Our Where To Start series aims to give you a point of entry into the shows you’ve heard of, but never heard… This time, Suchandrika Chakrabarti is inducting new listeners into the universe of Three Bean Salad! Plus we find out Benjamin Partridge’s Top 5 Three Bean Salad jingles…
Three Bean Salad is a phenomenon. At last year’s London Podcast Festival, they put on three live shows over two days, all of which sold out the huge Hall One. Their other live shows sell out to their Patreons before the non-paying public even get a chance. Fans line up to have their photos taken with them. There’s a very active subreddit, and (paying the podcast one of the highest compliments the internet can offer) there’s a full-on Wiki – not just a page, but a whole network of sites trying to capture every detail of this comedy podcast. There’s even a TVTropes page, somehow, and at the top, it features an exchange that really sums up the pod:
Ben (reading an email from listener Ross): Your podcast primarily relies on in-jokes, previously established jingles, and meandering lukewarm banter about an email you received several episodes ago.
Henry: Okay, I think there’s a little bit more than that going on.
If you’re not a part of that community yet, you might need an introduction to the heroes of the show. The Three Beans are: Mike Wozniak (you probably recognise him from Taskmaster), Benjamin Partridge (who makes the very funny podcast The Beef & Dairy Network) and Henry Paker (how to begin describing him? Also, he’s an illustrator who does the cute artwork for each episode). Mike is The Dad, Benjamin is The Son (and has an evil alter-ego / doppelganger, Bonjamin), while Henry is The Wildcard. Each episode, they chat generally, then attempt to talk about a subject thrown up at random by the Bean Machine.
Episode subjects have included Disguises, Purple and Going To Disney World And Not Wanting To Be Dressed Up As A Ruffian. There are lots of jingles / full-on songs breaking the episodes up into segments, including Provincial Dad Chat, where Mike embraces his own non-London Dadness; Digestive Tract Talk, which is exactly what it sounds like; and the America jingle (“burgers!”).
If you’re a new listener, where do you even start? The Beans have just finished their 11th season, so there are plenty to choose from. It is a podcast dense with running jokes, call-backs and invented characters. However, Three Bean Salad isn’t a narrative podcast; it’s improvised, not scripted, so you don’t have to start at Season 1 Episode 1. In fact, the first episode, ‘Posters’, has few of the ongoing, in-jokey features that make the pod so enjoyable. it definitely has the feel of a pilot and it’s not really representative of what the podcast has become.
I’m going to suggest that you don’t start there and give you four of my favourite alternatives.
Season 1 Episode 2: Lizards
It’s only the second episode, but the podcast already feels much more lived-in here, compared to the first one. The Beans invent a film (one of their favourite kinds of chat), in this instance for the BBC’s Emily Maitlis as an assassin. This is the origin of some of Ben’s best jingles: there’s a lot of Royal talk, which later becomes The Regal Zone jingle; it’s the first time we hear that all creatures are on an evolutionary arc towards becoming crabs – the foundations for a Crab Bell introduced later on.
Of course, this is the episode that legendary podcast enemy and all-round passive-aggressive supervillain Sperbs makes his first appearance via listener email, thus setting up the Three Bean Salad Extended Universe. Reading out his missive also shows how devoted the Beans are to interacting with listener correspondence from the start, even when that listener powerfully manipulates them psychologically…
Season 1 Episode 3: Rome
Okay, okay, so far I’ve basically recommended skipping the first episode but the third episode, ‘Rome’ is a great follow-on. It’s a very meta episode, and if there’s one thing the Beans care about, it’s being endearingly transparent about how the podcast sausage is made. From opening with a discussion of “should we have an opening chat vs the fade in?” to Henry’s suggestion of a jingle whenever they discuss the workings of the podcast on the actual pod.
Part of the pod’s charm is how much the Beans think/worry about the listener’s experience and we see this when a listener asks for the ending of Henry’s beans story from Episode 1: Posters (giving you a good reason to return to that at some point). Episode 3 is a fun behind-the-scenes look at how the Beans make the pod.
Season 1 Episode 7: Sleep
There’s an ongoing thread that people keep telling the Beans that it’s a very easy podcast to fall asleep to, thanks to their soothing voices (yes it is true, and no, it’s not that much of an insult). Their chat about sleep definitely helps us to learn some oddly personal things about them, but this episode is mostly notable for an absolutely corking listener emails section. Their archenemy Sperbs resurfaces to suggest that the pod could become “an hour of contextless jingles,” before suggesting the topics of “yams, dog racing, staplers, barns, dog fighting, paganism, assassination of William McKinley, concept of self, dogs, Falklands, Scientology, animal testing, and dogs,”. Plus there is the horrifying suggestion that Sperbs could actually be one of the Beans.
This episode’s email segment is rich in origin story for the episodes to come. Also, if you have a dog – just quickly check on it?
Season 3 Episode 1: Exercise
Yes, this is a big leap forward, but it’s where the Patreon begins, so it’s actually a Bean-approved starting point. They start by talking about how the pod would work as Two Bean Salad in the three different pairings: a great intro to their personalities and relationship dynamics. They outline the kinds of bollockings they will take from listeners, no longer willing to crumble under any old criticism. There’s also the first appearance of the episode editor (in this case Ben) interrupting the episode with a phone call to another Bean to comment on what we’re listening to: meta upon meta, but in the service of being as correct as possible.
This is also the episode where the pod really goes professional: there’s now the Patreon and a website and the Bean Machine has gone fully digital. What more could you ask for when trying out a new podcast?
The music is a big part of Three Bean Salad. In fact, the podcast’s enemy Sperbs once suggested that the pod was in danger of becoming “an hour of contextless jingles” – a comment that cut the Beans deep. For you, the new listener, this might seem fair though, so in an attempt to provide some context for you, we asked Benjamin Partridge – maker of the jingles – to talk us through his Top 5 Jingles, and why.
Benjamin Partridge’s Top 5 Three Bean Salad jingles
5. Flightless Bird Zone
This plays every time flightless birds are mentioned. An important jingle for any podcast. Most of the big podcasts have one, but they usually haven’t had occasion to use it yet. For this one I was challenged to blend bossa nova and Bob Dylan style folk, and I think I pulled it off.
4. Provincial Dad Chat
This one mixes hard rock, Def Leppard style backing vocals and accordion folk. It really makes me laugh when Mike, in full provincial dad mode, says “who’s hidden my bloody walking boots?”
This came about because we were chatting about a very minor character called Neil who I played in the BBC Three sitcom Josh and we imagined what a spinoff sitcom would be like. So I made it as a proposed theme tune for the imagined sitcom. But now it plays every time someone called Neil is mentioned. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a special moment.
2. The Regal Zone
This is played any time the royal family is mentioned. Which is more than you might imagine. Usually Prince, now King, Charles. He seems to come up a lot. This jingle makes good use of a horse sound effect. A horse sound effect can really bring a jingle together and make it something quite cohesive. I think if you were a dancing person you could actually dance to this one. I would love to play it over a huge sound system in front of 500,000 at a huge outdoor gig in São Paulo.
This plays every time Henry’s cat Bluebell is mentioned. I don’t think it can truly be described as a jingle. It’s too long. It’s a song. Featuring Henry describing his cat as having “sturdy paws and silky thighs”. Usually I fade it out after 30 seconds or so but sometimes I hold my nerve and play the whole thing, completely torpedoing the flow of the podcast.