“I’m just some guy from Melbourne”, says Michael Kahan, who still can’t figure out why people are willing to have a conversation about how they overcame personal failures on the podcast Funny in Failure.
Why a podcast about failure?
Where do I begin? The reason I started the podcast is that I was living a life that I didn’t feel was quite mine. I was listening to a lot of external voices of how my life should be. I realised that something wasn’t quite right, and I knew I wasn’t alone in these feelings. After speaking to a lot of my peers and friends I realised we were sharing in universal feelings that we’re not living our best life. Working in corporate I realised that wasn’t the best job for me. Fast forward, I started improv comedy.
Bit of a shift, then.
Doing improv comedy can be really tough when you have no performing background, you haven’t done anything quite like that before. I actually failed a class, which was quite tough to deal with, I didn’t know how to process it. And speaking to a lot of the people in that field, I realised they were going through what I was going through, at a much larger scale. Essentially, I didn’t really understand the topic of failure, and I wanted to learn more about it: what did it mean? Because it’s so multifaceted and it means a lot of things to so many people. I wanted to normalise the stigma behind failure, show that it’s normal, you’re not defined by failure, everyone goes through it, it’s actually essential to growth and moving forward. And it’s a learning experience that can propel you in ways you never thought possible.
Have you been surprised by just how universal these feelings are?
Yes, every single podcast I am constantly surprised. You don’t need to be in arts, or be a comedian or actor or director or writer to experience these feelings. Just hearing these stories is mind-boggling, and I feel very privileged, that my guests would spend time [telling] a complete stranger about the highs and lows of their life. I had Bronnie Ware on the podcast, internationally best-selling author. She was rejected at least 20 times with her book, and she didn’t let that stop her. Often when we get a no, we go, “OK, I guess this can’t be done.” But when you hear a story of such resilience, and how the person doesn’t stop, but says, “OK, I got a no, how can I work on this, how can I grow, how do I move forward?” It’s … inspiring and empowering to hear how people, through what can be perceived as a negative experience, move forward and achieve great success.
Do you get a lot of feedback from listeners?
Yes, as it’s grown I’ve started to get a lot more. It’s very interesting because you have a conversation with someone, and you release it a few weeks later, and then someone else is listening in to your conversation – which is very cool. I’ve received so many messages of how a certain conversation has changed their lives or helped them understand their emotions, where they’re at. Sometimes we need labels to understand where we’re at – if we’ve never heard a story or a situation before, it’s hard to understand what’s going on in our life. I’ve received a lot of messages of how the podcast has positively changed their lives. It’s been quite phenomenal.
You have some seriously impressive names on your guest list. You’re not exactly moving in Hollywood circles: how do you snag them?
You’re right, I’m definitely not in Hollywood circles. I’m just some guy from Melbourne. That’s the million-dollar question, I guess. I originally started with more Australian guests. As the podcast grew and I started to find my voice and figure out exactly what I wanted the podcast to be, I was able to solidify the message I wanted to show the world. So when I approach – inverted commas – Hollywood people, I have a very strong goal and intention, which is to normalise the concept of failure, to show that it’s normal and we can overcome it. When I approach guests I relay that, and I think the reason I’ve had such a positive response is that it isn’t your typical podcast. A lot of podcasts are just shooting the shit, and it doesn’t necessarily have a strong goal or meaning. There’s nothing wrong with those podcasts – I listen to a lot of those podcasts – but I think I have a very clear goal of what I want to bring about, and I think my guests realise they can inspire many people as well. That’s why I think I’ve been able to get a lot of these incredible people on.
Do any of your guests stand out to you as favourites?
I’m not saying this to spare anyone’s feelings, but I actually don’t have a favourite.
They’re all your children.
Exactly. And also, each one has a unique story. I can name some of the podcasts where I got a bit starstruck: when I was first starting out I got John Safran, he was one of the first guests to come to my house. I was a bit starstruck speaking to someone of his calibre. I got Wil Anderson a bit later, and he was one of my comedy icons. As we’ve gone on, there was Ben Feldman, John DiMaggio, William Fichtner, Colin Mochrie. I think I could write a thesis on every one of my guests.
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Original posted at www.smh.com.au