"POD SQUAD" - THE BUNT
Interview With Cephas Benson and Donovan Jones
WORDS: Stu Gomez
As skateboarders and skate companies began to catch the podcast bug in the late-aughts, it became a regular part of daily life. Listen in the car, listen on the bus, listen at work, and—if you were really hardcore—listen during your sesh.
Nowadays, we have a regular supply of quality programming to keep us glued to our earbuds. Some shows, like Toronto, Canada’s “The Bunt” (Cephas Jenson and Donovan Jones), now in its fifth season, excel at the interview format. The give-and-take between the The Bunt’s guests and hosts always maintains a natural rhythm and openness—right up until the accelerated pace of the show’s signature “Rapid Fire” interrogation when listeners can easily discern between the honest and guarded, PC answers. The Bunt’s dynamic podcasts aren’t designed for passive listening—get involved or get out of the way.
Benson and Jones conceived of The Bunt as a vehicle for sports talk from a skater’s point of view. Scratch that: a Canadian skater’s point of view. Positive reception was immediate, and it was encouraging. When you’re building entertainment for a notoriously fickle audience (i.e. skateboarders) it can be a struggle to present anything with a different viewpoint. The focus on sports may seem like something out of left field, so to speak, but these guys own it, and that may be the reason why the show works so well.
Vans seems to agree. Skateboarding’s most revered shoe company jumped on board for season three. Having the buy-in of this legacy-filled company is a massive vote of confidence. And it’s important to note that Vans lends its support to a show that actively shuns the standard skate industry politics; you gotta love a show that punctuates light-hearted disses with gunshot and machine gun drops.
It may be strange to reconcile the fact that one of skateboarding’s most relevant properties is based in Canada. Sadly, in the U.S. it’s common to deride our neighbors to the North—never mind that most of the American population longs to cross that border, at least for the next three years—but those stereotypes are rapidly losing cultural steam. The Bunt has an appeal that’s universal, all while devoting a greater proportion of airtime to local legends (of the roughly 70 guests over six seasons, over twenty guests were Canadian). Combining sports talk with long-overdue exposure for Canadian skateboarding makes “The Bunt” a must. And they have the Wade DesArmo stamp of approval. It doesn’t get any more legit than that.
When did you become interested in podcasting?
Cephas: Way back in 2007 or so, Ricky Gervais released The Ricky Gervais Show, which at the time was the number one podcast in the world for quite some time. Him, Karl Pilkington, and Stephen Merchant, had me dying of laughter on the regular. Been a fan of podcasts ever since.
Were you already a fan of podcasts?
Donovan: Well, Cephas got me into podcasts to start with, and I’ve been listening ever since. They’re something that’s been apart of our everyday lives for a while now. [ESPN’s] Jalen and Jacoby is our number one, and has always had a huge influence on our show. They try to give a behind the scenes look on the sports world and that’s what we’re attempting to do with The Bunt. Another show we both listen to is Fantasy Footballers; definitely can’t be missing any episodes of that during football season!
How did you develop the concept for The Bunt?
C: Both being fans of sports podcasts we always talked about starting our own but we knew nobody would listen to us talk about sports so we used our small platform in skating combined with our friends who have much bigger platforms to get jump started. The original vision was half sports/half skate gossip, but that changed rather quickly because we realized most people who listen are skaters. We decided to keep the sports section because we love talking sports but threw it at the back end of the show so that you don’t have to listen if sports talk isn’t for you.
What are your memories of your first show? Were you happy with it?
D: Oh man, the first one was an experience I’ll never forget, and thank you again to Morgan Smith for being the first. I just remember we had no idea what we were doing, we had one microphone that we sat in the middle of the three of us that we shared, no real organization to the interview, we just kind of made it up as we went along. I don’t know if we were happy with it, but back then I think we also just knew that we had to start somewhere and hopefully grow week-by-week. There was actually a pilot episode we recorded before the first episode with Morgan and it’s the first time Cephas and I spoke into a microphone. No guest—just the two of us—and we sent it to some of our close friends and family members for some feedback. We need to dig that up and put it out there for the people because Iremember it being painful to listen to, so I’m sure the listeners would enjoy that.
How did the show evolve over the next few episodes?
C: The first episode was all over the place and we slowly added some structure time. Sports was always part of the picture, talking about sports was the original idea for a podcast to begin with. Thankfully we skate and get fun skaters on, otherwise our moms would be the only two listening.
Were you comfortable with the interviewing process?
D: When we started, our vision was more of a conversation than an interview, and it just ended up evolving into that. Neither of us had any experience interviewing so it’s just something we’re still learning to this day, luckily we have the opportunity to interview someone new every week so our style is constantly evolving week-by-week.
How do you guys divide the interviewing duties?
C: Definitely a tag team effort. Sometimes, if one of us is a big fan of that weeks guest, Dono or myself might take the lead on preparing questions. But generally we both recruit skaters to come on the show and come up with questions together.
Was there a level of performance anxiety involved in hosting the podcast?
D: At first, absolutely, but not as much nowadays. I still feel it a bit when we’re interviewing the likes of Jake Phelps, Stevie Williams, P-Rod, etc. The live show we did at House of Vans was definitely an anxiety-ridden experience; luckily, we had someone like Elijah Berle who made sure we had some tequila shots in us before we went on stage!
Has it been hard to line up guests due to being based in Toronto?
C: We’ve had some stressful weeks where we are coming up with guests last-second, but we’ve learned from our mistakes and have been staying a good two or three weeks ahead of ourselves. Having a couple interviews in our back pocket allows us to go after guys we really want to interview.
Do you remember any episodes that may have taken a surprising turn? Did this throw you off?
D: The Jake Phelps interview took a turn for the worse/better right off the jump, this was an interview that Cephas had set up, so I had never spoken a word to Jake before. To have him snap on me for calling him “Phelps” right off the top was amazing—we were both dying laughing while trying to keep it together! Best start to an episode in the history of The Bunt hands down. I don’t think it threw us off; it probably excited us more than anything.
Have there been any Rapid Fire with Da Ghost sessions that really took you by surprise?
C: The behind-the-scenes answers are usually pretty great because everyone knows exactly who the last person on the sesh or worst style is but they can’t say it on wax. As far as “on wax call outs,” when Ben Blundell’s shoutout out Zach Barton as the last person he wanted on the sesh… that was super unexpected and hilarious.
Was it tricky to get guests to be candid with you? Does the intimidation factor fade away after a while?
D: I think with every interview it gets more and more candid as the guest gets comfortable talking with us. Some people open up right away and have no problem sharing stories, and with others it just takes time. Some of the guys we interview we’ve been watching and looking up to since we were kids, so having our first encounter be us interviewing them can be a bit intimidating, but that feeling is starting to wear off.
Was there a guest you wish you could go back and interview again?
C: That happens almost every week. There’s always a question or two you wish you had asked. With Phelps I was mad at myself for not asking for a box and asking him to give Donovan advice in his quest for SOTY.
Do you have a dream guest? Any specific questions in mind?
D: A dream guest for me would be Scott Kane, he was a huge influence on us as kids and his am/pro part in Bootleg 3000 was one of the best ever. Just to pick his brain about that part and kind of disappearing from the skate scene when he was at such a high level. Scott, if you’re reading this, let’s make it pop!
What is your opinion on the current state of podcasting?
C: Podcasting is in a great state right now. It’s almost getting a little bit oversaturated but we can’t complain. There aren’t too many in skateboarding so that works for us. So many sports shows and radio shows end up releasing their content as a podcast and so many celebrities give it a whirl to see if they can get enough of an audience to sell some ads. I think it’s great, though; podcasts changed my life for the better way back in 2007. Countless hours of manual labor and mundane tasks have been a whole lot more enjoyable with a podcast in my ear.
Do you pay attention to comments on social? Do you find any value in negative comments and trolling?
D: Not so much anymore, maybe in the beginning when we were just starting. Honestly, I feel that if you pay too close attention to the trolling and negative comments you start to overthink it and do things differently. You can’t please everyone, and that’s something we’re okay with.
What role do podcasts play in your everyday life?
C: It’s kind of scary how much I listen to podcasts. I’m always plugged into something. If I’m watching a show on my laptop and go to the bathroom I’ll throw a podcast on for those couple minutes; if I walk anywhere, take public transit, or am in any situation where I don’t need to use my brain, I’m listening to a podcast.
What does the future hold for The Bunt?
D: Our website [www.thebuntlive.com] just went live last month, so continuing to work on that, a new clothing collection, another live show, and like we said from day one, we’re going to find a way to be in Tokyo covering the Olympics in 2020 [laughs].
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