I tuned into my first podcast about 5 years ago, due to a celebrity appearance of someone I was a fan of; it was like nothing I’d heard before. The auditory nature of the medium obviously draws comparisons to radio but in reality, radio is a far cry from podcasts. Radio programs are the mainstream: broadcast to millions, highly produced, and designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Podcasts, on the other hand, are niche, born from the desire of the showrunner to share passions, entertain others, build communities and pass on stories. Without the glamour and gleam of the large media companies, it allowed a truly unique entertainment medium to form.
One of the more defining features is that podcasts have virtually no limitations or restrictions – as long as they are auditory, they can take any form. There are podcasts about solving murders, podcasts to self-improve, podcasts to review films and books, countless comedy shows, informational shows, news, journalism, and interviews. Realising the potential of the communities these podcasts create, media giants have become involved, and flooded the scene with many new shows. If you’re a fan of a certain comedian or personality, chances are that they have their own podcast.
However, I regret to say that there are only so many hours in a day. So, even during the lockdown, I haven’t branched out into many of the exciting new avenues that the medium is moving towards. But I have cultivated a small group of shows over the years that I couldn’t do without and have been very helpful in these troubling times. If you’re wanting something new to listen to over the summer, I have chosen a few of my favourites in a variety of genres, all of which I would highly recommend.
The Weekly Planet is the flagship program of the Planet Broadcasting network and covers all things popular culture. From discussing fan theories and assessing director cuts to their annihilating Caravan of Garbage series (which, despite the name, discusses both good and bad shows), it’s truly a delight to listen to the rants and ramblings of the charismatic Australian hosts as they stumble their way through – perfect for the morning commute.
If video games are more your thing, you should check out Pitch Please. In this podcast, a group of game developers pitch each other games and then either rip the idea to shreds or run away with it entirely. With many special guests from developers to journalists to YouTubers giving their pitch – does Eddie Stobart’s Global Domination sound feasible? – this podcast is both hilarious and a fascinating insight into the game development process.
I lied by saying I hadn’t found anything new during the quarantine. Actors and married couple Paul F. Tompkins and Janie Haddad Tompkins started the lockdown podcast Stay F. Homekins, which is very sweet, charming and whimsical. They discuss the events in America, their lives and experiences in Hollywood and also go slightly crazy as they remain indoors for weeks on end. Both a light-hearted and serious look at the global crises occurring at the moment, it is one thing that I will look back on fondly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Aunty Donna Podcast may be one to binge. It has just passed 200 episodes, but you may need to understand the characters and jokes and stupidity on this improvisation podcast. Normally, the word ‘improv’ makes me cautious, but this eponymous trio – well-known for their sketches online – work so well that I always look forward to whatever is going on in each episode.
Finally, the show that started it all. It was episode 400 with comedians Jason Manzoukas (the aforementioned celebrity) and Andy Daly that I first listened to; the rest is history. Comedy Bang! Bang! is another improvisational podcast, taking the form of an interview show with comedians and performers playing these characters. One of the largest comedy podcasts and with guests such as Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Judd Apatow and Lauren Lapkus, it has nearly 700 episodes, with plenty of memorable moments and literally laugh-out-loud stuff. It is no surprise that it is a juggernaut in the comedy podcast scene.
I enjoy all the shows above, and the medium in general, because I believe their format is much more intimate than media like television, film and radio. Through this, an illusion is created: you most likely listen alone and so the only people within this room are you and the hosts of the show. There may be some high production values but, in the end, a more personal experience is had. Jokes and references feel as though you’re in on them, discussions feel more private and intense, and stories feel more focused and built personally for you. In my experience at least, these qualities help podcasts to stand out from other media in their ability to make you feel a part of the community, and I believe that this is really what helps to combat loneliness. It’s no wonder then that in times of hardship and isolation, such as these, podcasts are more popular than ever.