John Patrick Higgins and Joseph Nawaz discuss their podcast Stalemates.
Photography: Karen Storey
Joe: Who’d be a ‘Stalemate’?
John: Well there weren’t many applications for the position, so it’s us! We’re both writers, we’re both well shod and we both enjoy a snifter. Joe is louder than John. Joe is louder than a blue whale looking to hook up in the Atlantic. But if you can get past the blast furnace of his volume you’ll see another side to Joe: subtle, nuanced, sensitive and impassioned. He has the soul of a poet trapped in the body of Tin Pan Alley hustler. Though he hates poetry. All types. Maybe a clerihew would be okay. Maybe. He is always late. John brings to Stalemates a rich brown voice and a stand-offish sneer. He is the elderly boy scout of Stalemates: always prepared, his note-books bulging with his alleged ‘fun’ facts, all written in his neat, boilerplate copy. He’s the English one. He probably wears tweed underpants. He is always early. And that’s despite Translink.*
John: What does ‘Stalemates’ mean to you, Joe?
Joe: ‘Stalemates’ means wonder, waffle and way too many Roxy Music references. It’s a place and a period of time where John and I remember to press record on one of our conversations, albeit a slightly prepped conversation (on John’s part anyway – I’m too lazy, and rather pretend that it’s jazz, ‘man’).
Often we have conversations without an audio recorder rolling, and alarmingly the only difference seems to be less poetry recitations! I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying that Stalemates is John and I, the essence of our curious dynamic, as odd and as snug as a peep-hole cardigan. In fact, it’s our signature scent; Stalemates – Eau De To Let.
Joe: Apart from dressing fancy for an audio medium, what – if anything – makes Stalemates’ podcast different? John: It’s a dumb show for smart people. Joe and I are sumo-intellectuals at best, but we keep it lively and informed. There is research. There are facts. There are light-bulb moments where we actually understand something in REAL time; though those are admittedly few and far between. It’s not comedy per se (despite iTunes’ draconian demographic banding) but it is funny. There are film and book reviews. There is also poetry. But don’t worry – it’s not ours.
The show is ‘theme-based’: each podcast has been about a different subject (so far we have done: Time, Old Skool, Plastic, The French and Halloween, amongst others).
Stalemates is funny, clever, obscure, impassioned and often, seemingly accidentally, wise. Also, there are many, many bad impressions and obscure film references. We think of them as Pokémon for wankers – you gotta catch them all.
John: How would you define the Stalemates‘ relationship?
Joe: Well, we clearly aren’t interchangeable, which is a start. It’s funny how one slips into specific roles and ritualistic practices the moment a microphone is thrust in one’s face. I guess I’m the loud, garrulous ‘Irish’ one, although I don’t feel that Irish. And John is the high-brow, thwarted, slightly impatient English one (the English impatient in fact), although John’s technically more Irish than me. That’s the interesting thing about us, I think. We’re friends in spite of ourselves (two nesting egos!). We’re both not quite exactly what we seem, and we share a sense of displacement from our cultural surrounds. That’s not to say we’re a pair of squares, daddio. Far from it – although I’m keenly aware that only squares would use the word ‘square’ or indeed ‘daddio’.
Joe: What’s your favourite Stalemates moment so far?
John: I don’t really understand podcasts. I don’t really understand anything that happened since the turn of the century; the one before last, actually. Podcasts seem to be a pair of wallies in a shed talking badly recorded nonsense on a niche subject to three people. Stalemates is the same but is, at least, well recorded. We are clear as a bell – from John’s nasal squeak and peals of girlish laughter to Joe’s leg slapping that punctuates the show like a morse code message, as he subconsciously begs for rescue.
As for my favourite moment, well, the live Halloween special would be hard to top where I was called a wanker about fifty times through the window of the Black Box while I attempted to tell a ghost story. But we’ve just recorded our Christmas special where we go ghost hunting in an old rectory in Lisburn. I’m surprised I wasn’t repeatedly called a wanker through a spirit medium. That just seems to be the way it goes.
John: Joe, why should anyone listen to Stalemates?
Joe: Because if anyone does, that’s a bonus for us. But seriously folks, they say a sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And I’m proud to say that no two Stalemates episodes are remotely the same; so different listener results would be GREAT.
Each episode is a cracked Fabergé egg, feathered with flights of fancy, wrapped in a little rumination, peppered with disagreement, pierced with the odd shaft of insight – and very odd it is too!
We’re never entirely sure exactly how they’re going to end up when we press record, but they’re never less than interesting. We don’t slow down, or simplify, or condescend, we just talk. And it requires attention. It’s smart and dumb and crass and profound all at the same time. And above all, I think it’s rewarding. And if you’re still reading this, then you should really, really listen to Stalemates. I work in PR by the way…
*Full disclosure: John was in fact late to the photo shoot.
Find Stalemates on Facebook here.