Rob Gilroy

In praise of Chain Reaction

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Chat shows – who needs them.

Glossy sacks of tat that offer no real insight into life other than Taylor Swift’s opinions on kale, and whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch felt icky shooting a scene outdoors.

Even politics has been commandeered by this magazine-style approach to journalism; never mind plans to build and sustain economic growth or creating a more transparent form of government, instead we get Ed Miliband’s Top 5 Little Mix Songs, and a peek inside David Cameron’s DVD collection (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Heathers, Stomp the Yard).

What we need is a chat show unafraid to ask the tough questions; something not unlike Mastermind or the Nuremberg trials.

I’m not saying we strap guests into a chair and fire aggressive questions at them, but if it works, why not? As long as there’s a house band it’ll keep things light.

Step forward then, Radio 4’s cult chat show, Chain Reaction; an ingenious little show that’s been bubbling away on radio’s equivalent of People’s Friend magazine for years.

Chain Reaction sees one famous host interviewing a personally-chosen celebrity guest. The following week, the interviewee becomes the interviewer and grills their guest of choice – a relay race of famous chat.

The latest series has just finished and, if you missed it, I desperately suggest you check it out. The host regeneration process takes us from Adam Buxton through to Dennis Kelly, via Vic and Bob, Olivia Colman, Reece Shearsmith and Sharon Horgan.

Offering up hilarious and insightful discussions about creativity, comedy, life and the nature of garlic; the show manages to combine brilliant people with brilliant questions. And it’s not just this series that delivers the goods.

Previous episodes have seen everyone from Paul Whitehouse, Simon Day and Jennifer Saunders to Richard Wilson, Catherine Tate and Dave Gorman giving it a go; with a smattering of Chris Addisons, Rebecca Fronts, Graham Linehans and Neil Inneses. This show is like a who’s who of outstanding talent. And Alistair Campbell.

As somebody who searches endlessly for inspiring and technically-specific podcasts about creativity, this is truly a goldmine.

Seeking out these types of shows has become a bit of an obsession. I’m always searching for nuggets and insights about writing and comedy. I think the real reason is because it’s a displacement activity.

The time I could spend writing, working up ideas or being creative myself; is now spent constantly refining Google searches in the hope of unearthing a previously unseen TED talk about slapstick.

It’s an addiction that needs to stop; however there’s something incredibly reassuring about hearing other people talk about their working methods.

It highlights one increasingly obvious fact, that all of us, professional comedians and amateur wankers, are all the same. We’re all searching for that one funny idea or a more organised creative process.

We all hope to improve. We’re all muddling through together.

Most episodes of the show’s ten series can be found on the Radio 4 website, and I whole-heartedly recommend you give them a go.

And if you like them don’t keep it to yourself – pass it on.

Previous Chain Reaction episodes can be found here.