Yannick Belzil, Pierre-Luc Racine, guest Mike Ward and Gabrielle Caron at the ComédiHa! festival in Québec City. (Photo credit: Michel Grenier)
3 Bières is, in many ways, an anomaly in the podcasting realm. Though the francophone world was slower to wake up to the potential of the medium, they’ve been plugging away at it longer than most. Though they could’ve risked being overshadowed by podcasts hosted by bigger names (like Mike Ward’s Sous Écoute or Pierre-Bruno Rivard’s Le carré de sable) that also have potentially higher-end guest pools and production values, they now exist alongside them (and, more often than not, as guests on those very same shows). Now that the DIY, pirate radio feel of early podcasting has been adopted by people with already considerable fanbases, 3 Bières remains the little engine that could, booking high-profile guests week after week, often finding itself floating near the top of the iTunes chart and being voted #2 Best Podcast in this year’s Best of MTL readers poll — not bad for a show born from two very recent friends chatting in a dive bar in the Point.
Pierre-Luc Racine (an actuary, until very recently) and Yannick Belzil (an illustrator and writer for homegrown videogame studio Tribute Games) started their podcast in late 2011 and were later joined by Gabrielle Caron, a stand-up comedian best known for her appearances on Code F, the Quebec version of MTV’s Girl Code. “Gab’s essentially a guest that never left,” laughs Racine. The show grew naturally out of conversations that Belzil and Racine had at la Chic Régal, the venerable Point tavern just in front of Charlevoix metro, when the two of them lived in the area (back when Verdun was still dry, mind you).
The concept is pretty simple: listeners send in questions, they draw them randomly from a bag and each panelist takes turns answering it. The show is split up into three segments, each corresponding roughly to the time it takes to drink a beer; it ends, fittingly enough, after three beers (though they’ve admitted to faking it a few times, such as during Caron’s pregnancy or Racine’s self-imposed alcohol break after a particularly soused appearance on Mike Ward’s podcast).
3 Bières listeners are diehards, and the continued popularity of the podcast has had almost as much to do with the fans’ direct contribution as it does with its hosts’ dedication and the high caliber of guests, including stand-ups like the aforementioned Mikes Ward and Paterson, Kat Levac, former MusiquePlus VJ Izabelle Desjardins, legendary drag performer Mado Lamotte and retired newscaster and esteemed journalist Simon Durivage.
“It’s completely surreal that the other day we had a beer with Simon Durivage,” says Racine. “That’s not at all what we thought was going to come out of starting a podcast out of his apartment in Pointe St-Charles.”
“As opposed to someone like Mike who starts something and immediately has his audience’s attention, our show was built up,” says Caron. “It wasn’t instantaneous. It was a laborious process in the sense that we had to find the equipment, figure out how to use it, find a platform, find the direction we wanted to go in. The important thing was to keep with it, keep producing shows every week. Being focused, in other words. (…) Correct me if I’m wrong — I haven’t been here since the beginning! — but the fact that no one is doing this for the ‘fame’ helps. When we’re sitting around and chatting, whether five people or 10,000 people are listening to it, I still had an evening chatting and having fun with my friends. That people are listening to it is almost a bonus.”
“We also arrived at the right moment, as the podcasting world was starting to expand in Quebec,” says Belzil. “I would say it might not be there yet. It’s certainly more popular than ever, but not that popular in the grand scheme of things. The thing about us is that we’ve been here for a little while, but we kept growing with it and I think it’s one of the reasons why we’re one of the most popular humour podcasts: because we hung in there long enough to be around at the right time.”
But the hosts are also quick to admit that it’s not an effortless process. “We treat 3 Bières as if it were another job on top of our day jobs,” says Racine. “We spend a lot of time booking guests, brainstorming concepts, writing to journalists or whatever. We also spend a lot of time writing to the listeners. We take it very seriously, but at the same time, we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We’re not sitting around thinking we have to be on the radio in three years and on Tout le monde en parle two weeks later.”
3 Bières is also an anomaly in Quebec because it’s one of the few popular podcasts that isn’t filmed. Ward brought in the video element for his show, which is shot in front of a paying audience at the Ontario Street comedy club le Bordel, which he co-owns; it’s not a unique concept (Community creator Dan Harmon uses the same model for his podcast Harmontown), but it stuck with local audiences to the point where almost all new podcasts now integrate a video element. It’s become one of the recurring questions of 3 Bières’s audience: when are we going to see some video?
“Finding a podcast is complicated,” says Racine. “They’re hard to find, they’re hard to subscribe to. It’s not necessarily something that any person takes to easily. (…) YouTube, on the other hand, everyone knows. Going to YouTube is easy. Finding a video on YouTube is easy. (…) We’d need more means, more budget. We wouldn’t want to handle it. If someone wants to handle it and edit it, I suppose… but then Yannick would still have to have final say over it, and that adds more time.”
“If we remain in control, there’s never additional pressure,” adds Caron. “Imagining a situation where, I don’t know, Radio-Canada buys the concept and suddenly we have producers to answer to — that would certainly add pressure. But if it remains between us, no pressure.”
“I also think that the video element might be a problem in the sense that we’ve had a lot of confession on the show,” adds Racine. “People almost forget they’re being taped, since they’re just in someone’s kitchen. If we were all sitting in a circle or lined up with cameras in our face, we wouldn’t have the same honesty or dynamic.”
“Like Pierre-Luc said, it has to be comfortable,” adds Belzil. “It could be because of the alcohol or our good vibes (laughs), but once you start filming that, you become less comfortable. You become more aware of your bad posture — well, in any case, I saw myself on Le carré de sable and I became more aware of my bad posture! But, yeah, people wouldn’t be as receptive or honest with cameras in their face.”
As Racine said, the booking process is also something that grew over time. In the early days, it was understandably more difficult to convince Quebec celebrities to go over to some dude’s apartment in Pointe St-Charles to record an Internet radio show. “These days, I even do some booking just running into people on the street,” he explains. “That’s how we got MC Gilles on the show. It’s also happened that I just write to people’s fanpages and approach them cold, but with five years of shows behind us now, it’s a lot easier to write to someone and convince them that we’re serious and that, despite the name, we’re not just drunks. Well, we’re drunks, too — but we’re not ONLY drunks.”
“And sometimes they’re just people that Gab knows,” laughs Belzil. “That’s a sign of trust in itself, that Gab is here.”
“At the beginning, it was almost always just the three of us,” says Caron. “The guests were occasional. At some point, though, we came to the conclusion that we had already told each other everything, like an old couple (laughs), and the guests became a more regular occurrence. But I do remember a time, when we recorded in Pointe St-Charles, where we depended mostly on word-of-mouth from guest to guest.”
“The new scope of podcasting helps a lot,” continues Racine. “In 2017, we had two guests on that had previously turned down our invitation to be on the show. Five years later, we had shown not only that we were serious but that people were listening.”
La Chic Régal, birthplace of 3 Bières.
3 BIÈRES’S BEST OF MTL 2017 PICKS
Best Belle Province (special question for the notoriously, almost supernaturally picky Racine, who had his first-ever hamburger at age 26 and is some sort of poutine sage)
“The one on Peel! But, in fact, the first Belle Province on the island is in Anjou, in front of Broadway Pizza.”
“I can’t believe you know so much about Belle Province!” laughs Caron.
“I would like to apologize to all the readers of Cult MTL for this.”
“For a while there was the dude on Ste-Catherine who dressed up like Spider-Man and danced,” says Belzil. “Solid weirdo. There’s a guy… I don’t know if he qualifies as a weirdo since all he’s doing is living his life, but I see him walking up and down Parc. He’s a guy that looks exactly like David Cross, but like David Cross in Arrested Development.”
(We concluded after some time that this was Tony Ezzy, who definitely qualifies as a weirdo.)
“There’s a dude who cruises around on a unicycle with a bowler hat,” says Racine. “He’s my pick.”
“I saw a guy like that in Hochelaga,” says Caron. “Might be the same one. But I’d agree with the Ste-Catherine Spider-Man.”
“I’d like to see him rotate, though,” adds Belzil. “One day, the Tobey Maguire outfit, another day, the Andrew Garfield one. There are 50 years’ worth of Spider-Man comics, there are so many costumes!”
“@charlesalexalex,” says Racine. “People have to start following this guy.”
“I was going to say the same thing!” says Caron. “He recently started tweeting at Gordon Ramsay, he kills me. He’s the guy who does Dessine Bandé, right?”
“No, that’s Alex Lévesque,” says Racine.
“Alex Lévesque should be in the mix, too,” adds Belzil.
“He doesn’t live in Montreal, though. Disqualified!” says Racine.
Best Sleazy Dive
“I have to pick two: la Chic Régal (2567 Centre) and les verres stérilisés (800 Rachel E.), says Racine. “They’re equal in my heart. Might as well shout out the bartenders while we’re at it. Hello to Thierry and Éric from les verres stérilisés and Richard and Sergio from Chic Régal.”
“Sergio, boy,” Belzil says. “He’s not in a laughing mood. He hasn’t laughed at a joke in years. Sergio laughs when he watches Benny Hill, probably, and that’s it. Someone slipping on the ice outside, that’s Sergio’s favourite. (…) I also want to mention la petite idée fixe (4857 Parc), just over here on Parc. But I want to knock off a few points because they recently removed the old, free jukebox with music from 1993 and replaced it with a big TouchTunes jukebox and that place lost a lot of its charm in the process.”
“Yannick and I went last week and they were still playing the same music in spite of the update,” says Racine.
Best Local Band
“I really like Dead Obies, but are they local?” says Caron. “There are like 60,000 people in the band, so some of them might be 450.”
“I don’t think it’s cool anymore to say Dead Obies,” says Racine. “I think we’re giving ourselves away as old farts.”
Goods & Services
“I live in Villeray, and it’s really been popping off with the specialty stores lately,” says Caron. “They just opened a Randolph boutique (347 de Castelnau E.) where I could literally spend all of my money on board games that I tell myself I’ll learn to play one day and never do… but I love going to Randolph. There’s also the EtOH brewery at Jarry and St-Denis. It’s not a sleazy dive, though — it’s very cute! There’s also a clothing store named Archive (318 Villeray), but I never feel cool enough when I walk in there. They have clothing and surfboards and they just started serving coffee, too. I love it!”
“I would like to shout out the store on Rachel, just in front of Parc Lafontaine, that’s simultaneously a coffee shop, a hairdresser, a plant store and a clothing store,” says Racine. “Lots of things happening in that store.” ■