Posts tagged ‘Andy Zaltzman’

March 15, 2015

cricket dolls

My brother Andy is over in Australia and New Zealand at the moment, covering the Cricket World Cup for CricInfo.

You may notice that in some of his videos he is playing with dolls. Not Barbies – dolls of historic cricketers W.G. Grace and Fred Spofforth. Where does one obtain dolls of historic cricketers W.G. Grace and Fred Spofforth?

The same place one obtains dolls of Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Plant and Tony Benn.

As soon as I’d finished making them, they were stuffed in a suitcase and flown to Australia, so I don’t have very good photos showing the details, but the materials were felt, white bedsheet, and yarn – WG’s beard is knitted in garter stitch. Here’s one man and his dolls:

cricket dolls Andy

And here are the LADS enjoying themselves at a match:

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2Fpf-rYf56ENFb7b0X5UTYq58tVu-je5J7O1yy8L5EJsOQoMFpobj6TsfDqvEPEL1GatceFyuZSrivwdha16TvKxIU78KF90Xj-XIBqsj74XuUSPGz1NwY81ZY679nNivfNOGk1okVrINiVK8QnuiSN5eDIhVuQ2PeEv8VZcjjLkXiPONl7AL0whqKROB5Dspdu4Cd8BG9cLVqR3ijG1X9_p95_Nj

January 14, 2015

The Allusionist begins

Boggle logo yes

I am very excited to tell you that my new Radiotopia show The Allusionist – which many of you very generously Kickstarted last autumn – has landed!

It’s all about language – little documentaries about words and phrases, with etymological tidbits thrown in. Its online home is theallusionist.org, and the show is available via iTunes, SoundCloud, RSS and various other podcast-wranglers.

Upon hearing I was doing a show about language, loads of people asked me, “Will there be episodes about puns?” Well, guess what: the very first episode is about puns, so I could get the damn things out of the way. It features my punfortunate brother Andy (familiar to you Bugle fans), and the puntriarch himself, our father Zack. TAKE COVER.

I wanted to launch the show with a double bill, and the second episode is all about bras: blogger Lori Smith teaches me about the history of undergarments, while I wonder why we have so many synonyms for our knickers, but none for bras.


A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with the Radiotopian overlord Roman Mars, and he asked me how it was different starting a new podcast now to when Answer Me This! began eight years ago.

Here’s something which is the same: I don’t know exactly what my show is or how to make it, but I can only learn those things by making it and putting it out. One of the most important pieces of advice I give to people starting a podcast is not to publicise it for at least three months or ten episodes, whichever equals more episodes. They never believe me. But I insist that it’s a good move, because a show always improves, and finds its footing; and it’s not a problem, because when listeners do find it a little later, they are happy to find a backlog of episodes to binge on. Between you and me, I was hoping to follow this advice myself this time. BUT…

Here’s a difference: this time, people are listening. You can’t keep a Radiotopia production under the radar. And there was this very flattering review in the Allusionist’s debut week. Of course it is extraordinary to have listeners right from the start, but, given my statement in the paragraph above, it is also VERY DAUNTING. I was insomniac and crapping myself* for weeks before launching The Allusionist! When we launched AMT, I was totally gung ho: I had no idea what I was getting myself into, nor any relevant experience; and luckily our handful of listeners in the early days were very forgiving of these scrappy upstarts. Now, however, I have spent thousands of hours podcasting, so people expect me not to produce a sloppy bowl of shit soup. While I don’t think the first episodes are sloppy bowls of shit soup, I’ve never presented or produced anything like The Allusionist before – it’s a very different beast to AMT, or Sound Women, or live radio – and I know it will take me a few months to get to grips with it properly. So you’re very welcome to listen to the show now, but you’re also welcome to go away and come back in, say, September, when it is likely to be a fully realised audio masterpiece (or a tidy bowl of shit soup, at least).

Here’s another difference: I am now a full-time podcaster, and it is the best job I have ever had. Long may it continue!

*Not literally, thanks for your concern.

September 3, 2014

runs in the family

H Andy dolphin
In what felt like quite a peculiar exercise – like therapy that I hadn’t paid for – I was interviewed by the Guardian in tandem with my elder brother Andy about both being funny people and from the same family.

If you’ve met my family, you’ll know that there are a lot of funny people in it. My brother Rick took a sensible career path that doesn’t require a GSOH, but he’s hilarious; Andy’s long-time cohort John Oliver said Rick is the funniest person he’s ever met. And more than three years later, lots of people still talk to me about the speech my dad made at my wedding. I don’t actually remember what was in the speech, although I know there were many Class A puns; I just remember laughing till I cried.

Zaltzmans aren’t much inclined to talk to each other about Feelings, so humour is our form of emotional currency. Luckily mum is a proper well-rounded human being, so she stops the family being merely a bunch of hollow wise-cracking sociopaths.

If you’d like to read about it, the interview is here.

May 22, 2014

the Bank of Zaltzman

If you are going along to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, do attend my brother‘s show at The Stand: it’s called Satirist for Hire, and whereas most Edinburgh shows are written and honed over the preceding year, he’ll be taking requests from the audience for topics they want to be satirized, and writing new material every day accordingly. He operates at his best close to a deadline, so it’ll definitely be worth seeing.

Anyway. As in previous years, Andy asked me to paint him for the show’s posters, and since I wasn’t very happy with how some of those turned out, I wanted to try something different. Lo:
AZ banknote

I had only intended to do his face in this style, but once I’d started, I couldn’t leave the rest of the note unfinished.

Inspiration:

inspiration

Look carefully at one of Her Majesty’s banknotes. There are layers upon layers of detail; it’s a truly beautiful security system. Lines and curlicues are formed out of tiny words. Patterns overlay patterns. The shading on the Queen’s face isn’t even straightforward cross-hatching – it’s rows of little brick shapes. I borrowed several of the design elements and deployed my limited drawing skills on A1-size paper (without a watermark of Andy’s face, sadly; that would have been a nice but completely unnecessary detail).

Weapons of choice:

ink

I love Windsor and Newton drawing inks without reservation. I drew the whole thing with that tiny dip pen, which was used by my grandfather or great-grandfather at school! I’m not usually a retronaut who gravitates towards needlessly old-fashioned tools – no cassette Walkmans for me, I spent enough of the early 90s rewinding tapes by spinning them on a pencil to save batteries and never intend to go back – but something about a dip pen suits me, possibly the scratchiness, possibly the minimalism of the implement that feels like you’re barely holding anything. I’m not so keen on its propensity for ink splotches. Hence the Tipp-Ex.

A few details:

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I hope I don’t go to prison for counterfeiting.

Whenever I draw Andy, I feel a bit like I’m drawing my own face after I’ve just woken up. If I’d gone to sleep wearing an orange clown wig.

Click on the image for a bigger version:

AZ Satirist For Hire Banknote

May 9, 2014

podcasters on podcasting

It was an absolute joy interviewing so many great podcasters for Olly’s and my BBC Radio 4 documentary Podcasting: The First Ten Years. It was not such a joy having to cut down the many sage and inspiring things they said to tiny soundbites, because 56 minutes of airtime are very quickly filled. So here are full-length versions of several of the interviews I did, in case you are particularly interested in podcasters talking shop.

I’d get squirrelly if I didn’t sit down and talk to people once or twice a week. I would be accosting people in the street if I wasn’t doing the podcast.


I don’t mind telling you I was really quite intimidated to speak to Marc Maron. How do you interview someone who’s done nearly 500 highly-feted interviews on his own podcast? But he was very pleasant to me, and talked candidly and reflectively about podcasting turning around his career, how it can interfere with his relationships, recreating his own garage in a film studio, and stocking up on tea and biscuits for Iggy Pop.

I don’t want to hear about rimming in the airport at 8am.


We’d all agree with Dan Savage there. The eminent sex columnist and campaigner was writing Savage Love before Google existed, so he was effectively the search engine for all sexual problems and proclivities. The column branched out into a podcast, and Dan says: “I used to think of column as most important thing and the podcast was a side-gig, but now it’s the other way round: the podcast is much more important than the column.” Dan describes the intimacy of talking right into people’s ears while they go about their business, having to be a perfect child, and never being shocked by listeners “because I figure, if it exists, someone somewhere is effing it.”

A podcast is just a stretch of time with audio in it, and you can do whatever you want within that stretch of time; so I’d like to hear people doing whatever they want within that stretch of time.


Since it began less than two years ago, Welcome To Night Vale has been a phenomenal success, and when I spoke with its creators and writers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, I understood why. They wanted to make a podcast that wasn’t like any other podcasts that they’d ever heard, because those already existed. Mission resoundly accomplished.

Fun fact: one of the Night Vale guys had never used Skype before we did this interview, so by forcing him to get it, I felt like one of the bad kids in the playground giving him his first cigarette. I hope I didn’t start him on a slippery slope to…I dunno, Snapchat?

Now, there are about five steps too many to get a podcast.


This was the third time I’ve interviewed Roman Mars and since we met at SXSW last year, we’ve also become real-life pals. I’d love for him to teach me everything he knows, but I suspect that’s what everyone wants from Roman. At least I can benefit from his wisdom dispensed here. He talks about the necessity of podcasters putting in the effort, his record-breaking Kickstarter campaigns having to justify spending time away from his family, the socialist principles behind the Radiotopia collective, and how 99% Invisible fans are willing to fund the show but NOT to hear Roman swear at the dead.

The whole plan was for me to support the family by being a lawyer and Jesse would make his adorable little public radio show and podcast and pay some of the bills that way. Instead now I work for the company and we’re trying to pay off my law school debt!


But thank goodness things did turn out that way for Theresa Thorn and her husband Jesse, otherwise the rest of us wouldn’t get to enjoy the fruits of the Thorns’ podcasting empire Maximum Fun. Theresa’s podcast One Bad Mother is absolutely charming, even if like me you’re not particularly interested in parenting; she tells me about oversharing, having babies to beget podcast material, and MaxFunFans bonding with each other in real life.

Did I expect to be in for an interesting ride? Yes. Am I amazed to be still on that ride? Yes.


I have a lot for which to be grateful/ungrateful to Ewan Spence, because without him I might never have become a podcaster at all. And then where would I be? (A: still working on my own in my living room most of the time.) Being interviewed by Ewan for a podcast way back in 2006 was what gave Olly the idea to start a podcast with me.
Ewan talks about how he came to be Scotland’s first podcaster, and subsequently the Edinburgh Fringe podcaster and THE Eurovision Song Contest podcaster – he’s out there backstage in Copenhagen right now!

Keith loves the fans so much, he married one!


Keith and the Girl have such hardcore fans, there are more than 130 KATG tattoos and counting – and even a few horrific-sounding (and looking) FLESH BRANDINGS. Frankly I’m relieved that Answer Me This! fans are comparatively restrained in their affections… I don’t know how Keith and Chemda manage to do a podcast DAILY – they even released an episode on the day their romantic relationship came to an end – but I’m glad they do: they’re very frank, funny and smart.

Podcasting became this opportunity to try something different, something new, see what worked.


I dragged Chris Skinner out of a post-knee-operation cloud of anaesthesia to talk about making some of Britain’s earliest podcasts, as well as The Game, the Dave Gorman podcast, and my brother’s podcast The Bugle. Speaking of which…

The internet is the 21st-century equivalent of shouting at traffic.


It was a bit weird interviewing my brother Andy, so naturally I asked him about the sibling rivalry that everybody assumes plagues us. He and his Bugle co-host John Oliver speak about relishing the complete creative freedom of podcasts, making each other laugh, and how Listeners paying for podcasts is “like higher rate taxation: voluntary, but if you’re feeling philanthropic you might want to do it.” Afterwards Andy said he and John had never actually talked to each other about most of the things I asked them about in the interview, so it was nice for him to find out why John wants to carry on doing the podcast even though he’s now Big Johnny Showbiz. (Apparently the contract for his new gig specifies that he is allowed to continue Bugling, you’ll be relieved to know.)

The whole playlist:

August 2, 2013

manifold noises

I’ve already done three podcasts this month, and it’s only 2nd August.

Episode 4 of the Sound Women podcast is out now at iTunes and SoundCloud and is bursting at the seams with interesting radio stuff.

To hash over the findings of the Women on Air report, which I posted about before, I gathered together a crack team: founder of Sound Women Maria Williams; Emma Barnett, Sunday Drive presenter on LBC and Women’s Editor at the Telegraph; and Tony Moorey, director of content at Absolute Radio. As the token man in the room, I hope Tony didn’t feel too picked on.

Ruth Barnes interviewed Caroline Barker about her career as a sports reporter on BBC 5 Live and the World Service, amongst other stations, and why Father Christmas compelled her to start her own production company.

I also spoke to Camilla Pia, playlister at BBC 6 Music. I’m always really interested to learn about what goes on behind the scenes in radio (and TV, and film, and myriad other industries), and as Camilla says, if she’s doing her job properly, the listener shouldn’t even be aware that her job exists.

Next: Matt Hill, producer of the Guardian’s Media Talk podcast, let me host a special edition of the show all about podcasting, wherein I interviewed my brother Andy! Which was weird. We don’t really talk about our podcasts much in Real Life. The show also featured producer of Hackney Podcast Francesca Panetta, Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown and Richard Herring producer Ben Walker, Maximum Fun founder Jesse Thorn, 99% Invisible‘s Roman Mars, and some guy called Olly Mann.

Also, I should have mentioned earlier our spot on BBC 5 Live’s Saturday Edition last weekend, as we discussed Caroline Criado-Perez’s resilience in the face of vicious Twitter abuse. I went off on one about why I think it’s unwise to dismiss terrible online behaviour just as trolling; to me, ‘troll’ is a term through which one can dehumanise behaviour which is very human, unfortunate as that is.

I don’t mean that to say, “Guys, trolls are human too! Protect the trolls and their rights!” I mean: abusive, insensitive, dangerous, calculatedly offensive behaviour online is performed by actual sentient human beings, who possess the same faculties as the rest of us, and I don’t think the problem will be rectified if one loses sight of that and hides their actions under a blanket term, especially this one which sounds so childish and daft. Anyway, if you’re interested, you can download the podcast of the 27th July episode here.

On a more cheerful note, there is Answer Me This! Episode 265, where we learn about the origins of Amazon, hamburgers and straitjackets, and also why you should keep your genitals clean. I really don’t know why there’s any question about that.

PS A post I wrote last week about why I don’t like sport.

PPS My husband did a TEDx talk, which I’d better remember to watch.

October 10, 2011

The three faces of Andy Zaltzman

Maybe he doesn’t like photoshoots; maybe he’s gathering material for a museum devoted to his own image; but for some reason, my brother has asked me to paint him for his past three Edinburgh posters. He always does this a couple of days before the deadline, so there’s only enough time to churn out the pictures, but not enough to improve them. Also, today’s lesson is that practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, as I think these get worse as they progress. The first is my favourite:


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