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Things Fell Apart with Jon Ronson

One of the very best working storytellers today is Jon Ronson. His recent BBC Radio series, Things Fell Apart, which focuses on the human stories at the centre of the culture wars, is an absolute gem. Expertly crafted tales of people’s stories that have had huge ripples on our culture and communities. Equally interesting is the conversation between Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux, where they explore their unique brand of storytelling and what drives them to tell them in their specific original way. Fascinating insights from two masters of their craft. The link here is to the BBC website, but it is available on most podcast platforms.

Irish in Sweden Podcast – Interview

I had the pleasure of speaking to Irish journalist Philip O’Connor for his “Irish in Sweden” podcast ,where we talked about many things, including Swedish and Irish identity, the joy of IKEA, the quotability of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and who I would cheer for in a footie match between Ireland and Sweden.  It’s a terrific podcast series and well worth subscribing to, but if you’re keen to hear just my section on this episode, I enter the conversation around the 42 minute mark. 

My favourite Podcasts: 2021

This year I have found myself diving deeper into podcasts than ever before. They are great company on long walks. Personally I am drawn to podcasts that centre themselves around storytelling and creativity. So, the list below is a reflection of those personal tastes. These podcasts are also not necessarily new ones in 2021, they are simply the ones that resonated with me this year.


Creative Processing with Joseph Gordon-Levitt As someone who is driven by a creative approach to everything I do, I am always looking for new ways to learn about how others look at creative problem solving. This podcast series from Joseph Gordon Levitt is a super accessible entry point into learning how some of the most creative minds across different industries think. He talks to everyone from filmmaker Rian Johnson to professional poker player Liv Boeree. Joseph Gordon Levitt is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for and his HitRecord community, which I’ve written about before, is something I admire deeply. Listen to the podcast here

Reply All I particularly love podcasts that tell stories in an interesting and creative way. Reply All is probably the very best of that kind out there. While it has stuttered somewhat since it’s original host ignominiously left the show, it still manages to cover some of the most interesting stories I’ve heard in podcast form. Each episode follows a little thread from the internet and spins a masterful yarn, and the end result is always a far grander meditation on life and the world we live in. A great entry point is # 158 The Case of The Missing Hit. It has all the hallmarks of their great storytelling, with a unique perspective on the oddities of life in the age of the internet, and, best of all, it has a proper little mystery at its core. Rarely have I been so swept along in a story, and I wont spoil it for you, but in broad strokes it dives into the curious case of a catchy pop song that nobody seems to remember. And like all good tales, the ending is absolutely terrific. Listen to the podcast here

Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out We can learn so much from comedians, who have a real gift for turning the everyday into compelling, funny stories. One such comedian is Mike Birbiglia, who is a consummate pro at crafting tales from his life into thoughtful and funny stories. If you haven’t seen any of his specials, they are well worth a look (several can be found on Netflix). On his podcast he welcomes a different comedian or creator each week, and together they work out original, untested material. It is a disarmingly easy listen and gives you unrestricted access to the creative process from some of the finest creative brains in the world. I have learned something from almost every single episode. Time well spent. Listen to the podcast here

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend I’ve always been a huge admirer of Conan as both an entertainer and comedian, and these interviews are hilarious and deeply moving at times. Conan is able to switch tones and tempo with such ease, and his pre-show banter with his production team is as engaging as the podcast itself. There’s a perfect blend of tomfoolery and serious introspection, and it often hits something really truthful. Which is Conan’s superpower. All in all, it makes for a really pleasurable listening experience. Some of my favourite episodes include Jameela Jamil, Bruce Springsteen, Sarah Silverman and Weird Al Yankovic Listen to the podcast here

How I built this with Guy Raz If you aren’t already listening to the podcast series How I Built This, you’re truly missing out. A thoughtful and insightful interview series that talks to entrepreneurs, moguls, innovators and creators from around the world, to understand how they built some of the most recognisable brands and companies around. The informal and honest conversation uncover so much about what it takes to create something from nothing. Compelling content, well told. Listen to the podcast here

Song Exploder This fascinating podcast series (and now also a Netflix series) is one of the very best at illuminating the creative journey. It is a brilliantly simple premise. Each episode picks a single song, and through a conversation with the songwriter and other contributors, it documents the creative journey of the song to completion. Not only is it a fascinating look at how some songs are truly more than the sum of their parts, but it also gives a rare peek behind the curtain of some of the most successful musicians of all time, and, more importantly, the ingenuity that underpins their work. In addition to learning more about some of my favourite artists of all time like Wilco, U2, Bjork and Hozier, it has really opened my ears to artists I would never have otherwise encountered. There isn’t a bad episode amongst the catalogue, and I defy you to listen to an episode and not be excited about hearing the featured song in its entirety at the end. Listen to the podcast here

As someone who adores great storytelling, I am very drawn to the work produced by Gimlet Media, who are masters of the art. Late in the year I stumbled upon Heavyweight, a terrific podcast centred around personal stories. Each episode is a cleverly constructed journey that begins with a person who has an unresolved moment in their past ( a heavy weight) and the host, Jonathan Goldstein, takes them (and the listener) on a journey to resolve or reckon with that moment. It’s a simple premise that could easily fall apart in the hands of a lesser storyteller. If you’re looking for a new podcast to kick off the new year, this one is a doozy. Listen to the podcast here

Midnight Miracle – Required Listening

I have been listening to The Midnight Miracle podcast and I cannot recommend it enough. Some of the smartest, coolest, creatives in the world talk about music, politics, and a whole lot more – all mixed together with amazing musical interludes. No surprise that they are going to release these podcast broadcasts on vinyl soon – they are little self-contained gems. I got a subscription to Luminary just for these and it’s 100% worth it (as it happens I have also found a bunch of other fascinating podcasts on there incl. Trevor Noah and Russell Brand). If you are even a tiny bit of a fan of the mighty Dave Chapelle, Yasiin Bey (mos def) or Talib Kweli, this is an absolute must listen. Next level learning for aspiring creative people

The greatest podcast episode ever?

I have mentioned the podcast Reply All on here before, and I’ve bored many a friend about its brilliance. In short, its my favourite podcast, and the latest episode might just be their best ever. It has all the hallmarks of their great storytelling, with a unique perspective on the oddities of life in the age of the internet, and, best of all, it has a proper little mystery at its core. Rarely have I been so swept along in a story, and I wont spoil it for you, but like all good tales, the ending is terrific. Anyway, have a listen, it will bring you joy. And don’t just take it from me, The Guardian reckons it might be the best podcast episode ever. Like, ever, of all podcasts.

What I’ve been creatively consuming of late

Have been on a bit of a kick trying out new podcasts and tv shows, as well as revisiting some old faves. Here are some of the best I’ve been watching, listening to, and reading of late.

PODCASTS

  • Conan O’Brien needs a friend: Candid, funny, honest conversations with fascinating artists and comedians. Hosted by one of the most original and brilliant American comic minds. One of my favourite new podcasts
  • Creative Processing with Joseph Gordon Levitt – Really stimulating and cool chats about the creative process with filmmakers, visual artists and more. JGL is a real hero, and I recently returned to his super interesting collaborative artistic website HitRecord.org
  • Reply All Easily the most interesting and engaging podcast around. Likeable, engaging hosts explore the minutiae of the internet, that end up becoming fascinating explorations of what it is like to be a human in the digital age. Funny, interesting, unique.
  • Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard: Simple, honest conversations with artists and scientists. Dax has a very laid back and amiable interviewing style.

TV/FILM

  • Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix. Brilliantly crafted documentary about the history of hip-hop as told my some of the giants of the genre
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The most insightful and simultaneously funny look at the news and world around us
  • A Touch of Cloth – Genius parodies of crime procedural dramas written by Charlie Brooker, and starring John Hannah

FILM

  • All of the Fast & The Furious films, in a row. Yeah, that’s right! My son asked me, how would you rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. I replied, they are both a 1 and a 10, thats what makes them amazing. These have been so much fun to watch with my brother-in-law David, as we have also come up with a set of awards for each movie “Worst Dialogue”; “Most nonsensical car-related dialogue”, “Worst actor”, “Best preposterous stunt” “Actor who doesnt realise they are in a Fast & Furious movie”
  • Avengers: Endgame Haven’t been that invested in the Marvel series overall, but this was a rolicking, enjoyable closer to the series. Spoiler alert, Beards and Haircuts are part of the story.

BOOKS

  • Ready Player One: Zips along and is a fun read. Could have maybe done with another round of edits, but you forgive it for the pacy, pulpy fun that it is. For kids of the 80s its a treasure trove of fun.

HOZIER, FATHER TED AND ME

Many moons ago, when I was gigging more frequently and reciting poems and performing sketches, I was lucky enough to be part of a regular night called the Monthly General Meeting, which was a showcase for the most inventive and willdy wonderful creative minds in Ireland. On one of the particular shows, I was on the bill with soon-to-be global musical phenomenon Hozier, as well as Arthur Mathews, the co-writer of Father Ted (possibly the greatest sitcom ever). I recall the gig itself was in the unusual and interesting surroundings of a newly refurbished Georgian building in Merrion Square (it has since become an office building of some sort) For a while Shane (Diet of Worms) and Nial (delorentos) who ran the night, produced a terrific series of podcasts entitled The Weekly General Meeting focused on creativity, and I featured on the debut episode. Take a listen to the episode and I urge you to listen to the entire back catalogue, every one of them a snapshot of a golden age in Irish creativity, amiably hosted and curated by two great artists.

Listen to the episode here

Meet Your Maker podcast

I’m always on the lookout for inspiring stuff that looks at the creative process and delves into it with creative people. One of my current favourite obsessions is the brilliant Meet Your Maker podcast, where the amiable host Liam Geraghty interviews a slew of fascinating, creative people across multiple disciplines (puppetry, comics, special FX) and hears about how they have found their chosen craft, and the many ways they approach it. The episodes are short and sweet (ca. 15 mins) and the seasons are just a handful of episodes so you’ll blaze through them. The production quality is very high (radio broadcast level) and the topics are always really intriguing. Have a listen and pass it on. One of the very best out there.

Ira Glass on Storytelling

So much of the creative process is about crafting a good story that resonates and reverberates with your audience. The art of storytelling is something we have been raised with since we were kids – almost every one of us had someone who read to us at night before we went to sleep – and when it is done well, there is nothing quite as spellbinding. And that sits deep within us.

The quote above is from Ira Glass, host of the highly regarded podcast and National Public Radio show This American Life, which chronicles stories large and small from all walks of life. Of the many radio shows and podcasts out there, This American Life is perhaps among the greatest at weaving a tale that draws you in. Ira’s quote really sticks with me, because the simplicity of what he is saying is also absolutely true.

And I think it applies not just to writing, but can equally be applied to other creative forms where the narrative is placed at the heart of it, and draws the audience in, and takes them on that train.

The quote actually comes from a longer extended interview with Ira Glass ,where he goes deeper on the art of good storytelling, and I strongly recommend listening to it below. It’s full of nuggets on storytelling and the creative process.

The Brownbread Mixtape Podcast

I adore the podcast format and I’m an avid fan of all audio longform storytelling. I’ll do a post at another time about some of my favourite podcasts, but this post is about the brief spell where I produced a podcast of my own. It was motivated by two creative impulses. Firstly I wanted to test the waters of hosting and interviewing in this type of creative format – I have facilitated and MCd plenty of live shows in my time, but its such a very different skill and discipline to interview artfully in this longer audio format, so a really great thing to sharpen the skills on. And secondly I wanted to showcase some of the world class musicians and writers that had treaded the stage at the brownbread mixtape.

The format for the first chunk of episodes was always the same. Invite a great musician or poet along to talk about their creative process, a bit of their life story, and then have them select some favourite clips from the brownbread mixtape down the years, as well as perform an in-studio session featuring an original and a cover. And what a series of gems we managed to record. They are all embedded in the YouTube player above and I urge you to give them all a listen, with episodes featuring Pearse McGloughlin, EleventyFour, Colm Keegan, Justin Grounds, Fergus Costello and Lindsey Ryan

Now that time has passed I can see a few things I would do differently. I would certainly be more judicious in editing down the episodes so that they zip along a little bit. Perhaps I was too enamoured with keeping everything in, rather than making it a snappier show each time that might appeal to a wider audience. It would have been something that a slightly objective producer would have been able to spot right away. I’d also nudge myself to be quiet more often and just let the interviewee speak. Far too often in the earliest episodes I felt the need to say “yeah” or “mmm hmm”, when silence would have served the whole experience better. But I did learn from that and the later episodes were better. There is loads to love about them. I really dig the intro music / title sequence that Enda Roche cut together. And we managed to capture some absolutely stunning in-studio songs, especially some of the cover versions (Pearse McGloughlin and Lindsey Ryan are real standouts)

The latter chunk of podcasts veered away from that original format primarily because I simply didnt have time to record and produce the show any more. And then an artist I was acquainted with, Eamonn McLoughlin, had produced a documentary radio series for a local station in Ireland, and he had nowhere to house or archive the episodes. Given that many of the episodes covered artists and writers who had performed at the brownbread mixtape, it felt fitting to put them out under our banner. Some of the interviews are really interesting with top drawer Irish writers, and I even make an appearance on one of them chatting about the brownbread mixtape.

I would love to return to the podcast format and have a few ideas bubbling away, so watch this space. In the meantime, have a listen and let me know what you think.