As Twitter became too angry and the news cycle too tense, it is no accident that I fell face first into the unfettered joy of podcasts – light, illuminating chat and people enthusing about their passions. I listen to them in the dark, just as I used to listen to DJ Tom Ferrie on BBC Radio Scotland in the 80s. There is something so soothing about a warm duvet, a blacked out room and a link between you and some strangers who are on your wavelength. Now my radio is the iPhone under my pillow.
I find that podcasts are so personal, they are actually quite difficult to “sell” to a friend. For example, I love Something Rhymes With Purple presented by Gyles Brandreth and Susie Dent. It’s a podcast about semantics. No, come back. It’s brilliant! Here are two people who love language and take enormous pleasure in discussing how “scurryfunge” means to rush about tidying before guests arrive, or how “pandiculating” is stretching and yawning at the same time. Brandreth, of course, is also a hive of royal anecdotes and eccentric off-topic chat. I have loved him since I was a little girl when he wrote practical joke books, teaching children how to make an apple-pie bed. Now, I can listen in as he and Dent discuss their student days and family lives.
As a Radio 4 presenter, I often think double-act, chitchat podcasts like these capture the essence of how studios feel before recording starts. Before people begin to read scripts, self-edit or worry they are not keeping things broad enough. With podcasts the hosts can be as obscure or gorgeously self-indulgent as they desire. Only the most cynical podcasters tailor their content for mass-market numbers; the best ones have a “This is us: like it, or shove off” attitude.
Dear Joan And Jericha, with Vicki Pepperdine and Julia Davis, is so wilfully filthy and dark that I think twice before sharing it with friends. Here the world’s worst, least sympathetic agony aunts take on bleak sexual problems, such as what to do if your partner only wants to kick your vagina with his athlete’s foot-ridden toes while he reads the rugby results. It makes Davis’s previous television output look like The Good Life. It is wholly strange, clever on a dozen levels and makes me gasp for air laughing.
I’ve been a guest on Fortunately... with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, which was marvellous as I was a big fan, and I can confirm that this podcast really is just two friends chuntering waspishly about fellow BBC talent and their own lives. They don’t set out to be cool, shocking or candid, and by default they are all three.
My very favourite podcast has one host, but a changing roster of guests. On Looks Unfamiliar, Tim Worthington and friends ruminate over obscure things from the 70s and 80s that they remember, but, vitally, no one else seems to. (Not Spacehoppers or Um Bongo – more like Big Daddy’s thwarted Saturday morning show, or the Boots Global Collection makeup range). I do not know a single other soul who listens to it, and I’m happy that way.
Podcasts can be far ruder, more irreverent, sillier or unfocused than any other medium. They can be uploaded to a global platform sounding like a bit of a dog’s dinner, the presenter streaming with cold and the sound levels thoroughly wonky. As a listener, I care little. I know these teams are doing this mainly for love and for the happiness of being heard. And we get it for free – normal 21st-century rules and expectations do not apply here.
It’s exciting. We live in interesting times. If I ever get out of bed, I may possibly see them. Grace Dent
‘There is probably a vagina in every episode’ Dear Joan And Jericha
Actors and writers Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine have been friends for more than 20 years, working together often. Mainstays of the British comedy scene, they are probably best known for the black comedy Nighty Night. Their podcast, Dear Joan And Jericha, in which the duo play local radio agony aunts who tackle listeners’ sex, life and relationship issues in an entirely inappropriate manner, became a near instant word-of-mouth hit when it was launched a year ago, and went on to win best comedy at the 2019 British Podcast Awards.
Series one (a snappy eight 20-minute episodes) calls to mind the absurd sex tips from women’s magazines, mixed in with your mum’s most insensitive and outrageous off-hand comments. In true Davis and Pepperdine form, it is filthy. It’s not just the hilarious improvised asides that have won the podcast a multitude of fans, but the way it openly addresses messy sex, bodily functions and anatomy, as well as emphasising that it’s not always men who are responsible for exacerbating women’s insecurities.
Why did you want to start a podcast?
Vicki: Well, we didn’t even think about a podcast in the beginning. We were just playing around with ideas.
Julia: The characters emerged. We didn’t want anyone to tell us what to do, which is what happens in TV.
V: [To Julia] I think you suggested a podcast. And I didn’t really know about podcasts. It’s a generational thing, I guess. Then we did it and people said, “You need to advertise it.” And we said, “Shall we just see if people find it?” – and they did.
What are your red lines – where wouldn’t you go?
J: It comes down to the tone of it. You can go almost anywhere. But you can listen back and go: “That’s actually really sick and distressing.” It’s whether or not you are still finding it funny.
V: I think there’s something about talking very openly about what, for years, has been a sort of no-go, gynae area – young women in particular seem to be emboldened by it.
Who are your podcast/radio heroes?
V: I listen to My Dad Wrote A Porno. I think that’s great.
J: Derek and Clive. I’m a massive Peter Cook fan. Obviously they’re not podcasters. I think, similarly to Vicki, I didn’t listen to a lot of podcasts. On a train I always just want to look at people and listen to their conversations.
What has been your favourite episode to date?
J: That’s a really hard one. The godson one we quite liked.
I certainly can’t remember whole episodes. We like it when we get a bit carried away describing men. Going into the detail of their physicality.
V: Inappropriate appraisals. We try to group the subjects, so there’s not three vaginas in every episode.
J: Although there probably is a vagina in every episode.
Is there such a thing as an overshare?
J: I would say no.
V: I don’t think we could ever overshare with one another. It’s a bond of trust.
J: I would say that, with any really close friend, you should be able to say anything. Whereas our parents’ generation – I’m sure my mum, who is no longer here, didn’t have anything like that. And that must be quite horrible. Because you want someone to say, “I get things.” But we’ve definitely recorded things that we think, “That’s gone sick in a way we don’t find funny.”
V: We don’t censor ourselves when recording, and then sometimes it’s come out in a way that might be misinterpreted. So we edit.
When can we expect the new series to be out?
V: We are towards the end of recording it, so we don’t know exactly yet. But it will happen. That’s as precise as we can be. We record it in Julia’s kitchen. We thought it was going to be just for us, and it turns out people like it.
‘We gained a reputation as a pair of wisecracking broads’ Fortunately...
Broadcasters Jane Garvey and Fi Glover are the co-hosts of Radio 4’s hit podcast Fortunately... Each week they share musings on their lives, from pet deaths and garden hose repairs to the trouble with HRT patches, before being joined by a radio, TV or podcast star such as political journalist Laura Kuenssberg or actor and comedian London Hughes. It’s like sitting in on a tipsy conversation in a BBC green room.
Radio 4 listeners will be familiar with both hosts – Garvey presents Women’s Hour and Glover The Listening Project – but the podcast is far more intimate than the station’s usual output, earning it a devoted fanbase.
What is the story of your friendship?
Jane: I knew of Fi for a while before we met. We both worked at 5 Live but I avoided her. I didn’t like her because I was quite jealous. I thought Fi was a bit of a metropolitan know-it-all. But I knew she was good.
Fi: Well, I’ve always loved and admired Jane. We worked in the same station but were at different ends of the day. Then we hosted the Radio Festival together in 2013. We just had such a laugh.
J: There’s a low bar set for women being funny, so I think the fact that we didn’t need scripts and were moderately amusing was enough to gain us a reputation as a pair of wisecracking broads. Eventually, we recorded a pilot.
What can you get away with on the podcast that you can’t on the radio?
F: Quite a lot actually. They’d never let us take the piss out of each other if we were doing the Today programme together.
J: Not much joshery on that show is there?
F: That’s the joy of podcasts. There’s a very clearly defined structure to a radio show. Podcasting zigs and zags all over the place, and I think that suits the way lots of women talk to their friends.
Did you expect the show to become so popular?
J: Yes, we were expecting massive success. Absolutely massive.
F: Come on, let’s leave it Jane.
J: OK, yes, sorry. To be perfectly honest, I’m angry that I didn’t spot the obvious gap in the market. We talk about serious things, but we also talk utter shit, as you do with your female friends down the pub. The fact that no one spotted that’s what women wanted – because for years, women had to put up with just men talking at them – is almost a failure of radio.
Who is your dream guest to have on the show?
F: I’d do Debbie Harry.
J: Deborah, she prefers. I know because she was on Women’s Hour. I couldn’t speak, I was agog, one of the worst interviews of my life.
F: Was she worth it?
J: I don’t know, because I couldn’t think of a single thing to ask her. So yes, I could make amends for that terrible interview.
Do you show different personalities in the podcasts?
J: I’m substantially more restrained on the Hour. On the podcast we give away more of our real selves. Like that I’m a hopeless case, a nervous wreck, I’m riddled with anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, single.
You have become these unlikely role models…
J: Unlikely! Seems a bit harsh but OK, I really don’t mind. [To Fi] She’s younger than us, isn’t she?
F: I don’t think either of us would say we’re role models but we’re working women who have managed to produce families in various shapes and sizes. There’s nothing perfect about either of our lives – and perhaps that’s refreshing.
‘I’m not a representative of Islam. I’m just me’ No Country For Young Women
Monty Onanuga and Sadia Azmat were friends well before they became the co-hosts of No Country For Young Women, a BBC Sounds podcast discussing life and love as British women of colour. It is now in its second series; each week they are joined by a special guest (model Munroe Bergdorf, comedian Nish Kumar and singer Grace Carter have all made appearances) covering topics such as polyamory, dating as a Muslim, self-care and body positivity.
The joy of the show lies in the duo’s rapport. If it sounds like listening to a conversation between old friends over a cup of tea, that’s because it pretty much is – the young women used to work together in banking. Azmat went on to become a standup comedian, and was spotted by the BBC. They asked her to propose a co-host for a possible podcast, and she knew just the person to call.
Why do you record in a cafe?
Monty: For access to food.
Sadia: So it’s less formal and more impromptu. We don’t want to sound presentery.
M: We’re not broadcasters by trade, so a studio would make us feel like it’s work. But it doesn’t feel like work when we catch up in a coffee house and have a chinwag.
Monty, you regularly speak frankly about sex. Why do you feel so passionately about doing this?
M: Among my friends I am the one who speaks most graphically about sex. It winds me up that it’s OK for men to enjoy sex and share their experiences. But if a woman does so she’s “easy”. I don’t subscribe to that narrative and I want to encourage young people to understand what turns us on. In fact, I want all people to do that – I am pretty sure I have some aunties who don’t know where their clitoris is and some uncles who haven’t found it. We’re all discussing mental health at the minute; well, a good shag works wonders.
You still work at an investment bank – have the two worlds collided?
M: When we first started the podcast, I used to catch the train home with our chief operating officer, and of course we’d talk. I told him about the show and he promoted it on the office newsletters, even though I’d just spoken to Sadia about how I’d given someone a blowjob.
Sadia, you’re a Muslim woman with a podcast that discusses sex. Has this made you the subject of criticism from the community?
S: Not much. Although I did recently write an article (“Horny Muslim women like me aren’t supposed to exist during Ramadan”) and got a couple of “you’re going to burn in hell” type of messages. All I said in the article is that trying to keep sex and sexuality hush-hush is not good.
I do like challenging the image that Muslim women are all covered up, repressed and don’t enjoy sex. I provide balance. But I’m not a representative of Islam. I’m just me.
M: We’ve grown up in cultures that tell you, “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” but we live in a country where we’re a mishmash of cultures and you can find what’s right for you.
S: The pressure isn’t fair. I’m tired of being a brown person who is not allowed to fail, and has to be perfect to everyone all the time, when people are fluid, and who they are and what they need changes.
I’m interested in the idea that being mediocre as a woman of colour is a revolutionary act
S: Yes! It reminds me of something Chris Rock said. On his street he lives with Jay-Z, one of the most successful rappers in the world, and Mary J Blige, one of the most successful singers in the world. And his white neighbour is a dentist. It would be great to not have to work twice as hard.
M: We shouldn’t settle for mediocre, though.
S: I guess it’s more about failure. As an Asian child I wasn’t allowed to get Cs and Ds. I had to get As.
M: Right. We should be allowed to discuss failure. On our podcast we do.
S: And without doom and gloom. Neither of us is crying about the cards we’ve been dealt.
‘We don’t speak for all men, but we definitely speak for some’ 3 Shots Of Tequila
Marvin Abbey, Keith Dube and Tazer Black have known each other for so long, it’s not quite clear exactly how they first met. But since 2016, they have co-hosted 3 Shots Of Tequila, an unfiltered, banter-packed weekly podcast where the conversation can go anywhere. A typical episode might flit between international politics and celebrity news, all the while discussing the presenters’ own lives as young men navigating sex, family and friendships.
They also act as agony uncles to their listeners, who send in dilemmas for the trio to solve, and the conversation continues online under the hashtag #3ShotsofTequila. They have created a dedicated community that over the last three years has helped them sell out Shepherd’s Bush Empire, tour international music festivals, and land themselves an exclusive streaming deal with Spotify.
Why do you think the podcast is so popular?
Keith: Because it’s real, and organic. We are ourselves. When we were putting it together, the image I had in mind was James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson. If you look at the dynamic between them, whatever they talk about is interesting because of how they interact. We can’t say we speak for all men but we definitely speak for some.
Marvin: The trendy ones. It’s a black voice as well – I feel, in the UK, the voice of the youth and of certain groups isn’t heard on podcasts.
You’re friends in real life. How do you keep it fresh? Don’t you get sick of each other?
Tazer: We are sick of each other.
K: It’s because we’re around each other so much that we always have fresh content. Marv can tell a story and I can say, “I was there, but that’s not how it happened.”
As a voice of youth, especially young black men, do you feel any pressure to represent?
K: Nah, we just be ourselves. We want to show anyone who listens that you can be yourself.
M: I feel like, if you think about it too much it’ll mess you up.
T: We represent people from our area. A lot of our fans have grown up with us so they’ve heard our struggles.
M: It’s why we can’t lie. People know us too well; we’d never get away with it.
You guys talk a lot about sex and relationships on your podcast
T: [Looks at Marv] Because he’s very active.
M: If I’m active, we’re all active.
K: Excuse me, I’m a pillar of my community.
What do your families think of the podcast?
T: My mum listens.
K: My sister listens; my mum’s not allowed.
M: My mum and dad do not.
K: [To Marvin] They’re not even aware you have a podcast, are they?
M: They are now, but they don’t listen. My dad asked me where to find it. I told him to search for BBC Proms.
K: My dad asked me, “How do you listen?”, too. I thought, “What do you mean how do I listen? You don’t!” Mind your business, Dad.
‘Everything felt depressing. I thought, what about some optimism?’ Reasons To Be Cheerful
Since Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour party in 2015, he has been steadily transforming his reputation from unrelatable gaffe-magnet, to an insightful, warm and genuinely funny media personality. The key to this shift is Reasons To Be Cheerful, the podcast he co-hosts with broadcaster Geoff Lloyd where, far from the grip of political advisers, Miliband gets to be himself.
Each week, Reasons focuses on ideas and social movements that might make the world a better place, from universal basic income to robust transgender rights. It includes appearances from academics and activists, while also providing ample time for the ramblings of Lloyd and Miliband, whose warmth, rapport and gentle ribbing of each other has helped to catapult the show to the top of the podcast charts. Alongside the regular podcast is a live show that travels around the country.
Tell me about your friendship
Ed: It’s what Geoff’s wife calls our “late-in-life friendship”.
Geoff: It’s the first great bromance of the 21st century.
E: Other than Brangelina?
G: I don’t think that’s a bromance, Ed. More straight romance. Anyway, I interviewed Ed on a radio show in the run-up to the 2015 general election. It was considered one of the best interviews Ed had done.
E: I was nearly human in it.
G: Eighteen months later I was thinking of starting a podcast and thought, “I know who will have some time on his hands.”
Everything felt a bit depressing – the country divided, the insanity of Trump. I thought, “What about a podcast with some optimism?”
E: Also, I wanted to find a way to promote the ideas I cared about and this seemed like a good way to reach people.
Why have you never covered Brexit?
G: Because what’s there to be positive about?
E: If you want to know about Brexit you can read the newspapers, listen to radio. I think what people feel viscerally is there are all these other things that aren’t being addressed. We’re trying to fill that gap.
In the podcast, there is a setup called the Geoffocracy, what is that?
E: The Geoffocracy is where Geoff is the supreme, benign-ish ruler.
G: You keep saying benign-ish, but I would definitely be benign.
E: So, we always ask our guests at the end of every interview what they would do in the Geoffocracy. It’s a good mechanism to force them to ask what’s actually going to solve the problem.
What’s next for the show? Will you take it international?
E: We’ve actually got a little spin-off which will come out later this year – a book club. Increasingly, publishers come to us with interesting books which don’t quite fit into our format, so we’ll be making another podcast focused on books and authors. We also want to make all the research that goes into each show available for listeners who want to find out more. And on the international front, we did Reasons To Be Icelandic.
G: Ed and I went into the geothermal hot spa together which took our relationship to the next level. We made a video but Ed is suppressing it.
E: I refuse to release it.
‘One guy told us to stop giving girls confidence!’ The Receipts
Tolani Shoneye was working at Buzzfeed as a journalist when, inspired by the men’s podcast 3 Shots Of Tequila, she asked on Twitter if any other young women would be interested in creating a similarly unadulterated chat about life and sex for women.
She whittled down the responses, eventually arranging a meet-up in a pub with Audrey Akande, then a PA at an advertising agency, and Milena Sanchez, a former retail worker. The chemistry between the three was instant. An hour-long meeting turned into a five-hour laugh-fest and the podcast was born. The name is taken from a Whitney Houston quote. Each week the trio discuss relationships, health, race and more, with refreshing frankness. They also include episodes dedicated to their listeners’ problems. Their approach is carefree, raucous and sisterly.
How would you describe the podcast?
Tolani: It’s like a women’s group chat, so things you would say to your friends. Filthy, but also inspirational.
What inspired you to get started?
T: I listen to a lot of podcasts and felt there was no one who sounded like me. It was just white men’s voices, doing documentaries or reporting.
Audrey: My reasons were a bit more selfish. This was like therapy, to just get into a room and talk.
You started your podcast on your own. How did it feel sending that first episode out into the world?
T: I turned my phone off. I was so nervous.
A: I was the opposite, I was looking at Twitter every second. And the reception was brilliant. We had 3,500 plays on the first day.
Milena: I don’t think any of us understood what was going to happen.
T: That’s the beauty of audio: it can be makeshift. Our first episodes are awful…
M: Our first 10 episodes.
T: The sound quality is awful, I can’t believe people listened to it. It was trial and error.
Have you given any bad advice to your listeners?
A: We’re quite good at saying we don’t know the answer if we don’t, because some things are above our pay grade.
M: But we have the hashtag on Twitter, so if people do think we’ve given bad advice, they can tell us.
T: And they tell us. I once made a comment about flushing tampons and all these people started sending me links about why I shouldn’t.
What’s the feedback you get from male listeners?
T: One of the funniest bits of feedback we’ve had was from a guy at a party. He came up to us and said, “Oi, you lot. Stop giving girls confidence.”
A: We get that a lot from guys. They often say, “Stop spilling the secrets, stop telling women to leave us.” I think our male listeners are more open about listening to us now. I respect them; you have to have balls to listen to us.
T: And they definitely come to our live shows to meet girls.
Do you feel like role models, and is that a lot of pressure?
T: The role model thing is a bother to me. I am problematic. I’m aware I am a flawed individual. I don’t want people saying, “I’m going to do this because Tolani did it”, because I really don’t know anything.
M: When people say they look up to me, I think, “Please don’t, that’s a bit scary.” We’re human so you can hear our journey from episode one – you can hear how our opinions have changed.
Listening to the three of you, there is obviously a lot of love, but you also make fun of each other
A: We argue, we fight, we get on with it. If someone’s got a problem we say so.
M: We don’t hold grudges.
T: I wonder if it is a cultural thing, too. We’re all second-generation immigrants, but within our cultures we talk about our issues. My mum won’t say, “Let’s have a cup of tea.” She’ll say, “What’s good? Let’s fight.”
• Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine interviewed by Hannah Jane Parkinson
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