My Dad Wrote A Porno: Mileage Left in the Saga
His father has always been something of a character, he resumes, but retirement possibly heightened his eccentricity. “He was like, 'You know what? I don't care anymore. I'm just going to go full-on batshit.’ So he started writing erotica in the garden shed.”
Out of this grew the Belinda Blinked book series, which Jamie’s dad wrote under the penname Rocky Flintstone. The novels led to the much-loved podcast My Dad Wrote A Porno, for which Jamie – flanked by his best friends James Cooper and Alice Levine – reads out his father’s work. The podcast has now had over 100 million global downloads. There is also now a live show which has already toured the States, and is currently making its way through the UK, stopping in Oxford on 3 June and concluding with a date at the Royal Albert Hall.
When they started doing the podcast, James explains, they thought they had something good on their hands and that they might attract a small but dedicated audience. They didn’t foresee live dates at the Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House – venues that, as Alice points out, “comedians who have been doing incredible live shows for years don't necessarily get to do”. They also didn’t predict the recent American tour which saw them do more nights in New York than originally planned due to high demand. The tradition of British people being squeamish and prudish about sex plays into the comedy of the podcast, says Alice. “I think that's why Americans like it, because they think of us sat round, drinking tea, dressed in tweed, playing Scrabble, and blushing at every mention [of sex]. And I think they find our voices paired with the subject matter amusing.”
I wonder if life has changed much for Rocky Flintstone, without whom there wouldn’t be a podcast boasting celebrity fans such as Daisy Ridley and Michael Sheen. “He loves the fact he's now best friends with Michael Sheen,” Jamie says of his dad, but apart from that not much has changed for him. “My mum's very good at keeping him in check and not letting him get too big for his boots.” The popularity of My Dad Wrote A Porno and Belinda Blinked is not something Flintstone saw coming either. “We didn't expect the success,” says Jamie, “he certainly never expected anyone to even read his books – let alone be so evangelical that they come dressed up as the characters when we perform around the world. He's shocked and in awe of where this project's gone as well. He's got this new career in his retirement.”
“He’s the ultimate renaissance man,” says Alice.
“And he’s the biggest fan of the podcast,” James says. “He’s responsible for half of the downloads.”
Jamie’s mother has not read the novels and does not listen to the podcast, which her son says is understandable. “She’s really supportive, she always has been supportive,” he says, telling me that there’s never been a point where she’s asked for My Dad Wrote A Porno to not go ahead. “We wouldn't be doing it if anybody in my family felt uncomfortable about it.” When the show had gotten pretty big, and the likes of Elijah Wood appeared on it, Jamie did check that his mother was still happy for it to continue. “She said, 'I have never let your dad tell me how to live my life, I'm not going to tell him how to live his. If he wants to do this, then that's totally fine.’” His mum has been to the live show, Jamie says, and “really enjoyed it. I think she was so proud of the three of us, and my dad, because we built this thing together – I think that's given her a lot of joy.”
Doing the show with his friends is what makes it enjoyable for him. James and Alice “bring so much to the show. It just wouldn't be the same without their wit, their humour, and our friendship. It isn't a show about pornography, it’s a show about friendship.”
How has the podcast transferred to the live stage? James says they didn’t want to just do a live version of the podcast. “We wanted something that you'll never hear on the podcast – a standalone show. There's lots of audience participation,” he says. “We get people up on stage to recreate scenes from the book.” Further, “Alice does a whole presentation about the female reproductive system because, believe it or not, 50% of millennial women don't know where the vagina is.” He says they’ve aimed to create something different to, but as good as, the podcast – “Hopefully that's what we've achieved.”
For those thinking they need to have heard the podcast in order to understand the live show, Jamie says this isn’t the case. They both feed into each other, but “they are very much their own entities”.
Planning for the podcast of the fourth book in the series is underway, and their recent stint in the US saw them have conversations in LA regarding a possible Belinda Blinked film – a concept the threesome used to joke about. It turns out “actual Hollywood types with money” are quite keen on the idea, Jamie says. “There's definitely a lot of mileage left in this crazy saga.”
My Dad Wrote A Porno Live plays at New Theatre Oxford, 3 June