We caught up with Alhan to talk about his 'Alhan's World' BBC Sounds podcast and more!
Author: Josh Clubbe | Thursday 16th July 2020
Alhan Gençay. To many, a known joker, a big personality who pushes the boundaries of conventional interviews, harmless, yet a troublemaker that strays from the norm and attempts to create all forms of dynamics through his inquisitive nature. With straight-up honesty his unique selling point, along with an expansive knowledge, Alhan has well and truly built himself a loyal fanbase, for his work with Unilad, Vice but then his more recent venture ‘Gasworks’ which he is the face of, alongside fellow media personality Poet – needless to say the countless appearances and cameos on other channels but we’ll dash that for now. He has well and truly cemented himself into this generation’s lives, in a world that is crying out for more authenticity, a time where glorifying influencer and copycat culture is actually a thing and where being politically correct is diluting a lot of comedy forms. Now the time has come for the 21-year-old to try something new, landing with his latest project ‘Alhan’s World’, on BBC Sounds - produced by Novel. In his new podcast, Alhan Gençay investigates life’s big questions by picking the brains of some of the nation’s finest MCs, celebs, comedians, and yes, even a few experts who know what they’re on about.
Following the first airing of the podcast, I caught up with Alhan. Let me set the scene. It's a Monday lunchtime in lockdown, you will probably know how it is – same routine, probably same breakfast and those moments of nothingness that transpire into self-reflection… if you have time. Zoom ready, the time is approaching, I drop Alhan a Whatsapp, letting him know the invite link is in his inbox. Nothing. After giving him a ring, I get a message “literally just woke up lol” – ok, maybe we should push back an hour. We did and we got cracking.
To get things underway, I initiated the conversation of creativity – in this situation we’re all in, there’s an inability to travel and absorb new surroundings and human interactions which constantly feed into the process - it seemed right to get stuck in with this. We’d had previous conversations on this topic and knew it was something to discuss in relation to the podcast, “I actually find it quite difficult to be creative in this lockdown period, a lot of the work we make involves, you know, being in environments or meeting people, filming in places, being able to troll people, whatever it is – it’s quite difficult to keep that alive when it’s just in your bedroom on a webcam, on zoom.” To be fair, it is, I hear that.
Drawing inspirations is another thing, there’s lots of podcasts about that cover absolutely everything, what’s not been crossed off already? This is something he was keen to address “I don’t want to create a bog-standard podcast with guests, there’s already enough of that in the world”. With lockdown, people are naturally listening to more podcasts, something that has played into the timing of this show very well – it was more the BBC’s idea for the timely podcast, as originally Alhan was set for an audio documentary later down the line. As a documentarian he is forever attempting to bring new elements to his productions to educate on topics that are rarely covered, things that require debate, but all the while including humour to connect with the audiences. “People like to have fun and they learn through comedy as well. If you can be a sarcastic c**t or wrap-up some story in there, or some bit of knowledge that people can actually take away, then fine job done init - you’re good. That’s why people used to love fun teachers or that family member or cool uncle that’s a g – people like to be happy and have fun. There’ll always be serious people who have a serious hot take on something, and write paragraphs on a topic, but let them do their thing – don’t get me wrong there’s serious issues in the world but it comes down to self-awareness and there’s always room to learn. With the podcast there’s going to be something for everyone – if they like it, they like it”.
Now I didn’t want to overshadow this interview with lockdown this, lockdown that – but this is kind of key to the story. With us all spending more time behind screens than ever, listening habits changed. Some may think being behind a computer plays into Alhan’s court more than most. However quick to deny those Twitter fingers some have, he very much defies the claims he is in fact a keyboard warrior and goes on to disclose that he’s actually the opposite and he finds it more difficult to troll behind a computer screen than if it was in person. So how did the podcast go down? We won’t get to this right away, you can stick with it and read on.
For those that know Alhan, a lot of his more recent work has been situated within the grime/rap scene. But this is a branch out, he goes on to say “With Gasworks we are only going to get the guests from our world and the people we want to interview - but this is why it was important for me to use the skills shown on there, in the real world. Not to say that that isn’t the real world, but for example Ken Clarke, who was a former Tory MP, gave a sick insight into the finance world. But yes, I wanted to step it up and actually interview people that might not necessarily have an opportunity to interview or have the right platform. So, when these people see BBC, they’ll jump at it, so working with the BBC has definitely helped to secure them.” With the arrival of this new podcast, it’s clear to see a progression into another world and a wider demographic.
Alhan went on to commend his friends who featured on the show, such as Lily Allen, Very Vee Brown, Jaykae and Big Zuu. Because he was familiar with their humour and personality, he knew his questions would land well and invite banterous responses, cause them to react in a certain way, evoke certain emotions and provide the familiarity for his current fanbase – it layered a foundation to build on and expand. I was particularly keen to uncover the curiosity as to why the newer names in association with Alhan were chosen. “When it comes to people like Ken Clarke or Debra Meaden or Tim Peake, whoever the experts were, then there is a major curiosity. There was even points when interviewing them that asides from the podcast, I was like ‘how did you do XYZ?’ ‘did you actually do that?’ ‘Was that real?’ There was so many things that I wanted to know – To think, I actually had these people on zoom in front of me, thinking they’ve done this and achieved that in their life… it was sick. Hopefully my audience will share that curiosity and be intrigued to join me whilst we discuss because as much as my own interests, I also kept in mind like – what would people want to know from this person?”
With this not being video-led like we are used to, we rolled into whether he needed to adjust his presenting style to suit the audio listeners – because they won’t get to see the smirks in silence or the body language that emphasises the comedy element, like we see on Gasworks. Did he need to play up and describe more? “Not really, just means that they can’t see those elements, because on Gasworks there might be stuff that is exaggerated, like when I get my arse out or something, or when Poet gets me in a headlock – that stuff adds to the show, we do that for dramatic effect. If it’s facial expressions or us cringing, that’s natural and there was that in ‘Alhan’s World’, it’s not like we had to dumb that down, it was on zoom and there was actual laughter – nothing needed to change, just audiences can’t see it this time – I am a visuals guy but big up podcasts”.
For somebody quite public facing, with a big presence online, Alhan allows audiences to know a lot about him, and his life, but I know there’s a lot more than what he lets on. Like what’s the criteria for Alhan’s World? “There’s no criteria really, just whoever cares – I like a bit of everything and I have conversations with people and all they think is that I like UK music and grime, then they’re like ‘oh shit you know about that?’. This is why I love Twitter right, because your favourite artist might tweet or talk about something, like Pizzagate – it reminds you everyone’s human” He likened the experience to school, when the teacher would swear, making everyone wake up and realise they are human too “they aren’t this robot-like, programmed teacher”. But in short, the criteria is “anything and everything can go in Alhan’s World. Sometimes it can be timely and relevant, if we had a show recorded and ready for right now, it could have been, was Winston Churchill a bellend? That would have been a great episode and I’m sure a lot of people would have loved that as well – because with the protests we saw with Black Lives Matter, I’ve learnt more in those weeks than I have ever about history in school and a lot of people are saying the same thing”.
An unorthodox approach is something always welcomed when you begin to get accustomed with something, it certainly is for me – I’m one of those people that will forever get bored of approaches and output that is constantly the same. With this outlook on things, there was an opportunity to know if his guests were like this too and appreciated a more youthful and no-hold-bars approach. They must have appreciated this right? “Yes 100%, that’s literally one thing I will say, you could even see on Zoom, a couple of people I spoke to were very stiff and sat upright on their chair. By the end of the interview, they were slouched or laying back. Shit like that is almost a reminder to them, I think it was a breath of fresh air, some were like ‘this is great, I didn’t think it would be such a laid back interview’ – one person even asked if they could swear, from there on they were chucking a swear word in every sentence, then I was like ‘ok you’re swearing a bit too much now’.”
A widespread guestlist certainly offered numerous opportunities for an exclusive reveal or unexpected slip-up or willingness to be themselves without the professional front. With Alhan’s forward interviewing style, surely there was a probing question that bordered on the risky side yet would be pure gold if answered. Asking Dragon’s Den personality and entrepreneur how to set up a north London drug business wouldn’t have been my first thought, but he did it – solid business advice from one of the most reputable people in business. Tick. In the first episode, he asked Buddhist monk Gen Kalseng Tharpa if he masturbated. Tick. Well actually, the question was meant for astronaut Tim Peake “I wanted to ask Tim Peake if he w****d in space, but I couldn’t ask him – I actually regret not asking him. It’s because he’s an ambassador for the scouts, he is a f*****g astronaut, this guy works with the Royal Family – I just knew he couldn’t answer that.” You can start to see this is a podcast that covers all areas and there’s no holding back.
The first episode dealt with the relevant topic of lockdown isolation, asking Lily Allen, Gen Kalseng Tharpa and Tim Peake how they adjusted to this dramatic change. Obviously, some more known for isolation than others. Gen Kalseng Tharpa would lock himself away in Buddhist retreats for weeks and Tim Peake, well, he was in space. “Tim Peake was the best person to ask about isolation, we wanted to get ex jailmates on, I would have loved to have got Julian Assange – I think he would have been a sick guest. But even if you got somebody in jail, let’s say at a maximum security prison, they still have cell mates or other prisoners, they’re reminded that there is life. But Tim Peake is literally the best example of somebody to ask about isolation, the guy is in space. He’s not hearing car horns outside, he’s not seeing trees or birds. This guy is in this container and there is nothing surrounding him for time. I was sitting there for hours after the interview deeping it.”
Knowing Alhan’s ability to press on topics that aren’t the most overly discussed, either due to appropriateness or shock value – I was keen to pin down whether censorship played a part. Did Alhan explore the discussion boundaries within the recording process or were these laid out to him before? “The BBC were very cool and I’m not even saying that because I have to. Everyone has been sick and it’s been a blessing to work with such a great bunch of people. But honestly, one thing I would say, I would never take on something that is going to be detrimental or do something that isn’t going to let me express myself. They’ve allowed me this platform to ask people who I’d have never had the chance to, things that I want to ask, there’s been no censorship. People expect this because it’s the BBC, but it’s the life that we live now and the people working behind the scenes and on these projects, they’re just ordinary people like us”.
There’s a real sense of pride that has come from this conversation and understandably too. This is a big shift and something that has allowed Alhan to further cement himself as one of the most promising media personalities that we have. It goes to show that authenticity goes a long way, this isn’t something that’s happened overnight neither is it something that’s been handed to him. Alhan has been knocking on doors from early and been working on great content for years and years, occasionally asking one question too many or that killer unpredictable question that has somebody in hysterics. No matter who it is, everybody can agree that Alhan has a mind of his own, curated by his interests and instinct to follow interesting people and learn stories from reading and talking to everyone. ‘Alhan’s World’ is a perfect representation, and diversification, as to Alhan’s ability to be versatile whilst remaining true to himself.
Alhan’s World is available now on BBC Sounds!