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6th March 2024

Springleaf Podcast: James Acaster’s new audio adventure

We discuss Springleaf Podcast, the new audio sitcom created by the much loved British stand-up comic James Acaster.
Springleaf Podcast: James Acaster’s new audio adventure
Credit: Louise Meek @ Wikimedia Commons

Even if you’ve never heard of James Acaster, you will at least be aware of his viral “started making it, had a breakdown, bon appetit” moment on the Stand Up 2 Cancer Celebrity Bake Off in 2019, which dominated the meme scene in the following months.

More than a viral, terrible baker, though, James Acaster has become something of a stand-up sensation. Originally a drummer for bands including The Wow Scenario and The Capri Sun Quartet, Acaster emerged on the comedy circuit around 2009, earning his first of 5 consecutive nominations for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards ‘Best Comedy Show’ in 2012. Despite never winning the award, Acaster has gone on to host a number of hit shows like Hypothetical with Josh Widdicombe, and the Off Menu Podcast with Ed Gamble which the two comics recently took on tour.

James Acaster performing on stage
Credit: Raph_PH @ Wikimedia Commons

Although he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Acaster has often been referred to as the comedian of his generation – he certainly has my vote. His stand-up shows have covered topics ranging from Brexit, transphobia in comedy, and to the time his ex-girlfriend left him for Rowan Atkinson (yes, the Mr Bean). He is now touring his newest show Hecklers Welcome after a hiatus from solo stand-up shows. Acaster’s self-deprecating persona, openness about his mental health struggle, and whimsical style have made him a real success.

Not to be dramatic, but James Acaster may just be the love of my life.

This being said, I found it hard to love his new, unique audio-sitcom Springleaf, centred around the character Pat Springleaf that featured in his Netflix stand-up shows, Repertoire. Springleaf follows the eponymous undercover cop Pat Springleaf, who shares his wire recordings from his time undercover as a comedian attempting to take down a drug ring on the comedy circuit – naturally.

There is so much that I wanted to love about the podcast.

Firstly, the premise is hilarious, and the glimpses into the eponymous protagonist that we see in Repertoire show him to be a loveable and highly entertaining character, making a podcast all about Springleaf seem hugely promising. Secondly, the cast is incredible; even if you’re not au fait with British comedy heroes like Hugh Dennis, Rosie Jones, and Joe Lycett, the cast is absolutely stacked with well-known performers like Domnhall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina) and even Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It), who plays a performing dog, recording 45 minutes of separate barking and whining riffs – or should I say woofs.

Maybe my ears aren’t attuned to the audio sitcom style (what I mean to say is that I am not an avid consumer of The Archers), but I found that the hilarity of the writing got lost in the confusion of the voices (some recorded together, and some pre-recorded) and the jumpy narrative that became difficult to follow across the 10 episodes. In each episode, Springleaf is joined by his producer, voiced by Kath Hughes, and different studio guests, whose interjections add great humour and silliness as we are reminded of quite how ridiculous the whole story is. But with this hilarity also comes an overcomplication of the structure, making the storyline feel jarred as the listener struggles to untangle Springleaf’s current shenanigans and those from his wire recordings.

As much as I love Acaster’s work, I can see why it was a challenge for Springleaf to be picked up by radio and TV studios; it almost felt like there was too much going on, especially for a medium that is limited in its ability to be clear. I’m not saying that every audio sitcom should be quite as mundane as The Archers, but there was so much promise for Springleaf, and I feel like it was ultimately its medium that let it down.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the podcast, and I will still proudly proclaim Acaster to be one of my all-time favourite comedians, but I had so much hope for Springleaf, only to feel somewhat dissatisfied and almost thankful when I trudged across the finish line of episode 10.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Acaster’s next projects are, as his recent tour shows (Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 and Hecklers Welcome) have been incredible. What’s more, Acaster has taken on projects outside of the comedy world, which proves his creative prowess as an artist; over the pandemic, he brought together a music collective named Temps, which released their first, and likely only, experimental album PARTY GATOR PURGATORY back in May 2023. In an interview, Acaster confirmed that The Wow Scenario will also be releasing an album in the near future, which is exciting news for those who have heard and loved the many hilarious stories regarding his experience in the band.

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