Some people think I invented podcasts. It’s true that I was a very early adopter, but when I started doing them in January 2008 there were a few people putting stuff out, most notably Ricky Gervais (what happened to him? He’s never in the podcast charts these days).
I embraced the format enthusiastically when my peers couldn’t see the point. I was producing hours of material each week and some comedians asked me why I gave away so much stuff away for free. Truthfully I didn’t care about the money (luckily as it would take at least a decade before I started seeing any significant financial return). What appealed to me was the freedom and the autonomy: no gate-keepers, no censorship, no waiting months for a slot in the TV or radio schedules.
Plus if you have a crazy idea like an audio ventriloquism show or a weekly show where you play yourself at snooker very badly and then commentate on it very badly or one where you attempt to clear all the stones off a huge field (all genuine podcasts of mine), then you can just get on with it. Whether it’s a good idea or not.
You can come up with something in the afternoon and have it up online by the evening. And your audience is potentially anyone with internet access in the entire world (and possibly beyond).
In the past 15 years podcasts have become a big deal and having got in early and established an audience might look like some kind of business genius. Even at my relatively modest level I can now afford to pay myself and my team a regular wage and use the profits to fund other projects (we recently put £65,000 from podcast ads into an improvised independent movie and unlike other film producers we don’t really care if we get that money back –creating interesting stuff is our goal).
— Richard K Herring (@Herring1967) September 27, 2023
As podcasting has become a lucrative business, the landscape has changed. Not only are there seemingly more podcasts than human beings at this point, but it’s become more professional and increasingly the domain of production companies. The old gatekeepers have been replaced with new ones.
But it’s still possible to have a fresh idea, put it up online and find an enthusiastic audience without star names or big budgets. You have the freedom to take risks and push back boundaries. Podcasts aren’t broadcast into people’s homes without consent. They have to choose to listen to them. If they don’t like what they hear and then carry on downloading, then that’s their problem!
I’ve been asked to tell you what makes the perfect podcast, but there’s no formula. The best podcasts are the ones that uncompromisingly do their own thing. Would anyone have guessed that the magnificent My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast (where three pals discussed the efforts of one of their dads to write mild, but excruciating erotica) would become a worldwide hit?
Or that Drunk Women Solving Crime (in which three women and a guest drink too much and discussed notorious and weird law-breakers) would be something that might get a TV deal? Or that me walking round a field and trying to explain how and why I was moving stones to the edge would run for at least 150 episodes and get almost 1,000 downloads a week?
Like I say, they’re not all good ideas.
If you have a concept and the most basic of equipment, you can have a crack at recording a podcast. Don’t expect overnight success and try to be original. Don’t come in expecting riches, just try to present what you’re doing in the best possible way (and if you do it right then riches might come). No gatekeepers also means that you can no longer blame the gatekeepers for keeping you from your public.
The game might be rigged in favour of those with fame and money, but there is still a punky sense of democracy. If people like what you’re doing, they will tell their friends, who will tell their friends. Even if your idea is niche, it can still be huge if everyone in the world who is interested in that niche tunes in. You don’t need a big percentage of the 7 billion potential listeners to have a hit.
The first step in making a perfect podcast is to make a podcast. What’s stopping you?
Five near-perfect podcasts
1. The Adam Buxton Podcast
I hate to admit it but Adam is the UK master of the podcast interview format and gets the guests that I’d kill for, including Sir Paul McCartney, Billy Connolly and Tom Hanks. Adam is open, honest and vulnerable and as well as fascinating chats with his guests we follow his personal journey through the years, especially moving as he deals with the loss of his parents.
2. Dear Joan and Jericha
Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine come together to create two of the most dysfunctional and disgraceful agony aunts the world has ever seen. It’s hilarious, horrifying and much too rude for any other medium. It’s exactly what I want from podcasts: two spectacularly talented comedians, pushing each other right up to the line and occasionally over it and producing something truly inspired.
3. No Such Thing As A Fish
Did you know that in 2015 the actor Vicky McClure was kicked off the Vicky McClure tram for not having a ticket? The nerds who come up with the incredible questions on QI got together to make their own podcast in which they each choose an incredible fact, which then inspires a cavalcade of other hilarious and fascinating gobbets of information. They weren’t stars (before the podcast) and this is exactly the kind of show that TV would have rejected or ruined with recasting. It is now the UK’s 7th most popular podcast and always fascinating and hilarious.
4. The Worst Idea of All Time
For me, this is what podcasts were invented for. New Zealand comics Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery watch the terrible film Grown-Ups 2 every week for 52 weeks and discuss and review it. Self-defeating, pointless and yet ultimately profound and beautiful and taking the hosts on a journey that ends in a different country with fresh tattoos of Patrick Swayze. It will and won’t make sense when you listen to it.
5. Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown
A ridiculous uncomplicated gameshow, presented by three men-children, Matthew, Tom and Ben. It’s like Crackerjack crossed with I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again presented by the PG Tips chimps, but again as it’s a podcast it can also be spectacularly filthy. On a recent record I appeared on the audience and the panel laughed cathartic purifying laughter for a full two hours.
Richard Herring is currently touring his interview podcast RHLSTP, with the next London show at the Leicester Square Theatre on Monday October 9 and upcoming dates in Newcastle, Norwich, Tunbridge Wells, Leeds, Northampton, Nottingham, Salford and Edinburgh. For more details visit richardherring.com