Meet the Podfather

Toby Martin on the king of podcasts

Podcasts are an increasingly popular medium for broadcasting comedy, with more and more comedians turning to the internet as a way to allow the public to access their material without having their ideas vetted by radio and television executives who are increasingly wary of what they allow to be broadcast.

Comic podcasts have become so popular that jug-journal Loaded has even created a podcast genre in its annual Lafta awards.

Many of these transmissions are edited versions of radio shows presented by either someone funny… or Chris Moyles.  Popular podcasts feature intelligent, original comics, unlike the fashionable, style-over-substance ones who often end up on our televisions.  Among comedians who have made strides in the podcasting world are John Oliver, Andy Zaltzman, Jon Richardson and Rhod Gilbert.  It is quite refreshing to see that Zaltzman, who presents The Bugle with John Oliver, has recently been given his own Radio 4 show which runs along very similar lines to his podcast.  Podcasts now have to potential to inform mainstream programming, rather than the other way around.

However, given that virtually anyone can record a podcast and submit it to iTunes, is this medium really being pushed to its full potential?  Non-commercial podcasting is virtually the only genre in which the performer holds full editing rights, retains ownership of the programme and has complete artistic freedom over what they broadcast, which is not the case in sponsored podcasts or edits of radio shows.

In fact, there is only one man who really seems to be pushing the limits of podcast comedy and recognising it for the potentially groundbreaking genre that it could be…

And no, it’s not Lafta-nominated Frankie Boyle.  Although Boyle’s podcast was completely self-produced and without commercial tie-in, he only ever posted one episode. 

Despite this, it is still the most highly-subscribed podcast on iTunes.

But wake up, he’s not going to do any more. Unsubscribe!

Loaded obviously thinks that Boyle’s effort deserves to be rewarded, and maybe it should have been had he persevered.  But I’d give him nul points.

Podcasting should be about a willingness to continuously experiment.  The only man who has done this so far is Richard Herring, The Podfather.

Herring’s unedited, off-the-cuff, weekly podcast with Andrew Collins has nearly reached its 100th episode.  In this time, the duo (but mainly Herring) have spouted material that would be completely unbroadcastable on any mainstream media channel, so-called ‘edgy’ shows like Mock The Week, yet they have never gone too far. 

Only Herring’s refusal to accept commercial sponsorship prevents the show from becoming dumbed-down, censored and more banal.  This sets it aside from not only other podcasts, but also virtually any other comedy productions.  This is why podcasting ought to be viewed as a golden opportunity for any comics really wanting to push the envelope.

However, Rich hasn’t rested on his laurels.  His most recent endeavour has seen him push the limits of what a comedian can accomplish without the burden of commercial backing. 

For the last ten weeks, Herring has been recording a weekly live podcast at the Leicester Square Theatre.  As It Occurs To Me is recorded in front of as many people as Richard can entice into the theatre at £10 a ticket and, again, goes through no kind of external screening process.  It’s then put onto iTunes at no cost whatsoever.  He has no team of writers to help him with his weekly script, no chance to revise the show post-recording… and only one sound effect.

And it’s a joy to listen to.

While Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle was a breath of fresh air for BBC Two, just imagine how much better it would have been if it had been absolutely unabridged and completely uncensored. 

It is to Richard Herring’s credit that the final episode of As It Occurs To Me was a complete sell-out, giving him a chance of finishing the series with a financial profit.  Truly a martyr to his art, he’s already booked the theatre for a second series next year.

Whilst the Loaded Laftas may not be the most prestigious comedy award, it would be a victory for pure, stripped-down comedy if Herring were to bag a victory and, hopefully, it would go to show the rest of the comedy world just what is possible if you really want to get your comedy out to a public that is only too ready to listen.

Published: 18 Dec 2009

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