‘We hosted My Dad Wrote A Porno live – it would have sold out in one millisecond’
- Credit: Archant
Most of us regard Kings Place as the home of two concert halls. What’s not often realised is that it’s also a temple of words, and that the London Podcast Festival – which it annually hosts – is the beating heart of this new spoken-word art form.
To get up to speed, I quiz Kings Place's deputy managing director Zoe Jeyes, and begin by asking where the term comes from.
"I honestly don't know," she replies, "but I think the Guardian were the first people to come up with it, probably about 2004, around the time Ricky Gervais started doing his."
But what is a podcast? "Yes, that's what Peter Millican (founder and boss of Kings Place) asked when I told him about this project.
"But when he got to hear My Dad Wrote A Porno - even though it was not necessarily what he would have chosen to listen to - he told me that there was such joy in the room that he was overwhelmed by the experience, so he came on board pretty fast."
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We'll come to My Dad etc later, but first a definition please. "It's a block of audio content, predominantly spoken word." And? "It can be drama, an interview, or a comedy panel. It can be scripted and produced, or improvised. But the primary function is that you download it to your phone, or you stream it, and you get it via a huge variety of podcast apps."
Okay, but what was the stimulus for this festival? "I'd been looking after comedy here since 2009, but London is incredibly well served for that - you can see it for free in the pub next door.
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"But we'd been dabbling in podcasts, and I loved one called The Complete Guide to Everything, by two Brooklyn-based podcasters. Once a week they put out a very funny hour on different topics, like a comic encyclopaedia, and they had a big UK audience.
"So they did one with us which sold out immediately. Baseball, summer, sharks, anything which could otherwise be an encyclopaedia article."
Jeyes illustrates her point with further examples, like The Guilty Feminist. "That's about the difficulties and hypocrisies... of modern feminism. Trying to be an inclusive, progressive woman, like 'I'm a feminist but I'm really interested in what's happening in Love Island this week.' Or 'I'm a feminist but I spent half an hour doing my hair.'" Hmm.
The Guilty Feminists are appearing in the festival, but they also do Kings Place gigs once a month. "And they have never not sold out their show. They perform across London, and recently did the Royal Albert Hall and Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, but we are their home base."
Then there's 'My Dad etc', apparently the most successful British podcast, which has also sold out the Albert Hall.
"It started in 2015. The father of one of the hosts retired and started writing erotic fiction - very bad erotic fiction.
"His son asked to read it, and said it really was bad, but then he read it to two friends who thought it was hilarious. It's been going on for four years and they're on book five now - just reading out his father's terrible erotic fiction. It's one of the funniest shows you ever heard, and it's sold out the Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House.
"I contacted them on Twitter and said if it was done live it would work really well, so we put it on in our big hall, and when tickets went on sale it crashed our website. It would have sold out in one millisecond. Yet it's not easily definable as a genre - it's just Jamie reading it out to friends."
What's the attraction of the festival itself? "Fans like to get together - it's very niche. Podcasts are normally a solitary thing, listening with headphones on the bus, or in bed. People love to find friends in this way. There's an incredible sense of community."
But what's the difference between this and ordinary theatre? "With theatre you might have a couple of hundred in the audience, but with a podcast it could be a hundred thousand."
So on September 6 the festival will open, and it will include 60 shows over two long weekends. It will also have workshops for podcast makers, and a beginner's guide. "How can I make my own podcast? And how can I monetise it? It's all about a Wild West, DIY spirit."
I can't say I fell about listening to 'My Dad...' - it's wacky, harmless stuff - but, with the opening up of this new technological frontier, anything seems possible.
London Podcast Festival, September 6-15 at Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9AG. For the full line-up and tickets, click here.