It is Podcast Month which means that we will be bringing you all the fun shows you should be carrying around in your back pocket on a phone. Today we speak to a podcast with a difference! Ecumenical Matters is an episode-by-episode look back at the sitcom Father Ted. The Show is hosted by Belfast actor and writer James McAnespy and each week on the podcast he is joined by new guests and they discuss the legacy of Ted, the jokes and the humour. I spoke to James to find out more about this unique podcast.
Hello James! Can you tell us a little bit about the team behind Ecumenical Matters?
Ecumenical Matters is a largely one-man operation, but with a recurring cast of helping hands who have dug in to steady the ship. I host the podcast with a different set of guests for each pod, chosen from my own network of comedy and arts practitioners around Belfast, and London. I felt it was important to try to get a different voice to review each episode to avoid two or three of us just recycling the same opinion every week.
So – why did you create a Father Ted podcast?
I had harboured ambitions to host a podcast for a while, but I couldn’t figure out what to make it about. Then someone mentioned Father Ted, my (and all of Ireland’s) favourite sitcom. It helped that I had an intriguing insight, because a) I was nicknamed Dougal at uni because I apparently I looked like Father Dougal, and b) that resemblance lead to me being cast in an unofficial Father Ted Tribute comedy show!
How did the podcast come about?
When the idea was suggested a Father Ted podcast, I thought it was too obvious, and someone must have done one, but after searching for a few days, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t one. A few general interest TV podcasts had reviewed the pilot, but none were dedicated to Ted, and I felt that those ones had missed the mark of what made Ted great, so I felt I had to contribute to the great record and review each episode forensically. If Ted could stand up to that kind of scrutiny at a 21 year remove, it was surely to be confirmed as the world’s greatest sitcom!
How do you decide what each of the episodes are about?
It was a pretty natural decision to do episode-by-episode reviews, as it had been a burgeoning format on other podcasts I listened to, like Talking Simpsons and The X-Files Files. It meant I could plan ahead, matching guests to episode themes, like pairing Marty Devine, a songwriter who has entered Eurovision songwriting contests with the Song for Europe episode.
How do you decide who to have as a guest on each show?
As much as I wanted to review Father Ted, I wanted to put some of Belfast’s thriving comedy and music scene on the map a bit as well, so I was trying to diversify the guests as much as I could. A lot of it came down to availability, but I tried as much as possible to pair the guests up to the episodes they liked/meant more to them. For the brilliant Night of the Nearly Dead episode, which featured Eoin McLove, Kiel Cathers, lead singer of the Logues, requested to be on that episode because he was such a mark for Daniel O’Donnell!
Who would be your dream guest to appear and why?
I’ve always loved Graham Linehan, and became a writer due to his work. Everything he has touched has turned to gold, so it would be great to pick his brain. Then again, he has criticised the tribute shows on the Richard Herring podcast, so he’d probably bite the head off me!
What is the best thing about recording a podcast?
That your thoughts and opinions are out in the public domain. It sounds a bit big-headed, but there has been a drawbridge attitude to public discourse over the decades, where only certain voices (rich, white, male ones primarily) have been given extra credence leading to an homogenised bubble. I’ve tried to give my guests space to speak freely, which lead to more interesting discussions.
On one episode, Radio Times had just published a public poll of the nation’s favourite 21st century sitcom, which had been won by Mrs Brown’s Boys. Luckily, Victoria Armstrong, a Belfast comedian was a fan of the show, and was able to articulate why the public love it so much. Otherwise it would have been me bitterly whinging about a show I’ve never seen!
The podcast format also allows us to veer (sometimes quite widely) into tangential territory, again making for a more interesting talk than just a rundown of the major plot points. One episode went into a 35-minute detour about the nature of free speech, which felt too important at the time to cut.
“I felt it was important to try to get a different voice to review each episode…” – James McAnespy, Ecumenical Matters
What is the most challenging?
You are working off your own back, so getting everything organised, recorded, edited, released, then publicised is difficult, particularly now we are in a maelstrom of podcasts, it can be hard to get noticed.
Are there any plans to do anymore of the show?
We reached the goal of reviewing every episode , then counting down the Top 5 as voted by the listeners, so everything now is bonus territory. I had planned to get some bonus episodes with interviews, but they have fallen through. However I am still open to this if opportunities arise.
Do you have to cut a lot out of your podcasts or do you tend to keep it raw and quite fluid?
I tried to leave them uncut, but there was one discussion I cut that I wish I hadn’t, about a gaelic footballer who had been the subject of a tabloid sting because he performed in gay porn after succumbing to gambling debts. I made the editorial decision that because he was an amateur, and was trying to rebuild his life it would be unfair to pile in. A few months later he released a tell-all autobiography!
We recorded during 2016, so the recordings were contemporary to Brexit and Trump happening, and by the end it felt like an artefact for the collapse of civilisation, Maybe I should have cut a lot of that out, because it will date the podcast.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting a podcast?
Make sure you have the equipment from the get go. Establish a format before you switch the mics on – don’t be sitting uhhh-ing and ummm-ing, and establish a strong visual brand before you publish. The initial logo I had wasn’t strong enough and I think it hurt the listener uptake at the vital early stages.
What make you different to other podcasts out there?
The “Craggy Island Production Values” as I dubbed it, where you can hear the passing fire engines in glorious surround sound! No, I strived to have as wide a variety of guests as I could, and travelled to London and the Edinburgh Festival to get guests like Michael Keane (currently part of Radio 1’s Battle Acts) and Ollie Allsop (who just wrote a play that premiered in London’s Vaults festival). I even interviewed a fan of the podcast who listened from Washington state for the final pod, to get a full 360 impression of the Ted fandom.
What other podcasts are you a fan of and why?
I listen to a range of ones, from the TV ones I mentioned above, to sport ones like the Football Ramble and the GAA Hour, which are a bit less stuffy than official radio (ie they don’t believe players PR guff, and swear!). I modelled my presenting style on Kevin Mahon from The Attitude Era podcast, which reviews wrestling shows from the 90s. I generally find the American ones tediously long, but Rolling Stone Music Now is great, and Page 94, the Private Eye podcast is a great digest of some of the stuff they cover in the magazine.
“…apparently I looked like Father Dougal, and…that resemblance lead to me being cast in an unofficial Father Ted Tribute comedy show!” – James McAnespy, Ecumenical Matters
What is YOUR favourite Father Ted Episode and why?
We earmarked special episodes to be shortlisted for nomination for the public vote as we were recording each one, and for a long time I thought my vote would go to the three bishops episode, but that changed as I was watching and editing the Eurovision episode. It was an episode I’ve probably seen 30 times in my life, but the scene where Ted and Dougal have writers block had me doubled over with laughter three different times in one week – just the thought of it! And it had My Lovely Horse in it!
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
I have a very outspoken Twitter profile (@jamesimcanespy)!, but you can see more of my acting and writing stuff on my website (www.jamesmcanespy.co.uk), or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jamesmcanespy/)
What are your aims for your podcast in 2018?
If we can keep getting people looking back at Ted, or giving new Ted Heads a place to enrich their experience of the show we’d be happy. If opportunities arise to record some new material I’ll be ready!
If people want to find out more about your show where should they visit online / social media?
The main place to find us is on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/EcumenicalMatters). We had fans posting memes there and that’s where we hosted the Top 5 poll.
In three words why should people listen to your show?
Comedy, Insight, Variety.
…ah go on!