Interview With Radio Host and Humorist Neal Mayhem29th November 2013 • No comments
We recently got the opportunity to chat with radio host humourist, and all around nice guy Neal Mayhem. Much to our surprise, Neal talked about how his success happened despite rather than because of social media, and how the ever changing state of media should be seen as an opportunity to encourage creativity. Please read the interview below and follow Neal on your social media sites of choice.
How did your show/podcast, Minutes of Mayhem come to be?
I started in radio on FM back in the early 90s. I had a large amount of success as a morning show host, working on various stations, and I eventually got the attention of a number of high profile broadcasters, who hired me as a freelance writer. Often times, they didn’t even realised they hired me, because they hire agencies to write for them, and so you’re actually writing for someone else, but it is the broadcaster who pays you indirectly. Along the way, I’ve picked up credits with Mark and Brian, Elvis Duran, and Howard Stern. I’ve even played the part of an annoying British caller more than once for most if not all of these.
In an interview you did with Eliza Gale you discussed the significant impact American DJs have had on you. Do you feel you draw from people such as Kenny Everett, Wolfman Jack, Howard Stern, or Rick Dees in your own work, or was their influence more in your overall interest in radio?
I won’t deny that my style is and has always been influenced in general by some of these acts. However, I would have to say none that you mention have actually directly influenced my style. If anyone has, it would be the late, great Neil Rogers, who is my all time radio hero. I urge you to check him out. I even took on his use of sound effects, that he pioneered in the 70s and made it his own. Now everyone uses effects, but none as expertly as Neil. He once did an entire four hour outside broadcast where he just ranted at a listener who complained about a T Shirt.
Obviously the internet and social media have been a huge part of your career and success. Do you feel the global and immediate nature of the internet is good for radio in terms of creating opportunities and access for people who wouldn’t otherwise have it, or do you feel as many musicians and producers feel; people think they can be radio producers and host shows without the training or skill set required to do it properly?
I don’t know that I’d agree with that, to be honest. Social media and the internet have happened DESPITE my success. Truthfully, less than 1% of my audience finds me via social media. I know this, because I’ve seen the stats. My listeners have traditionally followed me under my various pseudonyms, and also iTunes does it’s own sterling job of connecting you with an audience. To be honest, the social media thing with me is a bit of a double-edged sword. I wouldn’t be without it, but its very benefit also serves to be its own downfall in my line of work. I like Twitter and Facebook because they allow you to bridge that gap that never used to be crossed between the talent and the listener. To meet your favourite broadcaster, you used to have to write in and ask for an invite, or hang around outside the building until they finished, or turn up at an appearance. Nowadays, you just send them a tweet, and provided they aren’t a total dick and just ignore you, you’ll get something back out of it. I don’t know, I guess it’s kinda fun for me to get inside the head of a listener who’s spent their time bothering to listen. Also, sometimes you get lucky, and they’ve kinda melted out, and posted a bikini shot or something cool like that.
You’ve hosted shows in every form of radio; internet, satellite, podcast, and the traditional FM radio everyone grew up listening to. Why have you chosen to do your show in a podcast format verses one of the others?
FM radio as a medium is, to me, doomed. I don’t consider that shit that we all listen to, to be radio. It’s noise. It’s corporate. It’s business. It’s bullshit. It’s trying to sell you your own existence, and making you suffer while it does it. I know you guys are big on music, and I guess you won’t be surprised to know that most of the crap that you hear on the radio isn’t it. That’s not music. It’s agenda. It’s motive. It’s means to an end. They’re brainwashing the shit out of our kids, and telling us what to think and feel. They’re crushing our ambitions, and dulling our pain. They want us to lose the will to live by bombarding us with soulless crap from Gaga and One Direction because they know that while we’re buying this empty, infertile dance music for our kids, we’re not having the time to scream about the real issues. Or if we do, we’re too flaky on it to get versed enough to sound credible. This is why Rush Limbaugh is still considered a scrupulous broadcaster. He makes me vomit.
No, sorry, as long as FM radio continues the way it has been, I want no part of it.
In addition to your own show, you write material for others. How do you determine what you use on Minutes of Mayhem and what you give to others? Is it a matter of saving the first or ‘best’ jokes for yourself and giving others offshoot material or do you consciously sit down to write for either yourself or someone else?
Seriously, you’ve read my tweets and site. Does it LOOK like I’m saving the best for myself? Ha! No, seriously, it doesn’t really work like that. My mind is constantly running, man. Constantly. My parents thought I had some kind of sickness because I couldn’t focus at school. I didn’t do well. I’d be in and out of detention because I was more interested in playing pranks, or coming up with topical dumb songs. Back then, I didn’t know they were a primitive form of song parody. If youtube had been around in 1988, I might have done better at school because I could have channeled it, but instead I was just distracted. No, it’s more about who the material suits better. I like to keep some stuff back, because it has milage for me. After all, I can’t see any use that a guy on BBC Radio 2 would have for talking about an anal flannel, you know? That came out of a thought I had about cleaning and stuff, and how my mum must have thought it was weird that there were always marks in my pants, and of course she knew the score, but I didn’t know that. And it spun me off to thinking, what if she found my anal flannel. Some stuff I write for the guys on your side of the pond, I write because it suits that audience better. Moms. And SUV driving. That kind of market. They ain’t looking for anal flannels and boobs.
Your first novel, Mourning DJ, is to be released soon. Can you elaborate a bit on the project? What made you decide to write a book? What made now the right time for you to pursue this project?
The Mourning DJ has been in my head since 2003. I had no business writing a book, but then I read the shit that Stephen Fry was churning out, and I thought, “I could write better than this.” The jury’s still out on that obviously, but I’m hoping it may surprise a few people. That’s if I get it finished. Donna, my editor has the nerves of a surgeon on this. The deal was agreed over a year ago, and it’s had about 15 release dates. It WILL be out soon though, promise. The best way I can describe it, is it’s the textual “8 Mile” set in the media, but 200% more based on fact. The stuff in it DID happen,
As stated, you write for yourself and other people, you’ve got the novel coming out, you have your show, you’re very active in social media via your Twitter and Facebook pages, and you recently gave standup comedy a try. Many musicians feel that the advent of the internet and everyone having such constant access to so much talent, has forced them to evolve beyond music and become entrepreneurs to sustain a living and be well rounded and versatile ‘brands.’ Do you feel the same is true of radio personalities? Have you opened yourself to other projects to stay ahead of the game or do you think you would have pursued these things anyway?
I love what I do. I make money out of what I do. Why wouldn’t I do it. Honestly, I don’t think competition is a bad thing. I relish a challenge, and if anything, if a new podcaster comes along, I will often even promote it if it’s any good. Likewise with new funny people, and or bloggers. I don’t think being kept on your toes is any bad thing to be honest, and if you do, you need to get out of the business, because you’re a hack with no game. The only way a market can be saturated is if it’s full of people doing the same tired bullshit.
You’ve said previously that all topics are fair game as far as making jokes is concerned. You have also said that there is material you won’t write jokes about as they can’t possibly be funny, i.e; rape jokes. Having said all of that, how do you determine what that line is? Do you gauge it by your own morals and beliefs?
Exactly. If it doesn’t feel funny, it’s probably not funny. I have little filter. My moral code is that if you’re in the public eye, you’re fair game. I don’t hold back. Lately, it’s become ‘vogue’ to call people who criticise others online, as cyberbullying. Sorry, but if you get a Twitter, you’re a publisher. And if you’re posting, you’re publishing. That puts you equal to Tom Cruise in my book. There’s some crazy psycho bitch who is still on my case now in the online forum because she thinks I’m mean. She’s taken offence to my “call out” style, and she now sees me as the root of all evil. Well, sorry, but I’m not sorry. I will still call out bullshit, whether it’s from someone famous, or someone not so famous. I don’t do rape jokes, because that’s a personal belief system. I don’t see any scenario where the pain and suffering of a woman whose very soul has been attacked and violated can be funny. Being smart about it, even less so. I don’t even like seeing women joke about it. In other lines of my work, I’ve met and talked to rape victims, and I can tell you that anyone who can find humour in it, should be taken to a crisis centre and made to talk to these people. It’s a no go funny zone. Even cancer has more humour. And I’ve lost people to cancer.
What have some of the implications of your comments been? Have you ever had a celebrity or other individual get in touch with you to reprimand, scold, or thank you for something you’ve said?
The lead singer of Biohazard once threatened to kill me. That’s a long story, but it basically boils down to the fact he didn’t like that I thought his porn star girlfriend was boring. He was trying to sell her off. I wasn’t buying. I have a whole group of campaigners who have formed private Facebook groups whose soul purpose is to ‘educate’ people on what a dick I am. I think it’s hilarious. And it’s great publicity. I think I’m up to 80% of the most notorious one is now following me on Twitter. Also, there are a few individuals on Twitter who have a ring going in DM, trying to get me off there, and again eduacting people on why they shouldn’t follow me. They think I don’t know who they are. But the problem with gossipers is they don’t just go one way. I’ve had a number of people thank me for stuff, which is part of what drives me on to do this but those stories are far too personal to share.
I will say there was one guy whose son was in hospital dying, and he was laughing at something I said on the podcast when he thought his son was asleep. His kid asked what he was listening to, and he told him about my show, and they bonded over it and became regular joint listeners. Cool Dad by the sound of it. The kid died, but they asked me to do something special for them, for the funeral, so I did.
Are there any jokes you’ve regretted with age, hindsight, and/or maturity?
No. I’m blessed with neither of the above. I think I’d have maybe gone even harder on the Amy Winehouse tweets if anything…
You’re not a stranger to saying controversial things about controversial topics and you took a lot of heat for your anti-gun comments after the Newtown school shooting. Your comments were seemingly sincere political statements and opinions. Do you think as a comedy writer your opinions become invalidated by those who disagree with you simply because they expect you to be funny and sarcastic all the time?
I don’t see the two styles of being mutually exclusive. I am a humourist, I guess, but I’m also an opinionist. I don’t think you should ever worry about whether your job means you can’t do stuff outside your normal realm, because what IS a normal realm? I don’t care about validation for my statements. I believe what I want, and I want to be able to live in a world where it’s ok for people to disagree with me.
I find comedians and comedy writers to be among the most well versed in current events, history, religion, and politics because they’re always scouring news and other media for material. Do you think this intelligence and knowledge base gets undermined by the nature of how you deliver it?
I think it’s all in the delivery. I’ve seen some really funny material being recycled by hacks, and it’s actually funnier, because the person who’s stolen it is actually just more charismatic. There’s a ‘comedy’ clique on Twitter which uses an app to apparently rate other Twitter users’ calibre of jokes. It’s flawed, and I won’t go into why, here and now,but needless to say, most of the jokes just fall flat with me, because of the way they’re presented. Essentially like an endless stream of fortune cookie jokes, with no interruption by RTs and replies, because they just don’t want their stream to be interrupted. It’s so robotic. Not my idea of funny. Mix that shit up a little. Authenticity is always a good thing.
The Daily Show is more watched in America than any proper news show, but viewers will only find it funny if they know the ‘real’ news behind the parodies. Because the scope of your followers is so vast and varied geographically, do you ever find that you have to ‘dumb’ it down and operate under the presupposition that people won’t know what you’re referencing or do you say and write whatever you’d like to as a way of thinning the herd and weeding out the uneducated and non-sarcastic amongst your listeners/readers?
I don’t ever dumb down my opinions, thoughts or feelings. If someone doesn’t get the joke, the responsibility lies with them to work out why, not me. I don’t see it as herding out anyone, because whoever finds me entertaining is welcome to join the party. You don’t get DJ’s throwing out guests just because no one’s on the dance floor jigging to his 70s theme.
The number of people who follow you on Twitter and Facebook is well into the thousands and yet, you always seem to be engaging with them. You’re great about replying, retweeting, favoriting, and being actively involved with those who support you. How do you find/make time for that? Do you have a specific social media strategy or do you simply engage when you have a spare moment?
I don’t really make time to be honest. I used to have it running in the background, and would reply when stuff came in, but I just don’t have that kind of availability any more. I run a business outside of the Minutes of Mayhem brand, and it demands a huge chunk of my time. I don’t have ANY strategy because having a strategy is the moment you lose focus of what you’re on there for – to connect. Treat people like you have a strategy, and they’ll react the same way they react to any obvious strategist: wariness and lacking trust. I like the people I talk to. They’re like an extended family. I’m just lucky to have resonated with them, I guess.
You’re very active in, not so much ‘charity work’, but basically just being a decent human being (which many in your position would call ‘charity work’ to boost their public likability). How do you determine when to use your platform to spread the word about a given person or cause?
When it moves me. I guess you’re talking about Alice Pyne and Leah Graham? Yeah, to be honest, in both those cases, something got pushed into my Timeline by a RT. I noted young Leah was from a town near me, and I was totally touched by the fact her friends were trying to make a difference because they loved her. And if you know the kids around these parts, you’d know how rare it is to find teenagers with any such passion. Megan, the girl’s friend, was so mature, and candidly forthright about what she was doing, I could see she deserved some help. I knew they’d never get Rihanna to tweet her, because I suspect Rihanna’s a Grade A bitch, however, I figured there was more chance if someone with my follower count got involved, and helped. Between us all, TEAMWORK got us some pretty sweet awareness for her. I consider that a win. And a valued lesson.
Do you ever hesitate from publicly speaking about an issue because it isn’t part of the format people expect from you or do you feel issues of real importance must trump entertainment from time to time and those who don’t understand that aren’t particularly wanted as fans?
You said it. I don’t conform to people. I conform to me, and if people like me for it, that’s a bonus. That said, no one wants to be disliked for the sake of it. Bullying was a perfect example of that. Some idiot had a go at me because I said you shouldn’t just accept your fate and be bullied. She spent the next week posting shit about me.