John Walker's Electronic House

Rambling About Podcasts And Richard Herring

by on Aug.28, 2008, under The Rest

I discovered podcasts this week. You probably won’t have heard of them, because they’re so very brand new and I’m astonishingly in touch and up-to-date, in a way you could never hope to keep up with. To try to explain them to your tiny brain, they’re like some radio, but in a box on the internet.

This isn’t strictly true – I listened to all the Ricky Gervais podcasts in one go a few months after they happened, a couple of years ago. Then I entirely forgot about the concept. Recently I rediscovered this magic via Housemate Craig’s linking me to the Collings & Herrin podcast, from the audiomouths of top comedian Richard Herring and top bloke Andrew Collins. This is all hosted on their handy website, available as mp3s. Lovely, easypeasy. That’s the sort of podcasting I am built to handle. Right click, save as, dump into Winamp or onto mp3 player. At no point in this entire endeavour does it need to pass through the evil, oily hands of Apple and their one-mouse-buttoned hegemony.

But then I listened to their podcasts (which are completely brilliant, so long as you enjoy jokes about bum-rape and oat milk) and they keep going on about their ranking on iTunes, and then about Stephen Fry’s podcasts about Oscar Wilde, and oh gosh darn it, I want to be in this crowd! What’s the matter with me? My mind! MY MIND! I did it – I downloaded and installed iTunes. Look, I’m sorry.

I could, I suppose, have tracked down all the various podcasts that interest me, and then subscribed to their RSS via Google (geeksplurge), and indeed I have done with Collings & Herrin. And I guess I’ve technically been podcastering by subbing to the This American Life downloads for the last year or so, and that notifies me of its newness via Google Reader too. But I’m joining the merry masses, and simplifying it. I’ve obviously worked out to where they’re downloading, and noted which are proper mp3s and not some grotesque DRM-infested m4a files, so I can put them on my non-Apple mp3 player.

My habits are such that I am inevitably listening to something. I just played Mass Effect through, but the dialogue was infrequent enough such that I filled the gaps with catching up on the backlog of C&H shows, finding my experience of the sci-fi RPG somewhat altered thanks to men making jokes about bumming owls and wheat. But this isn’t unusual – many games that don’t require me to be listening find their background music replaced by whatever radio I’m currently working my way through. Then at night a playlist of something chit-chatty natters away until I’m asleep. Walking into/around town, on the bus, going to the shop 200m down the road, is always enhanced with more chatter in my ears. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.

A few years ago this was almost entirely dominated by working through about three years of Loveline episodes. More recently I’ve worked my way through the entirity of This American Life. Even more recently TAL has been interchanged with Rob Bell sermons from Mars Hill. Now a slight change of direction…

I’ve enjoyed Richard Herring’s stuff since, of course, the days of Lee & Herring. I remember not only listening to their earliest Radio 1 shows (I missed Lionel Nimrod’s Inexplicable World on Radio 4, because I hadn’t discovered Radio 4 in 1992), from Fist Of Fun’s university-based live shows, to Lee & Herring (which confusingly was the show that first aired material that would be used in the BBC2 Fist Of Fun), but also calling in to them. In fact, a while back I got hold of mp3s of the entirely unavailable and unrepeated 1994 show, and found 16 year old me on it. Which you can listen to here. Listen how I try and sound like them. But amazingly my voice is somehow deeper than Rich Herring’s oddly squeaky voice that he doesn’t have any more. I won, as this proves, and was sent a chew bar and crap single (as they described it) of some awful singer.

Later, when I was 20 and at university, I interviewed both Rich and Stew for the student newspaper over the phone. If the tape of that still exists I’ll destroy it the moment I find it – I can’t imagine how smug and irritating I must have been. But they were both brilliant and very funny, and didn’t avoid the opportunity to slag off Patrick Marber. They also explained what really happened regarding their leaving Radio 4’s On The Hour, and not working on The Day Today, which apparently was entirely a fight between their agents and Armando Iannucci’s agent, and not between any of them themselves.

Then he sort of disappeared for a bit, and wrote sitcoms for Sky TV, which is sort of the same thing. A few years ago I found his daily blog, Warming Up, and then soon after he started doing stand up on his own, for his Edinburgh shows. I saw one of the warm-up gigs for Someone Likes Yoghurt, in Bristol, which was really superb. I’ve a bootleg of it, which is half-decent, and I’ll send it to you if you promise to buy the DVD of the show from Go Faster Stripe as well.

His stand up in that show, and again in last year’s ‘ménage à un’, has taken this fantastic, frustrating deconstructive approach. He begins with some very traditional observation comedy, the opening lines seemingly deliberately crass and obvious, before then wildly changing through clever subjects and number of times. It’s great stand up, but you feel like something is up. And then the earliest references start to creep their way into the later material, things linking up and connecting, slightly smarter than the usual callbacks comedians will do for easy laughs. Rather you feel as though their first appearances were elaborate setups for these punchlines. And then, just over half way through the two hours, the spiral begins. It spoils it to say when it happens in either gig, so I won’t, but once it begins it’s going to be a long, often painful journey. He deliberately beats a subject to death, laboriously going over it until the audience is lost, even bored. At this point, when you’re desperate for him to stop, that’s when the analysis of it all begins. A stretched, laboured analysis that eventually descends into the same place as its subject. Of course at which point the joke becomes about how he’s refusing to stop doing this. It becomes an endurance test, far more for him having to do this every night, but obviously for the audience. I should stress, you laugh throughout, because it’s simply funny that he’s willing to do this in a comedy show. When it finally, mercifully ends, the rest of the show becomes a peculiar car crash of all the previous topics, introspectively peculiar, all designed to imply a man on the edge of a complete breakdown. No matter how that sounds written down, it’s a fantastic experience, mostly because of the barely disguised glee on his face as he does it all. And definitely get the ménage à un DVD to see, in the extras, what happens when someone heckles this process at just the wrong moment, and it all falls apart. (But please be warned beyond belief, that performance contains the most astonishingly offensive material I’ve ever seen – deliberately so – and half the people I know would no longer be people I know if they watched it).

So, that brings us to the podcast, that’s reminded me that all the other podcasts exist. Remembering Warming Up has also reminded me I should spend more time writing stuff on here, about whatever’s in my head, before I go insane only writing about TV and PC games. Hopefully that won’t always be this long.

4 Comments for this entry

  • Masked Dave

    Don’t you semi-regularly *make* a podcast? I’ve often thought an RPS podcast would be superb.

    Its interesting (to me) that you’re entering podcasting through… shall we say, established names. I guess it makes the most sense to enter that way, but to me podcast has always been primarily an amateur thing, and thrives on this. It’s a fantastic community of people just talking into their computers and having other people actually listen to it!

    And some times those amateurs can develop into fantastic shows that you can’t believe there’s no money being made, the Philadelphia based Mediocre Show ( is ample proof of this.

    I’d also check out the superbly dark and hilarious Children’s Hour of Knowledge. Start from the first episode (it’s only five to fifteen minutes a week) because its got a great build to it and really worth listening to the whole thing.

    Also, if you like jokes about bumsex and animals (and other British staples) I recommend Inappropriate Behaviour ( They are really funny, and hansom, and intelligent, and I hear that that David guy they’ve got is awesome in bed. (Modest too.)

  • botherer

    Isn’t that extraordinary that in all the time I was writing that, it genuinely never once occurred to me that I have, on a number of occasions, gone into a recording studio to record a podcast?

    I think this does somewhat prove that I am an idiot.

  • Richard

    .m4a files aren’t DRMed, it’s just what Apple calls its AAC files. There are free converters available on the web. Apple’s protected files are .m4p.

    One podcast recommendation – The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe. A fairly fun, loose, but typically scientifically based look at the week’s weird stories. Don’t agree with them all the time, but it’s a fun listen.

  • Masked Dave

    iTunes even has an option to “Convert to MP3…” in the Advanced menu (although that may be only on the Mac version, not sure) which will re-encode (recode?) your m4as with ease.