The ParaPod

Despite my atheistic, critical thinking, approach on The ParaPod, it is somewhat incongruous that the emergence of this project felt like something of a god-send…  

At the time that it came about I was high and dry, having been excused from a double act and with nothing self-generated on the horizon. I’d known Barry Dodds a little bit over the years on the comedy circuit, he was really not that far from a fan to be honest, coming to Edinburgh shows and saying kind things about previous podcasts. It was the strangest turn of events that led to us working together. I’d seen that he was dragging a load of comedians on a ghost hunt so had him on my radio show to talk about that. On a live show, after pre-announcing the interview, he didn’t pick up his phone when we called him, and I was left filling the half hour he was meant to be on. Now, if you’ve heard my radio show, the only caveat I allow for this (with no warning) is that I will take back, and apologise for, any condemnation if it turns out the missing person was dead. Otherwise, I am likely to call them out for being unprofessional and unreliable. And so it was with Barry. Barry had good reason to not answer the phone, it was an emergency, but he wasn’t dead. I don’t make the rules. Well, I do, but that rule is very important to me and I can’t go bending it for people just because they’d blagged tickets for my Edinburgh shows in the past. I did however make an exception and allow him a right of reply on the following show, which he took, and apologised.

It takes a big person to publicly apologise for something, and an even bigger person to accept the apology, so I didn’t. Instead, I thought hard and worked out that the only satisfactory outcome for me would be for Barry to commit to doing an interview on my show for five consecutive weeks. For a variety of reasons it ended up being about fifteen weeks. Somewhere in the middle of all that he started calling me in real-life for “a chat” which he still does loads. He then offered to help me move house, which was unexpected as I still didn’t really know him that well, but sure enough, he was sat waiting outside my present house when I pulled in with the first van load, and lugged boxes to the point where he was the most exhausted I have ever seen a human being (and I’ve had my full weight on a few when doing sex stuff). By way of thanks I mentioned to him that it might be funny to do a podcast of the conversations we were now regularly having on the phone and he was excited but also initially very apprehensive that he would be judged harshly by people who had been fans of my previous podcast work. In his defence, he had got the “judged harshly” bit bang on, just not the reason.

So a few weeks later (I’m a fast mover when it comes to setting up new projects), after finding a suitable name and setting up a twitter and website etc, The ParaPod began, with me setting out my contrary stall and Barry…well…how do I say “talking bollocks” kindly?

I think we hit the ground running. If you listen to the early episodes now you can certainly hear a difference to the later ones, there’s naturally an element of finding our feet, but it set itself up quick. I’d never hung a podcast on a theme before. My previous two efforts had been mates chatting with occasional recurring sections, but they were pretty much a free-for-all in terms of content. The ParaPod committed to a subject matter (admittedly sometimes very loosely), and that brings a whole new discipline from the creative side. On the plus side though, it becomes a very easy concept for new listeners to lock into, they weren’t having to get to know us before they could start enjoying it. It was a sceptic arguing with a believer. Just that.

It debuted high in the iTunes podcast charts (number 2, and would have been number 1 were it not for Sandi Toksvig, who I still consider my nemesis), and gathered momentum fast. The audience interaction was way beyond anything I’d had before (due, exclusively I would say, to the ludicrous opinions spouted by my sub-co-host), and it never really fell away. It has the fewest episodes of any running podcast I’ve done, and significantly higher downloads.

The first series dealt exclusively with ghosts, and, as anyone who is familiar with past work will know, I am quick to change before something gets stale so we switched to the more general theme of Mysteries for series 2, followed by Conspiracies for the final series. I have never ceased to be amazed by the things that have come forth from the other end of the sofa, given with an earnest face and absolute belief. There were some really, really funny things in my previous podcasts, stuff that still makes me howl when they pop up on the iPod shuffle, and the live shows that grew from it were a further step up in comedic content, but in terms of consistently solid content of a high standard, contained in strong series’ and maintaining a through line, The ParaPod tips it. The added detail that it really did come at the perfect time, when I really did feel done and perhaps a little defeated by the comedy industry, means I’m certainly prouder of it than anything I’ve done before. It was an ordeal at times, there were behind the scenes issues, personal attacks and the occasional heated squabble, but the body of work stands up defiantly. I rarely publicly pat myself on the back, tending to err on the side of knowing self-deprecation, but the show we created was VERY good. I consider the Pontefract specials that came at the end of Series One my best work in presenting, execution and editing, straddling very funny with an electric tension.

In January 2017, with absolutely no interest from any TV company we decided to film a pilot. For the longest time, I’ve had no interest in doing TV work, nor it in having me do it, but we thought we had the makings of an interesting show, a kind of Most Haunted with all the bollocks challenged. Halfway through the location filming of the pilot I said to Barry that it wouldn’t work. We had been shooting for around eight hours, and were getting some good stuff, but I had the sudden realisation of “but what would we do on next week’s episode…?”. In a moment of assured out-of-character ambition I announced that what we were making there was a movie, not a TV show, and that we should just carry on. At that time Barry was in no fit state to make any informed decisions about anything due to abject fear of all the ghosts that weren’t there, but I had a real urge to see it through.

The learning curve has been steep from the first episode, I brought my experience from past podcasts to it (and some audience I guess), and Barry got full on attention very quickly, sometimes overwhelmingly. Longtime musical collaborator Thomas Van Der Ree wrote the theme tune of his life, Andy Butler recorded proper radio disclaimers to add a subtle dread, and Jo Murray designed a consistent branding that thousands of people now have adorning stickers and mugs. I’ve learnt a ton about three genres in ghosts, mysteries and conspiracies, and developed practical and critical thinking. Now I’m on an even steeper learning curve with filmmaking and directing (with a lot of superior help). Barry has also learned, but mainly that there is simply no arguing with me and the potential pitfalls of buying a 97p sausage roll. We’ve had a lot of support from sometimes unlikely corners, and never shyed from attempting to keep it developing.

Over the course of Series Three we stated our intentions to make the film, and I think there are still people who think it was a joke, but from Barry missing that interview call to me currently writing a book and us in production of a feature length movie, the journey is set to continue. You won’t believe it, but he will.

The entire audio series of The ParaPod “Ghosts, Mysteries & Conspiracies” can be found for free here