Comedy podcasts are rarely as funny as their makers seem to find them, and no amount of chortling can mask this universal truth
If I Were You (podcast) | Listen
TED Radio Hour (NPR) | Listen
Stuff You Should Know (podcast) | Listen
Stuff Mom Never Told You (podcast) | Listen
Desert Island Discs (Radio 4) | iPlayer
I was relying on podcasts last week. We’re away and the BBC iPlayer doesn’t work in Abroadland (I understand why – the licence fee isn’t paid by Johnny Foreigner – but I do wish there were some way of paying a small amount to access it for a short time). For anyone worried that my holiday means I might have missed the UK’s great Prince Baby event, you’ll be reassured to know that we were treated to hours of coverage on TV, complete with aerial shots of Buckingham Palace crowds and a live link to a lady in Brazil opining about Harry getting in a helicopter. All to the significant sounds of The Day Today-style background music. The only thing I missed was the delight of 24-hour rolling Kay Burley.
Not much about Prince Baby on the local radio, though (not much about anything, to be honest), just the usual diet of chart tunes and “fun” DJs. So podcasts it is. What a lovely way of avoiding all news, good or bad, and instead concentrating on ideas, non-celebrity stories and odd facts. Also, there’s a random element to stumbling across a good podcast that brings joy in this age of tailored recommendations. It does mean that you have to try a few duds – if you think the Radio 4 6.30pm weekday slot is uneven when it comes to laughs, you have never tried working your way through the comedy podcasts section of iTunes. Dear comedians, I know it may seem that simply lying around in bed waffling to yourself about what happened in your day is gold-standard hilarity, but, honestly, it isn’t. It’s just a really noisy diary.
If I Were You with Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld is a typical example of a comedy podcast. It’s amiable enough, I suppose, but there is far too much laughing, she says, like a grump. But really, there is. New Yorkers Jake and Amir laugh and laugh, giggle and chortle their way around a topic – and then, when they get to an interesting question, such as when, exactly, children know that they’re stronger than their dad, they just move on, guffawing all the way.
I have a feeling that this podcast is not for me. Still, it makes me glad I’m not twentysomething any more. Was this what we thought was funny? Or were we just massively stoned? The appeal of such a podcast – of any media appearance – when you’re young is often the flat-out shock of witnessing someone your age taking over an establishment mode of communication. Once you’re older, when people your age are communicating all over the place – not laughing, but still waffling – you feel differently. In my case, my inner schoolmarm takes over and I find myself muttering stuff such as concentrate on the job, do some preparation, get to the punch line, get off. I feel the desire to say this to everyone, from politicians to comedians. Just chatting isn’t enough, mate. I’ve got small children. If I wanted stream-of-consciousness waffle with the occasional funny line, I’d listen to them.
Shall we turn to something more enlightening? How about TED Radio Hour? Admittedly, there is something a little smug about the whole TED thang, but if you’re looking for surprise and humanity, as well as memorable stories, then you might enjoy this one. You can access it directly from the website or, as I did, via iTunes, which means you get super-sincere links about Australian cultural radio shows.
I listened to a programme about life-changing events that featured a man who narrowly avoided death in an air crash and changed his approach to life from that point on, a chap who had electroshock treatment for his depression, and reformed radical Islamist Maajid Nawaz.
There’s a bit of production (doomy music for a prospective air crash; words repeated and stretched when obsession is mentioned), which some might find irritating, but the stories are undeniably fascinating. TED Radio Hour is from NPR radio, which has some lovely podcasts to browse around.
From NPR, I found my way to Stuff You Should Know. It’s another podcast that seems to start with too much hokey chat, but actually gets into its subject matter pretty quickly. I enjoyed its exploration of the aceness of vultures and why we should worry about them (they’ve been dying out due to a chemical being fed to cattle in India and Australia). Josh and Chuck, the presenters, began with a neat tale of a group of Pyrenean walkers, one of whom fell to her death. The medics were there in 45 minutes, by which time she was nothing more than bones. From life to a skeleton in under an hour. Another How Stuff Works podcast is Stuff Mom Never Told You, presented by two women, Cristen and Caroline, which, as we know from recent Sound Women research, is an audio rarity. It looks at notionally female themes (I checked out pet-parenting, which was more interesting than I expected) and if you can get over how US-centred it is, it’s a blast.
And I can’t recommend the Desert Island Discs podcast too highly. If Russell Brand gets on your wick, then try Damien Hirst, or Kathy Burke… Hours of fun guaranteed. Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a personal favourite. Take a break from Prince Baby and the recession. Have a proper holiday. Take it easy.