'I secretly recorded my boyfriend for two years and made it into a podcast'
When DJ Jo Russell secretly turned the tapes on her boyfriend, the result was a brilliantly funny podcast.
How would you feel if your other half had been secretly recording your conversations – for two years – and broadcasting them to the world?
Not if you’re Matt Hastilow, 40, the unwitting star of I Secretly Recorded My Boyfriend, a podcast series started in 2018 by radio DJ Jo Russell, 49.
Each of the 100 episodes is comprised of clips of conversations between Jo and Matt which are then analysed by Jo, and two of her pals Katy White and Mark ‘Sparky’ Colerangle. It’s like Gogglebox in audio form and Matt’s hot takes are on anything from Nicki Minaj’s lyrics to clubbing in Walsall or the state of Kevin Webster from Corrie’s toolbox.
Matt, who only found out about the podcast – and its 1.4 million listeners – during the 100th episode which went live on 26 August, was completely fine about his ascent to stardom even if he wasn’t aware it was happening.
I wasn’t even sure what a podcast was so it was a lot to take in
‘I wasn’t even sure what a podcast was so it was a lot to take in,’ says Matt, a postman, of the moment Jo told him. ‘I’m just not clued up. I’m just not the kind of guy to be savvy with all the mod cons and stuff.’
In the big reveal Jo, armed with print outs of lovely things fans had written about Matt, tells her boyfriend everything – and naturally, she recorded the moment to share with fans of the podcast.
It’s as heart-warming as it is funny, with Jo, who lives with Matt in Tuxford, Nottinghamshire, deciding to tell him because it was coming up to two years of furtive recording on her phone, and it simply felt right.
‘For at least an hour he didn’t really understand what I was telling him,’ Jo recalls. ‘He was shell-shocked but he was pleased because I immediately showed him the hundreds of great comments about him.’
It began to dawn on him just how big ISRMB had got.
‘I had all these messages piling in on all the sociable platforms,’ he says, admitting he was in tears after Jo told him.
The messages include “Jo’s boyfriend is an absolute comedy legend” and “I laughed so hard I almost fell off the treadmill”.
Each episode is named after a soundbite from Matt including gems like ‘Who knows the Spanish word for tortoise’, ‘I’m not a fashion pundit’, ‘Why do they say YOLO?’, ‘I got Lady Gaga and Nickelback mixed up’ and ‘I don’t know the names of women that are good looking’.
Podcasts are big business with around 7.1 million (or one in eight) people in the UK now listening in each week according to Ofcom. As a result, ad revenues for successful podcasts can be massive and over time, production values become more polished and with that contributor performance becomes self-conscious.
Jo’s not at that point yet and while ISRMB does make a small amount from advertising ‘we need to be at [other comedy podcast] My Dad Wrote A Porno level before making real money I think,’ says Jo.
But what’s so refreshing about ISRMB is that is truly, genuinely real and unrehearsed. Well, you can’t rehearse if you don’t know you’re performing, can you?
What Jo – who met Matt on the Plenty of Fish dating site in 2015 – has created with producer Paul Iliffe is raw, doesn’t take itself too seriously but is actually very clever.
When I’ve gone back and listened – I’ve laughed at my own jokes!
Having had a long career in radio meant Jo knew what listeners want and she originally conceived the podcast simply because she found Matt so funny.
And he is funny. Really, really funny in a down-to-earth, everyday slightly silly way. That said, Matt doesn’t consider himself especially amusing.
‘It blows your mind that 1.4 million people have listened to a daft Brummie talking,’ he says before admitting that ‘when I’ve gone back and listened – I’ve laughed at my own jokes!’
A former squaddie, Matt also recalls being told that he lifted morale among the other soldiers. And this is, he says, what he is pleased to hear the podcast appears to have done.
‘People have said I’m a legend! And if this has brought people joy, then I’m glad.’
Famous fans include Jeremy Vine and Gogglebox’s Sid Siddiqui, while listeners come from all over the world.
Jo believes that the secret to the podcast’s success is more than about Matt’s funny bone, but also his authenticity.
‘There’s not a lot of podcasts or reality TV where people are being real anymore,’ says Jo. ‘They are trying to be something that they are not. Because Matt has no idea it’s being recorded it’s real. That’s the key.’
Jo admits that her morals have been called into question, with critics claiming she shouldn’t have put Matt’s life out into the public without his knowledge.
It’s come from a good place of wanting to celebrate him
How does she respond to that?
‘I say listen to it. It’s come from a good place of wanting to celebrate him. I understand what people are saying but we wanted to make him the star and we did.’
She went through moments of feeling guilty, most notably when her brother told her she’d never get over it if this was done to her.
She did, however, always have clear boundaries about what could be included.
‘Of course we have rows but they would never appear because that’s not fair,’ she explains.
The main issue for Jo was coping with the knowledge that he wasn’t going on the journey with her and the rest of the team. ‘When we got our first 100k listeners and we got lovely messages from all over the world I couldn’t share it with him,’ she says.
Jo says Matt’s unassuming nature meant she never worried that she may get rumbled, despite friends and family members knowing about the podcast. Matt was referred to as ‘my boyfriend’ or ‘your boyfriend’ on the show, only revealing his name during the 100th episode.
Jo hopes to create another series before Christmas, accepting that now Matt knows about it, the dynamic is at risk of being different. However, she doesn’t think Matt, who is a model railway enthusiast, will change how he is because ‘he’s just not part of that world nor does he want to be.’
Does Matt think he might start playing up for the audiences?
‘No, I’ll just carry on as me,’ he says.
You get the impression that, brilliantly, he wouldn’t know how to be anything else.
Listen to I Secretly Recorded My Boyfriend via Apple Podcasts and Spotify amongst other places. Follow on Instagram @recordedboyf
Other funny podcasts to see you through Autumn
My Dad Wrote A Porno: One appalled man dissects his father’s amateur foray into erotic fiction
Grounded With Louis Theroux: Not all of this series is comedy but the Miriam Margoles episode is a total thigh-slapper.
Dear Joan and Jericha: Absolute filth of the lowest possible order as two fictional agony aunts take a no-holds barred approach to answering personal questions.
The Mortified Podcast: Brave souls read the diaries, letters, poems and lyrics they wrote as a hormonal adolescent out to a room full of strangers.
Locked Together: Listen in on socially distanced banter between comedy duos such as Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
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