I thought that Lockdown would free up hours upon hours of extra time for the greatest podcasters to find new ways of thinking, dig out the most intersting stories from their field or really think about the way in which they keep us entertained. I envisioned the finest and funniest minds, transferring their most polished thoughts through the medium of the cheap Bluetooth speaker (Anker Soundcore, £30, a surprising 8/10), taking advantage of a captive audience to demonstrate their mastery of their art. As with most things I was wrong. It turns out that people who waffle for a living can waffle even more when there is nothing to talk about.
The chief offender is The Cycling Podcast which has moved from 1 hour to 2 hour long weekly shows, and now has a daily series about a Grand Tour that isn’t happening. One hour a day. It’s taking up 4% of my life. I like cycling though so 7/10. Rugby Union Weekly has padded out its offering with impossible quizzes during which the hosts bicker amongst themselves about minor rule violations. It’s like taking that one guy from every quiz team who just has to take up their point with the quiz master and giving them a radio show. 4/10. Big up Guardian Football Weekly for cutting down their episodes by 25% and maintaining their passably enjoyable 5/10 rating.
I have, with one exception, delved in to the archives to find some different content. Which I will now rate to save you, my loyal nine readers, the time and bother of listening to. You may even find something you like here.
- Grounded with Louis Theroux. 10/10.
The only pod on my list to have started off during the lockdown- this is everything I hoped for. The King of the Weird Weekend proves, if it was even necessary, that he is one of the finest interviewers. I wasn’t really sure who Boy George was before listening to episode 2. I guess I knew him as a famous name but I was always that weird guy growing up in The Midlands who didn’t think 80’s music was good or relevant to my early 2000’s teen life. I didn’t have that many friends but it was worth it to make my point about 80’s music. However over this recorded Zoom chat I found myself dragged in to the story of Boy George. I finished with the feeling that for an hour I had seen the world through different eyes and had understood just a little of what it is to live life as someone else.
When you ask about the past “greats” of the interviewing world everyone tells you it is Michael Parkinson, so I hit up one of his old Desert Island Discs (anywhere between 2 and 7/10) interviews. But when you listen to those interviews the questioner seems to take up half the time, asking long questions about someone’s life that immediately restricts their answer to a yes or no followed by a quick explanation. They seem forced. After all, how can you be yourself while being grilled by someone who has extensively researched your life, and wants you to know it?
With his familiar style that puts everyone around him at ease, Louis Theroux lets the guest do the talking, interrupting infrequently to keep the pace of the story brisk or to clarify the thoughts being expressed. Sometimes in the clarification you might just hear that the interviewee has given away a little more than they normally would. Without a doubt, this is my recommended listen.
2. Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. 7/10.
This is a podcast I love a little bit more than I hate, so I suppose a 7 seems fair. Malcolm Gladwell is someone who is always described as an intellectual, something that has been said so often it is no longer disputed. He is clearly a smart chap. But his ideas can only be taken in the correct way if we label him as what he is- a journalist. He has spent most of his career as a journalist, so as my blogs go, this should have been an inoffensive statement.
Gladwell explores a host of interesting topics and has one of the most engaging voices and speaking styles I have heard. It is easy to believe what he says. But what he does is to take an interesting idea and ferociously hunt for evidence that supports it. This is exactly what you would expect of an intersting journalist. By weaving his arguments in to hour long podcasts, or in some cases books, he seeks to surpass the mere newspaper article and claim he has stumbled upon something profound. He is, therefore, exactly what a journalist would think an intellectual is. And who tells us who the intellectuals are? Why, the journalists of course! This is a classic Gladwellian argument. It would sound much sexier in his voice than in mine.
For me the lack of dissenting evidence or consideration of other explanations is what marks out his ideas as interesting journalism pieces but not the work of a true intellectual. At times he also desperately tries to weave a narrative through fairly disparate ‘data points’, something the human brain is eager to do despite the tendency of facts to upend this way of thinking.
The main crime of this podcast is that it claims to be more than it is. Some of the episodes feel like clutching at straws to me, but there are plenty of gems you can find too.
3. Evil Genius with Russell Kane. 1/10.
Do not join the well publicised 2.5 million other listeners (counting method unspecified) and download this podcast.
The idea is that they discuss a great figure from history- one that is well know for being a genius or a villain. They then muddy the waters by revealing positive or negative facts about them before the assembled panel has to take a reductionist view and vote them as evil or genius. It sounds like an interesting concept and, in fairness, it is exactly what they do.
Unfortunately every panel consists of 3 stand-up comedians who have gone their to promote their Edinborough Fringe show. Some episodes one guest will be somewhat more knowledgeable about the genius/ villain than your average man in the street. But really it’s just a collection of people with no historical acumen judging the past in a way that won’t be too uncontroversial on Twitter today. Once every few episodes a guest does say something actually funny. But taking comedians and making them talk about philosophy and history is perhaps not the best way to showcase their comic skills.
Worse than every guest is the host. Quite how you can host a show with this concept when you relate everything to your only two experiences- growing up on a council estate in Essex and being a stand-up comedian- well, it is a good question I think I’ve asked there and I don’t have too much more to say on the matter.
Not funny. Not insightful. Not educational.
Remember dear reader, I’m listening so you don’t have to.
4. Hip Hop Saved My Life by Romesh Ranganathan. 9/10.
This is how a comedian can use his powers for good. Romesh is a big hip hop fan and decided to record conversations he has about it with is mates and then put it online for free. That’s the whole concept. Now it’s hit the big time, or at least the medium time, sometimes he gets actual hip hop artists to come on the show.
It’s laid back. The minimum you can expect from an episode is to finish it with a new artist or song to check out. Sometimes that’s it. Other times it descends in to lung busting hilarity, like the time one guest interviewed 50 Cent in Argos in Milton Keynes after he was forcibly flown there to promote his branded headphones. Fiddy was, by all accounts, terrified of the Argos head office. Coming from a man who’s songs often open with machine gun fire this should terrify us all about Milton Keynes.
If you hate hip hop this is not the show for you. I’m also not entirely convinced that it’s not all a subliminal advert for Beats headphones. My head suddenly got 260 g heavier while my bank balance got a quarter large of Mutti Merkel’s Euros lighter. But that’s me, supporting the lockdown economy one Compton resident at a time.
P.S. I know Apple own Beats and I know that Dre lives in a nicer part of L.A. now. Shut up OK?
5. WFH from the Peter Crouch Podcast. 8/10.
Quite why I find Peter Crouch’s life so funny I don’t know. It’s worth seeing, or hearing, for yourself. It got an 8/10 for it’s medical advice as much as its entertainment value. To stay safe while lockdown lifts remember this- leave room for Crouchy to lie down between you and the nearest person. Always be a Two Metre Peter.
I stole that from the pod.
Finally, we have come to the end of my podcast review. If there’s anything out there you recommend, please let me know in the comments!