Interview with Ben McKenzie about the Splendid Chaps podcast which celebrates Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary

By Lisa Clark

We love it when comedians push the envelope and do something interesting and outside the box. Especially when it involves something they really care about. 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who and geeky stand up comedian Ben McKenzie and creator of the best gay, scifi sitcom ever, Outland John Richards, have committed themselves to producing a monthly podcast discussing the history and influence of The Doctor. Each month the podcast will focus on a different Doctor (Eleven actors have played The Doctor so far – though this can be contentious, Wikipedia says it is eleven and they must be right…) and also cover a theme important to the world of Doctor Who. They promise guests, laughs and surprises.

Why have you decided to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who with a live podcast?

BEN: I’ve had some limited podcast experience, appearing on other people’s – including John Richards’ one, Boxcutters – and I’ve been planning to make my own for some time. (I’m hoping to start another one, about games, later this year.) I also knew I wanted to do something special for the fiftieth anniversary, since I’ve not really publicly celebrated my love for the show before. It seemed natural to combine the two. Once I made the connection between eleven months from January to the anniversary itself and the number of Doctors, a monthly podcast seemed the way to go – but I wanted it to have a community feel, to be something special. I’ve been to many of the “Live in the Studio” events at ACMI, which are live discussions recorded and later podcast, and that seemed like just the basic format I was looking for, so with a couple of tweaks Splendid Chaps was born! I asked John to co-host, since we have been on many nerd dates discussing Doctor Who and we’ve wanted to work together for a while – plus he’s got loads of podcasting experience. He was the perfect choice!

I can see the sci/fi comedy backgrounds in both you and John, did you bring different perspectives in how to approach this?

BEN: I think so. I know how to run a live show; John knows how to produce a podcast. And we each have contacts relevant to proceedings.

How did you bring the rest of the group together and will it be the same group for each podcast or will they change?

BEN: The plan is to have different guests and record in a different venue every episode – we already have plans to go to Adelaide, and we’ll hopefully head up to Sydney too. We’re like the TARDIS, popping up all over the place, with an ever changing crew!

So where did the Name come from?

BEN: It’s from a couple of famous lines in the twentieth anniversary special, ‘The Five Doctors’. The Brigadier describes the Doctor: ‘Wonderful chap. All of them.” and later “Splendid chaps, all of you.” The popularly quoted version is a mashup of the two, but it’s become the stock answer for anyone who doesn’t wish to name a specific favourite Doctor.

What exactly is going to happen in the podcast? (Just chat? Serious chat? Nostalgia chat? Comedy skits?)

BEN: It’s a discussion podcast, so there aren’t skits – and I don’t want to give too much away! But basically John and I will host a panel discussion with our guests about the era in question, and then about the theme. We’ll finish off with a performance by a special guest – probably

I understood that each podcast was going to celebrate an incarnation of the Doctor, (I’m looking forward to Tom Baker in April – during the Comedy Festival – How appropriate!) What’s with the ‘theme’ and why have a theme on top of focusing on Doctor of the Month?

BEN: The theme is important because Splendid Chaps is intended to be something new. The Doctors themselves, and their eras, have been discussed and written about to death, and while we want to talk about them, we also want to talk about the many things the show has been over 50 years, and talk about things that haven’t been discussed as often. It’s also a way of making every episode relevant to a broader fan base; you might only be into the new series, but while Episode One will talk about William Hartnell, our examination of Authority in Doctor Who will cover the show throughout its history.

What sort of audience are you expecting? I suspect the live audience will differ to the wider podcast audience, will this appeal to the serious Whovian?

BEN: I’m not quite sure. I think initially our audience will be people who like John and myself! But yes, I think we’ll appeal to serious fans, though hopefully we’ll be accessible and interesting to anyone who’s curious about thinking deeper about Doctor Who.

Will this appeal to the casual watcher who may only know the modern Who?

BEN: I hope so! The new series, while a vastly different show to the ones that came before, still wears its links to the past on its sleeve, and I’d like to think most fans are interested in where it comes from. Perhaps our discussions will be a good starting point for fans who’ve not watched any “classic” Who!

How long will the Live recording  as compared to the finished product take do you think?

BEN: The plan is to allow 90 minutes, including time for an interval. This will be edited down to under an hour for the podcast, so you’ll get to hear exclusive stuff if you’re at the show!

You have got an exciting guest for the first show – original Cyberman costume designer Alexandra Tynan, do you hope to have serious Who related guests for each show?

BEN: We’re not planning that, but when we get the opportunity to speak with people who’ve worked on the show, we’ll certainly take it!

Have you got a favourite Doctor, alien or Episode?

BEN: I think you know the answer to the first one: splendid chaps, all of him! I still think ‘Caves of Androzani’ is my favourite story, though I also love A ‘Christmas Carol’. I have a favourite or two for each Doctor as well.

There is a preliminary podcast Zero where Ben and John sit in a café and chat about Doctor Who and what they hope the Podcast will be

The first podcast celebrating William Hartnel will be recorded on Sunday 13th of January at The Bella Union Bar, special guests will include Geraldine Quinn and Dr Who Costume designer of the original 1966 Cybermen, Alexandra Tynan (aka Sandra Reid). Be aware that late comers will not be admitted, because they are recording, so be punctual!

The Splendid Chaps Podcasts will be released on the 23rd of each month.

For more information, bookings for the live shows, future downloads etc check their website

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The Peer Revue

By Lisa Clark

If the success of Big Bang Theory and the IT Crowd are anything to go by geek comedy is the New Black and there is a lot of it about during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Peer Revue is a comedy show by a group of science boffins who are out to convince comedy audiences that science is fun and funny. In fact they are backed by a CSIRO program called re- science

The Venue is appropriately the elegant Kelvin Club, named for great physicist Lord Kelvin who has units of measurement named after him. There’s a lovely big painting of him in the performance space. The performers pay tribute to him at the beginning of the night in appropriately formal tones. They soon toss off their smoking jackets to don their ‘Hey kids! Science is really rad!’ personas. They are daggy and endearing and after all the silly intros each performer takes the stage in turn to share their particular scientific passion with us.

First up is one of the most famous faces in Melbourne Geek Comedy Ben McKenzie. Ben is involved in giving informative comedy tours of the Melbourne Museum and in the comedy Role Playing show The Dungeon Crawl amongst other things. For his portion of the show he has hit upon the intriguing idea of explaining the famously intimidating tome A Brief History of Time by physicist Stephen Hawkings. He begins by finding out how many people in the audience own the book (in our case one ) and how many people have actually read it (again one, but a different person). Ben then takes us through eleven chapters in the book and sums them up one by one using the briefest of amusing anecdotes. I can’t verify his accuracy but it was fun to watch what I assume were actual physicists who were nodding and laughing, even clapping enthusiastically, as he nailed each of Hawking’s theories. Everyone else had a good laugh and definitely ended up feeling a little bit
smarter after Ben’s section. I learned that Black Holes are ninjas & cool.

Simon Pampena was a big contrast in personality… to probably everyone in the room. He reminded me of Garden Guru Costa Georgiadis but his geek passion is maths with an enthusiasm that borders on the psychotic. He is quite shouty, which is a bit confronting in the genteel Kelvin Club, and I got the impression that his act was designed for performing in a pub or some such rowdy comedy venue. He had two major maths theories to explain to us and for the first one he used the Olympics medal tally. I could see that a pub crowd would be excited about sports statistics but the people around me were not that excited. He went on to explain Pythagoras’ Theorem involving triangles and his style went from aggressive to something a bit like Sam Simmons and I enjoyed it a lot more. He also had a fun PowerPoint presentation and had the audience rocking with laughter.

After a brief interval and sojourn to the bar it was time to learn about cephalopods from Trent McCarthy. It was described as ecology science but it was mostly silly stuff about octopi. His opening bit dressed as an octopus was cute but a bit of a let down to anyone who wasn’t in the front row, because we couldn’t see him. He either needs a higher stool or they should film him and show it on the screen. I also wanted to know more about his aunt’s historic survival of a box jellyfish sting and more fabulous wacky facts about cephalopods, but after a brief introduction to the mimic octopus he just went on to take some cheap shots at politicians. It did end well with a very successful and harmless bit of audience participation demonstrating cephalopod coitus that was a lot of fun.

Nicholas J Johnson was unsurprisingly the most charismatic of the performers of the night. As a former scammer, being inviting & charming is his stock in trade in the same way that in a geek it is generally not. His science was about psychology, human behaviour and hormones. His set relied heavily on audience participation and a camera was trained on his hands so everyone could see his close up magic. He did the old balls under cups routine and showed us how easy it is to trick the eye and mind with simple movements. It reminded me a little of Lawrence Leung, delightfully astonishing and a great crowd pleaser.

Although opening night was a little patchy, it is a fun night and would suit a group of friends with scientific tendencies who want lots of laughs with some learning. Considering the range of topics and the pizzazz of the performers I’m sure there would be something to enjoy for everyone.