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 are talk to a podcast that is focussed on Improv and made up of a lot of members of the troupe We Are Not A Cult. I sat down with one of the podcast creators, Michael to find out more about their show.
Hello Michael! Can you tell us a little bit about the team behind One Take Wonders Podcast?
I did a Hoopla course in long form with Katie Schutte last year. Mike Indian did the same course with me, and he was someone I enjoyed doing scenes with: a very clever improviser who enjoyed rapid fire dialogue and jargon for imaginary professions and things like that. He was (and is) in the group We Are Not A Cult. Mike and several other members of that group were quite keen on trying a podcast, and he also asked his classmates from that Hoopla course if they wanted to participate. I thought it sounded like fun, so I said yes. We then started talking about practicalities. As I am a bit of a techie and have recording equipment, and also as I live reasonably centrally, my living room in Bermondsey became the recording studio for our podcasts. There are five of us in the group: me, Mike Indian, Joe Cazalet-Smith, Danielle Coleman, and Chas Warlow.
What is the show all about?
Basically, we do shows on an imaginary radio station: One Wonder FM. Within that, there are certain formats that we repeat. The announcers and other on-air characters who work for the radio station recur from week to week, but guests and other non-recurring characters are improvised on the spot.
The two formats in which I play regular characters are Advice Hour, in which Mike Indians character Gary Karl Jennings takes calls from listeners to solve their problems and I play his sarcastic producer George, and Movie Sneak Previews 2018, in which Joe and I play a pair of Siskel and Ebert style movie critics named Tom Blooper and George Smithers, who review an imaginary movie that someone has suggested the name of just before we start recording. (Whether the fact that my characters are both named George is a coincidence or not is something we have not yet determined).
The other people who are in the room during the recording session participate in various ways: by playing callers to advice hour, of by providing from movies being reviewed, or in any other way that seems appropriate at the time.
So – why did you create the podcast?
From my point of view – because my friends suggested it and it sounded like it might be fun. No less or no more than that. My position on my improv career in general is that I do it with absolutely no ambition whatsoever. In other parts of my life, I have a tendency to put to much pressure on myself to get things right and to be too hard on myself if I don’t succeed at things, and this can sometimes stifle my creativity.
A friend of mine suggested that I should do improv because I would love it, and I therefore did. So far it has been great – I spend time getting out of my regular comfort zone and doing weird and fun stuff with a whole lot of lovely people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. As to where this is going, I have absolutely no idea. With respect to the podcast, some great people come to my flat, we have pizza, and then we have fun riffing off one another with a microphone in front of us.
How do you decide what each of the episodes are about?
We talk about formats in our WhatsApp group. We also use the group to coordinate recording dates. When we find a date in which at least three of us can record, we get together, usually in my living room, and talk about what we are going to record (while possibly having a beverage). If two people who have shown up on a particular evening have a regular format that they do together, we will likely do an episode of their show. Usually, the direction that this show will go will be decided by someone else in the room – by giving the film critics the title of the imaginary movie, or by being the first caller on Advice Hour, or something similar to that.
What is the best thing about recording a podcast?
It has a permanence about it that is not necessarily true for improv done on stage. Having made a recording, you immediately listen to it, and judge yourself, and see what is good and what is bad, and this gives you a great opportunity to immediately see how great you are.
What are some of your favourite episodes of the podcast so far and why?
We did an episode of Advice Hour in which the producer George (played by me) was unable to get to work because he was trapped in the Rotherhithe tunnel and was therefore the caller. This became a ludicrous science fiction saga involving string theory and pompous university lecturers giving advice and an infinite number of white van men and lord only knows what.
Joe and I did a review of a ludicrous overblown action movie called The Big Smash too, which was fun.
Do you have to cut a lot out of your podcasts or do you tend to keep it raw and quite fluid?
We typically record shows that are about 15 minutes at a time. We normally do two of these per recording session. The podcast as we put it out contains the single fifteen minute take with no cuts. Mike Indian does the editing, and adds background music – he has an obsession with David Bowie for some reason – plus introductions, fades, and a few other minor things, but we like to keep it quite raw. Occasionally this leads to boring bits or bits that make no apparent sense, or pregnant pauses, but it keeps things spontaneous.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting a podcast?
Besides just sit down and do it, find people with who you have common interests to talk about. One reason that I think Joe and my fake movie reviews work as well as they do is that we have both seen way too many movies in real life. We start talking about imaginary movies, and then we compare them to real movies, and then we compare those real movies to other real movies, and we are just having a conversation about our taste in movies. Then we jump back to fantasy.
The two critics with good chemistry who disagree with one another show is less well known in the UK than it is in the US (where Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert famously invented it) or in my native Australia (where critics David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz argued with one other about movies on TV for several decades. It works really well for improv, though.
What make you different to other podcasts out there?
We are doing fake live radio. Real live radio is basically improv, of course. Good radio announcers are making it up on the spot, they don’t know what their guests will stay, and they have to find a way to keep in under control, make it funny, etc etc etc. We are doing the same thing, but with possibly less requirement that anything be true. (Need things be true on real radio stations? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no, I suspect). Our format makes it easier to jump backwards and forwards between real and not real than some, I think.
“With respect to the podcast, some great people come to my flat, we have pizza, and then we have fun riffing off one another with a microphone in front of us…” – Michael, One Take Wonders Podcast
What other podcasts are you a fan of and why?
I enjoy Katy Schutte and Tony Harris Destination podcasts. To state the obvious I like the fact that their format has a destination. When they are good, all the preliminary scenes come together at the end the way a good Harold does, and they and everyone else participating is thinking of this from the first scene. I also enjoy the way they record Destination:Live on stage from time to time. Lots of meta there.
If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?
Most easily, come to our Facebook page.
Of course, our podcasts themselves are on Soundcloud
What are your aims for your podcast in 2018?
My personal aim is to keep doing them and keep enjoying them. As I said earlier, I try to avoid aims when I am doing improv.
Finally, in three words why should people listen to your show?
fun improviser chemistry.