“Just two gay lads having a cup of tea and talking shit at the kitchen table.” That’s how PJ Kirby described to Peter Dunne the show he and Kevin Twomey have created. But while it may have come from humble beginnings, I’m Grand Mam has taken the podcast world by storm and shown that nothing brings us together better than laughter.
When two queer Cork boys made their way to the bright lights of London, did they ever think they’d become the creators of one of the most beloved podcasts on the scene? Probably not. But anything that managed to capture the warm and hilarious way they play off each other was pretty much destined for success
Kevin elaborated, “We used to host pre-drinks at our place in London and there was one time some friends brought some of their friends that we'd never met, and after a while they were like ‘are you a double act or what?’ Everyone assumes we’re a couple, or something, and we’re like, no we’re just…”
“Hilarious,” deadpanned PJ.
“Good friends,” continued Kevin, laughing. “I think it’s just our sense of humour, we take the piss out of each other. That’s part of what we do. People find that funny, especially if they’re from outside of Ireland.”
It seems the world and its mother (or mam) are making podcasts right now, although the majority wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the success that these Corkonians have achieved. So what was the inspiration to capture your “shite talk” as the guys so bluntly put it?
“Initially we wanted to start a gay club night,” PJ answered, “but we were in London and no one knows us here, so what else could we do? Kevin came back from Cork one day and said, ‘We’re going to start a podcast’. I didn’t even know what it was - I was like ‘what’s a podcast?’
“He had to explain to me and then we went and bought a mic off of Amazon. We went to Budapest for my birthday and we had a few wines on the flight. We were writing down the first episode on the back of a sick bag. Afterwards, we were like, ‘Well, we’ve got the mics and we’ve got the plans, we might as well record it.’
“We said we’d do one episode to see how it goes and in that first episode we were literally planning what we’re going to do in the podcast.”
“We were talking about potential sponsors and all!” Kevin laughed, “There was a lot of editing in the first episode. If you listen back you almost don’t know which way it will go, the voices are barely audible.”
From the back of a sick bag to the world, but it must have been some time before the pair knew they’d made something special. How long before they realised it was getting way bigger than they thought it would? Weeks? Months? “After the first episode,” smiled Kevin. “We were obviously aware that, even if we were shocking, our friends and family would give us a listen… but because of social media we saw we were being tagged by people in Australia and America and stuff. A lot of them would be Irish expats saying, ‘Oh my God, this is the perfect taste of home that I needed.’
“After the first episode we realised it wasn’t just our friends listening and commenting, I kept going to PJ – ‘Do you know him? Do you know her?” I didn’t know who any of them were! And then I was like… ‘oh my god, we’re famous,’” Kevin laughed.
Chatting about the everyday things that accompany being LGBTQ+ in the world today, navigating life and the big city while also battling what most queer people think when living away from home – ‘what would mam think?’ – the show has been a huge hit for its humour, but it’s also had a massive unexpected impact on the many LGBTQ+ people who listen. PJ elaborated, “We were always very open on the show, and then we got so many messages from queer people, some who were out and some who weren’t, saying things like ‘the show makes me feel more comfortable in myself.’ And we were like ‘oh wow’. Now when we make it, we’re having a laugh sitting on a sofa and stuff, but there’s always an underlying thing of wanting queer people to feel more comfortable and if they’re feeling lonely being away from home.”
Kevin spoke about his surprise over the reactions when the pair appeared on the cover of a Christmas edition of a magazine: “Yeah, it was just two queer lads with their Christmas t-shirts. We just thought of it as having a bit of fun or whatever, like a nice opportunity. But we got loads of messages again. There was one lad being like, ‘My mam and dad buy that every Sunday and I think it’s the first time seeing two queer lads smiling on the front of it’. It’s things like that you take for granted and you’re like - actually, it is kind of major when you think about it.”
Being a source of queer comfort for people who haven’t been able to live openly, have the pair ever come up against ignorance themselves for living so openly? PJ responded, “You’re always going to get people who will look at you, you’ll always get homophobic people no matter where you are. For me, it depended on what part of London you were in. I’m definitely more aware as a queer person, there’s been a few times I’ve been like ‘oh, I’m wearing a crop top.’”
Kevin added, “I’ve been holding my fella’s hand in Soho before and had lads say ‘f *g’ or whatever. It is awful because no matter how liberal things get, there are going to be pockets of stuff like this that happens.”
PJ interjected, “But also, we’re aware that we’re men, we’re cis white men. In the gay world that’s privileged.”
For a podcast with that title, the mam’s must surely have made a couple of appearances, right? Kevin confirmed, “Our mams feature quite a bit, in an agony aunt section of the podcast. We got them onto an episode - ‘Call me Mother’ - and it was so nice, even though they had their technical difficulties on WhatsApp, it was great because we had loads of fun. Also, seeing them, we were like, ‘Jesus Christ, we’re just like our mams.’
“Having them on the podcast, we got to ask them a lot of questions and I think queer people appreciate that we have such an open relationship with our mams, it gives us an opportunity to share an awful lot.”
The boys have been known to do the odd live show, have the mams ever popped up there?
PJ laughed, “We recorded a live show in Cork and they got up on stage in the end. Now, my mam was like, ‘I don’t want to get on stage. I’ll go to the show but you’re not going to drag me on stage.’ At the end of the show, everyone was like ‘Get the mams on stage! Get the mams on stage!’ but I was like ‘Oh no, she doesn’t want to.’ The next thing I look up and she’s sprinting away.”
Kevin added, “My mam was hiding in the dark.”
Speaking of stages and Mothers, (slick segue), PJ and Kevin will be appearing in the very flesh as hosts for the main stage of the Mother Block Party over the weekend of Dublin Pride. Two big questions in advance – how does the podcast translate into a live show and, following that, what have the boys got in store for those lucky ducks in Collins Barracks?
“Us live is a bit of a mash up between stand-up comedy, and, I want to say, musical theatre,” Kevin laughed. “I’ve been known to do a Wicked number.”
PJ continued, “Live we do a full dance routine for opening and closing the show. We have music, lots of visuals…”
“We kind of want to imagine we’re pop stars,” Kevin added. “And we have the opportunity to so.”
So can we expect something similar at the Mother Block Party? Kevin was initially coy – (“We’re kind of planning different bits, we’re working in the studio at the moment. Can we say that?”), before PJ completely let the cat out of the bag – “Basically we’re writing a pop song. That’s an exclusive.”
“We’re laying down some vocals at the moment,” laughed Kevin.
“And I can’t sing a bar of it,” added PJ. Proudly.
Listen to ‘I’m Grand Mam’ wherever you get your podcasts and catch PJ and Kevin in the flesh at the Mother Block Party over Dublin Pride Weekend.
Photography: Hazel Coonagh @hazelcoonagh
Stylist: Dearbhla O’Beirne @destructo_d
Hair: Jake Ryan @jakeryan_hair
Make-Up Artist: Michael Ryan @pixiewooo
Location: Studio 10 Dublin, with thanks to Jeannie @studio10dublin
Jacket (customised in-store) and neck scarf from Betty Bojangles @bettybojanglesdublin (77 Thomas St, The Liberties, Dublin, D08 H2T6)
Trousers from COS
Jacket (customised in-store), brooch and pearl necklace from Betty Bojangles Shorts from COS
Boots courtesy of Veda
‘Serratus Shirt’ by Stephen O’Connor from his graduate collection ‘Divine Duality’ which explores the designer’s gender identity by balancing both masculine and feminine details @stephenoconnor_studio
Necklace from Betty Bojangles
Trousers from COS
White jacket and earrings from Betty Bojangles Trousers from COS
Knitted piece from Rachel Morris from her graduate collection ‘Sin, No Sin’ inspired by her mother’s 1970’s primary school religion workbook and the influence the Catholic Church has on Irish society
Coral twill dungarees with Japanese denim stripe detailing, also from Rachel Morris @rachelmorrisdesign
Oversized embellished knit jumper from Rachel Morris Trousers from COS
I'm Grand Mam podcasters, PJ Kirby and Kevin Twomey