It's not about the money, money, money

...but Richard Herring explains his podcast plans

‘The internet is coming! The internet is coming!’

Had I won gold at the Sony Awards last Monday, this is how I was planning to start my acceptance speech, in a sly reference to Colin Welland’s famous and rather hubristic proclamation as he accepted his Oscar for Chariots of Fire. As it was I had to content myself with the Bronze Award and no speech, which given how drunk I was by then might possibly have been a lucky break.

Just as the British did not quite conquer Hollywood I am doubtful that podcasts will usurp traditional broadcasters, but this minor success for Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast [RHLSTP] is hopefully a sign that independent internet-based productions can compete with the big boys and girls at the BBC. As far as I know this is the only non-BBC show ever to be nominated for the Sony Comedy Award, but I am sure it will not be the last one and I am confident that one day a podcast will take the gold.

And more importantly the internet is now a valid medium for comedic expression and one with very exciting and almost limitless possibilities, especially for those who are more interesting in creating great stuff than making money. It is one that I have embraced possibly more than any other comedian in the world. I am attracted to it by the autonomy, the lack of censorship, the lack of scheduling restrictions and the artistic freedom.

If you want to make a radio or TV show you first have to convince executives to give you a pilot, take on board their criticism, hope they commission a series, wait months for a spot in the schedules and hope that they recommission it. But with a podcast you can have an idea in the morning and have the podcast up and ready to listen to on the same day.

You don’t have to create work that will appeal to a wide audience, or advertisers or anyone but yourself. It’s not beamed into people’s homes – they have to choose to download it – so you can be a lot ruder than any broadcaster would let me be, but also take crazy risks with content. There isn’t a radio station in the world that would transmit a poorly recorded audio of me playing myself at snooker and commentating on it, in a deliberate attempt to antagonise and lose listeners. But I can do this on my own and I genuinely think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Very, very few people agree. But some do. And they still get to hear it. In a world of six billion people it’s a podcast that caters to six thousand (and falling). But that doesn’t matter (especially given that one day it will be heralded universally as the greatest work of art in all human history).

Of course on the downside as a podcaster you are not being directly paid for your work, but the podcasts have indirectly led to me making money. My live audiences have doubled in the years since I first podcasted, my DVD sales have gone up and I seem to get invited on to more radio and TV shows than before. People seem willing, almost desperate in some cases to reward me for the hundreds of hours of free entertainment.

But I think the key to the success of these projects is that for me they are all ends in themselves. If you go into podcasting asking how it will make money or what it will lead to, you will probably be disappointed. But if you go into it with the intention of making the best show you can with the resources available, at the very least you will create something you can be proud of. And it may well lead to other things. If I can find 6,000 people willing to endure the Me1 Vs Me2 Snooker podcast then imagine what you could do with something with actual jokes in it!

I would welcome and relish the competition. You can no longer complain that you’d be the world’s greatest comedian if only you could get the break. You can now make your own break. The only person stopping you is you.

In my stand-up and sketch podcast As It Occurs To Me the running joke was that I just wanted to be on the telly. But I truly believe that podcasts are a valid and in many ways superior alternative to being on the idiot’s lantern. And I am very keen to see if I can compete with TV shows in the way that I have managed to do with RHLSTP and the radio – ie in a very small and largely ineffectual manner.

To try anything more ambitious does require funding of some kind, but I am lucky to have the support of people who understand what I am trying to achieve, such as the cast of As It Occurs To Me, my producer Ben Walker and Chris Evans (not that one) from the fantastic independent DVD company Go Faster Stripe and who are all about the funny and not about the money.

Chris, Ben and I taking a bit of a punt on the next run of the Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. As well as putting out the audio for free on iTunes and the British Comedy Guide, we are also going to film the shows. This will cost us money, of course, so we’re hoping people will be prepared to pay to see as well as hear. The videos will be available to download for £3.50 a show or £15 for a series pass to all six podcasts (plus a bonus slightly shaking hand-held recording of the podcast I did at Machynlleth with Pappy’s).

To kick things off you can already purchase the video of the podcast from last year with my erstwhile double act partner Stewart Lee (which is a one-off and not a part of the series pass offer).

My hope is that we might cover the costs of filming in this way, but even if we don’t it will be an interesting record of the project. If we do make any money on this we will plough it back into making ever more ambitious comedy projects. I am planning to make a monthly series of ‘TV quality’ scripted and edited stand-up shows at the Leicester Square Theatre from October onwards which will be sold in a similar fashion.

And who knows, if all the 100,000 people who downloaded the most popular episode of RHLSTP were prepared to buy the series pass, we would have the funds to start making some of the sitcom scripts that the BBC rejected because they wanted to make Big Top and The Wright Way instead.

You may call me a dreamer... and in that case you’re correct.

But if, as seems likely, we lose a few hundred quid on this enterprise I will continue to produce the audio RHLSTPs, because enough people seem to enjoy them and I like doing them. And they are an end in themselves.

I hope you might consider downloading at least one of the videos. If you can’t afford to pay or just don’t think you should, then please keep enjoying the audio for free, but I’d be grateful if you at least spread the word.

Confirmed guests for the new series include Chris Addison and Stephen Fry, so I am confident the shows are going to be of a high standard. And if you’re can make it into London you can, of course, buy a ticket and see the shows live, which is the most fun of all.

  • Click here to buy the series pass, or one-off video podcasts, the trailer for which is below:

Published: 16 May 2013

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