Christ alive, we could all do with a laugh. Fortunately, take a wander into the podcast world and you'll soon be ankle-deep in funny stuff. Where to start, though?
Don't waste your precious hours trawling through podcasts that only draw the hollowest, shallowest, dustiest laughs. Not to over-promise or anything, but these will leave you heaving with the kind of laughter that can't physically be contained within the human frame. You'll shake and howl, and maybe you'll be a bit sick. Enjoy!
The Proper Class Podcast
Actor Laura Checkley from King Gary and Military Wives hosts this one with theatre director Hannah Chissick, which digs into one of the most enduring but most subtly changeable facts of British life: class. Their guests, including Romesh Ranganathan and ex-England footballer Lianne Sanderson, all grew up working class, and get deep into the ways in which the strata which separate the country into invisible groups, and groups within groups, and etc etc etc.
Storytime with Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen might be the perfect podcast host. He's Mr Affable. He's got a contact book that's only marginally smaller than the LA phone directory. He's got a lovely voice. He makes his own ceramics. This apparently rambling but really very smartly and tightly produced podcast brings together all of those strengths. (Except the ceramics.) Each time a guest – sometimes famous, sometimes not – tells an interesting story from their past. That's it. They're often very funny, but sometimes they're not. Either way, they're told like a little audio doc, with archive and extra interviews to support it. The budding of David Crosby's friendship with his absolute hero, George Harrison, following the worst set Crosby had ever played, is a good place to start.
Poppy Hillstead Has Entered the Chat
Formerly one third of the Gossipmongers podcast until she was unceremoniously and deeply confusingly dumped for the fourth series (yes, we're still annoyed on her behalf), Poppy Hillstead came back with this one in early 2021. Each time she delves into an internet forum devoted to something which she has no idea about, and tries to blend in. Naturally, results vary. The resulting conversations are dramatised by Hillstead and comedian friends. So far she's tried to crack on with magicians, pro fishermen and hypnotists, among others. There's one fandom she's not going anywhere near though.
"I did attempt to do a K-Pop episode but I’m too scared, d’you know what I mean?" she told The Skinny. "The K-pop fanbase, towards BTS and stuff, are so angry [that] I think I’d be in danger for the rest of my life. I can’t face that, I’ll get slaughtered."
Lots of podcasts do the guest-and-host-have-a-chat thing; very few do the guest-and-host-make-some-art-together thing. Comedian and artist Annie McGrath has had all sorts of funny people on with wildly varying levels of artistic competence – Joe Lycett, Athena Kugblenu, Lolly Adefope, Joel Dommett – but beyond the fun of hearing people talk about their scrapes with visual art and their struggles at the easel, there's something meditative about making art which encourages people to open up in a way they don't on other pods.
The Taskmaster Podcast
What started out as an oddball punt on Dave has turned into the panel show's next evolutionary stage and an out-and-out hit, complete with its own spin-off podcast hosted by series nine winner Ed Gamble. Each time Gamble chats to former contestants from Rose Matafeo to Kerry Godliman, as well as Little Alex Horne himself and insight from Tim Key into what exactly his status as a task consultant means. Altogether a better class of behind-the-scenes TV tie-in podcast.
Katy Wix, who you know from Ghosts and Stath Lets Flats, and cohost Adam Drake put a new spin on the guest-plus-two-hosts format by venturing out of the studio and joining their interviewees for a wander around their old stamping grounds while chatting about what message they'd give to their younger selves. So far they've leaned toward comedians, hitting up East Ham with Wix's Stath costar Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Leeds with Liam Williams and Broadstairs with Lou Sanders.
James Acaster's Perfect Sounds
Spinning off from his book, Perfect Sound Whatever, a sort-of-memoir told through the 500 or so albums from 2016 Acaster launched himself into following a break-up, this podcast sees him digging himself further into position on the hill on which he'll gladly die: that 2016 was the best year for music ever, and he's not going to stop until everyone agrees. He's picked out music from that year to pitch to guests including Mae Martin, Phil Wang, Romesh Ranganathan and more.
The Mo Gilligan Podcast
The first series of Gilligan's new podcast pulled in some big hitters while dodging the usual merry-go-round of guests who turn up absolutely everywhere: instead, Rio Ferdinand, Davina McCall, Munya Chawawa, Nigel Ng and Reggie Yates sit down for an easygoing chat that wanders into more heavyweight areas too. Mo's one of the most effortlessly likeable comics we've got, and this open-ended, rambling format suits him down to the ground.
Early Work with Rhys James
That's Rhys James, stand-up comedian, who's not to be confused with Reece James, Chelsea right-back. A little like Mortified (see below) the fun here is in listening to comedians and other creative types reckoning with their first, excruciating, often very revealing works. Some are very sweet, like British comedy's all-purpose go-to guy Nick Mohammed and his childhood magic show; some are extremely earnest, like Sara Pascoe's teen poetry; and some are quite terrifyingly monomaniacal, like Amelia Dimoldenberg's relentless quest to be editor of Vogue.
James Acaster and Ed Gamble's loosely food-related interview podcast has turned into a bit of a phenomenon, racking up a century of episodes with comedians, writers and notables including Jamie Demetriou, Louis Theroux, Mae Martin and dozens more, as well as a much-coveted Q&A with Esquire. It's so big one fan's made a wikia tabulating guests' dinner choices. If you've not eaten with them before, the concept's very simple: each guests picks their favourite starter, main, side, dessert and drink, and talks about their life and career in an enjoyably roundabout way. You will not look at Claudia Winkleman the same way again after hearing that she's solemnly vowed to never drink water.
The Walkers Switch
Do you remember when Walkers changed the colours of their packets of salt and vinegar and cheese and onion around? Blue for salt and vinegar and green for cheese and onion’s good enough for Golden Wonder, McCoys, Kettle Chips and the rest of the crisp industry, but not Walkers, oh no. Why did it happen? And why do Walkers deny that it ever happened at all? This deadpan investigation goes all the way down the rabbit hole, and finds that it leads to a forgotten and possibly completely fictitious advert, Nelson Mandela, the Illuminati, and – of course – Gary Lineker.
From the Oasthouse: The Alan Partridge Podcast
Having conquered sports reporting, celeb autobiographies, chat shows, radio chat shows, digital radio chat shows and triumphantly returned to TV, Alan Partridge is at the top of his very, very large game. Incredibly, though, he’s not had his own podcast until now. This 18-part Audible series comes direct from Alan’s oasthouse (a ye olde Norfolke room for drying out hops, which Alan uses as a shed) and, so the promo says, “reveals a side to Partridge that’s never been seen or heard before,” and “without the BBC or North Norwich Digital’s editorial management breathing down his neck”.
“If David Dimbleby has one, then of course I needed to make one,” Partridge has said. “All national treasures have a podcast. With this series, I want to give my fans an intimate view of who I really am. You may think you know me, but trust me, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors at my podcast innovation studio. Besides, I’m bored of Ofcom and its regulations and so it’s time for the UK to hear what a real award-winning podcast is like. Tune in or you’re going to be missing out on the best thing you’ll hear since I was last on radio.”
The Football Book Club
This homebrewed podcast from comedy writers James Bugg, Jack Bernhardt, James Boughen and Natasha Daniels will return for a third series in February 2021, mining the bathos and strangeness of life stories by people who got to live the dream, and got half a dozen fairly workaday anecdotes out of it. The new season will feature the oeuvre of Chris Kamara, Mesut Özil and the Neville brothers, but start with the episode about journeyman striker Darren Huckerby's Hucks: Through Adversity to Great Heights. It's a tome which includes reminiscences of the young Hucks' condemned digs in Lincoln which nearly killed his teammate Matt Carbon – they thought he liked a kip by the heater, but it turned out he was being repeatedly poisoned with carbon monoxide – and the weird world of his friend Lee Croft, who was convinced that you could see monkeys in the treetops of Wigan "if you looked hard enough" and that he was once attacked by a wasp the size of a man's fist. If you miss The Reducer, this is one for you.
Audible’s new series eavesdrops on comedy double-acts and writing partners to hear how they were coping with being apart during the lockdown. That means updates from famous mates including Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Spaced pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, Tez Ilyas and Sindhu Vee, Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, Jimmy Carr and Katherine Ryan and the Kurupt FM boys. It’s free too – you just need an Amazon or Audible account.
Vulture's podcast about jokes goes extremely deep on a particular gag in a comedian's oeuvre, dissecting and talking about how one gag in particular started out life, how it got kicked into shape, and how it was delivered. It's usually American in its focus, but Jamie Demetriou was on recently to talk about the pizza dinner scene from Stath Lets Flats, and riddle out exactly why it's so, so good. What you learn is that Demetriou's level of attention to detail is absolutely ridiculous, and the extra insight into Stath, Sophie and the rest of the gang's deeply unusual way of interacting with the world is fascinating.
No subject is off-limits to Tolly, Milena and Audrey, from relationships to friendship break-ups, and situationships to the ups and downs of everyday life. They’re brutally, unflinchingly honest, and episodes bounce between the three hosts' chatting, featured guests and listeners’ pleas for advice.
Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend
There are a lot of comedy chat podcasts out there. It's the reflex format now: take a mildly famous all-purpose host, possibly two, add a contrived mechanic and rope in one of the 25 people who go on every single podcast available in a slightly tedious carousel. At its best, though, the comedy chat podcast is the most deeply lovable podcast there is, and Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend is the comedy chat podcast at its best. O'Brien may have made his name top of the American late night chat game, but the longer interviews he and his assistant Sona Movsesian have room to do here show that he's both a funny interviewer and a genuinely good interviewer. They've got the kind of clout which gets the big, big guests too: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Obama (twice) and loads more besides are in the back catalogue.
"When we started doing Tailenders," co-host Felix White told us last year, "I was genuinely under the impression that this was going to be a cricket podcast. Then when we started doing it, the bits that I assumed were not in the show were the show."
So don't worry if you're completely unmoved by the sight of stumps cartwheeling across lush green village pitches, the sound of leather on willow, etc. The cricket content probably tops out at about 35 to 40 percent of the whole thing. The rest is the kind of knockabout nonsense that fellow host Greg James has made his forté on the Radio 1 breakfast show: daft games courtesy of friend of the show, roll-up shoe salesman and distant relative of Indian great Sachin Tendulkar, Matt Horan; actual insight from England bowler, legit legend and shredder aficionado James Anderson; and a really warm and inclusive vibe which makes it essential listening no matter how agnostic you are about cricket itself.
Dear Joan and Jericha
Queen of dark British comedy Julia Davis and Getting On and Sally4Ever's Vicki Pepperdine are utterly disgusting and judgemental agony aunts Joan and Jericha. Between them they've got 32 years' experience across life coaching, female sexual health, psycho-genital counselling and sports journalism, plus plenty of broader life experience: Joan's been married a fair few times and has five kids, and has recently got into writing erotic fiction; Jericha's been married 30 years, has an only daughter called Cardinal, and her own bibliography includes five books on depression. You'll laugh, but you'll feel slightly guilt about it afterwards.
Brown Girls Do It Too
Hosts Poppy, Rubina and Roya picked up the crowning Podcast of the Year award at this year's British Podcast Awards for their unashamedly forthright discussions of sex, race, identity, gender and everything else besides. Pretty much nothing is off limits, and while there are a lot of podcasts out there which dig gleefully into the hosts' private lives, the extra insight that Brown Girls Do It Too finds by looking at the confusing world of modern relationships through the lens of the hosts as millennials of Bangladeshi, Indian and Iranian heritage sets it apart. Plus, they're really, really funny.
The 'two blokes talking about a thing' format might be a bit played out now, but Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynold's American history podcast is still a reliably excellent listen. There are a lot of episodes to go at, but start out with early classic 'The Rube' about early baseball star Rube Waddell, a man who dominated the major leagues but was so dim he would occasionally get distracted by opposition fans holding up puppies or shiny objects, and then go to the episode about the unbelievably arduous 1908 car race from New York to Paris. A recent UK tour gave us live episodes on Emmeline Pankhurst and neo-druid Dr William Price, and there's a dedicated UK-centric spin-off too.
It's impossible to really explain the world of Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson's non-football-related football podcast. Its cast of characters and segments is huge: there's Peter Beardsley, under the thumb of his egg-obsessed wife; Neil Hunt, creator of nonsense pottery and repeated subject of episodes of true crime series Crime Files; Warhammer aficionado Roy Hodgson; the terrifying tales of the Scottish laird and his reign of terror over his island fiefdom; dinner party bore Barry Homeowner, a close cousin of Bob's Instagram and Twitter hit Train Guy; and loads more besides.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
Yes, it's one of the biggest podcasts around, but as Dr Buckles' podcast continues to waffle on as brilliantly as ever, now is as good a time as any to celebrate it. The mixture of daft whimsy, very good jingles, regular digressions about David Bowie and updates from Buxton's dog Rosie, The Hairy Bullet, makes for an amiable listen, but Buxton's an underrated interviewer who gets genuinely enlightening and unusual chat out of his guests. The centenary episode features Buxton's Louis Theroux and former comedy partner Joe Cornish, who've all known each other since school immediately revert to extremely entertaining mid-teen silliness, but after that dig back into the archives for more: Kathy Burke, Bob Mortimer, Greta Gerwig, Sir Michael Palin and Steve Coogan are among many highlights.
One of the hardest things about lockdown is being away from your mates, and it's affecting British comedy's most celebrated partners as much as it is the rest of us. This podcast eavesdrops on socially distant chats between the great and good including Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the Kurupt FM crew. It's on Audible, but it's free if you make an account.
Drunk Women Solving Crime
A pretty simple set-up for this one: comedians and writers Hannah George, Catie Wilkins and Taylor Glenn try to sort out true crime cases, personal crime stories and listeners' unsolved mysteries while slowly getting more and more wrecked. Guests turn up to add their own cases to the mix too, including Joe Lycett, Rachel Parris, Katie Mulgrew and Katherine Ryan, who was catfished by an 'inflatophiliac' while working at Hooters.
The Kurupt FM Podcast
Brentford's foremost drum and bass and garage crew might not be on TV anymore after their pirate radio station was shut down, but MC Grindah, DJ Beats, DJ Steves and Chabuddy G aren't the types to be kept down by the man that easily. Part podcast and part sitcom, the gang are back for six more episodes of nearly philosophical chats about the big questions in life in their second series. We had a chat to the guys at the end of 2020, and they were in bullish form: Grindah called it "lyrical parkour", and we're not about to argue with him.
Dane Baptiste Questions Everything
Stand-up Baptiste tries to answer the big questions, some rooted in current affairs – there's been a fair bit of corona-related stuff recently, from sorting out the economy and what the crisis is doing to our sex lives, to working out what to do with the Premier League title – and a lot of stuff that's slightly less rooted in current affairs, like how to get classical tunes to the top of the charts. Guests include fellow comedians like Eshaan Akbar and Marlon Davis and, amazingly, Trisha Goddard from Trisha.
Rule of Three
This one's more about rooting around in the mechanics of comedy as much as it is being funny itself, though it does a lot of being funny itself too. Comedians and writers including Eddie Izzard, Aisling Bea, Charlie Brooker, Cariad Lloyd and Friday Night Dinner's Robert Popper chat to fellow comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris about the architecture and craft involved making people laugh.
Katherine Ryan: Telling Everybody Everything
Another new one, this goes all over the map from extremely petty (Ryan calls her sister Kerrie, who's pissed off about her neighbours flouting the lockdown rules) to the very serious (the first episode is about pregnancy loss, which Ryan experienced this year). It's funny, because Ryan is so naturally funny, but also gentle and thoughtful.
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