Porn, Podcasts, and Parents

Published July 27, 2017

LEFT TO RIGHT: JAMES COOPER, JAMIE MORTON, AND ALICE LEVINE.

A few years ago, a newly retired father asked his adult son to review the first few chapters of his novel, Belinda Blinked. He’d never written fiction before, and did not elaborate on any sources of inspiration or his chosen genre. “He just said he had started writing, which I thought that was actually quite a good idea—keep him out of my mum’s hair,” recalls Jamie Morton.

Morton dutifully began reading. “The first line is ‘the job interviewer had just asked her to removed her jacket and silk blouse.’ I was like, ‘This isn’t a spy thriller…'” A realization came over him: his father “had been writing pornography secretly in the garden shed.”

Currently, My Dad Wrote a Porno, Morton’s podcast with his two friends Alice Levine and James Cooper, is midway through its third season—and the third installment of the Belinda Blinked series, which Morton senior has been busy writing under the pen name Rocky Flintstone. While Morton reads his father’s work aloud, Levine and Cooper chime in with comments, questions, and general bafflement at Rocky’s shaky grasp of female anatomy. With millions of downloads, the podcasts boasts a wide array of mesmerized celebrity fans, many of whom appear in “footnote” episodes to share their take on Belinda’s sexscapades and business deals. Listeners are known as “Belinkers,” and Levine, Cooper, and Morton have already published a “fully annotated” version of the original Belinda Blinked. Recently, they trio has been touring the world, doing live shows at venues like the Sydney Opera House (they sold out two nights) and Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. “I think Rocky was trying to troll me to be honest with you, to get under my skin. But I feel I’ve had the last laugh in this situation,” says Morton.

EMMA BROWN: How did the three of you become friends?

JAMES COOPER: Oh blimey. We all met at university, we all went to Leeds together. We were on different courses, but there was a student television station there, which we all became involved in in various capacities. We started making little TV shows together that nobody watched, but it was really good experience as far as writing scripts, editing, filming. Alice and I did a bit of presenting. After that, we very quickly moved down to London, and we all worked together for our first job. We’ve stayed here ever since and remained friends.

BROWN: Alice and James, did you know Rocky well before the podcast? Were you familiar with Jamie’s family?

ALICE LEVINE: Definitely familiar. I wouldn’t say we knew him well, and definitely not as well as we know him now. James had met him more than I had, which I’ve made up for, I like to think. You’re aware of your friends’ parents and keep up-to-date with what everyone’s families are up to, but nothing like the intimate knowledge that we have of him now.

COOPER: Jamie and I used to live together, so I met him a few times, and he was always quite a character. He’d come and stay in our flat for the weekend and he’d bring his harmonica. I’d be in bed at one in the morning and all I could hear was him playing Irish folk songs on the harmonica. [laughs] He was definitely always an eccentric, but obviously we never expected him to do what he ended up doing.

BROWN: Of all your friends’ parents, if you had to pick one of them to write a porn novel would it have been Rocky?

LEVINE: What a weird ice-breaker game.

BROWN: You know: “Who’s going to get married first, who’s dad is going to write a porno…”

COOPER: I think it’d be Alice’s dad.

LEVINE: Do you think?

COOPER: If it wasn’t Jamie’s dad. It definitely would have been Jamie’s dad first, but then I think it would be your dad.

LEVINE: He’s got a naughty streak.

COOPER: He’s also quite eccentric. But don’t get me wrong, it would be a very different porn novel, but I could totally see your dad writing one now.

JAMES MORTON: It would be very erudite.

BROWN: How did you decide to turn Belinda Blinked into a podcast in the first place?

LEVINE: We immediately knew that we wanted to do something. Jamie brought it to a dinner that we always have at Christmas—we always go to the pub and have a little friends Christmas dinner before we go home to our families. He was like, “Guys, my dad’s written this thing…” and we spent about three hours reading the first two chapters together.

MORTON: Such a long time.

LEVINE: It was appalling and amazing and we couldn’t put it down. People talk about stuff being a page turner, but we couldn’t even turn the page because we were lingering so long.

COOPER: And there’s only one page.

LEVINE: We thought, “How can we bring it to life?” At the time we were all listening to quite a lot of podcasts, but I don’t know if the massive boom had happened in the way that it has now. We thought it might be the right medium, because it’s so intimate.

MORTON: It was more the medium first. We were like, “What could people legitimately consume the material on without feeling embarrassed?” The Kindle had really helped Fifty Shades of Grey, ’cause no one knew what anyone was reading on the tube. We thought that if it was in people’s headphones, it would have a similar anonymity to it.

BROWN: Was Rocky on board?

MORTON: Initially when I said we wanted to do a podcast, he was like [in a Northern Irish accent], “That’s fantastic! Great! What’s a podcast?” So I explained it to him and then played the first episode to my whole family. From that moment on, he’s been the biggest My Dad Wrote A Porno fan. It’s kind of unsettling how much he listens to it. I think a million of our listens are just my dad in the pavilion.

BROWN: During the podcast, there are moments where you editorialize the story, and I sometimes forget whether a detail came from the text, or whether it was added afterwards. Does your dad ever comment on that: “You think X character looks like this, but that’s just not true.”

MORTON: He doesn’t really come and take much direction from us in terms of our embellishing of his book. We were at a pub recently in North London, and he pointed over and said, “See there, that girl, she’s Belinda.” He points out people that he’s obviously had in his head, and that sort of helps me understand where he’s been coming from, but then not really.

BROWN: At this point, if he went up to someone in a pub and said, “You’re Belinda,” they’d probably know what he was talking about.

MORTON: I had to say to my dad, “Sit down. You are not approaching her. Please do not go near her.”

COOPER: Would they take it as a compliment or an insult? Who knows. [laughs]

BROWN: Belinda works in the pots and pans industry, and her work is very central to what happens in the books. Has anyone from the pots and pans approached you or commented on the show?

COOPER: No! And I really want some to. I would do a footnotes with someone from the pots and pans industry.

MORTON: Monsieur Le Creuset.

COOPER: I want to do a big exposé: “Yeah, this is exactly what goes on.” But no, they’re keeping very secretive. They’re obviously like, “This is blowing up, guys. We don’t want people to know. This is getting out of hand.”

MORTON: We’re onto them, we know what goes on.

BROWN: Some of the adjectives and similes Rocky uses to describe what’s going on are pretty hilarious. Obviously there’s the line about nipples “as large as the three-inch rivets, which had held the hull of the fateful Titanic together.” But also things like, “He was Brazilian and he knew it.”

LEVINE: So good.

BROWN: Do you all have a favorite line to date?

MORTON: James is a fan of “the flesh of mankind.”

COOPER: There’s another one as well where she unhooks a horsebox, and mentally thanks one of her former flings for “teaching her how to caravan,” which is just one of those weird, throwaway details that really make me laugh. I do love “the flesh of mankind” as well and the odd way he describes the anatomy.

MORTON: Mine is a boring one—mine is the Titanic line, just because it’s so ludicrous and makes absolutely no sense on any level.

LEVINE: I have favorite moments where you get an insight into what Rocky’s been distracted by, like the detail of the turkey sandwiches, I just felt like there was one being made for him right there and then. Or he’d just got the turkey slices right out of the fridge, and that’s all he could focus on. I like it when he’s like, “I’ll just write that in ’cause that’s what I’m about to do.”

BROWN: Rocky wrote the first four books before the podcast came out. Is he still going?

MORTON: Yes, we can’t actually legally stop him. We’ve tried, but apparently, we’re not allowed to request that. No, he loves writing. Little did he know anyone would care about his writing and the fact that people do has spurred him on to continue the saga, which is obviously great for nobody except maybe him.

COOPER: I’m interested to see where he takes it, ’cause what’s he on now? Book six? Book seven?

MORTON: I’m not sure. It changes. I think he goes back to revise them.

COOPER: I’m really intrigued about what book five is like—whether he has used podcast stuff to write it or whether he’s just plowed ahead with no regard for us.

MORTON: His naiveté is alive and well. He isn’t really self-aware enough to know why the podcast has become so successful. I think that’s actually why it remains successful; the minute dad stars tweaking it… He’s on Twitter, but he still doesn’t completely get why people like it.

COOPER: No. And he’s been at a live show before, and obviously there, there’s an audience, and he hears what they’re laughing at. Afterwards, he was like, “Why are they laughing at that? I don’t understand.” He genuinely doesn’t understand what we find funny. He’s written jokes in there and he’s like, “Why don’t you laugh at that?” There’s something there that doesn’t quite click with him, even now.

BROWN: What are the live shows like? Are you ever surprised by how the audience responds?

COOPER: People dress up, which is amazing. Some people really go to town. People dress as buildings, someone came dressed as the Horse and Jockey pub, someone came as a trellis. We also encourage audience participation in the show, just to make it feel a bit more inclusive. In the early days we were worried that people might not put their hands up and volunteer, but I’d say that 90-percent of the audience has their hands up. The way people engage with it, the investment is amazing.

BROWN: Has anyone showed up wearing a black thong?

COOPER: I haven’t seen anyone in a black thong yet and I hope that that continues.

BROWN: Can you overdose on Belinda?

MORTON: I think that’s why we have such long hiatuses between seasons, actually. Obviously the books are written, but we just want the break to recharge our batteries. For me particularly, to not talk about my dad’s pornography for a few months of the year is nice.

COOPER: When people tweet that they’ve binge-listened to the whole show, I’m like, “How?”

MORTON: That always shocks me as well.

COOPER: One a day, maximum. I think you can totally overdose on it. This is meant to be enjoyed—enjoyed is maybe the wrong word, but listened to over a certain amount of time.

LEVINE: As part of balanced diet. 

BROWN: That’s sort of what happened to me. I listened to the first two series in a row, and I felt like, “Okay, this is starting to affect how I think. I need a little time off.”

MORTON: Exactly. I need a purge.

BROWN: In one episode, you joke about all of the ’90s references you make, like to the 1996 adaptation of Matilda with Mara Wilson, and Melissa Joan Hart TV shows, and I realized that’s part of what draws me to the show as well. What would you do if Melissa Joan Hart turned out to be a Belinker?

LEVINE: [laughs]

MORTON: Die, obviously. We’d all collapse. We had Mara Wilson on the show as a footnotes guest, so that was a big day for us. People on Twitter were saying, “Guys, you were fangirling over her more than you’ve fangirled over anybody else.” As millennial kids, we grew up consuming that sort of stuff, so the fact that Mara Wilson listens to our show and wanted to come on the show to talk about my dad’s book was crazy. She was so humble, she was like, “I’m sure your dad has no idea who I am.” I said, “Are you kidding? Matilda was on a loop at our house for about five years.” It’s amazing that the people we grew up loving their work are now consuming our podcast. It is surreal, but it’s great.

BROWN: Who has Rocky been most excited about?

COOPER: He liked Michael Sheen afterwards because of what he was saying.

MORTON: He thinks that Michael Sheen is a family friend now. [laughs] There was a weird moment a few weeks after the Michael Sheen episode came out where my dad was in a full Twitter conversation with Michael Sheen and Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley. It was surreal. I guess he kind of does know them now.

BROWN: His fans know him only as Rocky; they don’t know what he looks like or who he really is. If he walked past Michael Sheen on the street, what would he do?

MORTON: Like he does to everybody, he’d shout, “I’m Rocky Flintstone! Do you want a business card?” He isn’t shy. But as much as this is a really exciting time for him, and for all us really, he’s very grateful that he chose to remain anonymous. He does get to have that really healthy balance between enjoying the show and being on Twitter and engaging with it, and then when he’s done with it for the day, he can just walk around and be completely anonymous. Something we often forget about as well is that he’s a 60-odd-year-old man. He just wants to sit in his garden and drink some chardonnay most of the time. He isn’t of the media world at all; he was a builder and a sales rep. I think he finds it amusing and entertaining, but really enjoys that he can just dip out of it when he wants.

BROWN: Has anyone ever said anything negative to you about the show? It seems like most people love it, but has anyone said, “What filth!”

LEVINE: People have said that they’d rather James and I didn’t interrupt. It’s kind of the basis of the podcast, but I see their point.

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