In the two days between the assertion that their weekly Radio X display could be finishing and the very last broadcast, comedians John Robins and Elis James obtained 110 pages of emails from their listeners. One of the emails they study out in that final show in April, from a fan known as Frank, stated the display were his greatest solace in his darkest moments, all through its five years on air; that James and Robins had been “the maximum constant effective voices in my life”. Frank added that he’d been moved to attempt out standup comedy himself, and completed with the aid of pronouncing, “You’ve each inspired me to be a higher guy: a person who isn’t afraid to tell his pleasant mate that he loves him.”
It became an average message. Almost everyone in all their 264 podcasts – edited right down to an hour from the three-hour radio display, with the Kasabian songs and ads were taken out – starts with heartfelt letters of gratitude from their “PCDs” (Podcast Devotees), male and female alike. There are greater than eleven,000 PCDs inside the dedicated Facebook institution, and they have often shared their reviews of melancholy, tension, loneliness, grief, breakdowns, wreck-ups, dependency, suicidal mind – with each different and with the 2 DJs. And each of them contained a few version of the word: “The one factor that got me through this period changed into understanding that, each Saturday, your podcast would cheer me up.”
A few days after their final show, the purpose for the departure became clean: they were snapped up by way of BBC Radio 5 Live, wherein they begin a new weekly display at the cease of this month.
They already have sturdy careers out of doors the radio studio: in 2017 Robins won the celebrated Edinburgh Comedy Award; James has starred in latest BBC TV series Crims and Josh; last 12 months they wrote and toured an at the same time penned ebook, The Holy Vible, and each are touring new indicates later this yr (James’s is in Welsh). This summer will see them release an extra standalone podcast, discussing intellectual fitness issues.
Some kinds of comedy price edginess especially else, but there may be warmth and relatability to the duo that have seen them turn out to be a cult phenomenon. In man or woman, they’re the matey radio double act that has received them each fanatic and awards. James’s joyful west-Welsh burr and self-effacing warm temperature is in comparison to Robins’s mordant, exasperated wit – he is mostly a hair’s breadth far from sounding like Alan Partridge losing his mood, generally approximately something nerdy or banal, like a minor breach of the Highway Code.
“John is funnier when he’s sad, while I’m funnier when I’m satisfied,” James says. Most of all, they take the piss out of each other, interrupt each other, and make each other giggle in that unforced manner that buddies do.
Robins and James first met in spring 2005, in their early 20s, barely a handful of gigs into their standup careers. At that stage the shows had been unpaid slots on the open-mic circuit. With Robins based in Bristol and James in Cardiff, they were close sufficient that their paths saved crossing, and they became exact buddies. They had each finished radio visitor slots, and epic chats on the lengthy drives to and from standup gigs satisfied them to make a move of it. James increases an eyebrow and adopts a slimeball-from-The-Apprentice voice: “We had been having these lengthy, humorous conversations besides, so the dream was: permit’s monetise it.”
When Robins observed James to London in 2012, he signed with the identical promoter. A pilot for Radio X accompanied in 2013, and their first display aired in February 2014. In their XFM/Radio X weekend slot, they observed Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand, Adam and Joe, and Josh Widdicombe.
For Robins, the podcast format allows forge a uniquely intimate dating. “It’s partly because you select the instant at that you pay attention: and those are probable moments in which you’re for your personal, perhaps on a shuttle, or walking. You have a far extra captive audience than TV has. It can feel like what we’re doing is having 200,000 3-manner conversations, simultaneously. And likewise, after I listen to Kermode and Mayo, or Adam and Joe, or In Our Time, there’s a talk in my head among whoever’s on and me. And people visit a podcast once they need to retreat… That is probably following a person’s loss of life; the lack of a child; it might be following a diagnosis; it might be during remedy for most cancers.
“People grow to without a doubt like you and sense like they’re pals with you,” he adds. “To the point that once, a hundred and fifty suggests in, you all at once say something they disagree with, they sense this notable sense of betrayal.”
“Like whilst you stated you didn’t like puppies,” James chips in, recalling their bemusement. “We got emails saying, ‘Hi guys – I in reality love the show, however I have a canine. So, wherein does this depart us?’”
One of the display’s high-quality strengths is being attentive to two pals chat genuinely to each other, James says.
“Even whilst John talked about a dating breakup on air, I still made a laugh of him. Because I realize the policies, because we’re friends – and that’s what I could have carried out if we had been discussing it off air, too. It could had been cheating if I’d put my hand on his knee and stated [he adopts a sombre tone], ‘Let’s play a Stereophonics track.’”
There is something endearing about their alternatively normie, blokey passion for game, rock music and boozing – Robins’s encomiums to particular pubs are works of artwork in themselves – set along their disarming candour and compassion. It is as if they’re tweaking British masculinity at the edges, and in doing so letting in loads of tons-wished mild. On one occasion, in reaction to a listener’s email, they had a touchy discussion approximately the importance of consent in sexual relationships – after which by hook or by crook observed a way to gently segue lower back to the standard self-deprecating banter, silly video games and lighthearted ribbing.
“In phrases of the masculinity thing,” James says, “both John and I grew up in small cities and went to everyday faculties. We don’t have showbiz backgrounds. So I recognise how men commonly communicate to each different – and how a few men don’t.”
“I assume I’m kind of the opposite,” Robins counters: “I don’t recognize how men speak to every different, due to the fact I was added up by way of my mum and my sister, and my mum’s a counsellor. So my whole upbringing, the way of communicating, became emotional. I’ve usually been quite open with my male pals. That is much more normal to me than two blokes in a pub now not telling every other about the truth that their marriages are falling aside – I think it’s extraordinarily sad if people don’t feel they could confide in their friends.”
A central aspect in their philosophy appears to be: “Don’t be a dick.”
“One of the things I dislike approximately a few comedy is that it is able to often be pretty mean,” says James. But most of their technology, now of their mid- to overdue 30s, humans like James Acaster, Nish Kumar, Josie Long, Isy Suttie (James’s partner) and Sara Pascoe (Robins’s ex), seem to get alongside. “There’s a chronic fable that comedians are all back-stabbing, sour hacks,” says James. “And that hasn’t been proper for about 10 years,” interjects Robins.
At gift, at the more combative cease of the comedy spectrum is a trope that amounts to little greater than a Jim Davidson or Jeremy Clarkson whine reheated for the Twitter age: the idea that you could’t say whatever nowadays, and that younger humans are indignant with the aid of the whole lot. It’s some thing that rankles with Robins specifically. “If Ricky Gervais punched down any similarly he’d lose his stability,” he wrote in a column inside the Metro in April. A week later, ex-Python Terry Gilliam made headlines inside the Daily Mail with the criticism: “We can’t chuckle at all of us as it causes offence.”
“Well then he’s thick,” says Robins, with out hesitation. “They all are. Jonathan Pie is thick. Terry Gilliam is thick. It’s a whole fallacy.”
But why is the idea of a generation of “snowflakes” at the upward thrust in the mean time?
“It appears to be in particular privileged white men, who see other human beings getting extra freedom, extra equality and extra possibility as by hook or by crook taking something faraway from them. It’s the equal principle that’s fed the a ways proper for the beyond century. What’s worse is when it is human beings with more opportunity than maximum making that point, doing it on TV, with a massive platform. You are the 1% of the 1% of the 1%. That is how lucky you’re. And you’re announcing, ‘Well, if a person can transition to a female, then… I’m a dustbin.’ Ugh.”
They seem as do away with with the aid of conceitedness as they are with the aid of suggest-spiritedness. For Robins, self-doubt is a constant accomplice, but a creative engine, too. His new display is called Hot Shame, a mirrored image of “the moments in life that hang-out me”. “I’m lucky in that once I’m at my absolute lowest, at some point I’ll be capable of glide above that second and chortle, to see how ludicrous it’s far for a person to burst in to tears because he’s involved he’s bought the incorrect dehumidifier.”
It is precisely this form of relatable absurdity which continues their fanatics’ praise flooding in. “I’m usually surprised through it, each day,” says James of their enthusiasts. “Because if I wasn’t surprised by means of it, I might emerge as an egomaniac. If you ever notion that that became the appropriate order of factors, you would become pretty ordinary. It’s just me chatting to my pal for an hour or – and that simply occurs to mean an lousy lot to a few human beings.”