Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
We are incredibly proud of Sound Heap for this outstanding achievement. After all, we know how hard everyone worked on this series.
What’s the show about?
For those of you who are yet to stumble across Sound Heap, this is a semi-improv sketch show hosted by the quirky comedian John-Luke Roberts. He rounded up 35 of his comedy friends and together, they created a fictional podcast network: Sound Heap. From ‘How to Put Out a Fire (Mainly Guesses)’ to ‘Clerical Errors: When People Accidentally Marry Priests’ the Sound Heap network has a show for just about anything and everything you could think of.
As said by John-Luke: “It’s a podcast of too many podcasts.”
The Auddy team caught up with John-Luke and the show’s producer, Ed Morrish, to find out more about the making of this unique series. With comedy said to be one of the most popular podcast genres out there, how did John-Luke and Ed manage to create such a refreshing, award-winning podcast?
Tam, Auddy’s Associate Producer, interviewing John-Luke Roberts (middle) and Ed Morrish (right) the creators of Sound Heap.
Once John-Luke and Ed had the idea for a sketch show-based podcast, they really took it to the max. In fact, Ed tells us that they got to around 500 different ideas for imaginary shows.
“It started off as ‘should we make one of these?’ And then, ‘oh no, that would be terrible. Let’s make all of these, that’ll be good!’” says John-Luke.
After all, if you have a fun idea for a podcast, you might as well go all the way with it, right?
And this is where the beauty of the Sound Heap podcast stemmed from. It’s a dynamic show that doesn’t sit still for long, but rather takes you from place to place. First, you’re hearing insane stories in ‘An Angel Ate my Car, and Other Miracles Gone Wrong’. Next, you’re hearing comedian Sooz Kempner do impressions of Liza Minnelli. Sound Heap never lingers on an idea for too long – and so, you’re always looking forward to what’s coming.
“Luke and I have a background in radio, as well, where time is limited,” Ed explains. “And so there’s a real impetus to make every second count because you only have 28 minutes. Whereas in podcasting, it’s a bit freer, and it’s a bit looser.”
John-Luke adds: “What we’re aiming to do with (Sound Heap) was just make something exciting and fun, where it constantly changes. And I think with comedy podcasts, there’s something really good about a comedy podcast where you can settle into it and it’s two voices talking to each other for a long time. Sometimes that’s really what you want to listen to. But it seemed to me like well, there’s not something like (Sound Heap).”
All on board
A typical podcast might have one presenter – perhaps two – and maybe an extra special guest on each episode.
Sound Heap doesn’t work like that, with countless comedians appearing in each episode. In fact, Ed confirms to us that they actually crammed every single guest from the entire 12-part series into the final episode. “36 people,” he nods.
That sounds like a recipe for chaos, surely? How on earth did they pull this off?
Ed says: “It was quite labour intensive, that is an issue with it. But worth it.”
It was the risk John-Luke and Ed were happy to take if it meant they could get many more talented people involved in the show, and have a lot more funny content to work with.
“There’s just more variety,” Ed adds.
While many people were involved in Sound Heap, only small titbits were needed from each comedian. Rather than weeks and weeks of perfecting scripts, going back and forth between presenters and producers, the show was able to come together rather organically.
“What we realised is everyone is happy to jump on a podcast where there’s no prep, and no admin. And it’s fun, for a laugh. So that’s the context. So 35 people all spent an hour on clean feed with us on zoom, and they didn’t have to think about it. They didn’t have to rehearse. They didn’t do retakes.” Says Ed. “I do think the production technique of Sound Heap is incredibly repeatable. The idea of interviewing lots of people is incredibly low effort for the comedians because they’ve already got good at this sort of thing. So, I think, asking lots of people to put in a little amount of time, and then (John-Luke and I) spend the serious hours putting it together in the best possible way.”
“If you free (the guests) up from reading, they’re a bit able to act more, or to characterise it more. And so, it doesn’t feel like people holding scripts and reading, which good sketch shows never should really. It should feel like people talking. But I think one of the reasons it stood out for the BBC Audio Drama (awards) is it just sounds very relaxed and very naturalistic.”
What’s the secret to a successful comedy podcast? Being funny of course! But how can you guarantee that your podcast is going to be received well?
“I think all you can ever really do is do what you find funny. That’s what it comes down to. If you try and second guess what other people want you’ll get it wrong half the time, or you’ll end up with something you don’t like,” says John-Luke.
He adds: “I think it’s really useful as a writer to expose yourself to other things rather than just the thing you’re trying to do. Like as a performer on stage, I learn as much from performance art or cabaret or theatre as I do from other comics – and also, I’m less likely to kind of subconsciously take other people’s stuff.”
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that the pair were able to make something so original, despite podcasting becoming a busier and busier space.
“Obviously, the lockdown did lead to everyone suddenly making podcasts to feel connected to society in some way,” says John-Luke. “It will be interesting to see what happens once live work starts opening up again (after Covid).”
Picking apart parody
Sound Heap itself is very much a satirical look at the podcasting industry – there seems to be a podcast out there for just about everything, and the show turns this thought into comedy gold.
But if we go even deeper, John-Luke and Ed have used many existing podcasts as inspiration for individual sketches within the series.
Reasons to be Fearful is an obvious parody of Ed Miliband’s Reasons to be Cheerful podcast, for instance.
But they also leaned into their guest’s strengths and used that to cook up comedy material. For example, Ed explains how asking one of the guest comedians, Kieran Hodgson, what impressions he could do led to the creation of the Sound Heap sketch ‘Armando Iannucci works at Gucci’.
Turning the podcast into more of a collaborative project, and giving the guests the freedom to do the things they are really good at, took Sound Heap’s content to a higher level. After all, podcasts should be a communal project, particularly in a genre like comedy where you need to get the creative juices flowing.
Having a purpose
It’s massively important that your podcast has a clear purpose. Otherwise, it can be easy to lose track of why you’re making it, who it’s for and how you are going to progress.
“If you’re scrolling through Spotify, or scrolling through Apple Podcasts, what’s the thing that’s going to catch people’s eye? Two people I have not heard of having a chat is not a great sell.” Says Ed.
But if you make it very clear what your topic is – and why the listener should be interested – then suddenly you have much more power to attract a keen audience.
Ed explains: “when I did (the podcast) Any Stupid Questions? each episode was a different topic. (For one episode) we said, ‘What’s the deal with bin collection and the council?’ and downloads spiked because it turns out lots of people want to know ‘when is bins?’. And I think that, making a promise to the audience about what your show is going to be, making it enticing and then fulfilling that promise and not spending 20 minutes getting into it (is key).”
In agreement, John-Luke adds: “Beef and Dairy (podcast) is a really good example of how to go about making a podcast and sticking with it. Ben Partridge does this podcast, which is apparently an industry podcast for the beef and dairy industry … And he’s just kept making it for five or six years or longer – every month, another new episode. And it’s such a tiny little thing to make fun of and to create a comedy world in. And it’s one of the biggest and most intricate and beautiful, imaginary places you could have. And that’s simply from him getting into this pattern of putting them out all the time, improvising with his friends and building this extraordinary thing. And at the beginning, nobody was listening to that! Of course not. It’s a podcast pretending to be a podcast on the beef and dairy network! But slowly, over time, people have found it and then tell other people how good it is.”
In it for the long run
Podcast success isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, focus and perseverance. And with this in mind, it can be easy to give up before you’ve actually given your show the chance to grow.
“It’s hard to keep doing (your podcast) before it gets known, before enough people have heard it. You have to keep the faith that it’s good because you can really start to doubt yourself, when you’re speaking into the void,” admits John-Luke.
This is why it’s so important to actually enjoy your podcasting journey – to be doing something that you really care about.
“Make it fun for yourself because if you want to make a successful podcast, you’re in it for the long haul,” says Ed. “It could be a long time before it pays off with no downloads, or acclaim, or reviews. So, just make it something you really care about. Something you really want to do.”
For Sound Heap, this meant surrounding yourself with fun people, who were invested in the success of this project. You only have to spend a few minutes on Sound Heap’s Twitter to see how many of the show’s guests loved being involved, and how proud they are of the series.
Yayyyyyyyyy so well deserved, congratulations @jlukeroberts! It was an honour to be in the AWARD-WINNING @SoundHeapInc! Get it in your ears now, it’s won a BBC Audio Drama Award don’t you know! https://t.co/OTv0VV19xe
— Sooz Kempner (@SoozUK) March 25, 2022
As said rather perfectly by John-Luke: “A lot of the time, it’s as important to be fun as to be funny. And normally, if you make it fun, it will end up funny anyway.”
Have a listen to series 1 of Sound Heap if you haven’t already here. It’s a barrel of laughs – we promise.