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My Dad Wrote A Porno Creators On Moving From Podcast To HBO Comedy Special

Alice Levine Jamie Morton and James Cooper My Dad Wrote A Porno HBO

HBO is bringing the hit podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno to TV with the one-hour comedy special based around one of the “lost chapters” of the Belinda Blinked books. The podcast in which Jamie Morton reads aloud chapters from the series of erotic novels written by his father under the pseudonym Rocky Flintstone, to co-hosts Alice Levine and James Cooper, launched in 2015 and has since gone on to be downloaded over 160 million times. The podcast later spawned a live show that played to sold-out audiences worldwide. Unsurprisingly, HBO eventually came knocking.

The bawdy series is a perfect fit for for HBO’s catalog of comedy specials. A live reading (by Morton) of Rocky’s writing and the often incredulous reactions of both Levine and Cooper takes on a new life in the presence of an enthusiastic audience seated in plush love seats while drinking alcohol. The result is an expectantly rambunctious hour that includes plenty of of audience participation and more than a few cringe-worthy moments.

Ahead of the special’s airing, Morton, Levine, and Cooper spoke with Screen Rant about bringing My Dad Wrote a Porno to HBO, the passionate fan culture surrounding not only the podcast, but also the Belinda Blinked stories themselves. They also hinted at what the future might bring for the series. 

Can you discuss the idea behind turning the podcast into a live show and then how the live show became this HBO special?

Jamie: Yeah. It kind of… we never really had any ambitions of doing a live show per se. We got invited to perform at the London Podcast Festival about three years ago. And they were like, "If you want to do this as a sort of live show or a live podcast" and we thought, "Oh that could be interesting." And it’s kind of at the stage now that a lot of podcasts are starting to do live events. But we were pretty sure that we didn't want to do a live podcast that would then go on our feed just 'cause we felt that it would be a little bit... totally odd for our kind of back catalog.

So, we kind of created this new show with this chapter that my dad had basically thrown away. Those three shows were kind of our work-shopping… That’s how we found the show and tested it on audiences and then took it on the road. We knew we wanted it to be more of a kind of theater show with visuals. You know, an opportunity to do stuff we can't do on podcasts and have a reason for being there in the first place. So that's why we have audience participation where we get the audience up to recreate a scene [and] Alice's presentation, her TED Talk about the female anatomy and where the parts are. It gets the audience and listeners involved as much as possible. Because obviously, when you're on a podcast you can just listen, but the opportunity to all be together in this kind of filthy book club live just afforded us opportunities to do new things with the show.

Alice: Yeah, and we realized although its a solitary activity to listen with your headphones on your commute or when you're doing your chores, there's a real community there because on Twitter and on Instagram, they constantly want to talk about it and they've got their fan theories and they've got their conspiracies and everything.

And also we have so many emails saying, "Oh, I see somebody across the train carriage and they look really disgusted and they look like they're laughing at the same time. They must be listening to the same show.” So it's this solidarity that we wanted to play on because there is something really magical about being in this secret club that actually turns out to be not that secret. 

Jamie: Yeah, and then... When HBO got in touch, 'cause they came to one of our shows in New York last year, and they got in touch saying they wanted to do something with us, and we thought a lot about what that could be. And then we thought, well, actually it'd be nice to have this lost chapter kind of recorded in some way 'cause it was never going to be on the podcast. It might be a fun thing for people who didn't get to see the show. They can relive it. We feel it establishes quite well what the show is about and to see sets of Dad's writing. I reckon it turned out quite well.

Jamie Morton Alice Levine and James Cooper My Dad Wrote A Porno HBO

What has the audience participation experience been like? You're putting your show in the hands of some strangers for a moment, is that ever a challenge to let the audience do their thing but keep it from going completely off the rails?

Alice: I think it makes it really dynamic 'cause you don't know what you're gonna get which is what we sort of like, and it's kind of what we get on the podcast as well, because James and I don't hear the chapter before Jamie reads it to us. So there's always this spontaneous element to the audio show that we wanted to get in the HBO special. That was one of the ways to do it. We were like, "It could go any which way. They could be shy, they could be really gregarious, they could be super theatrical.” I think that element of the unknown is actually really appealing.

James: Yeah its always good fun because there's always something that you can have a laugh at. It's one of the modes to the show that can be totally improv and new. As far as when we’re doing it when we were touring and stuff it always brought a different energy in some way, because there're always volunteers so there're always kind of mad and excited to be on the stage anyway. And it’s crazy how many people volunteer. We had absolutely no idea what we were gonna work with. It could be anything. But again, it gets across the idea that people are excited to be in a room with fellow listeners. It's a real community and people are excited to be part of the show in that way.

Alice: And Rocky’s work is the backbone, so no matter what happens you've just got this incredible writing, even if it all goes squat with the re-creation or with the audience acting it out. I sometimes feel like at the end of the day you can just sit and listen to his work as an audio book. It would put James and I, particularly, out of a job, but you have to trust that his writing is just something completely mad and magical and surreal so... That's a great safety net I suppose.

Going back to what you were talking about earlier with regard to the spontaneity of the event, both in podcast and in the live show, what sort of challenges are there in maintaining that spontaneity? Do you ever find yourself thinking of a great line after the fact and then you have to put that in your pocket for later or do you guys just really rely on your instincts?

Alice: Every single conversation I've ever had. I always think, "Oh, that was a good punchline.” I guess most comedy, or a lot of comedy, like stand up shows, we've done it before but we're constantly shoving new stuff in there. I think it's slightly different for a stand up show. We're just trying to make each other laugh every night.

James: That's the key to it I think, yeah.

Alice:  That's what's bringing something fresh. The challenge of making others laugh. So, yeah there is a structure in the narrative, Rocky’s work is there, but within that we can play, which is nice.

Jamie: And it's nice when you... 'cause it isn't [entirely] live, you know, live live, we can edit it. So we kind of always play it long and then we can snip…

Alice: Yeah, that's the best.

Jamie: Yeah, and with the podcast particularly, that's a really important part of the creative process, to get it the best it can be so everyone feels that they get their say. Something I found out what we can do with the HBO show as well, having an external editor take that first go and cut it, choose what they think is great and what will be lost. I think it’s good for us to get a bit of perspective and freshen it up from their viewpoint as well as producers. Just be like, "Okay that interesting.”

Have you ever met anyone or been approached by fans who are, without a hint of irony, just true fans of the Belinda Blinked stories?

James: Oh yeah, at this point everyone has their fan theories about what's going on. Questions about different characters… yeah there's a Reddit thread that we've started reading because we're doing the TED Talk this year for podcasts. There are some Reddit threads  about who's who and there's this whole spy storyline that started in the books, so people are trying to guess who the spy is and things like that. Yeah, Reddit doesn't mention us at all.

Jamie: It's all there in the books, so I mean, yeah, people feel incredibly invested. That's why it's had the life it’s had in some respects, 'cause you're on this journey with the book, with the characters, and that's what Alice said is the backbone of the show, whether it be in the podcast or the live show. People really do come for that as much as anything else. And even when we recorded the HBO special, we didn't end up including it, but people had come in costume, they were dressed as different characters and that happened again with a lot of the tours. So that's always nice, that shows how much they love this world. Rocky writes a character in for a sentence or two, maybe, and then you never hear from them again, but people dress up as them at shows. It's mental.

James: It's actually quite amazing that people are always invested in this world that [Rocky’s] created from scratch.

Alice: It's a bit of dedication, like your Harry Potters and your Game of Thrones. We always just prided ourselves as a bit freaky geeky, and I think it attracts a similar crowd because there is so much to enjoy. Maybe just not the sexual side but beyond that.

Jamie: Well, it works with so many layers. It has the mundane theme of business, then it has the cosplay, these characters, this world, and then you have the sex and the power dynamic on top of it. We like to think that there's something in there for anybody to gravitate to, you know?

Has there ever been any material from one of the stories where it just didn't go over like you thought it would and you got a different reaction? Has the audience ever been like, “Oh, no, this is too much.”?

Alice: Not too much, but there are maybe some quite British moments. We've toured it all over the world, so there are a few things which we thought wouldn't land but then actually realized that, as Brits, we probably have it the worst, so when we took it to Scandinavia we were like, "Oh, no, these jokes are really lame.”

I mean, not so much in the live show but in the podcast itself there's just things that we never predicted would cause a stir, like we talk about Tombolo, which is basically a raffle. We call it a Tombolo, which we have at school fairs and stuff. And we just got so many emails being like, "What the f**k are you talking about, Tombolo?" And we're like, “That's the thing you're focusing on?”

James: Yeah, of all the things in these books!

Alice: So, you know, just little semantics like that... These little moments that we wouldn’t have expected.

Jamie: But in terms of the sexual stuff, nothing. You would hope that people would be like, that is too much. But nope, they just role with it.

James: I think the audience is as desensitized as we are. We are unshockable now after four books.

So what's next for the show? Any plans to expand even further beyond podcasts and live shows? Is there a chance of it ever becoming a scripted TV show or a movie or anything like that?

Alice: Well [the HBO special], is nearing very quickly, which we're so excited to get a reaction from and see what people think about it. And that's gonna be a really good barometer of what James was saying earlier. We have toured to thousands of people, but this is gonna be our biggest audience that gets this visual experience. So I think we'll take a lot from that and I think that there's been lots of talk about a musical, or a film, or a scripted program.

James: Oh my gosh, we would love to make a musical. We just think it'd be highly hilarious.

That would be amazing, yeah.

Alice: We have to do what's right by the books. And at the core, I think the podcast will always be the heart of it because that's what been the backbone the whole time. So yeah, we're just really excited to do series five and there are some really exciting things on offer, but we just have to decide what the next step is.

Jamie: Yeah that's exactly it. Whenever we think about doing something that's a bit different from the podcast we always think initially, why do we want to do it? What's the point of us doing a live show? What's the point of us doing a TV thing? And if there isn't a really compelling reason or something about it that's gonna give you something that isn't catered for in the podcast already, we will have to think really hard before we say yes to it. There are absolutely conversations happening but as Al says it has to be the right thing at the right time and the right fit really.

I understand that the proceeds from the tickets sales from this special were donated to Mind. How did that come about and why were you interested in giving to that charity?

James: That was actually Dad's idea. A lot of people get in touch with us about how the podcasts help with their mental health and people have been really honest about sharing their stories. And our listeners are a really supportive group, particularly on Twitter which can be quite a negative space, as we all know. We've somehow managed to carve out this really positive pocket of the internet where people feel like they can really share quite personal stuff and feel like they're being heard. And we were just really touched by the fact that people were so willing to share their stories with us that we though it would be a really nice thing to give back to that community in the way that actually meant something.

Alice: And I think we feel an affinity with the idea that you're drawn to things that make you laugh in really dark times, and I think we all have those things that we call on that give us a bit of levity when things are feeling a bit heavy. And actually sitting around and doing the podcast can be that for us, so the fact that other people drew that positivity from it, it just felt like, "Oh, yeah, we should acknowledge this." And also we just do what ever Rock tells us so... It was his idea so we were like, yeah.

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My Dad Wrote a Porno airs Saturday, May 11 @10pm on HBO.

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