Hello, Helen Zaltzman here. For nearly nine years I've been co-hosting and producing the comedy podcast Answer Me This, in which listeners send us questions on a huge range of topics, plus a whole load of TMI about their personal lives. Since January this year, I've also been part of the Radiotopia network with The Allusionist, which is about how and why we use language the way we do. I make the shows mostly alone in my living room in Crystal Palace, London, which is where I am right now.

Radiotopia's currently seeking sustaining members to support the shows so we can carry on making them for as long as possible. If you can chip in, visit radiotopia.fm - as well as the inner glow you'll have from helping independent creators to make shows for people as smart and tasteful as you, there are numerous Radiotopia and show-specific rewards. I went for the challenge coin + tote bag, and am feeling pretty great about it.

If you're here for advice on how to start podcasting, or want to know my technical setup, I already got you. TL;DR: distilled into five bullet points.

I tweet as @helenzaltzman, @allusionistshow and @helenandolly.

I've been in training for this for years, so hurl your questions at me. (But apologies if I'm a little woozy in my responses; I donated blood yesterday and now all I feel like doing is sleeping for a week.)

My Proof: https://www.facebook.com/AllusionistShow/photos/a.1528613560736775.1073741828.1499676110297187/1640047039593426/?type=3&permPage=1

EDIT: Thanks very much for coming! Apologies if I didn't get to your question, but it's not because I don't like you. If anything, I like you TOO much. Remember to support radiotopia.fm if you can, whether with money or your affection. Good night!

Comments: 239 • Responses: 99  • Date: 

dthvdm14 karma

Will Dave from Smethwick ever return?

HelenZaltzman8 karma

I hope so. People are always asking us about him, but we have no means of getting in touch with him; we hear as much from Dave as you do in the show. Actually I'm a bit worried about him, as the last time he called was at least a year ago, and he said he hadn't been well. I hope he's ok.

I can't really imagine what he would be like in real life. Or how he came to be listening to AMT.

fellfromfiction3 karma

I think we all spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about Dave from Smethwick.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

If only he knew.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Maybe he DOES know, and that's why he is so elusive. The mystery is part of the attraction.

fellfromfiction4 karma

There's just nothing about him that sounds like he should be listening to a comedy podcast. Also why is it impossible to even guesstimate his age? I do hope he's OK.

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I agree with all of your points.

parker2292 karma

There is a bit of me, and I feel really awful for thinking this, that wonders if he is a character created by someone to call in. Like Robert Popper's character Robin Cooper, or Alex Lowe's Barry from Watford.

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Olly has wondered that too. But Martin, who is from near Smethwick, says that IS what people are like there.

Jane_Doe331 karma

I'll definitely agree with this. Also, we all call him "Dave from Smethwick" and not "Dave". He should just change his name legally.

HelenZaltzman6 karma

We have no reason not to believe his legal surname is anything other than 'from Smethwick'.

MalignantMouse14 karma

Does Mailchimp pick the word of the day, or do you?

And, to pit you against your fellow hosts, which of the Radiotopia shows do you actually subscribe and listen to (I'm talking every episode here, not just occasionally when you're on a long roadtrip)?

HelenZaltzman23 karma

I pick the word of the day! Mailchimp didn’t even ask for it, but I thought it would be a fun way to thank them for making the show possible.

I subscribe to all of the Radiotopians - I have a special Radiotopia channel in my podcast app! In the past 48 hours I’ve listened to episodes of 99% Invisible, Song Exploder, Strangers, Criminal, The Heart, The Truth, Memory Palace and Mortified. Love + Radio, Radio Diaries and Kitchen Sisters await me for the weekend. I’m already caught up on Theory of Everything. I really do listen to them all, when I’m not stuck listening to my own fucking voice endlessly while editing my shows. SO THERE.

Iamananorak12 karma

What are some books on etymology that you would recommend? I adore your show, by the way!!

HelenZaltzman10 karma

Thanks! I adore that you are a sentient anorak with an internet connection.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m actually badly read about etymology. But one book which I had at university and I still use as reference is A History of the English Language by Albert Baugh and Thomas Cable. It’s not the most exciting to read, but it has all the basics very clearly explained. My Desert Island Discs book of choice would be the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology, ed. C.T. Onions.

Kate Wiles, who was on the Space Between and Mixed Emojions episodes, will probably have some better suggestions for linguistics books. She's @katemond on Twitter if you want to ask.

jonpurkis3 karma

The Etymologicon is an interesting book.

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Thanks! I should get it.

HelenZaltzman2 karma

A lot of people have told me the Bill Bryson language book (books?) is great, too.

doctorBenton2 karma

It really is. (It's called Mother Tongue.) It's Bryson, so it's not super academically rigorous, but it's a great read.

Also, without being too gushy, I get so much enjoyment from your podcasts. The Allusionist is the podcast that almost always gets listened to first.

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Aw, thanks! That's lovely to hear.

doctorBenton2 karma

But not as lovely as the The Allusionist intro. Or "I'VE GOT TOO MUCH MONEY! I'VE GOT TOO MUCH MONEY!" (You're singing along now, aren't you?)

HelenZaltzman1 karma

I'm only human.

doctorBenton2 karma

How do you look in yellow?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Probably less good than I think I do.

notconfusing7 karma

Helen, Your podcasts brim with energy, and I sometimes use them to cheer me up. But how about depression in your life? How often do you feel low, and what about?

HelenZaltzman9 karma

Thanks, that's pleasing to hear. My persona on the shows isn't artificial, but I do try not to let my mood affect it. If I'm depressed or angry or even just bored, the listener doesn't need to know about it. People aren't listening to make themselves feel worse. I do want to cheer people up, even if I can't cheer myself up at that time.

thebichedder6 karma

Hi Helen.

My question is about the lady in the AMT jingle who wants to look, sound and be like Olly Mann. Has she achieved her goal? Are there now two Olly Mann's out there??

I have to know!

HelenZaltzman14 karma

Look out your window. Olly Mann is the costume of choice for Halloween 2015. It's a hot look.

thebichedder3 karma

That's my last minute Halloween costume sorted.

HelenZaltzman9 karma

Prepare to get a LOT of action that night.

scoi0076 karma

Do you prefer doing a podcast with multiple people like AMT or the solo Allusionist?

How many hours in a fortnight do you devote to each podcast (dreams, prep, research, recording, editing, all of it together)?

HelenZaltzman10 karma

I like the variety of doing both. It's certainly a lot easier for me to have conversations than talk on my own; and having someone to bounce ideas off is invaluable. With the Allusionist, I have to do everything and make all the decisions myself, which is daunting. But on the plus side, it allows me to be a total control freak. What a dream come true!

AMT is a solid three days' work; Allusionist is longer. At the moment, I'm working 12-16 hours a day, at least six days a week. LIVING THE DREAM. But that's because I've amped up the schedule for the Radiotopia fundraiser, and because I hate myself, apparently.

LemmiwinksRex5 karma

How have you found answering questions about answering questions?

I have a question about asking questions: do you tend to have decent backlog of questions from AMT listeners, or are there occasions you're struggling for content for the next episode? I notice you don't feature many phone in questions these days. Should loyal listeners like myself be encouraged to send more in?

Thanks for both AMT and The Allusionist.

Oh and can you tell Andy Reddit says "where the hell's our fucking Bugle!?"

HelenZaltzman8 karma

Lemmiwinks! I'm relieved you made it through all that danger to be here. 1. I've enjoyed it. It's quite meta. And very self-indulgent. 2. We do always have a backlog, especially since we went fortnightly, but the proportion of phonecalls has always been smaller than email. The proportion of GOOD phonecalls has always been even smaller than that, because callers are often drunk/bored/standing in a high wind/unintelligible. So please do call! 3. Thank YOU for listening. 4. I'll pass it on, but the immediate answer would be something like "Ask Johnny Showbiz."

lefthanddiodes5 karma

What would cause you to end AMT?

HelenZaltzman9 karma

Apocalypse. Answering all the questions the world could concoct. Olly saying something so annoying, I stab him to death, or vice versa.

oldangelmidnight5 karma

Is Olly's baby going to ruin everything?

HelenZaltzman9 karma

In a Damien from The Omen way? YES. Be afraid.

BlueC0NVERSE4 karma

What are your best moments of the show you done so far?

HelenZaltzman8 karma

Hey, nice shoes.

My favourite AMT moment was probably the 200th episode, where we got our families to come onto the show and answer the listeners’ questions. They were really funny, and pretty fucking weird. Getting to do the AMT book in 2010 was a high, too, especially the live readings, because we’re not often in the same room as the listeners, so they and we were excited to all be in one place together. One man in Edinburgh made us a brownie and sat on us; a guy in Manchester made us jam. I haven’t actually opened the jam yet, so I don’t know whether it was poisoned or full of his pubes or such. Better to remember it as a sweet gesture than sabotage.

My favourite Allusionist moment might be when the listeners shared their feelings about their step-families in the Step Away episode. It’s rare for the show to touch on emotions like that, and I almost cried listening to them.

C-o-f-f-e-e4 karma

What's your general work flow of making your podcasts in a week? Also did answer me this get super popular fast, or was it a slower growing fan base?

HelenZaltzman11 karma

My work flow is an absolute mess! Because AMT has been going for so long, I have some routine and I know it'll take three days per episode, although those three days might be broken up over more than three days. The Allusionist is still much more unpredictable.

We started AMT in 2007, when the podcast audience in general was MUCH smaller. The first iPhone wasn't even available yet - when iPhones and iPads came out, suddenly the audience got a lot bigger, and older, because it wasn't so difficult to obtain podcasts. And of course in the last year or so, there's been loads more attention paid to the medium. But back to those gentle days of 2007. For that first year, building the audience was a part-time job in itself; we were very active about it. Olly would write to journalists; and because Twitter was barely a thing and Facebook was still pretty new to most users, I would go on MySpace - MySpace! - for a couple of hours a week to prowl for teenagers. I know, it sounds bad. But some of them still listen, and are now adults, so it's TOTALLY FINE.

After a year of doing the show, we went on a ridiculous publicity-rousing trip to Luxembourg, as a result of which we had itunes promo, and the audience exploded. It's carried on rising ever since.

chilejon3 karma

Within an average week how many questions are posed to you in all the various ways? Do you both read them all and pick a few favourites, or is that the job of just one of you?

HelenZaltzman6 karma

We go through them together - Olly and I have different taste in questions, so alone one of us might overlook something that could be really good in the show. It's hard to get an exact count because sometimes people ask numerous questions in one email or call, or send a massive email that takes ages to read that might have one question in it (or just be a stream of consciousness, which I hope is therapeutic for the sender, even if it isn't for me reading it). Probably we're sifting through at least a couple of hundred a time. It takes hours! People often assume we have a team to do that for us. Hahahaha.

The team, of course, is hard at work ironing our underwear.

Damn_Amazon3 karma

How did you get into podcasting? If you were talking to someone with ideas and enthusiasm but no experience who wanted to start a podcast, what would you tell them?

LOVE your accent, by the way, where are you originally from?

HelenZaltzman6 karma

Hello! Thanks. I'm from a town called Tunbridge Wells in south-east England. It is notorious for being full of people who write in to newspapers to express disgust.

At the top of the page, I've linked to some stuff I've written about podcasting; take a look. Don't worry, I had no experience either; luckily for you, you can do a hell of a lot with ideas and enthusiasm. This will sound banal, but the most important thing is starting. The ideas are useless if you never do anything with them. Don't overprepare; just get on with it. You'll figure it out while you go. I still am.

Damn_Amazon1 karma

Goodness me, don't know how I missed that in your original post! Reading along and finding your guide terribly helpful.

I see you come by your desire to produce content honestly - the disgusted newspaper-letter writers of Tunbridge Wells must be quite proud. Keep it up!

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Tunbridge Wells does not show pride.

FlandersClaret3 karma

How long does it take to make an Allusionist? How does this compare to AMT? When is Andy going to be in the Allusions and is he doing more Bugle?

HelenZaltzman4 karma

Andy was in the very first episode of the Allusionist! http://theallusionist.org/puns

Sinekure3 karma

Hi Helen! Biweekly (bimonthly?????) fan of your show, primarily due to Radiotopia. How did you come about joining such a badass collective?

Also, I haven't been listening for more than a year, so I don't know many of your opinions of the more controversial points of grammar. Are you an Oxford comma enthusiast or a heretic?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

Thanks! Biweekly/bimonthly are really problematic terms, aren’t they? ‘Fortnight’ needs to enter international English currency.

My Radiotopianism is all thanks to Roman Mars. He’s a long-term Answer Me This enthusiast, so I knew he was interested in me doing something for Radiotopia. He came to stay for a week last summer, so while he was jetlagged and vulnerable, I pitched him the idea that was to become the Allusionist. Roman doesn’t seem to like compliments or gratitude very much, but as he can’t do anything about it here, I’ll just say THANK YOU SO MUCH ROMAN, I CAN NEVER REPAY YOU AND THIS IS THE BEST JOB OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. Even better than when I was sent on holiday for work! I don’t know what I’d be doing now if the Allusionist hadn’t happened, but it really feels like the job I’d wanted all my life.

I think it’s foolish to have an unequivocal stance about the Oxford comma. Be judicious and sparing with punctuation generally, but be open to the prospect that sometimes clarity demands an Oxford comma.

aerofiend50003 karma

Hi Helen!

I'm working my way through the Answer Me This backlog, currently on episode 240 and loving it along with the Allusionist. I actually found out about Answer Me This through the Allusionist.

In one of the earlier episodes of the Allusionist you claimed that you abhorred puns but after listening to 100+ episodes of Answer Me This you seem to be the instigator of 99% of the puns in the show.

So Helen, answer me this,

Do you truly hate puns and the show is unfairly edited to highlight your rare pun slip up or are you secretly in love with them?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

I hate puns, but remember I am genetically predisposed towards them. So truly I hate myself.

bethanyp19943 karma

Is it ever weird to do a podcast will your husband? And if that is too personal/ naval gazing for you to answer, then will you and Olly ever make anymore video content? I really enjoyed your Visit Britain videos!

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Thanks Bethany - they were SO much fun to do. I don't think they quite did the job for Visit Britain of increasing inbound tourism, but if Visit Britain want to spend more public money on sending me and Olly on holiday, I am more than happy to take it.

I think I would find it really weird to make a podcast with Martin if we were co-presenting. He would come to hate me quite quickly.

umenohana3 karma

Helen, I'm a big fan of your podcast! I just adore your sense of humor and way of speaking. Did you or Roman take voice lessons to achieve radio-tier voices, or is that a thing of the past? Do you ever hang out at /r/etymology?

HelenZaltzman11 karma

thanks so much! I've never had voice lessons; I just grew up in a quite posh town. Roman was engineered by the US government to have a voice that compels people to do whatever he says.

thebichedder3 karma

How many musical instruments does Martin the Sound Man own?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

Twelve guitars and basses. Two keyboards. A snare drum. Various small percussion things. We have four ukuleles and a glockenspiel.

thebichedder16 karma

That sounds like a very impressive guitarsenal.

HelenZaltzman12 karma

A+ for the portmanteau.

trufelman3 karma

what would be the motto on your coat of arms?

HelenZaltzman8 karma

No words; just a hand flipping the bird.

trufelman3 karma

"Futue te ipsum"

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Let's workshop this.

HrishiHirway3 karma

How long did it take you to come up with the idea of making a show about language? After that, how long did it take you to come up with the name? If there were other names you were considering for the show, what were they?!

HelenZaltzman4 karma

  1. A nanosecond, and a lifetime.
  2. I came up with The Allusionist after about a month of chucking around names with Roman. The difficulty was finding something that was both sufficiently arty for his taste, and not so serious that I laughed at myself saying it. It was quite frustrating, and I remember sitting in the back of a workshop about podcasting Benjamen Walker was running; Joe Richman from Radio Diaries was speaking, and I bloody well missed all the wisdom he was imparting because I was fucking around with my thesaurus, but that's the moment I came up with The Allusionist. And then everyone worried about it being mistaken for The Illusionist, so we spent several more weeks bandying around dozens more options. I don't regret sticking with The Illusionist.

HrishiHirway3 karma

I would love the list of rejects.

HelenZaltzman6 karma

If you show me the emails you've sent to bands you're rejecting.

HrishiHirway3 karma

I've heard or possibly made up rumors that the name "The Allusionist" is actually a coded message that stands for: "all you Zionist." Or, equally inflammatory but in the opposite direction and just as grammatically incorrect: "all us Zionist." CARE TO COMMENT?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

I heard Song Exploder is a coded plot to blow up the national anthem of the United States of America.

CPNZ1 karma

Is a great name - we always wait for your new episodes and listen to them right away.

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Thanks very much! I like the name a lot. Only downside is it doesn't make for a tidy acronym like AMT.

HrishiHirway1 karma

You could refer to it by its initials unless you have a problem with T&A?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Too many people would confuse it for the Territorial Army.

squeegee_merchant2 karma

I'm a big fan of AMT! What's your favourite and/or memorable AMT question? Which was the most fun to answer? Are you going to hit the big ten years of AMT?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Thanks Squeegee! Olly and I both tend to forget everything that happens on AMT as soon as it's out; otherwise there would be thousands of questions sloshing around in there. I love the glimpse into people's personal lives, though, like Cupcake Lady and the young woman who needed to tell her family she writes erotic literature.

I'd like to make the 10! It feels a bit ridiculous that that's actually a possibility at this point...

scoi0072 karma

How much podcasting do you need to do before you can support yourself as a podcaster? Do you have to get lucky and noticed by Roman Mars? Do you need an investor at the very start?

If I threw it all away tomorrow and locked myself in my den and recorded audio for the next year, how much money would I need tucked away and how much could I hope to raise to still feed my family?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

  1. If you get into podcasting for the money, you're an idiot.
  2. I had to do eight years, but the medium has advanced a lot, so it could happen more quickly now. Some people can make it work within months of starting; others will never make money. Think of how to make a really great show first, then hopefully money will follow.
  3. I think it was Jesse Thorn who first told Roman to listen to AMT, so really you have to get lucky and be noticed by Jesse Thorn.
  4. Such a situation would be rare. Over the years, Olly and I pitched various different podcasts to companies, so we would have made a branded product for them in our style in return for their cash. None of them worked out long term, but I think now, interest in podcasts is such that brands are a lot more keen to be attached to them. So if you were thinking of making a podcast about, say, feet, you could pitch it to a company that made socks or verucca ointment or something and get them to finance it.
  5. I don't know how much your family eats, so cannot accurately calculate this for you. But Roman started 99pi when his twins were little, and had fuck-all money for the first couple of years until his first Kickstarter.

lefthanddiodes2 karma

What do you think podcasting does that other mediums can't? How does it differ from radio? If you were ever offered an AMT radio show or tv show, would you do it?

Thanks! Really enjoy both AMT and the Allusionist, long may they continue!

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Hello! I wouldn't shit all over radio or TV offers if they came my way, but I'm not pursuing them; I really feel like podcasting is the ideal medium for me. It's cheap and you can do a lot with not much money or resources; you can do what you want without the restrictions there are in radio; I don't have to wait to be commissioned; and there aren't other people interfering or diluting the shows. If they don't work, I'd rather it be because I'd failed to make them work than them suffering from death by committee, or them being shoved through the same process for making all other shows so they don't sound original or fresh.

On podcasts, you can hear different voices/formats/tones/length that can't be (or just aren't) on radio. A podcast doesn't have to fit a half hour broadcast slot, or be compatible with the shows before and after it. You don't have to convince a commissioner or programmer to give you permission to do a show.

TL;DR: radio didn't give me a job, and now, thanks to podcasting, I don't need it to.

Muscogulus2 karma

Thou hast briefly discussed how "you" formerly was the second-person plural or formal pronoun in English. How about an Allusionist episode devoted to thou, thee, you — and y'all?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

That was actually my plan for the Baby Talk episode, but at late notice it turned into something completely different. Happens sometimes!

Muscogulus2 karma

It was a good decision. Never dreamed I would get to hear a podcast geek out about language acquisition. Dream come true.

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I didn't know what I wanted till it was right there in front of me...

dthvdm2 karma

Hey Helen! Do you think AMT would work as a TV format? And, more importantly, would you want to do it?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I think it would, and over the years we did have a few meetings about that, but nothing serious. But I'm much happier just working in audio, to be honest. Also, once you're used to making a show yourself, it's hard to stomach entering into a much more cumbersome process involving dozens of people and years of bollocks before you can even get to making the show. I love that I can have an idea and make it happen and get it out to the audience myself, all within a few days.

That said, for the right amount of cash...

dthvdm1 karma

I suppose one of the key elements is the audience participation and that could be lost on TV with a bigger audience

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Yeah. Interacting with listeners is really one of my favourite aspects of podcasting.

Stompn_Tom2 karma

Helen, Answer Me This?

What is your favourite swear word or phrase used as an insult?

HelenZaltzman11 karma

My lovely friend Amy sometimes indignantly says, “Fuck you, clown!” I wouldn’t usually like someone saying, “Fuck you, clown!” to me, but I find it very endearing when Amy says it.

Try using it in an email today! (Don’t.)

Stompn_Tom2 karma

I say that to every clown I meet. #coulrophobe

HelenZaltzman3 karma

They deserve it.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Except for my friend Carla. She has been a clown since childhood, as both her parents are also clowns. I'm not afraid of her. But she's very different to evil clowns like IT.

E_Briannica2 karma

Do you have any plans to visit the Oakland 99pi studios? I'd love to hear you speak in the Bay Area.

HelenZaltzman5 karma

I'm always trying to think of reasons to sneak back to the USA, particularly the West Coast. I'll hopefully be out in the Bay Area next Easter, and I might glue myself to the wall at 99pi so I never have to leave.

fellfromfiction2 karma

What's your favourite AMT jingle? My favourite is easily "Five Star Hotel". And which is the opening couplet that you've enjoyed most?

HelenZaltzman7 karma

I love 'Five Star Hotel' too! But the 'I Wanna Look Like Olly Mann' one might pip it. It's supposed to be a La Roux parody, btw. Martin was into La Roux when he composed it. I also love his Pixies version of the email jingle. Some of our Audible jingles were quite haunting, for Audible jingles.

My favourite opening couplet? I can't even remember the first half of it, just the second line: "Why are stools called stools, as in bowel movement stools?"

Muscogulus1 karma

Sounds like an Allusionist question. My initials aren't OED, but I suspect it's a euphemism from an early modern word for a chamber pot, possibly an elite model. Look up the Stuart-era court office called "Groom of the Stool."

HelenZaltzman1 karma

I think we did do it in AMT. It was quite straightforward.

fellfromfiction1 karma

Haha, I don't know if I've heard that one? My friend and I the other day were both saying we admire the one about The Artist.

Another question if I may: anymore celebrity guests lined up in the near future?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Oh yes! I love The Artist joke. Especially as it saved us from thinking up a couplet.

HelenZaltzman1 karma

No current plans for celebs, but we're certainly not opposed to it; just haven't organised anything. Who would you want?

fellfromfiction1 karma

I don't think I have anyone particularly in mind. I'd imagine someone like Victoria Coren Mitchell would be quite good. Or Sandi Toksvig, before QI takes up her time too much! Even just your families again would be excellent! Or speaking of QI, get one of the "No Such Thing As A Fish" guys over, since you've already guested on that, surely a swap is due!

HelenZaltzman1 karma

The trouble with the NSTAAF crew is they're so much more intelligent than us, we'd probably have to sack ourselves from our own show.

fellfromfiction1 karma

Oh sure, they know brainy stuff, but can any of them give good advice?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

I don't want to risk it. They're so nice and funny and good-looking, too. Ugh.

thebichedder1 karma

Robin Ince?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I'll brace myself for the torrent of RAGE.

ReaverXai1 karma

I'm very partial to

Helen and Olly Answer Me This
I don’t want you to dance or kiss
But reveal your theories, and take off your muzzle
ponder my queries and solve this puzzle
Swell, good golly you crazy kids
Ho Helen and Olly Answer me this..

Also, I still can't hear the opening as anything but

Helen and Olly fondle my tits

Thanks for many great years!

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Another Gavin Osborn classic, the crazy kids one.

We had 'Helen and Olly, fondle my tits' badges, but I've just looked up the badge company to get the link, and they seem to have disappeared. YOU OWE US £10, BADGE COMPANY.

Jane_Doe332 karma

At least one of your family members is very fond of sports. If you had to pick a sport, to participate in, which sport would you pick and why that one?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

Minigolf. I love it, and I've no idea why. I even love it when it's a boring course with no tiny windmills or water features or whatnot. I'm not even very good at it because I lack spatial awareness, and I still love it.

I wouldn't want anybody else to see me do it, but I'd also like to have a go diving off high boards.

A_Thin_White_Duke2 karma

Howdy! I've recently re-found ATM after a long time away (being a teacher & having unruly children gets in the way of EVERYTHING) and re-finding how wonderful it is, as well as the newly discovered Allusionist!

My question is have you ever encountered a question that either yourself or Olly have flat-out refused to answer, for one reason or another?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

Thanks, Duke! We have refused SO MANY questions. We answer maybe 5% of what we're sent. Actually, lots of good questions fall by the wayside, because they get forgotten, or because they are a good question with a less good answer (either because of Facts, or what we come up with). Let's focus on the fallen good, eh?

codpiecesalad2 karma

I listen to you every single day, replaying episode so much that i can tell what I was doing, where I was, the last time I heard an episode. Have you ever had a remarkable encounter with a fan?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Gosh! That's flattering, though I hope you don't get sick of my company. Podcast fans in my experience tend to be very civilised and delightful to meet. This is fortunate, because a very enthusiastic AMT fan lives in my street and works in my local cheese shop, so I see him quite a lot. One great fan encounter, for me, was getting an email from a listener called Eley about her PhD, which a week later turned into the Mountweazel episode.

edent2 karma

I'm loving the way Radiotopia is promoting boutique podcasting - but I'm a little disappointed by the lack of non-American voices on it.

Why do you think there are so few UK-based podcast collectives?

(Or are there loads and I'm just being a bit thick?)

HelenZaltzman6 karma

I'm delighted Radiotopia exists too - even before I was part of it. And I’m disappointed too that there aren’t more British podcasts that are distinctive, and aren’t comedians or shows that went uncommissioned by Radio 4. Not meaning to shade comedians and Radio 4; but I’ve often wondered where are the other people like me here.

I think part of the reason Britain is behind is because we do have a lot of radio and much of it is pretty good, and producers can still make a living from working in radio. In the USA, however, listeners and producers both needed podcasting more. Good people making podcasts --> more people listening to podcasts --> more inducement for more people to make good podcasts, etc etc. The medium has taken/is taking a lot longer to be validated here, which also means there aren't many UK companies who'll advertise on podcasts, so it's not really a financially viable option yet. I think if it became one, there would be more UK-based collectives, and hopefully more Brits approaching the medium with serious intent.

Not to say there AREN'T great British podcasters; there are. But I think there can be a lot more.

cterminel2 karma

Hey Helen! I love your show; thanks for adding to the rich diversity of topics in Radiotopia's repertoire!

Podcasting has blown up in the last year or so, and it's been a pretty interesting thing to see it become a part of the pseudo-mainstream. Are there any expressions that people are using to describe it that really irk you or that you feel totally misrepresent podcasting as an art form or culture?

HelenZaltzman8 karma

Thanks so much! Now beware, you just gave me permission to rant.

For the first eight years I was podcasting, there was hardly any discussion of it. Then this year, there have been loads of articles, and nearly all of them are shit - and if they didn't mention Serial, I'd assume a lot of them were written years ago, because they're still: "There's this thing called PODCASTING and it happens on the INTERNET which is an AMAZING TOOL FOR COMMUNICATION etc etc." Plus the oft-repeated 'podcasting renaissance' - podcasting hadn't gone away; the audience and awareness of the medium have both been rising very steadily the whole time, particularly since smartphones and ipads became widespread. It's a renaissance in journalists' interest, not the medium.

My other gripe is a lot of the discourse treats podcasting as just another distribution platform for American public radio. Which it is - but that's not the whole story at all. The interesting story, as I see it, is that it's a medium which allows for all sorts of different people to make all sorts of different radio, like or unlike radio. I love that there can be a huge success story like Night Vale, which blew up because of the fans, and has nothing to do with radio.


This year I have been really delighted to see people critiquing podcasts with the same interest and depth as they would have films, books etc. I subscribe to at least a dozen tinyletters that are really well written examinations of podcasts, focussing on the content, and I read everything on http://thetimbre.com.

cterminel1 karma

I'm so glad we're on the same page. You may or may not have just legitimized my opinions on podcasting. And thanks for that link! It helps to have a community that's actively critiquing and exposing new/low-key shows.


HelenZaltzman3 karma


Lu-Tze2 karma

Weird. Just finished listening to an episode of The Allutionist and came across this.

I guess this is too late but I have a question and a request.


With you and Andy being such awesome podcasters, is Rick considered the black sheep of the family?


The Bugle has become very infrequent as John Oliver got busy.
I hope AMT doesn't do that as you and Olly get busier. I know you guys doubled the time when you made it less frequent. But does that mean eventually it will be a day-long episode produced once-a-year? Please don't do that. Pretty please.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Hello! Rick is the black sheep because he's the only member of the family with a Real Job. It's a shame he hasn't done a podcast (YET), because he would be brilliant, as his appearance in AMT200 proves. John Oliver used to say Rick was the funniest person he'd ever met, though that was before he met Stephen Colbert and Will Ferrell.

Lu-Tze1 karma

That was a pleasant surprise - thought I was too late. Thanks for the reply and for the many hours of entertainment you have provided over the years.

HelenZaltzman1 karma

You're too kind! Happy to provide replies and hours. Thanks for checking in.

justzac1 karma

If you could change the format of Answer Me This, what would you change? Alternatively, what were some experiments from past episodes that you really loved?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I'd make it like this Reddit AMA. In fact, in all future episodes I'll just read out this Reddit AMA. Olly and Martin can play all of you, putting on different voices.

I LOVED having our familes on the 200th, and also farming out the questions for the 300th; that was really fun to put together. (In retrospect. I think at the time, it was several weeks of edit pain.) Recording AMT189 in a field at Green Man festival was good, too, until Olly got stung by a wasp twice.

Macrologia1 karma

I love Answer Me This! and have been listening since Episode 40!

When are you going to be back on the News Quiz?

Also, is there any chance that you could get that guy who lived near the old place you recorded the podcasts to do more Song of the Years in the Best Of episodes? They were amazing.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Wow! Thanks so much for your persistence.

  1. Any time the News Quiz asks! (Let's hope they're reading this.)

  2. They really were amazing. Gavin Osborn is terrific. It was very rude of him to move to the other side of England rather than stay here churning out annual AMT delights, but at least you can hear his Proper Music and go to his gigs: https://twitter.com/gavin_osborn

lordwan1 karma

People always ask what you want to get rid of in the English, but what would you like to import into English? Would it be something like genders, cases or formal/informal pronouns?

HelenZaltzman6 karma

I'd hate it if English had gendered words again; I think those are really problematic in other languages. I would really like there to be proper options for gender-neutral pronouns, though. I'm planning a show about them.

LucasForch1 karma

Hi Helen. Thanks for your lovely podcast. Could you recommend any books on linguistics for a layperson like me just getting into the subject?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Hello! Thank you for your lovely words. I answered this somewhere else but was a bit uninformative, for which I apologise.

Scary_1 karma

Helen, answer me this... why is there an echo on Martins voice?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

I've answered this somewhere else in the thread. Have a burrow around.

Scary_1 karma

Bugger, I wasted my question!

HelenZaltzman1 karma

You're allowed another!

darthbogart1 karma

Damn, late to the party again! I've heard before that your father has sculpted a bust of one of his sons. 1. Is it Andy, and 2. Is there photographic evidence?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

He did! He sculpted Andy in plaster when he was quite little - maybe 5 years old? - trying to guess what he would look like when he was grown up. It came out fairly accurate except for the hair. He had tried doing our eldest brother Rick previously, but he wouldn't keep still or look sculptural or something. He has never shown any interest in sculpting me, THANKS DAD. I don't have a photo handy because my parents' dining room is so fucking dark all the time, the sculpture just looks like a white blur when I try to photograph it. But imagine Andy's face in the style of Kryten's in Red Dwarf.

clarkanoid1 karma

Hello Helen!

I am cooking you an imaginary egg.

How would you like it cooked?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Thanks! I'd like it fried, so it's crispy on the bottom but the yolk is still runny. I do this by holding the yolk back in the shell while the white cooks for 30 seconds, then I plop the yolk on top and spoon hot oil over it until it is cooked enough. #eggchat

clarkanoid1 karma

A great tip that and one I'll be trying in real life!

Sadly I don't have an imaginary frying pan, will boiled do?

HelenZaltzman1 karma


thebichedder1 karma

What are your favourite podcasts that you are not associated with?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

All of the Topes, and this was true even before I was part of it! Even before there WAS Radiotopia. So those are your first port of call. I subscribe to a lot of podcasts, so these are just a few of the ones I like: Reply All, Bullseye, Pitch, Longest Shortest Time, Dinner Party Download, Unfictional, The Sporkful, BBC World Service's Witness and Outlook, One Bad Mother, Fresh Air, WTF, Betty in the Sky With A Suitcase, Adam Buxton, Gastropod, Storycorps, Detective, Why Oh Why...

New to me in the past few weeks, so on heavy rotation at the moment, are What's The Point, Switched On Pop and Gilmore Guys.

One of my favourite podcasters in the UK is Dave Pickering, who makes Getting Better Acquainted, among others. The episodes he makes about himself and his parents are my favourites, because I could never be that candid and that emotionally self-examining.

FlyLikeAMouse1 karma

Hello nice lady who lives inside my iPhone! I recently introduced my mum to the joys of podcasting by using The Allusionist as a gateway drug (although I did suggest she skip episode 4). She now won't shut up about the "wonderful eloquent woman", so well done you! Whilst my mother was a relatively willing convert, I realise that the vast majority of the older generation are less open to the world of podcasting. Do you see there being a catalyst that will take podcasting truly mainstream, or do we just have to move on and leave the digital immigrants behind?

HelenZaltzman9 karma

Hello, computer-dwelling mouselike-flyer! That's very nice to hear. My mum has started listening to the Allusionist too. (She may also have skipped episode 4, even though it has Jane Garvey in it and who doesn't want to hear from Jane Garvey?) For her, the catalyst wasn't even me or my brother making shows; it was getting a tablet, so suddenly it became a lot easier for her to obtain podcasts. She likes sitting in bed to listen.

We have 80-year-olds listening to AMT, which I'm very happy about. The easier it becomes just to get podcasts, the more mainstream they will become, and more accessible to the tech-innocent. It's still a bit too much of a pain to obtain them, but getting better all the time. I'll be interested to see if Google nails it.

ezzypezzy1 karma

Big, big fan and so happy to see you here. I've got a simple question for you and sorry if it's already been asked but what's your all time favourite podcast?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

You're so kind, EP. Thanks for coming along! Don't make me choose a favourite, it hurts so much... But 99% Invisible might be the best podcast there is.

Marcomunco1 karma

Do your adventures in podcasting earn you enough money to live on?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

They do now, as of this year! All thanks to Radiotopia. I couldn't afford to make the Allusionist otherwise, as it takes all of my time that isn't taken up by AMT, which can't fund my decadent lifestyle on its own.

scoi0071 karma

How was the chicken kiev? Was it homemade or store-bought?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Victoria Station M&S. My husband picked it up on his way home from work. There were also potato waffles from the freezer. All chicken kievs are good, though some are better than others. This was a mid-scale kiev.

firekillerfloran1 karma


I haven't actually watched your podcast, but it seems incredibly interesting.

My question is (sorry if this has been covered in anything you've done) have you ever studied a language like Japanese and compared it to English? In terms of how languages are formed, I believe it is interesting to compare how things turned out, especially grammar-wise.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

You'll be very disappointed if you watched my podcast. It's audio only.

Kerwinkle1 karma

Fan and subscriber of the Allusionist. What is the most strange common use word you've looked at? Something that we use regularly but the origin takes you to weird places you never imagined?

HelenZaltzman3 karma

'Step-' was like that! I really thought it would be obvious, because it seemed to imply that the person was a step away from the biological family. To discover the origin was actually grief and bereavement was so unexpected to me, I had to investigate it further.

yiyiyiyi1 karma

What do you think about the monetisation of podcasts? How come they've managed to stay free for so long? Would you consider a Patreon for your podcasts?

I've been listening to AMT for longer than I can remember, so thanks for all the shows!

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Happy to provide; thanks for listening!

I love being able to give people something to listen to for free. I think that's a wonderful thing about the medium, and I would have loved to have had that when I was a teenager, when eg a CD album was £15 so I could buy maybe four a year.

But to make something good costs - not so much in equipment or such, but in people's time. I couldn't afford to make The Allusionist until Radiotopia made it possible for my time to be remunerated, because I was already making AMT. When we were making AMT weekly, and it wasn't making any money, and I was spending three days a week on it, in the time left over it was very hard to find and do enough freelance work in order to live. In retrospect, I'm not sure how I managed it for so long. But I'm glad I did. However it's certainly a lot easier now I'm paid.

It's going to be very interesting to see how the economics of podcasting pan out over the next few years. I sense there'll be a big chasm between some companies replicating the commercial radio model - ie creating content just to sell ads, rather than making good content which then happens to be highly desirable to advertisers - and groups like Radiotopia who are hoping the listeners can help support the enterprise because they agree with the ideology and they love the results.

naxxfish1 karma

How many episodes did you need to make before you were showered with fame, fortune and newspaper columns?

Related: what did you do BEFORE this pod-thing? Did you always call it a podcast, or did you shun the name until you were forced to reluctantly accept it as common parlance?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

I don't mind the word 'podcast'! Could've been a lot worse. One reason I like it is that it doesn't mean anything else. The other is that it was specifically podcasting that gave me a career - not radio or any other medium - so I'm pleased that there is a term which draws a distinction. I do think there are several ways in which podcasts differ from radio, and 'podcast' reminds me of that.

I certainly like 'podcast' more now that I don't have to explain what it means every time.

My life before podcasting was a hollow husk of a thing.

jerog11 karma

Hi Helen! Thanks for AMAing!

I'm a big fan of the Allusionist, you give me plenty of nerdy anecdotes to share about words like "Log in" and "Beef".

My question: do you record alone? How have you gotten used to talking to yourself? Do you work off of a script?

Thanks :) Fun fact: Your name means "shining light".

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Thanks very much, Jerog1! Your name means 'Jerog the First'.

Giving people nerdy anecdotes is one of my primary objectives with the shows I make.

I record The Allusionist alone. I'm not quite used to talking to myself, but it was less weird and bad than I expected when I started. Outside of interviews, I do work off a script, because otherwise I forget things; but I won't necessarily stick to the wording. Nowadays I also need to have everything written down because I'm posting transcripts of the episodes for people who are hearing-impaired.

Jane_Doe332 karma

This is such a cool thing Helen!

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Thanks Jane Doe! I am planning to make an episode about your name at some point.

TalebMC1 karma

What's the one place you haven't visited but most want to ?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Japan would be good. Hong Kong. South or Central America. And since we had that question about it, Antarctica.

HelenZaltzman1 karma

Sorry, that wasn't one. I'm itching to travel to lots of places at the moment.

Penguin_Mania1 karma

Hi Helen! Long time AMT listener here! Perhaps you could tell that from my username...? ;-)

Despite running for so many episodes there are still questions popping up that I'm amazed haven't come up for so long. Are there any questions that you're surprised took a long time to get asked, or any that haven't even been yet?

And why DON'T you see white dog poo any more?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

<shakes fist>

There are a few questions that I'd quite like to be asked, so I had the excuse to research the answer. But I'm more suprised that, after so long and answering several thousand questions, we still receive ones every day that are intriguing and unexpected.

dthvdm1 karma

When in the week is AMT recorded? There's been times when I've thought of a question related to a news story, but then not bothered sending it as I assumed that you'd have already recorded.

HelenZaltzman3 karma

Whenever we can fit it in, but minimum three days before release, because that's how long it takes to edit.

Jane_Doe331 karma

What is your least favorite/ favourite part about making the podcasts? Do you already have questions or a direction for The Allusionist interviews or do they surprise you with the direction they take?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

Least favourite: not leaving the flat and seeing other people enough. Also, headphones make my hair flat. Favourite: hearing from the listeners; learning stuff all the time; being able to make a living doing what I want.

My strategy for interviews is to be prepared just enough that it's respectful to the interviewee, who's given up their time to me; but really I want to have a genuine conversation, and to discover information. I love to be surprised by the direction they take; it's so interesting when I've gone in there looking for information about a particular thing, and in the aftermath the show turns out to be about something very different to what I expected. Or it throws up lots of different ways to approach the topic.

Generally, in thinking up topics for the show, I want something where I don't know where it will go. If I'm learning whilst making the episode, hopefully the listener will too. More often than not, I don't have all the answers by the end; I just have more questions.

hhmmmm1 karma

I'm sorry as I'm sure this is blindingly obvious and I will kick myself for not realising it but in the the jingle with the posh Mary Poppin's/governess-esque voice one of the answers she gives is something like 'Yes, but probably not in our life times'.

What's the question she is answering?

HelenZaltzman1 karma

You need to search inside yourself for that question.

leviticusreeves0 karma

Hi Helen. Is it unhealthy that I only started listening to AMT in July and I've already nearly caught up with all the (free) episodes?

Also - why does Martin have an echo? Do you ever explain that in one of the non-free episodes?

Oh and - how much do you hang out with Olly outside work? I think what makes the show so listenable is that you seem so genuinely endeared to each other. That's not fake, right?

HelenZaltzman4 karma

Hello! 1. How do YOU feel about it? Have you noticed any degradation of your mental or physical health? Have we replaced your internal monologue? 2. http://answermethispodcast.com/faq 3. I don’t think we’d be good enough at acting to fake it! We’ve spent so much time together over the years, we have a real sibling relationship - i.e. we can be very rude to each other without feeling obligated to apologise. We don't hang out all that much outside of work, because thanks to that work we do see each other more regularly than we see any of our other friends. Also he's moved out of London so it's a four-hour round trip to visit him. Don't be upset - I rarely go more than about ten minutes from my flat.

Muscogulus2 karma

Yeah, I'm confused about the echo too. My hypothesis is that it's a jokey way to distinguish the two male voices, for those who think they sound too much alike.

dthvdm1 karma

I could swear I once read/heard an explanation to the echo, but I can't remember it!

HelenZaltzman1 karma


We may have talked about it when we were on Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, but I can't remember.

JimmyAllen643-1 karma

Do you think Bob Barker can still get a boner?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

When DOESN'T Bob Barker have a boner?

(I don't know who Bob Barker is. The ousted King of Boners, I'm assuming.)

JimmyAllen6431 karma

...you don't know Bob Barker? The Price is Right guy?!?!?

HelenZaltzman5 karma

We had a different Price Is Right guy! Also I haven't seen the show since the mid-80s. It's probably scheduled very late at night because of all the boners.

Something_Pithy1 karma

Do you think Lesley Crowther can still get a boner?

HelenZaltzman2 karma

He was cremated, so it would be quite difficult to reassemble his boner.