CORK podcast duo Kevin Twomey and PJ Kirby have received texts from people in the LBQTQ+ community, telling them they were finally able to come out to their families because of their work.
“That’s when I realised... it’s actually having a big impact... me and Kevin crying in the kitchen to each other about it,” says PJ, about the texts.
The comic duo began recording their podcast, called ‘I’m Grand Mam’, in which they explore what it means to be gay in the world today, at their kitchen table in London two years ago.
Growing up gay, coming out, moving away from their Cork home, dating, and the importance of looking after your mental health, are among the wide range of subjects they have discussed.
“Even though my family was quite accepting (when I came out) and Kevin’s was similar, you still always feel ‘other’ when you are younger,” says PJ.
“We wanted to make that we talked about that in a humorous way, but still say how serious and how difficult that was because we want to help young LGBTQ+ people listening to say that they are not alone.”
PJ, whose boyfriend lives in Dublin, discusses what’s involved in keeping a long-distance relationship alive and the duo even have an episode entitled ‘Transition Year Made Me Gay’.
“Definitely we have a gay following — that’s across the community — people are reaching out from all branches of the LGBTQ+ community to us to say that listening to us has been reassuring,” says Kevin.
“We’ve had people come out to us themselves who have said they haven’t told anyone and they’re still coming to terms with it.
“The fact we’re speaking about it and the fact a lot of our stories, like, involve us just having a laugh or talking about memories or things we’d be getting up to in London, they’re (the listeners), like, ‘For me that’s so reassuring, to know that things will get better, that that’s all ahead of me and it’s not just all doom and gloom’.’”
Kevin, 27, who is from Douglas, and PJ, 28, who is originally from Blarney Street, met when Kevin attended PJ’s hip-hop classes in UCC.
PJ subsequently moved to London to study musical theatre and the friends were reunited after Twomey moved back to London following a year-long stint dancing in Asia.
The pair, both trained dancers, moved in together as part of a house share with others.
They made the decision to try their hand at podcasting after friends kept telling them they were, “a bit of a double act” and should work on something together.
“When we started, I did not know what a podcast was,” says PJ.
“Kevin was like, ‘What about a podcast?’ and I said, ‘What’s a podcast?’”. They talked about it further on a flight to Budapest and when they returned they ordered a mike from Amazon.
“Then we forgot about it and then it arrived so we were like, ‘Oh, s**t, we have to do this now!’
“The intention was to have a bit of fun with it but at the same time I was kind of like, well, if we were going to do it, we were going (to) try, and make it good,” says Kevin.
The podcast’s name ‘I’m Grand Mam’ stems from the response they generally give their mammies to reassure them, when they get in touch, that all is going well for them.
“No matter whether you were miles into the overdraft and whether you missed a payment on the rent that month, you’d always tell your mam you were fine, because the worst thing ever would be to have her worrying because she’d be on that next Ryanair flight over,” says Kevin.
“‘I’m grand’ is a very Cork colloquialism, instead of saying, ‘I’m fine mummy,’ we wanted it to be very Cork.”
The duo are close to their families and always have been very close to their mothers, Nuala Kirby and Phil (Philomena) Twomey.
“My mam would be one of my very, very good friends,” says PJ.
“She’s my mam, but I also talk to her like I would to my friends, obviously through a filter. But I’d be very close to Nuls. I’d be mad about her,” he says.
“That was one of the things that kind of killed me a small bit about moving away,” says Kevin. “I was kind of... I’ll be leaving my mam there... that’s one of the things I definitely battled with,” he says of his initial move to the UK in 2014 to attend a school of performing arts, from which he earned a diploma in musical theatre.
Fast forward two years and the duo have recorded 60 episodes over four seasons and put their listenership at about 50,000 listeners a week.
The majority of their listeners are Irish living here and abroad, including in the UK, Australia, Canada, and the U.S, but there are plenty of non-Irish listeners too, including in South Africa, even as far afield as Panama.
“You’d be surprised at the amount of non-Irish listening, English, Scottish, they’re like, ‘I get your sense of humour.’ You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy it,” says PJ.
One of the highlights of last year was undoubtedly having star of the TV series Normal People Paul Mescal as their first ever podcast guest.
The actor was listening to the show and following them and agreed to be interviewed by “the lads” just after the TV series had been shown.
“It was really nice,” says PJ. “It felt like he was the biggest star in the world at the time.”
“It was crazy,” adds Kevin.
“We’d never had a guest on before and then out of nowhere our very first guest happens to be the biggest rising star of the year. So there was this immense pressure. He just went with everything and he was just such an easy person to interview.”
Other guests have included author Shahroo Izadi, who wrote The Kindness Method, a book about being kind to yourself, and who the pair interviewed as part of an episode on mental health.
Despite living in different countries, the boys’ mothers remain a huge part of their lives and have their own role in the podcast.
At the end of each episode, Nuala and Phil answer questions from listeners, submitted via Instagram, by recording What’sApp voice notes in a section called ‘Mam Knows Best’.
They have recently given advice on how a family should celebrate their mother’s 60th birthday, and what a daughter can do to help her mother who hates her job.
Their last episode in the most recent season fittingly culminated with the pair interviewing their mothers in Cork in early December before this lockdown began, and included a quiz where the duo tested their mothers’ knowledge of gay slang.
For the moment, the pandemic has grounded PJ, who works in advertising and can work remotely, and Kevin, who has been furloughed from his job as a spin instructor in a gym, in Ireland, but they hope to resume recording at the kitchen table in London in early summer.
In the meantime, they have been making the most of the time with their mams.