own terms, maybe over and over again…

Some alien words hastily die on the vine, others soon become mundane.
I remember the TV development meeting I was in when someone brought up “podcasts”.
“What is this podcast you talk of”, we questioned like extraterrestrials asking James Kirk, “what is ‘love’?”.
Now there are more podcasts than there are humans to listen to them.

It was about eleven years ago when I started podcasting. My first one was Show and Tell. It was a spore from the Paramount Channel, now rebranded as Comedy Central to make things easier for the bottle fed listings reader. It was produced by Englishman Adrian Mackinder, now rebranded as Scandinavian to make things easier for him, and Helen Quigley, who now does the voices herself.

I suggested a sidekick, Josie Long. In moment of madness, we elevated her to co-presenter and so the seeds of her mid twenty first century dictatorship of the world were sown.

Show and Tell was exactly that. We would have a guest, such as Steve Merchant or Sarah Kendall, and they would bring in an object to talk about. We soon found that we would become sidetracked and never get around to talking of the object, so changed the title to Robin and Josie’s or Josie’s and Robin’s Shambles.

I now dabble in three podcasts, The Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox, Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles and Vitriola, a foolish and angry and absurd music podcast with my friend, Michael Legge. I love making all three as I am fortunate to be working with friends, none of these partnerships have reached Lewis and Martin hubris yet.

Though Monkey Cage exists as a podcast, both in the form of the Radio 4 broadcast version and an extended format, it is primarily a BBC show. Nevertheless, from the outset we wanted it to have the feel of a podcast. My definition of this would be that it does not sound too rigorously planned. That’s not that it should sound slapdash, but that it has the momentum that occurs when nervously script-less. (that is me being nervous, as you know, the replicant Brian Cox is perpetually unruffled, suspiciously so…).

The Comedy Channel eventually forgot about Josie and I and, despite healthy listener numbers, they spent the budget that once was ours on novelty King of Queens beany hats (this may not be entirely true, though some of it is).

After a long pause, I managed to woo Josie Long, now known as Carlito, back into the podcast organisation. Trent Burton, who I also made the Cosmic Genome app with, came in as producer, as Josie and I are knuckle-headed with technology.

The freedom of the podcast is its potential looseness. We try to be informal and unplanned, though constantly wary of being boring. Messy conversations that erratically leap from idea to haiku to confusion are wonderful to create as long as we avoid being dull as much as possible. Sometimes even being dull is a necessity for a moment so that we can pogo out of it into delight.

Our pre-show planning is limited to deciding on guests and hoping they say yes. On top of that, we may bring in a carrier bag full of books, most of which will go unmentioned.

We have recorded 9 episodes for our new series starting with Alan Moore, though he was our last interview. I have finished Alan’s vast physical, metaphysical, psychological and mythical examination of Northampton, Jerusalem and I recommend it to you all. Do not be daunted. Here is a book that is both the map and the territory. Halfway through reading it, in the midst of adventures with ghost children and Oliver Cromwell, I found that this work was not satisfied with occupying my waking hours, and I started having dreams and hypnogogic occurrences that had both starring roles and cameos from Northampton and its population. We were lucky that Alan was our final guest of day two. We had had four guests already in the muggy mini submarine under Soho which we record in and our brains lacked sugar and oxygen. Few questions are required for Alan to create elaborate and lengthy concepts and theory of anarchy and magic. (I have recorded ten podcasts with Alan Moore and Grace Petrie, recorded in Northampton under the title Blooming, Buzzing Confusion, but they seem to have got lost in the LA Podcast smog).

72 hours before, I had been filming a TV musical about the entire universe with Noel Fielding. In our performing intervals, while dancers were occupied in the choreography of being particles that come in and out of existence, we talked of paintings and The Man Who Fell to Earth and adjectives we most delight in, as well as the wrong and right species for punchlines. We continued this conversation in the submarine three days later. I received a Richard Brautigan book and Josie was given a book about Basquiat, so he leapt up our chart of favourite guests.
We have talked to Sarah Bakewell, author of my favourite book of 2016 so far, about Nausea and dangerous walking…And Simon Ings on cyberpunk and Georgia O Keeffe…And Johann Hari with some devastating stories from his Chasing the Scream book…
And John Dowie told us of Ivor Cutler and the revelatory moment he saw Spike Milligan on stage in the Bed-Sitting Room…
And Nick Offerman told us of how he delighted in Margate and carpentry…And Chas Hodges impersonator Ralf Little talking of the perfection of Caroline Aherne’s writing and video games (VIDEO GAMES! on Book Shambles?)
And Helen Czerski on popcorn and physics….
And there were more, but you get the general idea.

Because we are delighted our guests are there and as we love reading and books, we can get overexcited, and maybe we mention Kurt Vonnegut too much, but I hope we create a conversation worth eavesdropping on…free to fuck up.

One year ago, we started Book Shambles with Stewart Lee (we talked over each other a bit too much that day), then Sara Pascoe on her book Animal, Chris Hadfield on space, well, you’ll find the list (and the shows) here.

All Book Shambles podcasts are free, but we finance them via Patreon subscription (you can sponsor the podcast for anything from $1 per show and we give away a box of books to a randomly chosen Patreon supporter every show) and if you don’t want to regularly donate, you can make a one off donation via Paypal (you don’t need a paypal account to do it)

I also listen to Richard Herring’s podcasts, Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces, Suzi Gage’s Say Why To Drugs. Please feel free to recommend your favourite podcast under this blog.

Patreon supporters will get a bonus 60 minute Alan Moore podcast.

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6 Responses to The Freedom To Fuck Up – on Podcasts

  1. Martin Locock says:

    all of the above – I’d add The Guilty Feminist and Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown.

  2. AO says:

    HP Podcraft – Dedicated to the works of HP Lovecraft and weird fiction. Great production, great dissections of the stories and life of Lovecraft (yes he was racist, no they don’t shy away from this or calling out some of his crappier stories) and some very funny moments.

    Futility Closet – “a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible.
    Each episode spotlights a quirky or forgotten episode from history and presents a lateral thinking puzzle, in which one of the presenters has to unravel an odd situation using only yes-or-no questions. ”

    Welcome to Night Vale – Imagine Twin Peaks crossed with the League of Gentlemen. A public radio show from the town of Night Vale. Just remember; stay away from the dog park…

    The Parapod – Hear comedian Ray Peacock eviscerate fellow comic Barry Dodd’s belief in the paranormal. Brutally funny, poor old Barry.

  3. Simon L says:

    It’s been a long time since an episode’s come out, but Getting On With James Urbaniak has been a favourite of mine:

    And for pure silliness, My Brother, My Brother & Me:

  4. I’m currently teaching a course that allows students to study podcasts (as well as ‘traditional’ radio shows – course is here: and it’s fascinating how many of them are tentative about the freedom that podcasts allows. It’s encouraged me to see about studying the medium further, maybe a PhD?

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