Last year, when COVID-19 halted TV production, former MH cover guy and The Bachelor host, Osher Günsberg, could have found himself at a loose end. Instead his side hustle, the podcast Better Than Yesterday, suddenly became that rarest of beasts: a passion project that pays the bills.
Osher Günsberg is speaking to me from his ‘Pod Cave’ in the downstairs section of his new house. It used to be a nursery, he says, but after moving in back in December 2019, he promptly liquid-nailed soundproofing to the walls.
Seated at his desk with his computer in front of him, Günsberg’s headphones are plugged into his RØDECaster studio console, as he speaks through his ‘good mic’. Around him lie the remnants of a virtual gameshow he hosted the previous evening with the guys from his regular Wednesday evening poker night.
“I’ve been playing with the same guys for the last 15 years,” he says. “We’ve all been to each others’ bachelor parties and weddings and we’ve slept on each others’ couches after divorces. We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin. So, I’m running a quiz show for us. I’m not a half-arsed kind of guy, so I’ve got a graphics package and a green screen and sound effects and music. And I put on my fancy game show jacket and I do the whole damn thing. It’s a lot of fun.”
It’s one of the ways Günsberg adapted to our ‘grave new world’ after production on season 8 of The Bachelor was suspended last March due to the COVID-19 lockdown (the show eventually resumed to finish the season).
“When you’re making a show that involves people pashing on and then a global pandemic hits, you can’t really keep making a show about people pashing on,” he laughs. “It was like, ‘We’ve got to keep people safe’.”
But while many who work in the creative industry either leaned into TikTok or tried to find new outlets to express themselves, Günsberg already had one that had been bubbling away in the background for years: his podcast, Better Than Yesterday.
Isolation meant spending a lot more time down in the Pod Cave. “I’ve been doubling down on podcasting,” he says. “It’s going from strength to strength. That’s the revenue stream that I have at the moment.”
That’s a rather prosaic way to describe what is both entertaining ear candy and aural floss, with regular deep-dives into philosophical issues and nuanced discussions on mental health. Günsberg, a 46-year-old veteran of TV and radio, is fast becoming Australia’s answer to Joe Rogan, delving headfirst into the psyche of well-known guests to reveal the person behind the public image.
That sometimes jarring duality in turn reflects the dichotomy in Günsberg’s own professional output: the emotional density and at times heavy themes of the podcast stand in stark contrast to the gloss and froth of his day job. Günsberg seems to relish the dissonance.
“Why is one person only allowed to be one thing?” he shouts, almost joyfully down the line. “No one is one thing. I’m the guy that counts flowers and I’m the guy that sits down and talks to the Premier about what we’re going to do when Tamworth runs out of water. Everyone is like that. We all are many, many things and we all have many motivations and things that drive us.”
As it turns out, versatility, agility and the ability to tap into the many facets of what make you whole are pretty handy skills to have . . . and not just when you’re scrambling to adjust to a global pandemic, either.
Günsberg had the idea for Better Than Yesterday in 2013 when he was living in LA. But it was while he was back in Australia for 10 weeks shooting the first season of The Bachelor that he actually made it real.
“I’d been living in Los Angeles for eight years and got a front-row seat to the opening rounds of the first successes of podcasting,” he says. “I remember hearing various podcasters and going, ‘Holy shit. Half a million people are listening to this’. And those kinds of numbers made me go, ‘Bloody hell. They’re commercial broadcasting numbers’. But then you look at the business model of it. It’s you, an audio producer, maybe a salesperson and that’s it.”
While back in Australia, Günsberg accompanied his mate, comedian Luke Heggie, to some stand-up gigs, where he bumped into fellow comedian and broadcaster Scott Dooley. Without really thinking about it too much, he asked Dooley to join him on his non-existent podcast the following Tuesday.
“Now, Dools didn’t know that I didn’t have a podcast,” says Günsberg gleefully. “Dools didn’t know that I didn’t know how to record a podcast. Dools didn’t know that I had no microphones. That’s fine. I just went, ‘Okay, I’d better learn how to record a podcast’.” And that’s what he did, purchasing some mics and figuring out how to use them over the weekend. By Tuesday he was ready. “It was like, ‘Oh, hey man. Here we go’. I hit record and off we went.”
If that sounds like a slap-dash, rather whimsical way to start your podcast career, it’s in large part a reflection of the medium. Many pods flame out as quickly as they were conceived. If you’re lucky you might win a small but devoted audience. And if you’re really fortunate and, let’s face it, good, your voice may accompany people from Sao Paulo to Saint Petersburg on their morning commute.
The point is, while barriersto starting aren’t prohibitive, you still have to, you know, start. “I’ve found that it’s always the way that if you commit to something just a little bit outside your ability level you go, ‘Now I’ve got a deadline, I’m just going to have to figure it out’,” Günsberg says. “That’s what happened and here we are 335 episodes later.”
The appeal, and indeed, the success of the medium lies in its simplicity and the intimacy that allows. The fact that the audience accesses shows through their most prized possession – their phone – usually through earbuds, only increases the closeness and affinity between the host and the audience, Günsberg says.
“You and this voice are connecting together the same way you take a phone call,” he says. “It’s such a one-on-one form of communication.” And without the financial imperatives of commercial radio, where you have to break for ads every two minutes, you have the freedom to natter away for hours, digging deep into your subject and their life.
“Once we find some commonality, then we have that first thread,” Günsberg says. “Hopefully we then find another thread and then another. Then you might have a bit of a twine and from there maybe you get up to a rope. Soon enough, you’ve got a connection that you can hold onto.”
Günsberg spoke at length about his mental health, particularly Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the last time he chatted to MH back in 2018. It’s been one of the podcast’s recurring themes, reflected in the title, Better Than Yesterday.
Indeed, one of Günsberg’s more memorable chats was with his wife, Audrey, the two engaging in a frank discussion on what it’s like to live with someone who suffers from mental health problems. It was ground Günsberg had covered in his book Back, After The Break but felt needed to be addressed in greater depth.
“The book was about me losing my mind and trying to find my way back,” he says. “But a massive part of that was Audrey, who helped me so very much. The way she framed what it was like to have a conversation with someone who is slipping into paranoia and going through intense anxiety and can’t leave the house and what it’s like to care for someone like that. And the incredible gift she gave me of being able to see me and my sick brain as two separate things.”
The other podcast that had particular resonance for Günsberg was one he did with Jamie Simmonds, a man who in 2011 took charge of relocating the town of Grantham, just outside of Toowoomba, out of the way of floods.
One of the ways Günsberg’s OCD has manifested has been through constant, intrusive thoughts and anxiety around climate change. To talk to someone like Simmonds, who had confronted the fallout of a changing climate so directly, was a prospect Günsberg found terrifying.
“Five years ago I would’ve run from the room, run down the street,” he says. “I’m not even joking. For someone like me who’s gone through episodes of psychosis that manifested in paranoid delusions to the point where anything climate-related would set off a quivering, wanting to vomit and run at the same time kind of fear response, to now have the ability to be with that discomfort is very, very powerful.”
The fact that he could have the conversation was a testament to the work Günsberg, his doctors and his wife have done.
“I have a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The way I refer to it, is it’s as if I was a rally driver; the psychiatrist is the mechanic and the psychologist is the navigator. But I have to do the driving. And then Audrey is the cheer squad, the backup crew and the reason to get to the finish line.”
The scale of the psychological journey he’s been on is, if not the Dakar Rally, something equally monumental. “I went from the couch to running the Boston Marathon of mental health in five years.”
EXERCISE YOUR DEMONS
That Günsberg uses exercise as a metaphor to talk about his mental health probably isn’t that surprising. Along with the forementioned pit crew of professional care and medication, training has been the other force behind his recovery.
Almost two-and-a-half years ago he appeared on our cover after doing a 12-week challenge he credits with helping him “manage the brain I was born with”. Two-and-a-half years on that remains the case, although he’s quick to add that he no longer boasts athlete-level body fat.
“My body fat percentage hasn’t been that low since that day and that’s fine,” he says. Instead he’s added a little more muscle, while keeping up his cardio and conditioning work with Zwift cycling sessions and kettlebell workouts, plus a weekly 100-rep sandbag-burpee
session, interspersed with chin-ups. “In the words of my friend, Luke Heggie, ‘A chin-up bar will keep you honest’.”
As for the sandbag: “You can utterly smoke yourself with those things.” And smoking himself, he says, is exactly what his mind needs.
“I know that if I want to change my mood state from, ‘I feel a bit shit’ to ‘I feel better’, I need to release certain hormones – dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and endorphin. To do that I need to train and, in particular, activate the bigger muscles in my body. It’s like a bowl of oranges. You’ve got to squeeze them to get the juice out. A couple of sets of dead-lifts and a few burpees with a sandbag? That’ll do it.”
You also need a high base level of exertion, he says, to trigger a physical transformation.
“If there’s one thing I learned from doing the cover, it’s that the hormone response to create the body composition shift did not start to happen until I went to a point where, at the end of a set, I had to lie down on the floor,” he says. “It’s just volume, dude. You’ve got to understand that when you think you’re gassed, that’s you at 60 per cent. You’ve got more. Your body won’t adapt unless you push it to
Appropriately enough, Günsberg now comes full circle, comparing the ability to endure and adapt to being physically uncomfortable during exercise to being able to manage his anxiety around climate change. “You’ve just got to be willing to be with how uncomfortable it is but understand that if you’re willing to do that, you will adapt. I know my brain will eventually get better at it and slowly, slowly, slowly, I’ll get better at being able to deal with more of it.
But then you’ve got to increase the weight and that’s why you then have harder and harder conversations.” If we’re lucky, some of those will take place in the Pod Cave.