When it first launched in 2014, No Such Thing As A Fish was a small project started by four of the QI “elves” - Dan Schreiber, James Harkin, Anna Ptaszynski and Andrew Hunter Murray - as a way to share the best and most bizarre facts they discovered during their research. Now, it’s one of the UK’s most successful and longest-running podcasts with over 400 million downloads, multiple awards and sold-out shows across the world with superfans lining up to see the podcast group.
This week on PodPod, Schreiber and Hunter Murray joined PodPod presenter Rhianna Dhillon and PodPod editor Adam Shepherd to talk about what it’s like to tour around the world doing live shows, how they keep track of all the facts they’ve said on the podcast, how the podcasting industry has changed in the near-decade since they first started, and their all-time favourite facts.
Keep an eye on what you’re advertising
“I think in 2016 we did some played-in adverts, pre-recorded ones. I think that due to an administrative error or some foul play, we ended up playing adverts for Donald Trump's presidential campaign on our show,” said Hunter Murray. “I think at that point we said, right, shut it down. We’re gonna read every single advert.”
“I think it was because - I don't wanna slander the Trump campaign - but you can uncheck various boxes when you're asked what you want to advertise, you can uncheck gambling or arms dealing… but I think the Trump campaign may have not categorised themselves as politics and we had unchecked politics.”
Nail a consistent format
“At the time, the stuff that was coming out was very much the phase of two male comedians sitting down, turning a microphone on, and just riffing for three hours and it really felt like they were making a show just for them, almost,” said Schreiber. “I think that's where podcasting got a bit of a reputation of people just waffling away.”
“When we came in, I think we were part of a wave of bringing editing. If you looked in the charts, it was us, and then eventually it was My Dad Wrote A Porno… and [Jamie Morton] very much was the same thing; high standard… So I think we were part of this new change where it suddenly turned into polished shows, and that's what it feels like it's evolved into more now… give yourself a theme and you've locked yourself into a good place.”
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
“I'd never really even listened to Radio Four cause I'm not from Britain… but what I knew was standards for finding handlebars, hence the format of Fish,” said Schreiber. “It's not just one fact. If you don't like this one fact, we got three more coming so don’t worry, you can't lose as a format, in that respect.”
“It was finding those things where you just go, what is watertight? And that's why, rather egotistically, when we talk about the format, I genuinely think the Fish format is the most beautiful, simple format that could be created for the kind of thing that we do. I think we just nailed it with that simplicity. It's why we haven't had to touch it.”