One of the most popular podcast categories is comedy. This makes sense, when you remember that most comedians, like most actors, spend most of their time unemployed or doing something other than their primary career choice or goal. So to get yourself out there, in a world dominated by the lucky few who make it onto the panel shows, is to do it yourself. Podcasts are the equivalent of soundcloud or kindle for aspiring broadcasters and comedians.
But I find myself unable to enjoy most comedy podcasts and here’s why. While they can indeed be quite funny, they also tend to consist of people sitting around (or communicating over Skype) and making each other laugh. There is nothing wrong with this, except when there is. It puts me in mind of one of the main reasons why I never took to Jonathan Ross as a chat show host. I always felt he was pandering too much to the studio audience: building a rapport with them, playing up to them, sharing jokes with them, all at the expense of the audience watching at home. Graham Norton used to be guilty of this, but now you get much more of an impression that he’s pandering to the TV audience at the expense of the people he has in the studio.
Comedy podcasters making each other laugh do two things. The first is that they laugh too long and too often, so that an hour of a show can feel like people laughing non-stop for sixty minutes. Fun to do, I’m sure, but less fun to listen to. The second thing is that I think they laugh too hard out of insecurity. Because there’s no laugh track or studio audience to feed from, they probably feel like they’re being produced in a vacuum. Laughing at your co-host’s jokes a little bit too hard feels like overcompensation.
I like the No Such Thing as a Fish people, I really do, but sometimes the too-hard laughing grates. And when they do a show live, as they have done a couple of times, it also feels too shouty, because they’re responding to the noise in their room and not the noise in mine. Again, listening to a kind of one-note shouty thing for half an hour or more is tiring. All of this is a consequence of amateur broadcasting. I hate to admit that I prefer a more professional sounding podcast, but I do. That’s why I’ve adopted so many American podcasts, a lot of them coming via various public radio stations. The tech people are also rapidly adopting good practice when it comes to editing and recording. There have been a slew of recent posts on the best microphones, the kind of room, the best software. I have some expertise in this kind of thing, but now is not the place or time. In short, there’s very little excuse for a poorly recorded podcast, and I place too much laughter in that category. Some people need to learn to edit.
Simon Mayo’s Confessions podcast is professionally produced, of course, and includes an in-studio posse who do laugh at the stories. But Mayo, as a consummate broadcaster, is always careful to keep them in check and mindful of the listeners at home. And what we get in the podcast is properly edited.
I tried a couple of the “bad movies” podcasts. While I love the idea, in theory, of people sitting around talking about terrible movies, I found two main problems. The first, as outlined above, was too much of a sense of people laughing at each others’ riffs, some of which were less than successful. The other was that they were too long. A bad movie does not need to be discussed in real time. What seems to be happening is that people are forgetting that a well-crafted comedy panel show of 30 minutes will have been cut down from two hours. What we’re being served is the unadulterated, unedited, two hours.
Now, I’ve said before that, for an obsessive, there’s no such thing as too much. I will listen to people talking about Apple and related technologies for two hours. I will listen to an hour of This American Life followed by a 30-minute Moth followed by Freakonomics. But it turns out I’m not a comedy obsessive, and I’d be grateful for a 30-minute Bad Movies podcast, edited down from 2 hours. The one advantage a podcast would have over a broadcast slot is that, sometimes, that ’30 minutes’ could be 37 minutes, say, and sometimes, 27. Listening to three people riffing at each other and making each other laugh a little too hard for two hours is a bit like being at the table next door to a rugby team on a night out.