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Monday, September 13, 2010

Interview with Comedian , Author , Podcaster, Journalist - Andrew Collins

(Edit - Andrew's DVD Secret Dancing is now available at Go Faster Stripe so go buy it Richard Herring Claims and in a no way tongue in cheek way that it "might be the greatest comedy DVD of all time")

Today i have a very special interview with the one and only Andrew Collins , lets not waste anytime lets get straight to it 

Ross - You now have a very well respected job as the Radio Times film editor , but how did you make your start in journalism ?

Andrew - Via the back door, or tradesmen's entrance. I did a degree in graphic design and illustration, and a year out of college, I had grown bored with commercial art, and started my own fanzine. I wrote most of it myself, and laid it out - years before desktop publishing, this was all photocopying and cutting stuff out - and sent a copy to my beloved NME to see if they would mention it. This was 1988. New features editor James Brown liked the fanzine and asked me to come in. I did. It was the most exciting moment of my life, as the NME had really been my bible since the end of the 70s. James promised to put a few bits of writing my way. In the meantime, the paper was looking for a part-time design assistant, so I applied for that, and got the job. This was my way into the NME office, from whence I pestered every section editor until they caved in and let me write some reviews, and then features, and eventually I left the design job and took over the gossip column. Then I applied for my first staff job, features editor, in about 1990, and got it. All of a sudden, I was a journalist. Without any training. Each office job then basically led to another, for the best part of ten years.

Ross - Do you get any kind of extra perks being a member of the Radio Times staff ? 

Andrew - Not really. I get a copy of the Film Guide, which is published once a year, but then I also contribute to it. There are advance tapes of TV shows knocking about the office, but I'm not that bothered about watching things before they're aired. Sky Movies were kind enough to send me The Pacific on disc, as I didn't have Sky Movies. So that was a nice perk, I guess. Working for the magazine is enough of a perk. If you'd told me as a kid, in a household that got the Radio Times and TV Times without fail, that I would one day have my name and photo in it, I wouldn't have believed you. And nor would I have dreamed I could meet Barry Norman, who was one of my TV heroes in the early 80s, and even consider him a co-worker! When I first met Richard's parents, his father treated me like a celebrity because he'd seen my face in the Radio Times. It means a lot to a certain strata of people. It's very mainstream.

Ross - Have you ever had to review any films that you really didn't want to watch , and of these films were you surprised by the film once you had actually seen it ?

Andrew - Over the years, whether as a journalist, or as a critic, or as the presenter of Radio 4's weekly film programme Back Row, or as the Radio Times' film editor, I've been to a lot of preview screenings. I am disappointed by most modern films, certainly the Hollywood ones. If anything thrills me, I am over the moon. I expect very little. So, yes, I've seen hundreds of films that I didn't particularly love, but there are always surprises. And I find that on the whole, the foreign language films that earn a release here are far and away more interesting. You know, I didn't expect to dislike Inception, and I went in there with high hopes, but it let me down. I have to adjust my expectations, as you are prone to crashing disappointment if you get too excited beforehand.

Ross - This is a obvious question but what is your favorite film ?

Andrew - The Poseidon Adventure. It's not the greatest film ever made, that's Apocalypse Now, or The Godfather, but it's my favourite. I saw it at an impressionable age, ten, and it scared the life out of me. I can see its technical shortcomings - it was after all made in 1972 - but I still love every minute of it. If I ever get on Mastermind, 1970s disaster movies will be my specialist subject. I was lucky enough, while working on Back Row, to meet Ernest Borgnine, one of the stars, and speak down the line to Ronald Neame, its director. He passed away this year, so having spoken to him is even more precious

Ross - With regards to the Collings and Herrin podcast it started off with the general premise of going through the newspapers and finding entertaining stories to discuss in recent months you seem to have moved away from that format instead going with the (in my opinion) more enjoyable format of just chatting and telling stories with occasional references to the newspapers , are you happy with the way the podcast is developing ?

Andrew - I'm happy because we never sought to develop it. It develops itself. I love the organic nature of it. It's artificial, to make yourselves sit and talk into a machine for an hour every week, but beyond that, it's entirely natural. The newspapers are just there as a prop, or a prompt. Some weeks we rarely touch on the news. The relationship has grown in public. Or at least, the partly fictional relationship, which is rooted in reality. In real life, Richard isn't as horrible to me as he is on the podcast, and in real life, I wouldn't let him be. But it's fun to be called an idiot, as long as you don't start to believe it. Every week now, Richard says he wants to end it. But look how long he's been writing his daily blog! Once he's locked into something, he won't give it up lightly. And anyway, I do all the running. I have to get to his house every week. He doesn't even have to get dressed.

Ross - Aside form buying the newspapers do the two of you do any other sort of prep for the show before you hit record ?

Andrew - None. It would kill it. Other improvised podcasts are out there, and many have started since we started ours, but few are as genuinely unedited and unplanned as ours. That's its selling point, even though you don't have to buy it.

Ross - What are the differences from doing the podcast live as compared to doing it in Richards attic ?

Andrew - With an audience, you feed off the laughter, or the response, which you don't get in the attic. This can be good - Richard is particularly lively with an audience, and some of his exchanges with the front row have been golden - but it also turns it into a performance. We may be sitting down, and talking into a laptop, and rustling papers, but you have to raise your game a bit, as there are sometimes hundreds of people sitting staring at you. They have paid; they deserve a show of some sort. They must be weird to listen to at home. We still don't prepare though, and have no idea what we're going to say. That's pretty rare in live comedy. To do that every day for ten days, as we did this year in Edinburgh, was something of an achievement, despite the wavering quality, which is built in, I guess. 

Ross - are you aware of the number of subscribers your podcasts get ?

Andrew - The last count Orange Mark at the British Comedy Guide conducted, based on downloads from his site, was around 29,000 a week, on average, but people go back and download older ones all the time, so that adds to the total. This is an astonishing figure. Why do they do it? I don't know. Our 6 Music podcast is downloaded around 59,000 times a month, which is not too shabby either. That rates pretty well among weekly BBC podcasts. We're not Chris Moyles, but it's a healthy audience to go to the bother of finding it and downloading it. We never did it for the numbers! Ratings are the curse of entertainment. If you compromise to grow your audience, you have betrayed yourself. I know this, as I spend my life compromising, whether it's nodding my head at the suggestions of a TV commissioning editor even though I know they're wrong, simply because I'm desperate for a commission, or taking on a writing job that your heart's not in, simply because you need the work. So at least with the podcast, which costs almost nothing to produce, and nothing to consume, the relationship between art and commerce is more balanced. We could try and get special guests stars on - we know enough famous names to do so, and once Stewart Lee threatened to turn up at a live podcast recording - but that wouldn't be in the spirit of the thing. It might get us noticed, but for the wrong reasons.

Ross - How did you feel when it was announced that BBC 6 music would be staying on the airwaves ? 

Andrew - I was relieved. I'd dared to think it could happen, that the BBC Trust really could reverse the decision, because of the sheer noise of all the support, but until Lauren Laverne read out the press release that morning on 6 Music, it was too exquisite a prospect to count on. I love 6 Music. I was there on the very first day it went on air in 2002, and it's hard to shake something like that off, especially as they've recently taken me back on in a subs'-bench manner, and given Richard and I our own show ... a nice circle when you remember that it was having Rich as a guest on my then-regular weekend shows that sowed the seed of the eventual podcasts. If I had never been on 6 Music, I would still have believed passionately that it has a vital role to play in the BBC's music radio portfolio. But it's not often you see people power actually affecting change.

Ross - You've recently started a stand up career is that something you have wanted to do for a long time ?

Andrew - Well, it was Banter that started it. I'd been up to the Fringe in 1989 with a student theatre group, and had done plenty of performing onstage in that regard, but actually doing stand-up was another thing altogether. We couldn't afford a warm-up on Banter, so I was asked to go on first and get the audience in the mood. My first go at this was in Edinburgh, in 2005, where we recorded the pilot in front of a live audience. This was quite nerve-racking, but I got a few laughs, and it felt good. I proceeded to do the warm-up for all three series of Banter, admittedly before a very partisan, easy crowd, and the fact that professional stand-ups were always waiting in the wings, or behind a curtain, upped my game. One week, everything I'd come up with died, and the likes of Lee Mack and Rob Deering and Richard were waiting to come on. It was horrible. I realise I'm a comedian's worst nightmare: the emerging stand-up who hasn't paid his dues, or done the bear pit comedy nights, or touring his arse off, but that said, I am good friends with a lot of comedians, and actually, they've been very supportive. Even Richard. I haven't earned the right to do my own Edinburgh solo show in the usual way, but I have improved as I've done more podcast gigs with Richard, and I just wanted to have a crack at it. The Free Fringe allowed me to do that without the usual, built-in financial risks. It was emotionally draining, but I didn't really expect any sympathy for this, or my homesickness, from Richard or the other hardened comics I was flatsharing with, so I mostly kept my mouth shut. 

Ross - After your first Edinburgh show was pretty well received , do you have plans to go back next year or maybe take Secret Dancing on tour ? 

Andrew - I'd like to do Secret Dancing again, now that I've knocked it into shape at Edinburgh. I don't really fancy touring, though. I'm too old and too fond of my own bed for all that. I really admire Richard for his stamina and commitment, but he's building up his audience every time he tours, and it would be mad not to give them what they want. Also, he's at a stage where he can now actually make money from a tour. I'm not sure I could. Comedy is a young man's game. That said, I'd really like to have it filmed for a Go Faster Stripe DVD, and if that happens, I'll have to do it again, perhaps in Cardiff? And there are plans afoot to do the show again in Northampton, my home town. My guess is that Secret Dancing may reappear, sporadically, after Christmas, when I've done a bit of actual, paying work to make up for the indulgence of spending the best part of three weeks in Edinburgh. I am self employed; if I'm not working, I'm not earning, and if I'm not earning, I'm not eating.

Ross - How did your partnership with Richard Herring come about  ? 

Andrew - We met in 1993, when Stuart Maconie and I got our first Radio 1 series, and we took over from Lee & Herring in the old 9-10pm slot, before what was then Mark Radcliffe's evening show. I had already met and interviewed Stewart, and I was a fan of Lionel Nimrod on the radio, so I was quite excited to meet them both, outside Broadcasting House. Richard does not remember this, which rather suggests meeting two journalists from the NME was less exciting for him than it was for me to meet two comedians off of the radio. Anyway, I continued to be a fan of Richard's work - firstly, with Stew on the telly, then, as a solo performer. I have seen every single one of his Edinburgh shows since 2001, and until this year, I had paid for every ticket! When I got my first daily show on 6 Music in 2002 and we started Roundtable, the singles review show, a couple of years later, I pushed for Richard and Stewart to come on as guests. Richard and I had a fairly easy rapport, and even though he knows nothing about music, we had him back on regularly. So when I needed a regular guest on my weekend shows, he was my first choice. He was sort of between careers at the time, post-double act, pre-solo fame, and was happy to have a regular outlet. In lighter moments, I might suggest that he owes his career to me. This is presumably why he affects to not remember our first meeting!

Ross - And finally do you have anything you would like to plug at the moment ?

Andrew - I am on 6 Music, filling in for Lauren Laverne and then Steve Lamacq, until October 8, so tune in. More importantly, Richard and I have three podcast gigs coming up. The link for all the details is here 

I'd like to thank Andrew for taking time out of his busy scheduale to agree and take part in this interview with me i hope you all enjoy reading it as much as i did 

Cheers Ross 

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