What does it mean to produce a podcast? The Pod Bible gang wanted to bring podcast producers out from their editing bays and research caves to tell you why they’re passionate about creating podcasts – and illustrate for listeners what a podcast producer actually does. Today’s Meet the Producer is Rosie Wilby from The Breakup Monologues. After writing an article about her favourite sex & relationships podcasts, we wanted to know a bit more about Rosie herself, and how she takes her experience as a comedian and writing into her podcast work.
Hi Rosie! Your podcast evolved from your work in different mediums – first your book Is Monogamy Dead? and then solo stage show The Conscious Uncoupling. What made you decide to make The Breakup Monologues as a podcast?
The creative lineage dates back even further than that! The Conscious Uncoupling was the final part of a trilogy of solo comedy shows that began with The Science of Sex. I toured that around the U.K. in 2009 and 2010 but have revived it for subsequent performances in New York, Sydney and at Edinburgh Fringe. That was a silly lecture all about the psychology of attraction, the kind of subversive sex ed. lesson we all wish we’d had at school. But behind my grubby lab coat, makeshift props, spoofy ancient love poems and graphs was a serious intent to get to the bottom of how relationships worked… and sometimes didn’t!
So there’s been this more serious line of psychological enquiry underpinning my creative work about love for over a decade. I think it stems from growing up gay and feeling different. There are many things about love and attraction that are universal but some that are different for queer partnerships. Did you know that lesbians divorce at a much higher rate than anyone else? That surprised me. But also made me feel better about my very serially monogamous past. It’s not atypical for a queer woman.
Did you take inspiration from any podcasts in particular before you started?
I guested on The Guilty Feminist to talk about my book Is Monogamy Dead? (which had stemmed from the middle part of the aforementioned trilogy) just before starting The Breakup Monologues. So that definitely inspired me to record the second and third seasons live at Kings Place. Although I’m changing format and feel for the new season [which started on 12th February]. That’ll have more of a magazine feel with separate interviews linked by me. That was also a format familiar to me because I’ve presented a show on Resonance FM for many years. So, if anything, my original inspiration came from radio… and the sort of mix of intelligence and humour of some of Radio 4’s artsy and cultural output, Woman’s Hour, Loose Ends and so on.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a podcast producer since the start of The Breakup Monologues?
To be adaptable. Lockdown threw a big spanner in the works for me. I’m a live performer. It’s in my blood. So it took me a while to adjust to the fact that live shows weren’t going to be happening again for a while. I also had to figure out how to replace the lost ticket sales income. Fortunately a couple of superfans came to the rescue and put some money into the new season.
Also, to think about your USP. When I began talking about breakups onstage and in the podcast, audiences said it was so needed. Breakups weren’t talked about. Now there are more podcasters and authors discussing them. Which is what I was trying to achieve in a way. But now I also think I have to work harder to make The Breakup Monologues distinctive. And I think the cerebral/science angle about the parallels between addiction and heartbreak, or the sociological aspects of how polyamory changes the conversation about breakups and the way we bring those ideas in alongside the more personal anecdotes, is the kind of thing I have always enjoyed doing. Some of my favourite reviews of my book were the ones that acknowledged that there was clearly a huge amount of research that had been done but that research came across in such a light, accessible way. Also, I think inclusivity is a big thing for me. Not just in terms of sexuality. One of my favourite guests was Lynn Ruth Miller, who talked about dating and sex for the over eighties!
Earlier this year, you were awarded funding from the British Podcast Awards and Wellcome Trust to make a miniseries, My Chemical Romance. Where did the idea for these bonus episodes come from?
I had been aware for a few years of the work of neuroethicist Brian D. Earp into the idea of ‘love drugs’ and ‘anti-love drugs’ that could either help us to stay in a relationship or reduce the trauma of leaving one. Could the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind actually become a reality? So when the Pulse Award scheme from BPA and Wellcome was announced, it seemed like the perfect idea to explore in a double bill.
Did you have to produce this series in a different way to your regular episodes?
Yes. Although that hadn’t been the plan. I wanted to record these as a live double bill at Kings Place with a diverse and intelligent panel including Brian. However, the event was scheduled for late March, just at the start of lockdown. So instead I recorded a socially distant conversation with Brian and then did something completely new. I put an open call out online for listeners to submit their stories about how drugs we already take such as SSRIs, birth control pills etc had affected their romantic lives (and had perhaps had side effects of acting like an anti love drug). This was really interesting to put together.
And did you learn different things from doing the My Chemical Romance miniseries?
I suppose I felt more confident that you can still make great content without necessarily needing celebrity names. Obviously The Breakup Monologues has had some big names and will continue to do so. It does help with getting the word out and getting media or social media attention. But a great story or a new, intriguing idea is still worth a lot too.
What is something as a podcast producer you haven’t tried yet but would like to?
Over lockdown, I’ve been listening to a lot of the classic long form investigative or storytelling shows like Serial, S-Town, The Missing Cryptoqueen and Passenger List. I am desperate to make something like this, where you start off with a question but then maybe go off on other fascinating tangents. I have an idea I love for a series like this. But I might need some production support and finance to really do it justice. So we will see.
In the meantime, I’m also adding a slightly more themed and narrative approach to the latest season of The Breakup Monologues. There will be one particular episode where I’ll be unravelling the mystery of why one tiny breakup, after only a couple of casual dates, ripped right to the heart of all my vulnerabilities and kind of defied the ‘normal’ breakup rules of how much something is supposed to hurt if it hasn’t lasted very long. It’s a very nuanced change in atmosphere but the listening experience might feel a bit more like chapters of a book.
How do you experience other podcasts as a listener? Can you turn off your editing ear and just enjoy shows, or do you always tune in to the things you would have done differently yourself?
I tend to enjoy podcasts in different genres to mine. Although recently I have been listening a lot to the clever use of music in other podcasts. I always just had a fun little theme that came in and out at the start and end. But now we’ve got another piece by the same composer which fades in and out throughout the show as well. It’s a very simple change but one that points to the slightly different direction I’m taking things.
Do you have a dream guest?
I mentioned the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind above. It’s one of my all time favourites. I’d love to interview Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet about how they’d feel if the memory erasure process depicted in the film became a reality. They’ve had a few divorces between them. I wonder if they’d erase their ex-partners!
And now it’s coming full circle and you’ve been commissioned to write a book based on the podcast! Can you tell us about that?
The Breakup Monologues book will be published by Bloomsbury at the end of May. It tells my own story of trying to learn from my breakups, and from all the experts and friends that I’ve interviewed, and figuring out how to actually try and stay in a relationship at last. I think my breakups have proved to be such learning experiences, and ultimately really positive, that I’ve become a bit of a breakup addict. Is it possible to do that much active learning and growth while actually staying in a relationship? We will see!
Where can Pod Bible readers find out more about you and the show?
The Breakup Monologues is on Instagram @breakupmonologues where I post fun backstage images from the live shows, exclusive extracts, bonus content and ideas from the show and book. I’m also on Twitter @rosiewilby. It would be great to hear from people there. Otherwise there’s my website www.rosiewilby.com, the show is available on all good podcast platforms, my first book is available from all great bookshops as a paperback, ebook and audiobook and the new book is available now to pre-order.