Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 08:25 UK

Podcasts prove break from routine

By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais initially produced a dozen podcasts with The Guardian
Comedy is dominating the UK's podcasting charts. Who is behind these recordings and why do they make them?

It all started with Ricky Gervais. In December 2005, the star of The Office released a series of comedy podcasts which could be downloaded to computers and MP3 players.

Each of these programmes was accessed more than 260,000 times - the highest for any such recording at the time.

Gervais' success led to so many other stand-ups and broadcasters offering their own material for download that the iTunes UK podcast chart is now dominated by comedians.

"It was the first time that people went, 'What, it's doing that well?'," says Tim Arthur, comedy editor of Time Out London magazine.

"Then everyone thought they'd have a go."

Some of the material on offer through these podcasts can be heard elsewhere. The BBC, for example, makes series such as The Now Show available for download.

But many comedians are using the format to showcase routines, or to try something different from the jokes they would tell again and again at different clubs each week.

"I've been working for 20 years as a comedian and writer but I think I'm learning all the time," says Richard Herring, who has teamed up with broadcaster Andrew Collins to present an ad-libbed review of the week's news.

"The podcast probably helps me," he says.

The iTunes podcast chart
The UK version of the iTunes podcast chart is dominated by comedy material
"As a stand-up, I want to get to the point where I can go on stage and just talk, with a script to fall back on.

"It's nice to get as much practice as I can at just talking and seeing if I can make up ideas out of nothing."

Fellow comic Robin Ince believes there is scope to turn improvised conversations into stand-up routines.

"It's often a chance to talk about things you can't necessarily talk about on stage," he says.

"Then by talking about it on the podcast, you think, 'I can get away with this.'"

Comedians have a lot of time on their hands during the day and they spend a lot of time on the net
Tim Arthur from Time Out explains why podcasting is popular

His podcast, Utter Shambles, is produced by TV channel Paramount Comedy, one of a number of media companies offering such material.

Times Online multimedia editor Matt Walsh remembers his newspaper's "first excursion" into the format, when Frank Skinner and David Baddiel analysed the football World Cup in 2006.

"That was enormously successful for us and did about 1.2 million downloads," he says.

"Clearly we thought there was a market out there for people who were interested in podcasts from us with comedy orientation."

For the past two summers Walsh has overseen regular podcasts featuring performers from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, while Skinner will return to The Times next month with "lots of video reporting" from Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

'Easy to do'

Back at Time Out, Tim Arthur considers the explosion of comedy podcasts to be "a sign of how healthy things are", rather than a threat to the live scene.

Robin Ince
Robin Ince won a Time Out Award for his live stand-up show The Book Club
"Comedians have a lot of time on their hands during the day and they spend a lot of time on the net," he says.

"If they're not Facebooking, they're looking at their MySpace page and trying to work out why people aren't clicking on them.

"I think it's just a way for them to fill their day, an easy thing to do and an easy way to get your message out."

"People might hear you from anywhere in the world and they're not reliant on seeing you in a little pub in Acton," Mr Arthur adds.

Ian Boldsworth - who performs as Ray Peacock - agrees the format is the perfect way to target new audiences.

He has been recording two-hour gigs in London and editing them into 45-minute podcasts.

Frank Skinner
The Times hires stars such as Skinner to reach "a slightly different market"
"I had a radio show but got frustrated with the fact my hands were tied with a lot of things," he says.

"I couldn't have free reign so doing a podcast was a natural progression from that. Now I can say what I want, and the only things which have to be cut are things I edit myself."

Boldsworth has noticed that people who have heard his podcasts then come to see his stand-up performances, and Arthur thinks it will be interesting to see if comedians go full-circle with their routines - coming up with material specifically for their podcast and then that goes into their set, and which in turn feeds back into their podcast.

"I'm sure that must be happening already," he concludes.

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