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Podcast spotlight: The Full Catastrophe

The Full Catastrophe is a ‘live therapy session [where] guests tell stories about when life got so bad it got funny’. Recorded live at Sydney theatre Giant Dwarf, the podcast is hosted by researcher and author Rebecca Huntley and broadcaster, author and facilitator Sarah Macdonald. Each episode features writers, comedians, politicians and performers who encourage listeners to ask, ‘Is there a gift or message in this catastrophe?’ Huntley and Macdonald spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘podcast spotlight’ series.

For new or uninitiated listeners, describe your podcast in under 50 words.

Each episode tells a story about when a successful person’s life fell apart so spectacularly that it got funny. Listening may induce feelings of laughter, therapy, a group hug or a vicious thrill that others lives can be as chaotic and messy as your own.

What makes your podcast unique?

It’s confessional and yet compassionate. It acknowledges that while most of us live lucky lives we tend to catastrophise inevitable disasters. It helps us laugh so we don’t cry. Sometimes we cry a bit as well.

When and how did you get started in podcasting?

We were set up together like a blind date for a podcast for Mamamia. We realised we had a lot of fun together and decided to do a live storytelling event—and we thought that it would make a great podcast for people to listen to as they trudged home from a crap day or needed a laugh while cooking a terrible meal.

Where and how is your podcast recorded (and how big is your team)?

The podcast is recorded at our live event at Giant Dwarf Theatre or at a writers festival (we will go wherever we are invited). The stories are edited by various people in the Giant Dwarf team, and Rebecca and I then record the intros and outros at a later date (usually at Rebecca’s kitchen bench). We are so grateful for the people at Giant Dwarf, both for their work at the live event and their support with the podcast.

What kind of listeners does your podcast reach?

People who need to laugh at life and probably should. Probably middle class and middle aged but not middle of the road.

What have been your most popular guests or most memorable episodes?

Probably Annabel Crabb talking about going into labour in London when her husband was too drunk to be told her baby’s head looked like a butt and she had to go into a different hospital for a breach birth she didn’t need.

What recent trends have you noticed in podcasting? (Do you have any predictions for this format in the future?)

Podcasting is exploding so the trend towards highly produced podcasts is veering towards seeing much more homegrown work appear on the market. Sarah has listened to a lot of true-crime podcasts for work, but grew up on Agatha Christie. She thinks that a lack of real-world action following some of the big true-crime podcasts means that people may soon tire of being sucked into a story that has no solution, justice or movement on the case. But let’s wait and see (or hear).

How do you fund your podcast?

We self fund and use the money made from our live shows to keep us going.

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward?

Thanks for making us think about the fact we don’t forward plan. Our book from the podcast and event is coming out next year and will contain some of our best stories and some new ones that will surprise and delight.

What other bookish podcasts (or podcasts for people who love reading, writing and sharing ideas) should we be listening to, Australian or otherwise?

Mothers of Invention: the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins explore climate change and feminist solutions that lead the charge to save the planet. And we should plug Sarah’s show, Nightlife Friday Night, which features a different writer every week on ABC radio and podcast.