'I have no boundaries, and Muireann has loads' - Joanne McNally and Muireann O'Connell talk podcasts

This week sees the launch of a new podcast from duo Muireann O'Connell and Joanne McNally. Liadan Hynes reports

Muireann O'Connell and Joanne McNally. Pic: Evan Doherty

Liadan Hynes

More than one-third of the country's adult population have listened to podcasts in recent times, research conducted by marketing group Core found lately.

Almost half of those people began listening to podcasts from March onwards. In lockdown, in other words.

As a nation of talkers, it's hardly surprising that we can boast such a wealth of Irish podcasts. This week sees the launch of another, with TV presenter Muireann O'Connell and comedian Joanne McNally launching Let's Solve Nothing.

The two women's friendship was cemented earlier this year on a night during lockdown when Muireann, in Dublin, rang Joanne, fast asleep in bed in London, at half one in the morning.

"You were pissed?" Joanne asks, grinning at her co-host. "And I got up and started drinking with her."

"She was fast asleep," Muireann says. "I had no one to drink with, and she got out of bed at half one in the morning. That was when I knew she was the girl for me."

Having originally met on The 6 O'Clock Show, Virgin Media One's flagship evening show which Muireann co-presents, the pair had been talking about doing a podcast together for some time. To force the issue, Joanne posted an Instagram story about the plan, in which she tagged Muireann.

"Then we were like: 'what's it going to be about?' There's no such thing as a unique podcast idea; everything is done. Let's just chat. They are like therapy sessions. I have no boundaries, and Muireann has loads," Joanne says, looking at her co-host, who nods in agreement. "My whole career is about mining my personal life; hers is about not talking about hers. So we're trying to find the balance between the two."

It's not that she's uncomfortable sharing, Muireann jumps in to explain - it's just that she was trained in her work as a presenter to understand a show is not about her.

"I just have to forget there's a mic there," she smiles, adding that she is always conscious of navigating a line between her natural tendency to be outspoken, straight and direct, and the knowledge that things she says can be taken and twisted, or misunderstood. Online is, she says, at times a difficult place to be; she tells a story about a male follower who each month, when she happened to be bloated from her period, would pepper her with endless questions about whether she was pregnant.

"In the end, I explained to him about periods," she says bluntly. He desisted.

Both are avid consumers of podcasts, with a preference for true crime podcasts that tell women's stories.

Working with a friend was a big part of the appeal, Joanne adds, reflecting that her line of work is an unsocial one.

"It is lonely being on the road. With comedy, you have to be kind of obsessed with it to make it. I've poured my whole life into it. Friendships, relationships, your social life, because you're working nights all the time…" all can go by the wayside, she explains. Connecting with friends was one of the things she relished about lockdown, given that she was grounded in London, in contrast to her usually frenetic pace.

Finding a balance is her lockdown lesson, she says. "But I won't. Once it starts up again, I'll be back doing the same stuff."

Her aim is to be completely self-sufficient, Joanne adds. "I'm single, so if I want to buy a house or have a baby, I'm doing it on my own. I feel like I'm building something for myself. There's moments of wobble where you think: 'is it worth it?' But it is. At the moment, I do choose it, and have chosen it, at the expense of everything else. Certainly relationships anyway."

For Muireann, the appeal of the podcast also lay in getting to have a regular chat with a good friend, something she, too, has missed in lockdown.

"You haven't had those moments where you get to sit down with your mates and get it all out of your system," she says. "About what's happened that week, about what we think about things. I've always found that really constructive."

"I can almost write off meeting my friends as work," adds Joanne, who counts Vogue Williams among those good friends. It is hard to create in a vacuum, she points out. "I write down things they say. I actually find time with friends like brainstorming sessions. I love how women chat."

Both women say there was never much planning involved in their careers.

"I don't know how I've ended up with the job I've got," says Muireann, who previously worked at Today FM. "I have found that an awful lot to do with my career has been situational, and luck. Because I don't know what I would have been otherwise."

Years ago, when she returned to her parents' home after spending time in Australia, her father, a garda, used to leave application forms for becoming a teacher strewn about the house. She never took the hint. Now 37, like Joanne, she admits that the low-lying spectre of anxiety all freelancers will recognise is ever-present.

"It's the kind of thing which makes me think 'right, I've got to get some skills'. I was looking at this thing the other day, where, 15 years ago, it was hardest for the people who were 25 to get gainful employment. Now that's moving to people in their 40s and 50s.

"I'm like 'right, that's coming down the line. I'm on the television, my face is going to crumple, there's plenty of people coming up behind me'. That's nothing against anyone. It's just the way it is; it's a refresh, unless you get to a certain level. And there's only so many jobs and opportunities out there. So I have no idea what I'm going to be doing in 10 years' time."

In contrast, the great thing about comedy is that you can make your own work, Joanne says. "Which is also a pain in the ass, because you've to hustle all the time."

In 2019, Muireann was abruptly let go from her job in Today FM. Some time afterwards, she said in an interview that the experience of being made redundant made her question herself, her worth, who she was. How does she feel now, I wonder.

"I just think that you can't put any meas on anything," she says. "Anything can be taken away from you at any moment; you have to roll with the punches, and not get your sense of self from one place at all times. I try not to think about it too much, because then I go absolutely insane. It's the sort of thing that at night, you want to go to sleep…"

"Really?" Joanne interjects. "But you've got a job?"

"I've got a job, but I'm just so aware now that it could all be taken away from me in 30 minutes," Muireann replies.

"But you'd get another," her friend says. "You're never going to not have a job."

"Yeah, but I don't know that any more," Muireann says, explaining how being made redundant left a permanent change in her attitude. "When all that happened last year, it did a number. Like, I was always aware that everything was finite, and that it can be taken away from you. And I'd lost a few jobs up to this stage, but this one was the one that was a proper gut-punch. I probably am at that age now where I do crave a little bit of stability. My dream is to get a crippling mortgage," she smiles.

"There is something as well that when your job is based on selling your personality, when you get rejected, it feels a little more personal," Joanne says.

"Yeah, the words coming out of your mouth are horrible," Muireann adds, and both women burst out laughing.

Having spent several hours in their company, I can confirm that the words coming out of their mouths are hugely entertaining. Let's Solve Nothing should be a huge hit.

Listen to Let's Solve Nothing on iTunes, Spotify, and anywhere else you might get your podcasts, and follow them on @letssolvenothing

Top Five: Irish women's podcasts

The Creep Dive - a true crime podcast presented by Sophie White, Cassie Delaney and Jen O'Dwyer.

Not Without My Sister - Rosemary MacCabe and sister Beatrice's hilarious musings on life and their childhood.

The State of Us - Roisin Linnie and Jane Casey chat frankly about life.

Bandwagons - Bríd Browne and Fionnuala Jones's utterly addictive pop culture chats.

The Good Glow - Georgie Crawford with guests on health and wellness.