For Issue #002 of Pod Bible Magazine, we sat down with live podcast maestro and king of the Emergency Question, Richard Herring, to discuss favourite episodes, awkward moments and whether or not he is actually Charlie Chaplin…
PB: IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO JUST BEFORE YOU RECORDED THE FIRST EPISODE OF YOUR PODCAST AND GIVE YOURSELF ONE PIECE OF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
RH: Time travel? What a ludicrous idea. If you change one thing the whole history of the world changes. I wouldn’t want to risk it. I like the way that I entered this medium early and made my own mistakes and successes and the progress has been steady, as it should be if you want to secure a future. I’d tell myself never to listen to the me from the future, who is more of a sell-out, because the route to success was about doing it because it was fun and liberating and autonomous and not worrying about whether it would pay or lead anywhere else. Maybe I need the me of the past to come forward to now and give me some advice, because I think he totally got what was exciting and revolutionary about self-created content.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT GUEST?
Being ready to laugh at themselves and take the piss out of me, being open (though sometimes it’s fun to see the more guarded guests relax and start to enjoy themselves) and be ready to have a proper crack at answering the emergency questions, even though some of them are really hard and they might not have an immediate answer. And someone who enjoys the experience enough to open up and give a part of themselves that they haven’t previously revealed. In short – someone who is ready to enjoy themselves.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT HOST?
Listening is more important than talking, though it’s hard sometimes when you are trying to keep things rolling. Knowing when to shut up and being able to sense when things are moving somewhere interesting and guide the podcast there if required. I only book people I like or think that I will like, so genuine interest in your subject is important as well as trying to find questions they haven’t been asked before. It’s a very difficult job and the people who are good at it make it look like an easy job, but maintaining 60 to 90 minutes of unprepared chat with (sometimes) a stranger, is no mean feat. Unless they’re Brian Blessed, in which case, just sit back and try and find a moment when he’s breathing to toss in a joke.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR WORST PODCAST MOMENT?
A couple of guests have got too drunk too quick and been a bit weird or aggressive or just odd. Sometimes I am having so much fun with a guest that I haven’t realised I’ve over stepped a line. And so you sometimes get remorse about the way things have gone or something dumb you’ve said. In the Stephen Merchant one I thought we were on the same page with the mutual mockery and didn’t realise he had taken something the wrong way and so that was a little bit awkward. Such things can play on my mind for a few days. I want the guests to have fun so it’s a horrible feeling if you suspect that they haven’t enjoyed it all. Not being able to think of anything to say is probably the worst though. I’ve got young kids and sometimes tiredness has made the process very difficult. So thank God for Emergency Questions.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT PODCASTS THAT APPEALS TO YOU?
The autonomy is the main thing. Being able to do whatever I want, pretty much immediately, without having to go through commissioners or committees. And it’s a pretty level playing field. If you can do good stuff then people will find it and tell their friends. There’s a democracy to it and a meritocracy too. But the freedom to try anything you want (even if it’s playing snooker against yourself) is very refreshing and artistically fulfilling. And it’s amazing to be the person who decides if there will be another series (with some consultation from your listeners).
WHAT IS YOUR PODCAST / PODCASTER PET PEEVE?
What’s great about podcasting is the way the audience helps keep it afloat by chipping in a couple of quid or buying a book or backing a kickstarter or coming to a live show. And it’s been amazing to fund the filming of RHLSTP via the power of the audience giving a couple of quid. And don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that podcasts are free, so anyone can enjoy them, BUT, I wish more people felt that podcasts were worth a tiny contribution. If everyone who listened gave me even 25p per hour then I would be able to use the funds to make my own sitcoms or films. I think someone will be the Charlie Chaplin of this industry (and it’s possible that someone already is) in that like with his early films, you could make a fortune with all your audience chucking in the tiniest amount of money. And if the right person gets that kind of funding they’d be able to make incredible things! I am not saying I am the new Charlie Chaplin, that is for other people to say.
And I’m not. But all I am saying is that if you can afford it, then chuck your favourite few podcasters a quid each a year. If you choose wisely those people will use your money to give you even more “free” entertainment. Maybe sponsorship etc will make this idea redundant, but I love the idea of a podcaster being funded by their audience, who are then rewarded by even more stuff that they like. You may call me a dreamer….
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU FOUND ANNOYING AS A LISTENER BUT THEN UNDERSTOOD WHEN YOU STARTED MAKING YOUR OWN?
I started so early that I hadn’t ever really listened to any before I began doing it. But I think I initially didn’t really like people putting adverts in stuff, but have gradually come round to the fact that it’s fair enough to have a minute or two of self-promotion or advertising in order to facilitate hours of free product, though ideally I’d still prefer it if the audience paid a tiny amount and there were no ads. It’s not so bad when the podcaster chooses a good company or makes some effort to do the ads in the style of the podcast (Buxton is king of this of course) and I personally have enjoyed managing to find companies that I would promote for free who give the listener something for free as well as funding the podcast. That’s sort of magic right? The audience pay for the podcast by not giving up any money and getting given something themselves… if the product is actually good then they will stay on board and the sponsor makes money too. It’s free money for everyone, right? This could solve Brexit.
WHICH ONE EPISODE OF YOUR OWN MEANS THE MOST TO YOU?
I think maybe the episode of Collings and Herrin where I called Andrew’s mum “a fucking idiot” as it was a real moment of surprise and risk, which opened up a whole new door as to what was possible in this medium. Could have ended it all there and then, but luckily we held on for a few more years!
AND FINALLY, WHICH ONE EPISODE NOT OF YOUR OWN MEANS THE MOST TO YOU?
Adam Buxton interviewing Michael Palin. Partly because that’s the guest I would most like and am furiously jealous of Adam, but mainly because it was a thing of utter beauty and a meeting of lovely comedy minds from two different generations, sharing laughter and also grief.
Main Photo: Kirsten McTernan