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60 Balls. 60 Minutes. 60 Corresponding Questions.
The guests are as wide-ranging as the questions and the unpredictability of the format ensures that every episode is different, every episode is exciting.
“What are your memories of 9/11”?
“What’s your most treasured relationship with someone over 65”?
“Have you ever seen a ghost”?
“Do you believe in love at first sight”
Personality Bingo aims to give you a rounded, yet unexpected insight into the intricacies of its many guests. Previous episodes include Paul Howard (Ross O Carrol Kelly), Mary Byrne (X-Factor), Mark O’Halloran (Adam and Paul) Jarlath Regan (An Irishman Abroad), Marina Carr (By The Bog of Cats), Paul Ryder (Ireland’s Got Talent), Clare Monnelly (Moone Boy) and John Butler (Handsome Devil).
1. Always Meet Your Heroes
“Never meet your heroes”. A well-worn phrase that haunted me for years.
Why? Why wouldn’t I want to meet my heroes? A person I admire? Whose work I adore? Who has helped to shape me into who I am today?
The answer? Fear.
The fear you’ll discover who they really are, who you hoped they weren’t.
Your favourite singer lip-syncs. Your favourite footballer smokes. Your favourite comedian’s darkest jokes are actually rooted in disturbing amounts of truth.
When we put people on pedestals, it sets up a fall. And, by their very nature, heroes live on pedestals.
However, this has not been my experience. My heroes have consistently turned out to be kind, smart, decent people. Now, there are a few reasons as to why this might be.
One? I have a great taste in heroes.
But, two? I think my taste in heroes mirrors my taste in podcasts. Integrity is the priority. Or at the very least, a talent for faking it.
Now, I’m under no illusions. Getting to the top of your chosen industry, whatever that may be, suggests, if not demands, a certain level of ego and ambition to get you there, never mind to keep you there. But, it’s also possible that the actual act of getting there relaxes that ambition, softens the ego.
In some cases, I think that’s possible. In others, I’m sure the opposite.
But, it’s also possible that those who are at the top, got there because…
They’re kind, smart, decent people.
It’s easy to look at those at the top of their game and presume that they simply landed there by the grace of god, but, in reality, most of them probably got there by being, at least somewhat, sound… right?
In a country the size of Ireland, if you’re a prick, we’re going to hear about it.
If you’re a prick, word will spread.
And if word spreads that you are a prick, we’re not going to want to work with you. Or podcast with you for that matter.
Trust your instincts, trust your heroes.
Don’t trust pricks.
2. “Reach For The Stars”
… The most important question in podcasting.
Asking people to do your podcast is by far the worst part of having a podcast.
It’s so vulnerable, unnerving and, generally, a pain.
The fear that you’ll annoy them. That they won’t write back. That, plain and simple, they just don’t like you.
And while this anxiety is somewhat natural, it’s largely unwarranted.
Personality Bingo is fast approaching 100 episodes and, with 94 episodes currently recorded, that means 94 people have agreed to be guests.
Yet 94 times I’ve had some degree of anxiety about inviting them to podcast.
You catastrophize, you fantasize, you sweat over their response, when, in reality, 99% of the time, people are honoured to be asked.
But, that doesn’t stop the fantasies…
“No, Tom. Fuck off”.
“G’way lad, your podcast is stupid”.
“Ha, Personality Bingo?! More like, Personality DINGO, am I right guys?
P.S. Your hair is stupid”.
These are all viable responses and, god knows, some of them might be right.
But, even if they did say that? Who cares. We’re all adults here, right? Assuming you’re polite to people and as flexible as can be when it comes to scheduling, people generally want to help where they can. In fact, people are often flattered to be asked.
So, of course, no one’s going to tell you to “fuck off”.
The worst that can happen?
A polite “no”.
Unless it’s the 2012 St Peter’s College Debs we’re talking about…
(In that case, fuck you Julie Harkin, I didn’t want to go with you anyway… ahem).
3. Listen, Listen, Listen
If you haven’t listened to my podcast, firstly, shame on you. But, secondly, it’s designed in such a way that I can’t really plan, well, erm… anything. The questions are drawn randomly, so they’re different every time and the guests’ experiences are inevitably so wide-ranging that there isn’t really a pattern to the episodes. So, as a result, the episodes have a spontaneity to them that I think our listeners really appreciate.
But, when I’m at my best as a podcaster is when I’m firing out the follow-ups, unfiltered and real. I’m actively listening, aggressively curious. But, as well as listening to my guest, I’m also listening to myself.
What am I interested in? What do I want to hear? What do I think they’re not saying? It’s amazing how many times I’ve said to myself “Meh. Is that actually a good question, is it even really worthy asking”?
And, almost always, the answer is YES.
It’s actually weird how often that that very question turns out to be a gem. The question that blows the chat right open, that leads to a real episode highlight.
Now, of course, you always run the risk of pushing too far, of crossing a mark. But, that’s a risk always worth taking. Every guest has a line (or most of them, anyway… I’m looking at you Paul Ryder) and you’ll usually have a good sense where that line is without ever actually overstepping it.
But, on the few occasions when, maybe I have gone too far, once people can see your intention, see your good nature, they’ll trust your reasoning, they’ll open up. People want to share when they know you want to listen… So, basically, what I’m saying is… I AM SO GOOD AT PODCASTS!!! Jesus, Tom.
4. Gender Balance is Easy
Personality Bingo has always had a really balanced spread of guests from the standpoint of gender.
And why is that?
Because it’s easy.
A balanced representation across the genders should NOT be a problem in 2018. And, without ever thinking about it, we’ve achieved this.
I only recently even decided to check upon our gender stats and, as I write this article 10.46pm on October 21st, 2018 (imagine this was just a really elaborate way to create an alibi for a horrific crime I committed??), out of our 94 already recorded episodes?
We’ve had 48 female guests, 46 male guests.
I would work out the percentages, but I’m too self-conscious that I’ll fuck it up. But, you see what I’m getting at… That’s pretty good. We’re almost at 50/50.
And let me be very clear.
This was not an effort. This was not a chore. This was not political.
This just happened because it should always just happen.
This just happened because it’s not hard.
Now, let’s call a spade a spade… Could we do better in other areas when it comes to diversity? Yes, absolutely. In pretty much all the other areas, I’m sure.
More racial diversity, more disabled perspectives, more trans folk. The list goes on.
But, when it comes to gender, in my experience?
You have to go out of your way to fuck that up.
That’s why it feels personal.
Because it is.
And, besides, there are slightly more women on the planet anyways, so, technically, our slight gender bias towards female guests isn’t even sexist against men.
It’s just, accurate.
To the population.
‘Cus, you know?
Maths and shit.
5. Trust is a Must
… because if it rhymes, it must be true.
Doing podcasts can be vulnerable. Especially if it’s your first time. And especially, especially if the first podcast you’re doing is Personality Bingo. I say this because we tend to “get into it”. All of it. But, that’s not for everyone.
For a lot of people, especially Irish people, opening up in general can be really vulnerable. In fact, for some people, opening up can be as vulnerable as it gets. So, it makes total sense that it gets that little bit harder when you’re acutely aware that thousands of people could potentially be listening.
So, to counteract this, before every podcast, I have a little declaration that I always like to make… It goes something along the lines of, “Just so you know, if, on the off chance you say something that you regret, something that you don’t want to go out? Just let me know and it’s gone. We’ll edit it out, no problem”. And, as you can imagine, this is usually followed by an audible sigh of relief, maybe even a fart…
Now, why do I say this?
Well, for two reasons…
One? Because I mean it.
My biggest fear is that someday a guest will regret doing the podcast.
Maybe it’d be something that they say, maybe it’d be a listener’s reaction, but whatever it would be, I’d hate for it to happen.
Now, crucially, this has NEVER happened.
But, like I said…
(I think we’re seeing a pattern develop, hmmn…)
And, the second reason?
Hearing this assurance takes all the pressure off the guest. Once they know that nothing is final, that this chat isn’t “last chance saloon”, it’s basically like I’ve handed all the power to them.
Once I’ve let them off the hook with this magical edit option, it’s amazing to watch people open up, to watch people soften. Trying to censor yourself on the spot is shit craic and, generally, tiring. And, for me, my best episodes are when we’re firing on all cylinders, chatting like mates. Following our instincts, unfiltered and honest. I can’t tell you how many times the episode ends and people say “Jesus, I forgot we were recording”. Once this offer has been extended, now, I’m not some scary podcast host trying to get a tabloid style scoop on you, to reveal some deep, dark secret from the recesses of your past. Instead, now, you have autonomy over your own episode, you’re in charge of your own destiny. The guest becomes the editor.
And that’s great.
And true… kind of.
Personality Bingo is lucky enough to be a part of the HeadStuff Podcast Network. For that reason, I am blessed with an amazing team that make it all possible (yay for clichés). No, but, seriously, like…
When I started the podcast, I think I had a tendency to forget how many other people were involved in the process, how many others were needed to make the whole thing tick. Now, this is not to say that I was throwing some kind of Christian-Bale-style diva strops (I save these for my mom). But… maybe I could’ve been a bit more patient, a bit more sensitive.
Besides, you can never forget that these people are donating their time to my project, to my passion.
I’ve never made a cent from the podcast.
In fact, VERY few Irish podcasts do. If anything, having a podcast has cost me money. (Bingo machines aren’t cheap). And, needless to say, if I’m not making money, neither is anyone else.
So, in effect, dozens of people are donating their time and talent from the goodness of their heart. And, more to the point… None of those people have narcissistically shoehorned their name into the title of the podcast.
Because, unlike me, they’re not psychopaths… for the most part.
Between producers, editors, engineers, composers, artists, guests and, not to mention, our listeners, there are tonnes of people who take from their own passion projects to help make mine a reality.
And, it’s not like my collaborators have ever asked for, well…. anything. So, the least they deserve are pleasant emails, goofy voice messages and positive looking emojis. (Like, the ones that have love hearts for eyes? Gosh, I really do just love those little bastards).
There’s no doubt that organising a weekly podcast can be stressful, especially as we’ve never allowed ourselves to miss a week (#HumbleBrag #TooManyHashtags). But, the stress of it all is SO worthwhile on the joyous occasions when someone comes up and tells you what the show means to them or even just a simple retweet or favourite.
When it’s good, it’s so good.
For example, Personality Bingo has four Croatian listeners who listen EVERY week and, while I have no absolutely NO idea who they are, I love them.
With all my heart.
Podcasting may be driving me into a dark state of mental psychosis. Last night, I had a dream that I went to prison and, out of all the prison related things I should have been panicked about, like processed food and “dropping the soap”, I awoke in a cold sweat because I hadn’t enough podcasts pre-recorded to tide me over the duration of my jail term.
But, then again, if you do the crime, you do the time…
And, once more, you see?
7. Turn Off Your Phone, Talk to Good People
“Show me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. (Ooooh, how literary).
The biggest blessing that podcasting bestowed onto me was a format to reach out to my heroes, peers and, often, strangers.
And all under the misleading guise of sanity.
An excuse to reach out to the best in the business.
The best people, the best minds, the best creatives, whatever.
There’s something magical about turning off your phone and connecting with another soul. And multiply that by a thousand when the other soul is a gem.
And, in an age where, sometimes, connection is lacking, podcasts allow for two human beings to sit down for the chats.
I know the jokes about men and podcasts (“What do you call two white guys talking? A Podcast”) and I get it.
They’re funny… and, mainly, true.
But, one thing I realised very quickly is that people aren’t used to hearing conversations like this. People aren’t used to that longform realness. Whether it’s the honesty, the openness, the lack of editing, the vulnerability? I don’t know. But, people connect when they hear two others connecting.
On multiple occasions in the early days of Personality Bingo, the podcast was described back to me as a mental health podcast and, at first, I recoiled in horror at that thought.
Because, do I see it that way? No. But, if that’s how it comes across? Great.
As a straight, white Irishman with as many Catholic complexities and quirks as the next Paddy or Seamus, this podcast has influenced, challenged and changed me.
Podcasting has acted as a CONSTANT reminder that people are good.
How people are similar. How people are different. And how both of those ideas can be true at the exact same time.
If you don’t have a podcast (i.e. if you’re not a straight, white man), find a way to reap the podcast benefits. Because you don’t need a microphone to do it.
And while that may sound like a convoluted Friday Night Lights quote, I promise that, long after my podcasting career is over, I will endeavour to find a way to keep having those conversations, keep turning off my phone and keep seeking those unmistakably real human connections.
Go forth in peace, to love and serve the podcast.