Like many creatives stuck inside during lockdown, comedian Michael Spicer decided to channel his energies into online content, creating a series of sketches based around ‘The Room Next Door’ - a beleaguered speechwriter watching in horror as various politicians continued to determinedly put their foot in it. Now free from the shackles of lockdown, Spicer is still continuing to spend his time shut indoors - but this time, it’s in the comfort of a movie theatre, for Sky Cinema’s new podcast Cinema Dates.
Hosted by Spicer and produced by podcast company Listen, each episode sees two hopeful singletons paired up to watch a movie, with Spicer providing his trademark witty commentary. We spoke to Spicer all about the show, and how he’s embracing his role as podcasting’s answer to Cilla Black.
How would you describe the podcast?
It's not like most podcasts, in as much as it feels very much like it could be a TV show. It's a blind date show with the added element of taking the contestants out on a blind date at a very lush cinema that is within the Sky building. and we just eavesdrop basically.
I've said this before, it has an eavesdrop feel to it, because although there is a video accompaniment, it is mainly about the podcast and listening into these two people as we basically throw them in at the deep end and get them to strike up a conversation with each other, which sometimes can work really well, and other times it can feel quite awkward - but it's good to watch it develop.
Why did you start your podcast?
I mean, I don't want to take all the glory, because there's a very talented team behind it at Sky and Listen, and they came to me because they could see that there was a certain sort of symbiosis between what I was doing online and what I could do for them, which is to basically pass judgment on things that are going on my laptop, which is the thing that I'd pretty much become famous for. My character that I do, The Room Next Door, is very cutting and very sardonic, and sarcastic. And I think they probably wanted a lighter version of that, because I can be very mean. But I am talking to about politicians who, let's face it, do deserve it most of the time.
So, that's why I wanted to do it, because I realised that it could work, but also I am in favour of them trying to do something different with the podcast format. Because as I said, it does feel very much like a show, rather than what people perceive to be podcasts, which is just conversations.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
I would say none, because it feels very much like we're working it out as we're going along. It feels like a nice organic job to take on. There isn't some sort of regimented structure. Because of the nature of the blind date itself, you can go off on different tangents, and so I like the idea that we're kind of feeling our way through it, and seeing what works. It could be that if there's a second and third series, it will differ to the first. I think that's probably what happens with a lot of shows that stick around.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
It seems like Lucy [Hunt] and Suzy and Tom do everything, but I'm sure that's not true. For the podcast, Lucy and Aidan will do all the matching. So they do multiple rounds of interviews, of pre-production, getting them all set up and genuinely trying to find very good matches for one another. And then for the shoot, because it's video as well, on shoot days it's just Lucy and Aidan on the podcast team. Obviously, we also have a director, two or three cameramen and a sound engineer. So producer-wise, two producers, but then there's a wider team who get it made.
Do you monetise your podcast?
Yes, we have a sponsor - Diablo Wines - and they have a little bit of input, in as much as, about a third of the way through the date, Aidan will produce some questions that are ‘Diablo's Dare to Share’; they are fairly risque questions you probably would not ask on a first date, just to see what happens. And then, of course, I will occasionally mention the sponsor and how delicious their wines are - which they are, because they sent me a case, and they're very nice.
How do you promote your podcast?
The first thing we did was try to advertise for daters using my social channels, which I think helped in some respects; it did bring out the slightly more quirky contestants and daters. And then, yeah, it's just through the social media channels. Which I should probably do more of, but I've actually removed my social media from my phone, because it was driving me completely insane. I would pick up my phone every five seconds to check six different social media accounts - so I removed them all. I only access my social media on my laptop now, so I'm not actually physically on social media as much as I used to be.
But I'm always here to help promote the show. And of course, I am aware that most of my followers started following me because of my political sketches and my comedy in general, so I get the feeling that certain things that you promote probably fall on deaf ears. Maybe some of my followers are married with children and are perhaps not that keen on watching two young, attractive daters experience romance.
Who listens to your podcast?
Somebody applied to be on it after seeing something I'd posted, and they were then featured. And I think what was interesting is that I didn't know who it was - and I was going through the daters thinking, is he a fan? He could be a fan. He looks like a fan of mine. So it's very interesting because I think, again, what separates this from other shows is that there is this tendency, I think, for reality shows to pick the ones who are already sort of entrenched in reality television. You've seen them before on other things and they're just trying to use programs to raise their profile.
But I think most of the cinema dates have been genuine people from different walks of life, actually trying to find love, it's actually quite endearing. It's quite sweet. I must admit, I thought are they all just going to be people that want to be on Love Island and other reality shows, people that just want to improve their profile - but it's not the case. They're from different age groups, different backgrounds, and it's been really interesting to watch their dates develop.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
I'm old.So, I've been married for 18 years, and back then there was no such thing as apps - so I was never part of that culture, swiping left and swiping right and all of that. My wife and I did meet online, but it was really early days… it was mainly just swapping messages back and forth. In many ways, I’m obviously very glad that the dating scene with apps wasn't around when I was young, because I think probably would have made more embarrassing mistakes than I did.
But all these daters, when they come in and they talk about how unlucky they've been in love, and how they're looking for the right person and all of this; it makes me feel like a dad watching them, just hoping things, turn out right for them, like a parent. It's a very weird thing.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
I don't actually subscribe to any podcasts. Whatever people are chatting about, I will grab an episode and listen to it. For instance, I really like You Must Remember This; I really like that. They're great. They're so beautifully crafted and so well researched - and that's my kind of podcast, I think.