Back in 2013 when comedian Jarlath Regan, fresh off the boat in England, started An Irishman Abroad, he was part of a particular podcasting vanguard. The pod’s origin story is well documented: the notebook that he left on the plane, the tweet from Regan begging for its return that got amplified by Graham Linehan, which resulted in the notebook’s recovery and also led to his first longform interview with Linehan over Skype. Seldom does a left-behind item lead to an audio empire, but Regan made it happen.
In those early years, with its rudimentary audio, and Regan’s slow-paced interview style and delivery, An Irishman Abroad felt like the antithesis to slickly produced, snappy soundbite-style media. Regan had, as he readily admits, little training at the time; he likens those first episodes to “learning how to swim by throwing yourself into the pool”. But he has an affable presence, and his languid delivery belies a sharp mind and focused attention; he may look like he’s floating blithely across the pool of his own metaphor, but he’s paddling fast and furious beneath the surface.
Over nine years, Regan dropped weekly episodes consisting of hour-long interviews with whichever Irish names he could finagle through contacts and sheer charm. At the start the premise seemed to be that his guests, too, were emigrants, but ultimately Regan expanded that to include anyone identifying as Irish, with Regan owning the “abroad” part. No better man for the pivot. And in those interviews, his gentle questions and empathic approach cracked open even the most recalcitrant of guests (okay, maybe not the most recalcitrant – Dylan Moran appeared to remain largely uncharmed, though he still had plenty to grumpily impart).
Regan rarely puts anyone on the spot. Rather, he gives his guests all the rope they need – whether they skip or tie themselves up is their call. And it’s a winning formula. From Tony Cascarino to Chris O’Dowd to Sharon Horgan to Boy George, sports stars, journalists, actors, comedians, even Terry Wogan, all hold down their end of the conversation while Regan stays largely out of the way. In the first years, with access to some big names just on the cusp of even-biggerness, Regan dropped episodes at a clip, propelling An Irishman Abroad into a rare podcast firmament, with millions of listens and an award from iTunes, no less.
And, like all of us in the media business, Regan looked for ways to monetise, moving his substantial archive and large portions of his recordings behind a Patreon paywall. He also diversified; over the years, his Irishman Abroad audio empire expanded to include a few trial spin-offs that have been since retired – the Selection Box, Inside Basketball, Men Behaving Better etc – and some that have become mainstays for listeners, among them An Irishman in America, where the Business Post’s Marion McKeone distils the American political landscape with an impressive breadth of knowledge and skilful analysis; An Irishman Running with the winning (in every sense of the word) Sonia O’Sullivan; and, most recently, a newly launched parenting podcast called Honey, You’re Ruining Our Kid, where Regan is joined by his wife, Tina, a child behaviour therapist.
As for the original big interview format that garnered Regan an iTunes award and a hape of listeners, episodes now drop once a month instead of once a week, and the host has done a lot of learning about the technology of sound to up the production game.
What’s next for Regan, now an Irishman at home since he moved back earlier this year? A post on Patreon referenced mental health and his sense of overwhelm requiring a rethink. But it’s fair to assume the fella who parlayed a lost notebook into a wildly successful nine-year podcast run, and leveraged that success to experiment with other formats and build a mighty brand, will take us with him. He’s a sound man, after all.