Not-film-fan Jess Macdonald loves the Mayo and Kermode podcast. Because, it turns out, it’s not really about films at all.
Two white, middle-class, middle-aged men face each another across a desk and talk for two hours. About films. It shouldn’t be my favourite podcast, but it is.
Yes, it’s Wittertainment. I love it. But before we go any further, I have (appropriately enough, as one half of the Wittertainment duo is Simon Mayo) a confession to make. The last film I saw at the cinema was The King’s Speech. I don’t have a DVD player. I don’t even have a telly, come to that.
I’m a thirtysomething feminist with fairly strident views on how the film industry treats women both in how they are portrayed, and how they are valued as contributors, whether as actresses, directors, writers or film critics. Beyond Anne Billson, it’s hard to think of any female critic who is known in her own right. But as much as I’d love that to change, I cannot deny that, for now, my heart belongs to the good doctors.
Radio is a tricky thing. To be interesting and engaging, the voices have to manage the delicate balancing act of being apparently utterly oblivious to the fact that anyone else is listening while also not being exclusive or cliquey.
But that’s what Kermode and Mayo do. Listening to them feels like sharing a table with two of your oldest friends in your local, the pair of them bickering away, taking the piss out of one another, joshing, joking, winding each other up, and then just reaching peak perfection in putting the world to rights.
“Just as Jaws is not about a shark, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not about spying, and Sex and the City 2 is not about women, Kermode and Mayo isn’t really about films.”
Listening to it, it just feels effortless. It feels as though they’re not contractually obliged to be together, but choose to be so (and from some conversations, such as the way Simon Mayo talks on the phone, you can tell that they are actually proper real-life friends, and this isn’t all just an act).
It’s just so lovely. It’s honest, for one thing. Other opinions may be available, but they are almost certainly wrong. Try to listen to Mayo getting choked up reading an email about Toy Story 3 without tears springing in your own eyes too, or Dr K unashamedly fanboying over the goddess that is Emma Thompson – because who of us wouldn’t? Most especially, I love the toe-curling awkwardness of some guests, whored out to promote a project but who really just can’t be arsed to pretend, and the ensuing piss-takes of their dull, monotonous answers that continue for months afterwards.
And the thing is, I don’t like films; as I said, I never watch them. Yet I’ll quite happily listen to reviews of films I’ll never see from four years ago (the podcast back catalogue). Why? Because as I’ve learned from Wittertainment, just as Jaws is not about a shark, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not about spying, and Sex and the City 2 is not about women (please, if you haven’t already, go to YouTube and watch the rant to end all rants review of it. It’s glorious. And best of all it starts with “This isn’t going to be a rant”), Kermode and Mayo isn’t really about films. It’s about the genuine enjoyment of listening to two people just chatting away about any and everything, and films are just an excuse to get together.
I’m very deliberately self-censoring some of what I say about the programme, because if you haven’t already allowed the Church of Wittertainment into your life, then I don’t want to spoil it for you. Some moments are simply too sublime for me to steal from your future joy. That said, ‘Peter the German Boy’ and that Pinky and Perky section will make you view Simon Mayo as slightly less the avuncular Radio 2 Drivetime host and more…. Hmm. Well, it’s a different side to him, let’s leave it there.
As for the film critic himself, how can you not love a man who, when asked if he was referring to ‘Mrs Kermode’ replied, “Do you mean Professor Linda Ruth Williams?” (more commonly referred to as ‘The Good Lady Professor Her Indoors’). He also once forgot the word ‘airport’ and managed to blurt out ‘aeroplane station’ instead.
Wittertainment works. Mayo and Kermode have perfect chemistry, longstanding jokes, they’re funny, clever, stupid, silly, serious, and they have huge respect for their audience – whose correspondence is integral to the show. I don’t know how they do it. How do you do that, Wittertainment? You just do it.
My final message to you is to download the podcasts and allow them into your ears, minds, and hearts. Even if you have no intention of ever seeing a film ever again. Because the BBC’s flagship film programme is not really about films.
And hello to Jason Isaacs.
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Jess Macdonald is a quite sweary blogger and mother of two with Scottish hair. http://putupwithrain.blogspot.co.uk