In honour of their 5th anniversary, we asked the twisted minds behind CheapShow to tell us their tale, how they came to be, what their fans mean to them, and how the current pandemic is affecting their work. Naturally, when we asked them for a story, we got more than we bargained for.
To cut a long story short, I’d just quit stand-up after a miserable year at the Edinburgh Fringe. I love comedy but my heart was never into stand up. I left London and fell into producing radio in Southampton. I wanted to keep doing “something” comedy and now that I have access to recording space and equipment, I decided to give podcasting a go as it was something I was quickly falling in love with as a medium. I wanted to try and make something that is mine, that doesn’t have to appeal to a large demographic and helps keep me creative. My co-host on the show is Eli Silverman. We were in a few improv and sketch groups together in the early 2010s but they weren’t going anywhere. I guess we both felt a little isolated from the comedy world, so we started the podcast to “create our own world” (which sounds a little pretentious and probably is!)
It took us a while to find the format of CheapShow. Originally I’d been a huge fan of Kevin Smith’s podcast Hollywood Babylon and loved the idea of a live podcast recording, but that was a bad idea to do in Camden, mid week, in a small comedy venue, for a few tourists who did NOT understand what was going on and a few drunk locals who made their opinions of our show very clear. Plus the fact we were mucking about without much in the way of direction. After a few months of this, we noticed a pattern to the segments we were introducing to the podcast and they all seemed to revolve around Poundland, charity shop and bargain bin items. We found weird and wonderful items, gadgets and food for the shows (and to be fair, some utterly horrendous stuff as well) and the show became more about celebrating the cheaper “luxuries” in life than just the random collection of half thought out ideas we’d been messing around with.
So we rebranded the show, stopped doing it live and moved into a small recording studio and made it more of a “magazine” format show. Imagine That’s Life (if you are old enough) but with large amounts of foul language and a tempestuous relationship at the heart of each segment. Five years later we’re this weird beast, constantly shifting genres and styles from episode to episode. It’s a consumer report by Richie and Eddie from “Bottom” or “Derek and Clive” reviewing cheap tat. We sort of evolved our podcast personalities episode by episode and now we’ve properly built up a joyous weird world of our own. It’s a nightmare!
Creation of CheapShow now varies from week to week, which is (I think) part of what keeps Eli and I still interested in the show five years down the line. We have a tonne of segments, we can chop and change those parts of the show each week to keep it feeling fresh. The basic format of the show is that we investigate the charity shops, Poundlands, Car Boot Sales and online auction sites to look for treasure amongst the trash. We also review and play with food. We compare branded products against their cheaper “knock off” alternatives to see if the cheaper products stand up to the big brands. Charity shops offer all kinds of surprises, too – from toys, fashion, board games and vinyl records, so just one trip to a local shop can give us the content we need to record an episode. Over time we’ve gone from being a monthly show to a weekly show (once we had the audience to really justify that) and we accumulate a lot of “stuff”, but another excellent benefit from the growth of our show is that we now have the listeners supply segments to the show through our PO box. We are lucky in that respect.
Once we have all we need for an episode, it’s just a matter of meeting up at the infamous “House of Pickles” (Eli’s Flat). We get the recording equipment out and then pour our brains out into the microphone. One episode may be more food based, the next maybe mostly about music and some weeks we turn playing a board game into a whole adventure radio drama.
Eli and I do get bored easily, and we are lucky that we have made our show elastic enough to bend the format every now and then. The variety of bric-a-brac alone means we are constantly thrown curveballs to our show. Sometimes finding an old forgotten toy or a rare piece of pop music takes us down a rabbit hole that bounces from pop culture nostalgia to history lessons. Also, we began a habit of creating characters that pop in and out of the show. At first they were throw away jokes but soon became recurring creatures and eventually even allow us to build whole episodes around them (for better or much worse). I like to keep the podcast sound rough and shambolic. I put a lot of effort into making the episode sound close to collapsing in on itself every week. I call it “professional unprofessionalism”. However, I really like the fact that one week we are the usual chatty mix of games and investigations and the next we are a full on radio drama with special effects, numerous characters and guest appearances.
My favourite episodes are our “TV Game Show Board Game” specials, where we turn the podcast into a TV channel, complete with adverts, fake TV shows, continuity announcements by Pat Sharp (yes, really!) and we play a load of board games based on TV Game Shows. They take a tonne of time to make, but I end up loving those episodes the most. We’ve done live recordings from haunted houses, gone on Night Bus journeys, visited Car Boot Sales for a poor man’s version of Bargain Hunt, had a Murder Mystery episode, sold out live shows at Comic Cons and Comedy Theatres and a disastrous “CheapShow Awards” ceremony. So I think it’s the variety that keeps us going and the flexible format. God knows what it’s like for a new listener if they ever decide to start their listening on one of those special episodes. It’s probably off-putting!
Now that we’re celebrating our 5th anniversary, it feels odd. I love working in radio and I love working in comedy, and when we started CheapShow in 2015, it was because Eli and I felt we had nowhere else to go in comedy and threw ourselves into the project because “why not?” We thought it would last a year, maybe 50 episodes, but as the show grew and mutated, so did the audience and then after becoming weekly we realised “oh, this could actually be something we can do professionally” and it took us by surprise!
The most important thing we’ve learned about podcasting these past 5 years is to stay determined. I’m pretty sure it’s my fear of going back to a 9 to 5 job that keeps me going with things like my radio producing work and CheapShow. If you love the medium of podcasting, I think it’s important to keep at it for as long as possible. CheapShow was a slow growth. We began with a couple of 100 listens per month and now we are a couple of 1000, which is huge for us. We really didn’t know what we were doing at the start and to go from shouting into the podcasting void, we now have a creative, supportive and warm audience that like what we do. It’s the old adage of “it’s a marathon, not a race” when it comes to podcasting. You have to stay visible, keep a conversation going with your growing audience and do your best to stay engaged in what you are doing.
I often find making the podcast the least difficult part. I think it’s the social media engagement, the publicity, the networking, etc. that’s tough for me. CheapShow is just me and Eli and we are a small operation trying to get your attention. I totally appreciate CheapShow can be a hard sell. It’s loud, crude, surreal and possibly unhinged, but I also think we try to keep the show positive, try not to punch down and show the love of what we discover as best we can. We came close to giving up a lot at the start, but I think our determination is a big part of why we are still, somehow, carrying on with the show.
Eli and I were very lucky in that we got involved with a YouTube channel called Barshens which was a comedy entertainment YouTube show hosted by two big YT content creators, Stuart Ashen and Barry Lewis. I came on to produce the show and Eli came on as a “stooge” for Stuart and Barry to use as they so desired. We both got more screen time per episode and CheapShow even snuck in from time to time. That exposure to an audience of 100k really helped boost our numbers after our first year, but the other benefit is that the audience that largely followed Stuart and Barry would end up supporting CheapShow, and holy hell are they creative. I think (I hope) they know that we aren’t really like the versions of us that exist in the podcast and they act accordingly. They pick up on things we do in the podcast and tell us what they like and don’t like. They offer links to segment ideas, create art for some of the characters and often inspire us to try something new.
At some point you have to make the podcast YOU want to make, not your audience, but more often than not they have been a big inspiration to what we do and how we grow. Their word of mouth matters and that is sometimes better than any other kind of promotion. We really lucked out. As a whole, they are definitely a community. I jokingly referred to them as “cheapskates” but I am always wary of supporting cliques of fandom because I want to make CheapShow a show that anyone can drop in on and just have a laugh for 90 minutes each week. I’d hate for new people to be put off because they didn’t feel welcome. Again, you still have to make the podcast you want to make and hope that people discover it and that it is, to some extent, approachable. We make a lot of noise, but we try to be a friendly podcast.
However, without some of our listeners, the show would sound and look very different. It was because of one listener that we got an amazing and very professional sounding intro theme around episode 50. It was because of two amazingly talented artists who listen to the show that we got our artwork and logos. It was because of another listener that we got the “Unofficial/Official CheapShow Magazine” made. The artists who have given us their time and talent did it to support us and help with our identity. Because of that massive supply of art, we wanted them to benefit directly from their work. We’d been asked about merch quite a lot and I was wary to do it, simply down to my ropey time management and poor organization skills. To me, it felt more fair to allow these artists to put the art they had made on their own merch pages and allow them to make money off their work directly. We happily put the links to their Redbubble (or whatever) pages on our website and social media pages. We are not the biggest podcast in the world, so they may not be shifting a tonne of merch, but what they do sell is theirs to benefit from, and in turn for the audience to enjoy and share with the world themselves. Some of the merch that I’ve seen have been truly brilliant.
As for the magazine, we were approached by a listener called Ivenne who wanted to hone her editorial skills and create a fanzine of CheapShow to send out to Patreon people. I said yes, she can do it anyway she wants, providing that I can look it over before release. A few months later, she produced a magazine that looks WAY better than it had any right to be. Especially for a grotty podcast like ours. It is beautifully designed, packed with incredibly well written and researched content and was a classy companion to the podcast. It was also created with help from the listeners. Some supply art, reviews, pictures, and facts. Ivenne absolutely blew my mind with each new edition of the magazine. From my point of view, it was eye opening, because I got to read the feedback and opinions of listeners I’d not heard about, from all over the world. I’m very proud of the magazines, despite have nothing to do with their production, but the fact that it has sprung from our podcast makes me feel really happy. Ivenne even turned our podcast into a D&D game in one edition. It was crazy professional and packed with characters and RPG elements. The fact that the listeners inspire each other, help each other create their own content and (on the whole) feel like a lovely bunch of people. I’ve just got to make sure that the podcast still appeals to those who listen and don’t get involved, they need to be taken into account too.
For anyone new coming into the podcast, personal choice for an episode to start with is episodes 114 and 115 called “Winkie” and “The Winkie Wedding”. They’re probably the most atypical episodes, but they’re also the episodes that gave us one of our biggest and most delightful discoveries to date. The shortest version I can tell is that Eli found a vinyl 7 inch single in a record shop called “Winkie”, a French, early 80s cheesy, electro pop song. The cover was of this weird cartoonish microchip. The song was fun, but then we noticed that “Winkie” was trademarked and we had no idea why that would be. Eventually we discovered that Winkie was a long forgotten failed toy from 1984, and then we fell down the rabbit hole and discovered a much bigger and stranger story. It’s our very own “Tiger King”, kinda.
What we learned next about Winkie involved a crazy LA nightclub owner, a failed toy, a 6 month long endurance competition on Sunset Strip, an unusual wedding, a famed 80’s outsider artist, failed movie deals, law suits, a French pop song and a pilgrimage to Los Angeles! This story really exploded the popularity as our daft podcast created a mini, modern day case of Winkie-mania. The more we discovered, the more we wanted to know more. So episodes 114 and 115 are where to start if you feel brave enough.
This brings us to our birthday episode (June 5th) where we plan on doing a very special Winkie episode. In the year since we first heard of Winkie, I’ve been amassing as much information as possible about the story, so I thought “why not tell the WHOLE story for our 5th birthday”. So we are. I usually hate hype, but I honestly can’t wait to tell this story. We’ve managed to find videos, newspaper clippings and even had a few interviews with the people involved in Winkie. There are some surprising twists to come, some major new pieces of information, and we are going to create an English language cover of the song with the help of a very special guest. It’s not going to be the usual CheapShow episode, but that’s alright, we’ve built that into our flexible format! WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT! (cue evil laughter and lightning!) We think it’s a great, untold story and we hope everyone is as taken by it as we have been!
Eli and I had been involved in all sorts of projects over the years, some more successful than others, but CheapShow is the first time we have ever had true success of our own. I know we are still a small podcast compared to most of the more well known shows, but we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved and it’s really wonderful to know we have an audience that loves our odd, profane, random trek through life’s bargain bins. I think, like most great UK comedy, we are about finding humour in failure but we probably revel in being the underdog just a little too much at times. We honestly didn’t think we’d get to 200 episodes and 5 years, but I utterly love CheapShow and it’s given Eli and I some truly marvellous experiences, opportunities and memories.
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