Comedian Jarlath Regan has made his first ‘million’.
His podcast, ‘An Irishman Abroad’, has a million listeners every week. He wrings fascinating insights from some of Ireland’s most successful personalities, including actors Aidan Gillen and Chris O’Dowd and jockey Tony McCoy.
A do-it-yourself ethic got the show, which won the iTunes best new podcast award in 2013, off the ground.
“I always wanted to have a talk-show,” he says.
“I’d been hauling around an idea — about long-form interviews, because that’s what I really enjoyed — to radio stations for quite some time and none of them were interested.
“ I had a semi-decent reputation for doing interviews — I’d made a show for TV3 and interviewed a bunch of comics, like Will Ferrell, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler, but nobody had a penny. Budgets were cut.
“One station offered me €50 an episode. You could only laugh at that, when you consider the amount of work that goes into it.
“I got advice from a few people in radio, including Ger Gilroy from Newstalk, who suggested that I just go off and do a podcast.
“ I didn’t really take that seriously, until I moved to England and, on the day I moved — in March, 2013 — it was the day Second Captains left Newstalk and went out on their own.
“When I saw how that panned out a month later, it woke me up to the idea that this thing could work.”
Regan bagged Father Ted creator Graham Linehan as his first guest.
They met in May, 2013. They did the interview over a “rickety” Skype connection.
Regan says his producer, Brian Connolly, salvaged the interview by polishing it to broadcast quality.
He released the interview in August, 2013, without any plans to follow it up, but when it streaked up the listener charts, he put out another one, with comedian Ed Byrne, which he did on the fly at Edinburgh’s fringe festival.
He hasn’t missed a week since.
The Second Captains producer, Simon Hick, attributes the appeal of An Irishman Abroad to a few factors.
“His concept is fertile ground for good interviews. The quality of the people he has got on is impressive.
“He’s from a comedy background, so he’s had the likes of Dylan Moran and Dara O Briain and comedians tend to be really interesting interviewees. They’re smart and they’ve had to think a lot about how the world works.
“When the topic is more serious, he can switch easily to different industries, whether it’s business or sport, and he keeps his composure and keeps probing and he’s got that time to get to the bottom of something that a normal radio show or TV show often doesn’t have.
“That lack of time pressure is a huge factor.
“Also, Jarlath thought of the idea. He does the research. He does the interview. He edits it, and probably not a whole lot is required, and that’s what gets to the listener.
“ There are no layers. There isn’t any middle management, editors, CEOs, profit margins being forced down the throat that, ultimately, gets in the way of a lot of creativity.
“ It’s effectively a one-man enterprise. For listeners, that’s a winner, because they’re getting his ideas and beliefs straight to them.”
Regan secured a single sponsor, Currency Fair, for the show, so there is little interruption from advertising.
Each episode runs for an hour. The most Regan shaves from interviews for broadcast is 20 minutes, so they tend to have an appealing, conversational tone.
“I’ve had tricky moments,” he says.
“I’ve been financially strapped. It’s survived on a shoestring. There have been weeks where guests have fallen through, and, at the last second, somebody comes through, and you manage to scramble out your episode on time for your listeners.
“I know everybody goes: ‘What do you mean on time for your listeners? You can put it out whenever you want.’ But if you listen to podcasts, you really do appreciate when it’s there when they said it would be there.
“I listen to Serial, like everybody else. I love that it’s 11 o’clock on a Thursday. If it’s a good show, like Serial, you’ll want it just the same way as you’ll want Breaking Bad — when they said it would be on. In a weird way, podcasts conform to the same rules.”
Mouth open listening to the latest episode of @serial - incredible incredible incredible.— Jarlath Regan (@Jarlath) November 6, 2014
Regan has no end in sight for his show, which he juggles with his stand-up comedy career from his base in London.
But it never gets easier, he says, even as it nudges towards 100 episodes.
“You might get better at it, but if you’re ambitious, you’ll want more from it,” he says.
The joy for Regan are the the memorable encounters, which include comedian Michael Smiley’s account of his days as a single parent in London; an emotional exchange with actor Tom Vaughan Lawlor (“Even now, I can get a lump in my throat thinking about it”); and a revealing chat with the champion jockey, Richard Hughes.
“He was my next-door neighbour as a kid,” says Regan.
“He was a high-functioning alcoholic for a lot of the time he was a jockey in England. I had read everything. I knew everything. Knew more than I should know.
“We sat in a car outside a racecourse. For the first time in my life, I spoke to this guy who I grew up with in a real way.
“These are the moments that stay with you.”
Podcasting has been around for a decade or so. Early forays were rudimentary, often with two guys blathering from a garage about politics, sports or business.
The tipping point was when celebrities like Alec Baldwin dabbled in the medium, and when quality productions, like This American Life and Second Captains, captured a regular listening audience, and in recent weeks the true-crime podcast, Serial, has become a sensation.
Podcasts took off because of the proliferation of internet-enabled cars, and because most smartphones have radios, people can listen to shows while exercising, commuting to work or doing domestic chores.
For podcasters, they’re cheap to produce.
Excluding music rights, all a podcaster needs is a laptop, a cheap hosting service for audio files, editing software (eg, Audacity, which is free) and a digital recorder (eg, a Zoom H5, which costs about €275).