Michael Spicer is recognisable for his Room Next Door character, where acts as the unseen adviser in the Prime Minister’s. Now, he’s showcasing repertoire of new characters in a new podcast. It Happened To Me tells the stories of life-changing events experienced by real
people… except it’s not real because every guest is made up and played by Michael.
It Happened to Me riffs on the first-person stories you find in newspaper supplements and real-life magazines, with episodes including “I joined a cult and accidentally killed its leader”, “I run a soft play centre for adults only”, “I performed magic to the man who burgled my house”. Michael is making this podcast with long-time collaborator, the comedy writer Matt Tiller. We caught up with them both to talk more about the show.
Hi Matt and Michael! Tell us a bit about the new podcast – what’s your elevator pitch??
Michael: It Happened to Me is about ordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell. Each week a guest is interviewed about the life-changing experience that happened to them. The difference is every story is made up and every guest is played by me.
Matt: Michael Spicer is doing a podcast. That’s enough for people to know it’s good without me telling anyone that I’m interfering in it and putting them off. But the proper elevator pitch is what Michael said.
Where did you ‘find’ these stories? (talk us through the inspiration for the podcast)
Michael: I’ve worked with Matt on and off for twenty years and he knew that I always loved character acting, so he suggested we come up with a podcast that plays on the idea of him interviewing me playing a different character each week. I then hit upon the idea of parodying those articles in weekend magazines where people are interviewed about the one extraordinary event that happened to them. The main source of our ideas was the weekly ‘Experience’ articles in The Guardian Lifestyle section – ‘My parachute didn’t open’, ‘I drink more than 50 cups of tea a day’, ‘I found the man who shot me’, etc. We began improvising over Zoom and it seemed to work. That’s when we got the brilliant Cup and Nuzzle involved.
Matt: We wanted to do a podcast that was funny but wasn’t just two people chatting because our conversations are probably quite tedious to anyone but us. Michael has always been a brilliant character comedian, so it made sense to find a format that allowed him to bring his creations to life. Talking to people with extraordinary stories was the kind of thing I did as a journalist and researcher on terrible daytime television shows in my twenties, so it was nice of Michael to come up with an idea that brought back haunting memories of the past.
Do you have a favourite story so far?
Michael: My favourite story is ‘I rescued my vinyl collection before my family’ because for a 15-minute podcast we cram a lot into it which will hopefully make it a very entertaining listen – the story is outrageous, the character is deeply tragic and coming up with the entirely fabricated band names in the vinyl collection was so much fun. I do love the story of the magician who performed magic tricks to deter a burglar too. That made me laugh when I heard it back anyway.
Matt: I love the fact that these are intricate little stories and the one I enjoy most as a tale is probably ‘I joined a cult and accidentally killed its leader’ because it has such lovely and, at times, horrific details. But the funniest is probably the bloke who rescued his vinyl collection before his family when their house caught fire. I know many music obsessives and, while I don’t think any would go quite that far as they are decent people, it was fun to imagine someone who took it to such extremes. And the band and song names Michael came up with are so good I want to listen to them even though they would be universally dreadful.
What’s the collaboration been like between you?
Michael: It’s the easiest thing in the world because as I say we’ve been working together for two decades so we know what makes each other laugh. He’s also more of a producer than me. I spent most of my 20s and 30s working proper jobs while doing comedy on the side whereas Matt has always been in the comedy business. He knows how to tinker with the machinery to make it work, whereas my head is firmly in the clouds trying to think of the next idea or the next joke. I think that’s why we work well together.
Matt: Given Michael’s recent and deserved success I’m just glad he continues to answer my calls. It is a relationship borne out of twenty years of failure and you can’t buy that kind of commitment.
Why podcasting? What is it about the format that appealed to you for this project?
Michael: After The Room Next Door sketches went viral, I wanted to prove I could do more than just that character and that style of sketch-writing. Podcasting seemed like a logical step because it offers the artist complete freedom to do what they want. Plus, our interview format is ideally suited to podcasts. I mean we parody that format mercilessly but nonetheless it is perfect.
Matt: It’s a joy to just create something that doesn’t have to fit a particular format or slot. And this idea gives us almost limitless characters and we’d love to do more.
Are there any big lessons you’ve learned as a podcaster?
Michael: There are some incredibly talented sound engineers out there who can edit an hour’s worth of rambling, improvisational nonsense and convert it into an entertaining, concise, and listenable 15 minutes. Quite frankly they are miracle workers and deserve all the awards available.
Matt: That you need to craft the show with as much attention to detail as you would for any other platform. As a producer, that wasn’t a surprise, but you still need people who you trust to tell you what they think of an idea, script or take. Having a production company come on board has made a huge difference and Matt Everitt and the team at Cup & Nuzzle have not only helped us shape the idea, but also made it sound really good. If we’d done it ourselves it would’ve had the ambience of two middle aged men prattling down a well while clanging a rusty bike wheel.
Finally, what is your current favourite podcast you would recommend to readers?
Michael: I adore You Must Remember This. It’s a consistently fascinating and gorgeous podcast about Hollywood’s forgotten history.
Matt: The one podcast I’ve been with from the start is one I still enjoy – The Bugle. I was a fan of Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver when it launched and I admire how The Bugle survived and evolved after Oliver’s cruel abandonment of the ship for his own HBO show while Zaltzman was left to forge a satisfying career in comedy, podcasting and cricket analysis. I’ll leave it to you to decide how our trajectories might compare.