You no doubt read about Stephen FryÂ’s candid, heart-breaking and brave admission that he attempted suicide last year. It was remarkable for many reasons, not least because it got people talking about the devastating effects of depression, reassured others going through the same thing and promoted the fantastic work done by the charity Mind.
What was also interesting though, was the medium he had chosen to make this revelation Â– not a big newspaper interview or a television chat show, but an independent, unedited comedy podcast. As it happens it was my Leicester Square Theatre podcast.
It clearly demonstrated that the ways we receive information and entertainment are changing. And itÂ’s liberating for both the people creating the content and those consuming it.
As a comedian I am no longer in the thrall of broadcasters and commissioners Â– I can make my own programmes relatively cheaply and with complete autonomy and without censorship or interference. Someone like Fry can reveal information about himself under his own terms without fear of spin and misrepresentation. And the audience get more choice and content that doesnÂ’t have to pander to some perceived notion of lowest common denominator.
The way that the old media immediately reduced FryÂ’'s confession to a fifteen second sound bite or sensationalist headline is the best demonstration of why it is in danger of being usurped.
Tune into the whole podcast and youÂ’ll witness a sprawling, unscripted ninety-minute conversation which was by turns hilarious, poetic, filthy and moving. Though some of it was shocking (not least the largely unreported fact that Fry has never read, Â“The HobbitÂ”) it was ultimately joyous and positive. Nothing is edited out. Fry opened up precisely because of this unheard of liberty and because I clearly liked him and had no hidden agenda.
I am increasingly excited about the artistic possibilities of the internet. I have been making podcasts for over five years. It started as a bit of fun. The broadcaster Andrew Collins and me had enjoyed exchanging banter on a radio show, which then got cancelled by the broadcaster. But once we realised how easy it was to create and upload a podcast (a computer and a geek or two were all we required) we decided to make the show ourselves, exchanging the studio for my attic. Initially, I suppose, we thought it might prove a calling card to broadcasters, but quickly realised it had more exciting possibilities. There were no limitations on time or on content and no one telling us what we could or couldnÂ’t say and crucially we couldnÂ’t be sacked. On the downside we werenÂ’t getting paid Â– the downloads were all free Â– but it was about the funny, not about the money.
Evenso within a year we were being offered paid work (including a show on the radio station that had sacked us) and the ticket sales of my stand-up tours increased sharply. People were discovering my comedy online and were grateful that it was free and found different ways to reward us (sometimes by giving us completed loyalty cards for our favourite coffee shop!)
Comedy thrives on immediacy and I got fed up waiting months to find out if a radio sketch show was being commissioned. I decided to book a theatre, write a script and do my own weekly show (As It Occurs To Me) which went out almost straight away.
And if I fancied being esoteric then that was OK too. On one podcast I attempt to antagonise and lose listeners by commentating on myself playing snooker against myself in my basement. Most people are baffled, confused, even angry about it. But 5000 people around the world tune in to find out which me will win this weekÂ’s frame.
The latest series of the Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts are being filmed and are available to download for a small fee (to cover the costs of filming) from www.gofasterstripe.com (though the audio is still free on iTunes and at the British Comedy Guide). Any profits will go towards funding my next, more ambitious project: a monthly filmed stand-up show. If that goes well I am hoping to start filming some of the sitcom scripts that TV executives turned down because they wanted to make Â“The Wright WayÂ” instead.
Although itÂ’s hard to convince people to pay for downloads, but my audience, like my guests, know my motivation is to make good stuff rather than make money. Surely itÂ’s worth the price of a cup of coffee for a 90-minute video with Stephen Fry or Russell Brand. How refreshing to do a chat show that is about chat and not about promoting anything (other than perhaps itself).
It feels like weÂ’re approaching a revolution in entertainment similar to the one a century ago that led to the explosion in film-making. Somewhere out there is the new Charlie Chaplin ready to take the world by storm.
The means of production are now in the hands of the people. We are our own media moguls and as such are denting the power and influence of those who have traditionally held the reins.