As Tom Haverford once told Ron Swanson over a late night fireside chat on Parks and Recreation: 'Podcasts, there's a million of them, and they're all amazing.'
Ever since Ricky Gervais first pierced my eardrums with his pitched scream of a laugh when reacting to the unravelling onion that is the mind of Karl Pilkington, I've been a fan of this 21st century form of broadcasting. It could be a panel in a professional studio working for a major media institution, or just two people chatting over Skype, podcasts have provided a new means of entertainment and communication, and you feel like its impact on culture has only just started to have a ripple effect. Rarely is a commute not been soundtracked by people discussing football, politics, wrestling, literature or whether they'd rather have a hand made out of ham or an armpit that dispenses sunscreen.
Which brings me to Richard Herring. Soon after I started subscribing to various shows on iTunes, his Collings & Herrin show with journalist and DJ Andrew Collins was one of my first regular listens. Herring has embraced the medium like few others in the UK, and I have followed him through to his online sketch work (AIOTM!), daily Edinburgh Fringe shows (REHFP!) and his current calling card of the Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or as the cool kids call it: RHLSTP!). I must confess to never having listened to his Me1 vs. Me2 snooker podcast. I'm a fan of both Richard and snooker, but even I have my limits.
RHLSTP is now five years old, and the Richard Bacon episode uploaded last week marks the 100th official episode.
To mark that special occasion, and to provide some recommendations to those who may have not listened to the show yet and are daunted by the backlog, I've offered what I think are the ten episodes that best represent the various aspects of the show.
Herring holds an interesting position as an interviewer who often doesn't care much for the practice of interviews. But he is also both a comedic inspiration and peer to a generation of comics that were raised on Fist of Fun and This Morning with Richard Not Judy.
Howard is obviously one of these acolytes, and is his usual witty effusive self through many of the tangential conversation topics. His sharp mind is frequently put to use, but Herring is also able to reveal a more sensitive side to the quintessential 'T-shirt comedian' (a classification to which Howard rightly takes umbrage) when he mentions his online critics, and the further barbed attacks he received from the other half of the Herring's first double act.
Among the first episodes to be filmed (now financed through two successful Kickstarter appeals), this is probably the most watched and listened to because of the startling admission by Fry that he had recently attempted suicide again.
The revelation comes almost completely out of nowhere, after a seemingly innocuous (but surprisingly probing) question from a Welsh schoolboy about what it's like to be Stephen Fry. What we are reminded of during the rest of this episode is what it's like to be in the company of Stephen Fry, a remarkable man who can weave a personal anecdote, observation or small dollop of wonderful trivia even without the aid of the QI elves.
His answer to Herring's 'emergency' question about self-fellatio is the final word on the matter and the question should be retired from now until eternity.
Richard often jokes about the fluctuating audience figures for his show, and their size based on the relative fame of the guests. It would appear that his camcorder footage of the audience would suggest that this was one of the lowest attended recordings, but it also seems to have provided a very intimate atmosphere that leads Hound to draw everyone in with his long-winded answers (a great annoyance to his wife, but perfect for an hour-long interview).
From his experiences as doing PR for Claire's Accessories to his contentious departure from Celebrity Juice, Hound is the perfect guest and should really consider doing his own podcast if ever finds the time, since he proves himself to be a master in the art of conversation.
Another expert in the practice of nattering, Baker's hundred mile an hour gob can barely be contained by Herring. From his attitude towards money, his indifference to most of his own work, to his appreciation for the long-forgotten laser disc format, it's obvious why Baker's life subsequently became the source material for a BBC comedy drama. Herring can barely get a word in, but seems perfectly happy to let Baker lead the conversation wherever he wants to go.
Richard is probably at his most respectful here, as he can barely contain his amazement at sharing the stage with one of the most influential voices in contemporary comedy. Starting with the most obscure credit he can find in Shearer's startling CV (a method he uses in all interviews, which often allows for stories that these acts would never expect to tell in public), Shearer provides lengthy answers to his work in both Spinal Tap and The Simpsons, as well as many other subjects brought up.
His depth of knowledge about British life may come as a surprise to some (it turns out he's a big fan of Mastermind), but the fact that he's still a very funny man with plenty of work that he enjoys to do shouldn't be surprising at all.
Whilst it's billed as Vegas, Richard is really interviewing the man behind him, Michael Pennington. The struggles of working with such an all-encompassing character act, and the sacrifices that are made in the name of art, are ripe for conversation.
Pennington's confessional nature makes this perfect fodder, and his detached analysis of the Vegas character makes for a very interesting look back at the work ethic of a fantastic comedian and actor. You feel that whether we continue to get the Vegas character for years to come, or Pennington follows his instincts down different avenues, we haven't come close to seeing all that this man is capable of achieving.
Al Murray is a man that has obviously reached his wit's end with some people. The exasperation is palpable every time he addresses assumptions made about his most famous character, his audience, his politics, and the politics of those who query his audience or politics. Having recently stood at the hotly contested South Thanet by-election, Murray had many fascinating stories to share about his time fighting for votes in the ballot box, and Herring's show was the perfect vehicle to tell them.
Lee & Herring were a key influence in the 'eternal student' comedian that populates so many Edinburgh Fringe venues in August these days, so it's a refreshing change of pace when Godley is able to recount her times spent experiencing life before making a living from performing onstage.
From her time as a landlady in one of the toughest pubs in Glasgow, to her experiences with her eccentric family and the mental health problems of her husband, Godley is a great breath of fresh air. Her own stand-up and podcast experience means she's exactly the sort of raconteur that you need to keep an hour-long conversation going without flagging once.
For all intents and purposes this is half-interview, half new Izzard stand up show. An opening question about his work as Reepicheep in the Chronicles of Narnia films takes us to many digressions about politics, transgenderism, running marathons and the meaning of existence.
Herring and the audience are obviously in awe at the achievements and ambitions of this one-of-a-kind performer. Forget Mayor of London, you feel at the end of this show that Izzard is far more likely to be the next Labour Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn.
Oftentimes with his less well-known guests, Herring displays little to no interest in actually discussing their work and often just wants to ask them very silly questions in the hopes that something unexpected and hilarious will emerge. Sometimes it works, sometimes it leads to dead ends.
Both of those situations occur during his conversation with Peacock, but then at about the halfway mark an unexpected incident occurs, and because of Peacock's personality and reaction to this interruption the conversation follows a completely different path. You may find it awkward, you may find it entertaining. I found it to be both. It's certainly unlike any of the other ninety-nine episodes and definitely worth the tenth slot in this list.
If you enjoy those then here's the next ten I would recommend: Stewart Lee (episode 8), Armando Iannucci & Graham Linehan (episode 9), John Lloyd (episode 20), Russell Brand (episode 21), Ross Noble (episode 31), Stephen Merchant (episode 33), Robert Llewellyn (episode 37), Steve Coogan (episode 50), Sarah Millican (episode 52) and David Mitchell (episode 94).