Formats Unpacked: Where There's a Will There's a Wake
How humour and structure ease us into the taboo
The happiest of New Years to you all.
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OK. On with the show…
This week’s format tackles the taboo in a brilliantly funny way. We’ve always been interested in how you talk about difficult subjects at Storythings, playing a very small part in helping Georgie produce this brilliant award-winning podcast. So I was delighted when Beatrice Cooke asked if she could unpack a comedy podcast about death.
Bee is Content Strategy Lead at BBC Sounds where she sets the editorial strategy across music and speech. She focuses on podcasts - using data and creativity to build a world-class audio offer on Sounds. Bee previously unpacked Sleep Stories for us. You can find her on LinkedIn
Over to Bee…
What is it?
Where There's a Will There's a Wake, a new podcast from Somethin’ Else.
What’s the format?
Each week, a new guest describes their 'dream' demise in three parts: their death, their funeral, the will and the wake. Kathy Burke hosts, accompanied by a new comedian each week. It's playful and cheeky. No rules apply; Dawn French wants to be buried in a Perspex coffin, grinning. Joe Lycett wants a bullet to the back of the head after a day's spring cleaning. Despite its silliness, it touches on a poignant thought - what happens when we die, and what we want to be remembered for.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
Laughter is the magic ingredient; irreverent humour puts us at ease as we venture into tricky terrain. One minute Joe Lycett declares that the Queen's coffin was filled with Prince Phillip's old laptops. Next, he talks about farting. There's plenty of effing and blinding. The listeners are referred to as "wonderful twits" and Kathy routinely calls her producer “My Goddess”. Structure is also important. Each episode follows the same rhythm, with an Addam's-family style jingle to signpost each new section. The listener knows what to expect.
Dianne Morgan's episode offers a bit more depth than the others. She talks about staying in relationships for too long for fear of loneliness and how she wishes she told more people to ‘f*** off’ along the way. She also talks about the fear of people not turning up to her funeral – maybe Kathy could’ve probed a bit here? That aside, the breathy giggles are infectious throughout.
Off Menu, The Moon Under Water and Films to be Buried With all use a single theme as a jumping-off point for bigger conversations. Jack Whitehall's Safe Space and My Favourite Murder are similar in tone, finding the funny to lighten the most serious topics. Beyond... sits in a similar space too (see picture below). It isn't a content format but a product - a funeral planning service that uses warm language and imagery to make death seem less scary.
Where There's a Will There's a Wake touches on the uncomfortable. There are windows of vulnerability - when Lycett talks about his late grandparents or when Dianne talks about regret - but it resolves quickly, with a quip. The format is definitely the podcast's saving grace – at times it's a crutch for Kathy, the element that stops this from being 'just another celebrity interview pod'. Whilst it might seem surface-level in parts, the concept is original and breathes life (pun intended) into a much-used format. I’ll keep coming back for more
When we launched Formats Unpacked we wanted each unpacking to have one simple insight for readers. The takeaway here couldn’t be clearer. Laughter puts people at ease with difficult subjects. Just because you’re working on a taboo topic, you shouldn’t be afraid of making people laugh.
That’s all it takes to write a Formats Unpacked. So do you have one simple insight about a favorite format? Would you like to share it with thousands of our subscribers in 2023? If so, get in touch. Our readers would love to read it.
Thanks for reading and we’ll see you all next week.