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Podcasting About: A Podcast of Unnecessary Detail

In this series of posts, we’ll be featuring mathematical podcasts from all over the internet, by speaking to the creators of the podcast and asking them about what they do.

We spoke to Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker, the three members of science comedy trio Festival of the Spoken Nerd, about their new podcast, A Podcast of Unnecessary Detail.

Podcast title: A Podcast Of Unnecessary Detail
Links: Apple Podcasts
Average episode length: 40 minutes
Recommended episode: “STICK

A Podcast Of Unnecessary Detail logo

What is your podcast about, and when/why did it start?

HELEN: It’s a podcast where we get to share some of the curious corners of science and maths that we’ve spent hours researching for our books, youtube videos, songs and science comedy shows… that somehow didn’t end up in any of them. They’re often things that don’t seem too promising on the surface, but turn out to be fascinating when you get down to the nitty and/or gritty which makes a podcast chat the perfect place for them.  Basically, “A Podcast Of Unnecessary Detail” gives each of us a space to talk about stuff we find interesting in a level of detail that some might find unnecessary. Not Aperiodical readers, though. Oh no. We reckon this series has just the level of detail that you’re looking for…

Who are you though? 

STEVE: We are Helen Arney, Matt Parker and Steve Mould. We’ve been performing science comedy shows together for almost 10 years under the name “Festival Of The Spoken Nerd”. We started out in a 40 seat venue above a pub, telling nerd jokes to anyone who would listen, and just grew from there. We now have three UK tours under our belt – all available on DVD and download! – but we still do those scrappy pub gigs (in a nicer, bigger venue) for the sheer joy of trying out new ideas. Some of those ideas really lend themselves to an audio format so it’s been great to share them on this podcast.

Festival of the Spoken Nerd |
Festival of the Spoken Nerd (L-R: Matt, Helen, Steve); photo by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ

Who is the intended audience for the podcast? 

MATT: Casual nerds and amateur fact-checkers. This is the sort of audience we get for our live shows: people who want to be entertained but also learn something new. We decide what content goes into the podcast based on things which caught our attention (and became even more interesting the more we researched them) and also whether the other two Nerds find it interesting. That’s our litmus test: if we all like it, our nerdy audience will also enjoy it. One of the great things about doing live shows is that there are always some members of the audience who have something to add or an extra detail to reveal, and we hope that continues with the podcast. So if you listen to an episode and spot anything we missed: do send it in. There can never be too much detail.

What is a typical episode like? How often are they released?

HELEN: We start with a single word and each take it in a different direction, making it a show of three halves. Each of us has a unique take on that starting word and turns it into our own personal topic: STICK ends up with Steve talking nails on a blackboard, Helen talking about how children learn maths, and Matt talking about niche knots. Because they’re so intense to research and record, we’re releasing one series at a time, with 6 episodes in each. Series 1 is out now!  

Why is APOUD different to other mathematical podcasts people might listen to?

MATT: The main difference compared to other maths podcasts is that this one is only ⅓ mathematician. Which means that all the interesting maths which I want to talk about has to go through the filter of two physicists. This doesn’t mean I need to simplify it down to a physicist level: more that I need to put extra work into selling why I think something is mathematically interesting and occasionally justify why something is useful as well as just mathematically beautiful. Another way to put it is that working with Helen and Steve makes me think more critically about how to talk about mathematics and makes me a better maths communicator because of it. Well, that is how they put it.

What are some highlights of the podcast so far?

STEVE: That’s a difficult question… One highlight for me was in the “RINGS” episode, where my topic was roundly debunked by Helen during the recording! I thought my bit was going to be about an interesting aspect of natural history but it turned into a discussion of the nature of scientific knowledge. Also, ring shaped brains. And free bagels! OK so that episode was 100% highlights.

What exciting plans do you have for the future? 

HELEN: Apart from debunking more of Steve’s topics? Well, these are strange times in the year  2020, so we’re not totally sure what the future holds for Festival of the Spoken Nerd live shows… but the podcast is something that we can still pour our creative energies into whether there’s a global pandemic or not. Whatever happens, the future will certainly contain a lot of Unnecessary Detail. 

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