Dot.Comedy: Ray Peacock tells his podcasting story.
In December of 2011, myself and Ed Gamble took to the stage at Kings Place theatre in London to record what we thought would be our last ever podcast. On 1st August 2012 we start a new (strictly limited!) run of them. This is our podcasting story…
I’d started The Ray Peacock Podcast in 2007 at a time of career frustration. I was getting gigs and occasional TV warm up work but had no ‘fan-base’ and it was this I craved; something to set me apart from a jobbing comic whose name would go unrecalled by most audiences. As a comedian you can gig every single night to 200 people and never really gain any fans, as the audience are there for a comedy night, not specifically for you. It’s a perfectly fine and noble way of making a living, but from a career perspective will not necessarily set you apart from your peers. Perhaps, with this in mind (and if I am totally honest), it felt like a vanity project, not least the fact that the first incarnation had an eponymous title despite the involvement of co-hosts. But overall, the intent was to create something new and unregulated on a weekly basis to build a following.
At the time the only bespoke comedy podcast that was well known was The Ricky Gervais Show, and his formula of displaying and dissecting Karl Pilkington’s idiocy called to mind the fact I had my own idiot friend in erstwhile, Eastenders actor Raji James. Raji had been a member of the ill-fated Ferreira family, and my friendly ridicule of this had provided much entertainment in private. We set about learning how to create a podcast, and after purchasing a couple of mics and downloading free audio-recording software, he very soon became “Little Raji James Who Used To Be On Eastenders But Ruined It”, and The Ray Peacock Podcast began.
The first three episodes were just myself and Raji, and even now I can only listen to them through my fingers, as it were. We were essentially rehearsing and finding our feet in a public forum, a released preview if you will. The show only began to take a more formidable shape when I remembered a young comedy fan I had met whilst doing a gig at his university, and a phone call later Ed Gamble completed the trio.
We went on to make 49 episode of the Ray Peacock Podcast (fifty eventually but that would come later), and as its relative popularity grew I began to see a return in gig audiences. Not masses of people, but in every gig I did I would meet one or two people who were there, as podcast fans, specifically for me. We recorded a bunch of episodes in front of a live audience, which had never been done at that time, (isn’t that right Richard Herring? Tell your mates at The Guardian to stop saying you did it first…) and those particular shows were rammed with newfound fans. It appeared that the idea had paid off.
[pullquote_left]“There may have been people who were trying to become comedians struggling through a regular podcast, but we were applying a professional work ethic to a hobby and reaping the reward…”[/pullquote_left]There was an element of luck of course; we had caught a wave at a good time. Every man and his dog is starting a podcast nowadays, and I regularly meet comics baffled by the fact that theirs hasn’t taken off. They put the work in and release one or two a month, but don’t see the return. Thing is, we had released TRPP to no competition. We were professional performers (and Ed) who were treating it as a professional job. There may have been people who were trying to become comedians struggling through a regular podcast, but we were applying a professional work ethic to a hobby and reaping the reward, and the only person up against us was Gervais, so there was never any concern that it was a battle we could win. We were simply the next best thing and as soon as he got pound signs in his eyes and started charging for his we got in his slipstream and had an easy ride.
Also, it’s no good just banging them out every now and then. With any release of anything you need to have regularity to gain popularity. We made sure that the show was released on the same day every week, in blocks of ten, and hammered this home on social media. Even after a break it was sometimes difficult to regather your listenership immediately; people need stuff regularly at the same time if they are going to stick with it.
However, with this increase in popularity (and I hasten to add, this is all relative. Nobody was getting real-life famous from this…), there eventually became stress. Our on-air ridicule of Raji, which had always been rather tongue-in-cheek, permeated our audiences and they began to play the same game with him. His personal Facebook was infested with people leaving vicious, supposedly-jokey messages, and myself and Ed would get similar messages bad-mouthing him. Many years later, myself and Ed singled out somebody who had been cruel on Raji’s page at a live gig and gave him a similar taste of it. We basically treated him the same way that we pretended to treat Raji on the podcast. Then we continued on his social media. He doesn’t come to our shows any more…
So the Raji-abuse all got a bit much, and I decided to call time on the show. The joke was wearing thin at any rate, but my friend’s constitution was a concern to me and I simply didn’t want to put him through it anymore. We did one last live show in December 2008, dressed Raji up as a cross between Kiss and Carmen Miranda (basically a dalmation face with a banana on his head), gave him one last verbal battering and that was the end of The Ray Peacock Podcast.
However The Peacock & Gamble Podcast began in June 2009, and thanks to the inherited fanbase went straight into the top ten of the iTunes chart. Presented by myself and Ed Gamble but without our retired retard, we made several changes to the format – which are changes I would emphasise as being majorly important to anybody looking into the idea of doing a podcast.
First off, as I said, The Ray Peacock Podcast had been released in blocks of ten, essentially as seasons. But with Peacock & Gamble we decided to run it as an ongoing venture. There’d be no seasons, it would just run every week, released on the same day, which would steadily build on the listeners we inherited from TRPP. Secondly, we dropped the running time dramatically. TRPP rarely came in with a running time of under an hour, but we capped the P&G Podcast at 30 mins. It meant we had to deal with existing fans saying it was too short, but it also hooked them into wanting more, which is no bad thing and is the same business model they apply to heroin. Half an hour is a perfect running time for a podcast because it fits into most journeys, and many podcast listeners will listen whilst travelling to or from work. Thirdly, and most importantly for us, myself and Ed were very aware that it wasn’t to be a means to an end, it couldn’t just be about the podcast and had to be a way of directing people to our live work. And so there were far more mentions of gigs, pushing of live shows, and encouragement for fans to support us in real life.
Thing is, the audience you build on a podcast are rather unique in that they are not only used to getting stuff for free, but they are used to getting your stuff for free. You really have to bombard them with promotion to get them to your live stuff. You can argue that this is the same as when somebody does a spot on TV and picks up fans. They have seen that act for free so why does the same problem not occur there? Well, simple answer is, it does. However, TV audiences generally run into the millions, podcasts audiences generally run into the thousands, so the small percentage of folk who will take the time to come and see you live is all relative.
We found that a healthy amount of guilt-tripping about how much work we would put in for no money would trick some of them to our live events. There were always going to be stubborn people who simply wouldn’t support us live but would carry on listening to the podcast every week, but there’s nothing you can do about that. I say there’s nothing you can do, but we put a curse on those people via the download so any bad luck they have was all down to us and the only way to lift it is to come and see us live.
We did 83 episodes of the Peacock & Gamble Podcast (actually might have been 84 – it was something like that) before again knocking it on the head with a final live show. We had managed to transform ourselves into a proper double-act and had done a load of very well selling big shows in London in the run up to our debut Edinburgh Fringe Show, and so felt that particular stepping stone had been trodden on successfully. We toured on the back of Edinburgh, and the podcast became rather a chore.
[pullquote_right]“The iTunes podcast chart had become a rather different beast. The goalposts had been shifted and it didn’t really seem very fair.”[/pullquote_right]In the end we started to slip down the iTunes chart, and on closer inspection myself and Ed lost heart with it as a thing. This wasn’t because we gave a hoot about being high up in the chart because we certainly did not; the loss of heart came as a result of why we were slipping. The iTunes podcast chart had become a rather different beast. The very last time I checked it we were one of only three bespoke, unbranded podcasts in the top 50 (the others being Richard Herring and Answer Me This), the rest of the chart consisted of rehashed radio shows from, amongst others, the BBC and Absolute Radio. The goalposts had been shifted and it didn’t really seem very fair.
How could independent podcasts compete with that? It was no wonder that people starting new ones weren’t getting anywhere, and with further chart meshing which saw everyone podcasting flung in together, it would prove remarkably difficult for a new podcast to chart at all. I argued then, as I would argue now, that there should be an indie podcast chart which only allows bespoke content – nothing rehashed from radio shows, just stuff that has been made by folk being creative at home.
Despite the frustrations, however, we have both – to some extent – missed doing the podcast. When things happened in our lives both individually and together it took quite a while to get out of the habit of noting them down for a future recording. We also noticed that our very early Edinburgh previews this year were not nearly as well attended as our offerings last year, and the absence of the weekly podcast push was a clear factor. So I suggested to Ed that we re-visit and re-imagine the podcast for the duration of the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe.
In the original run of the Peacock & Gamble Podcast we very early on set up regular sections which we knew had a limited shelf-life. There was an ongoing letter-writing campaign in an attempt to get free stuff from companies by using the trials and illnesses of a fictional young boy called Fraser in an attempt to tug on heartstrings, there was Ed’s Amazing Births where Ed would every week find a ridiculous, often-fictional, occurrence of either birth trauma or some malformed beast being born, or everybody’s favourite section; Ray says a food or drink that you haven’t had for a while and him mentioning it makes you want to eat it again (I am paraphrasing the title as I never actually got it down to an official snappy one). To be honest, I’m not going to do it justice in type so if you want to make sense of what I’ve just written you’ll be best off going grabbing the old episodes from iTunes – don’t panic, they’re free.
Again, once these sections fell by the wayside, listeners demanded their return, not understanding that part of the beauty of doing a podcast is the fact that you can push your new ideas regularly by not getting overly hung up on clinging to the old ones. If we hadn’t dumped old sections then none of the new favourites would have ever evolved.
However, the plan, as it stands, at the moment is to structure the new (limited!) run very specifically. As it is a daily release we can’t possibly be editing together a show as intricate as we could with a weekly one, so the new shows will contain a first third of myself and Ed catching up with where we are in Edinburgh and what we are doing, and a final two thirds comprising interviews with Edinburgh relevant comics (most of which will be performing at this year’s Fringe, but some of whom have made a splash in previous years). It’s basically a bit like Richard Harring’s Edinburgh Podcast – he copied us with the original podcast, so there’s no good reason why we can’t copy him now…
We have already started recording some of the interviews and so far have Lee Mack, Richard Stupid Herring and Russell Howard in the can (although the Lee Mack interview is echoey and the Russ Howard one is a bit buzzy, the Herring one – sadly – is perfect audio), so we are slowly getting back into the swing of things. We have new music and new stings to separate the sections, and it really is a different run of shows again to the last lot. We are calling it the Peacock & Gamble Edinburgh Podcast and it is starting with episode 1, if only so we don’t have the fans of the old one banging on about why none of the old sections are returning.
Next week, myself and Ed are recording some of the intro bits so that we have some stuff in stock before we get to Scotland, and are both rather chomping at the bit to get going on it. It’s a desirable change of pace from the scripted live show, and the opportunity to cut loose a little and have a chat again will be most welcome. It might even shift a few tickets.
The Peacock & Gamble Edinburgh Podcast runs from 1st-27th August 2012 and is available free on iTunes. Peacock & Gamble Don’t Even Want To Be On Telly Anyway runs from 1st-26th August at the Pleasance Dome. Further details available at www.peacockandgamble.com