Stand-up comic and Torchwood alum Tom Price has struck gold in a crowded podcast market by probing the Amazon histories of his guests, all the way back to the turn of the millennium.
He spoke to us about changing trends, lockdown laughter and how guests on My Mate Bought A Toaster react when their most personal purchases are laid bare...
Where did the idea for the podcast come from?
I bought endless c**p when we first had kids. I was going through my history trying to find a special pillow I'd bought that's supposed to help them sleep. I accidentally ended up back in 2001 and my purchases were just the weirdest things. It was like time travel. There was me, this tired, late-30s dad creature, suddenly looking at the greatest hits of Britney Spears on DVD, Brain Training for the (Nintendo) DS and a VHS recorder. I bought a VHS recorder in 2001... what on earth was going on? Being the easily distracted idiot that I am, I fell into my first Amazon hole, much like we're all used to falling into YouTube holes. I'm a stand-up comic and I do interviews on my radio show, so I thought if we started interviewing people about purchases, it could bring a lot of things together.
Can you get a real sense of people from their purchases?
Yeah, I think so. People are often quite shocked but strangely heartened by their purchase history as they're often trying to help themselves. They've bought some incredible self-help books. My favourite was (comedian) Cariad Lloyd, who bought Improve Your Handwriting, Improve Your Life - that actually exists.
Have you done a podcast on yourself?
"That was a Christmas special back in series one. I was stunned by how much money I spent on things that are now all but free, which raises big questions about how we should pay for the arts. I'm not saying 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland is art, but we used to spend £50 on box sets. I did one with Ben Smith - broadcaster, comic and Zadie Smith's brother - and he'd spent £1,000 on a DSLR camera, piles of DVDs, and a high-quality microphone. We have all of those on our devices now.
What was your strangest purchase?
Probably the dog biscuit cutter I bought when I was making Christmas-shaped biscuits for my dog.
Have you had a favourite guest?
Dom Joly was very, very good because his Amazon history told the story of his life beautifully. He (left) the BBC and immediately bought an Xbox and a 500-metre Ethernet cable so he could play Call Of Duty in his home gym.
And a favourite guest purchase?
One that always stands out is Kate Lawler, who was on Big Brother, buying a hot tub as a gift for her fellow Big Brotheree Alison Hammond in 2012, so they could have a Big Brother reunion party. No one else ever knew about it.
Are there tells you've learned to spot?
The one that I love is that absolutely without fail, people hit 40 and start buying vitamins. I had Harriet Scott on, the breakfast radio DJ, and she had bought (a title like) How To Bring Spice Back Into Your Love Life After You've Had A Child. She bought it in February and had her second child that November, so it became apparent that this book created the coming together for child two.
Has lockdown been difficult for the podcast?
In one sense, it's better because I don't have to give all the visual cues that I would when speaking face-to-face. I record it my end and log into their Amazon (account), so I can rummage round while they're talking. "Oh yes, tell me more," I'll say while I'm looking at the sex toy they just purchased.
Have there been many sex toys?
Oh yes, we had one the other day. They'd tried to archive it but couldn't because it hadn't arrived yet. It was brilliant because the toy was designed to delay the moment of gratification, but had itself been delayed.
Was there anyone whose purchases didn't represent them?
There was one - (the comedian) Carl Donnelly. He bought things like How To Do Psychic Readings Through Touch and the Communist Manifesto. He had this weird, alternative side that I don't think even he realised was there. You get to know people really well by the end of everything and you learn so much about men and women. (The stand-up) Jessica Fostekew talked about buying an epilator, which I had never heard of. It turns out that it's this thing invented by the patriarchy that literally tears the hair from your body, and she had ended up on antibiotics thanks to a badly infected leg.
Has there been a big change in people's habits over the years?
Massively. In the Noughties we talk about books, CDs and DVDs, and then from the early 2010s it goes absolutely crackers. I think we now treat Amazon as some sort of coin box which we throw money into, thinking it will solve all our problems, and people often say, "Why oh why did I buy that?"
Have there been any major shifts during lockdown?
Loads of people have bought resistance bands, that's been a definite craze. Comedian Nick Helm bought a massive pack of Spam and three signed photos of Pamela Anderson (they were £5.99 and definitely fake). He was stocking up for lockdown and wanted to decorate his downstairs loo.
What's been the weirdest thing about lockdown for you?
My wife and I have now spent so much time looking at each other's faces, I reckon we're into our mid-50s on the relationship mile-o-meter. I've loved being at home with my two boys - the surreal part has been homeschooling. Having to teach myself, and then my son, what a fronted adverbial is.
Is it easy to find humour in the pandemic?
I think so. We all acknowledge the awfulness - (impressionist) Matt Forde, for example, has asthma and is shielding, so when I talked to him he had been indoors for three months. But with that comes gallows humour. It's a British thing, and a comic's thing, and we love it.
Does comedy have an important role to play in difficult times?
I believe so. It's terribly sad our comedy venues are under threat, because we have literally the best comedy circuit in the world. This is a rainy country, and we love laughing at things being c**p, but so many comedy clubs will close down. I met my wife in a comedy club. We've just got to hope things can open up soon.
New episodes of My Mate Bought A Toaster with Tom Price are released each Wednesday. Listen here at https://play.acast.com/s/toaster