So. Farewell, then, The Parapod, which has bowed out after three series and a couple of specials. If you haven’t heard The Parapod yet, go and download it all. As in, now. Stop reading this and go do it (but then come back to read this). Done it yet? What did I just tell you? Go! Still reading? Fine, suit yourself, download it later. Anyway, The Parapod is, for my money, the best comedy programme made in the UK in the last couple of years. Yes, I’m including all TV, radio, podcasting, tweets, stories that guy at work tells you about his weekend, toilet graffiti and anything else. The Parapod has made me literally cry with laughter on a number of occasions… to the extent that I stopped listening to it in public places.
The premise is that comedians Ian Boldsworth, previously known as Ray Peacock, and Barry Dodds discuss various mysterious topics, with Ian playing the sceptic/straight man to Barry’s believer. The three series discussed ghosts, ‘mysteries’ (which included everything from cryptozoological animals like Bigfoot to UFOs to the Marie Celeste), and conspiracy theories. Each week focusses on a particular case or theory with Barry usually arguing for and Ian against.
Obviously a show like this stands or falls on the dynamic between the two presenters. While “one believes and one doesn’t!” might seem an obvious set-up, it’s the scale of their reactions that makes this as funny as it is. Barry, it often seems, will believe pretty much anything he reads or is told, which leads Ian to reactions ranging from winding up Barry more than seems humanly possibly (convincing him that the plural of Bigfoot is Bigfie, for example), to seemingly genuine anger. Ian’s wind-ups have an amazing scope and often take in the listener as well as Barry; let’s just say it’s worth listening to the episodes in order. The show might theoretically be just two blokes sitting in a room talking, but it’s hard to imagine a carefully written, scripted show having as much humour and character development (or deliberate lack thereof) over three series. There’s plot lines that emerge over their debates, and the show has even developed catch phrases. So there you go. Weird.
Another reason the show is quite so great is that it actually makes two quite serious points (possibly unintentionally, but that doesn’t matter). As you might expect from the premise, the show is about scepticism and how to argue. Some of the things Barry seems to accept as evidence beggar belief – although, obviously, that’s what makes the show work; the supposed fans who get angry about it on Twitter are really, really missing the point. Ian, by contrast, is not only ruthlessly logical (mostly – come on mate, the ‘Surgeon’s photo’ of the Loch Ness Monster is not an elephant), but also relentlessly, well, argumentative. To give both of them their due, however, they admit when they’re wrong and look to take in new evidence. The show is about how to argue and think logically and what should be accepted as evidence. I don’t buy all this crap that “critical thinking is more important than ever in the era of fake news!!” – it’s always been important; propaganda and, er, lies weren’t suddenly invented last year. But, you know, if a show like this can make the point that it’s important to think about how to think, then good.
The other thing the show is about is stories and how stories work. Barry freely admits several times on the podcast that he wants to believe things, just because the world seems more fun if you “believe there’s a monster running around somewhere.” But it’s not just that: he likes stories. As happens a lot in the cryptozoology world (and probably with UFOs and ghosts too, but I don’t really care about them), Barry fills in hugely detailed back stories to explain things that only might, possibly be true. For the best examples see the episode on the chupacabra, which is one of the funniest episodes of any comedy series I’ve ever heard, and the episode on JFK conspiracy theories. Without giving it away, in the JFK episode, the listener is perhaps as involved as Barry or Ian. What this shows is not that Barry is super gullible, but that we, all of us, like stories. We think in terms of stories, and we’re far more likely to believe things if there is a narrative to back it up. This is important in terms of scepticism again, but also for understanding everything from psychology to how to be a good comedian. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about literature and comedy, I’m very invested in stories and how they work, so this is interesting to me. On the other hand, if you like, you can just laugh at a man convincing himself a mystery animal is “an alien’s pet.”
If you’re already a fan of The Parapod I’d recommend the ‘behind the scenes’ episode Ian and Barry did on Simon Caine’s Ask The Industry podcast, which really shows how deeply they, and the listeners, care about the project. Maybe I’m being a bit pretentious (I am) and it’s just a show featuring two comedians arguing about made-up stuff. I think though it does have hidden depths and importance, despite also being funny as hell, occasionally featuring things that probably shouldn’t have been said out loud, and definitely full of total bollocks. I’ll miss hearing it each week, and I eagerly await the next stage of the project, a full-length film apparently.
Farewell, Parapod. You were not the podcast we deserve, but the podcast we need.