The best podcasts according to Clara Amfo, My Dad Wrote a Porno and more

Looking for a new audio series to burn through? The biggest names in audio reveal their overlooked gems

Karina Longworth
Host of You Must Remember This

Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh and Karen Tongson’s podcast Waiting to X-hale is a queer/WOC analysis of Generation X. But as a late-Xer I love it for more than just nostalgic reasons: Mitchell-Rohrbaugh is a veteran of celebrity magazines, and Tongson is an academic who chairs the Gender & Sexuality Studies department at USC, and the vibe of their show perfectly splits the difference between guilty-pleasure fun and rigorous intellectual debate. Whether they’re interviewing their parents about the experience of watching the new Bee Gees documentary, or recalling the era when “the dark web was the front web”, they’re doing really valuable cultural history in an addictive, chatty, inclusive way that I don’t think any other podcast is doing.

George the Poet
Have You Heard George’s Podcast?

The Messenger’s miniseries on Bobi Wine looks at the Ugandan presidential candidate and musician, concentrating on his campaign, culminating in the election, the uprising and its aftermath. It’s very much got its finger on the pulse and it does so in a very artistic way, using Wine’s music to tell the story. It’s really important for people like myself who are part of this diaspora to find a creative way to sink our teeth into issues back home. The sound design is really well thought-through and emotive: it features authentic audio from the ground, and a range of political sides and sympathies. Information can be locked into certain circles but podcasts like this make it more digestible.

Neil Gibbons
Co-writer of Alan Partridge’s From the Oasthouse

Until recently, the closest I came to listening to a podcast was falling asleep to an American police radio scanner app, listening from my bed to “reports of a man with a pool cue at a mall” or “if you’re heading back to the precinct can you get me a sandwich?”. But lately I’ve become obsessed with the world of sales podcasts, motivational advice for US sales reps hosted by Charlie Sheen-alikes whose upbeat worldview is deeply inspiring and really fucking grating. Try Sales Gravy with Jeb Blount, Make it Happen Mondays with John Barrows, Sell or Die by Jennifer Gluckow or quintessentially The Ziglar Show, co-hosted by Tom Ziglar (son of legendary sales motivator Zig Ziglar, and, my god, he goes on about it).

Pop culture club … Keep It!
Pop culture club … Keep It! Photograph: PR

Clara Amfo
Host of This City

I stumbled upon Keep It! recently and spent the next 10 days listening to all of the episodes (there’s more than 160) while I was doing the washing up. Set up by the journalist and writer Ira Madison III and his comedy writer co-hosts Louis Virtel and Aida Osman, it’s broadly about pop culture and politics with hilarious and nuanced takes on how these things intersect with race, sexuality and class. “Shouldn’t you be giving David Foster a sponge bath?” is the sentence I didn’t know I needed until I heard it on this podcast. With the world’s current state, this show is the perfect companion for me. For a snapshot of what it’s all about, have a listen to the one about Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Kaitlin Prest
Co-host of The Heart

Constellations is carving out a space that I think the audioverse desperately needs: non-narrative experimental audio. “Sound art” is a world that is dominated by trained musicians, electro-accoustics and artists following in lineage of John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer. We narrative audio-makers don’t really have a place in that world (except for the one runaway hit, sound artist Janet Cardiff). Film has a rich culture of experimental work, as does music and theatre and literature. In radio/podcasting, this area is largely underfunded and underexplored. This show creates a space for this type of work. Work that doesn’t have to hand the meaning to you on a silver platter; work that isn’t narrative: work that is guided by sound and subtext but is still rooted in the desire to represent some truth of the human condition.

The History of English Podcast.
Mind your language … The History of English Podcast. Photograph: PR

John Robins
Co-host of The Elis James and John Robins Podcast

The History of English Podcast is my constant companion. Kevin Stroud has created one of the great projects of modern times, a complete guide to how the English language emerged and evolved. To illustrate how exhaustive it is, after 150 episodes he’s only up to Chaucer, via Indo-Europeans, Jutes, Fresians and more Romans than you can shake a stick at. If that sounds too academic, fear not, it’s brimful of QI-esque nuggets, such as how a “gym” should just contain nudists, and why Pendle Hill translates as “hill hill hill”. By focusing on details, Stroud is actually telling much bigger stories: the histories of people and culture, religion and war, commerce and trade. It’s akin to a 200-hour-long episode of In Our Time. Bliss.

Jamie Bartlett
Host of The Missing Cryptoqueen

In the next 12 months you – yes you! – will be offered an exciting opportunity to change your life. It will probably come from an old school friend who’s found you on Facebook. Before you agree to anything, listen to The Dream. It’s about the strange world of multilevel marketing, where ordinary people sell products (often health supplements) to friends and family and try to build a team of promoters of their own. Its host, former This American Lifer Jane Marie, tries to figure out why so many get drawn into “MLM”. It’s usually the same story: people stuck in a world of few opportunities are blinded by unrealistic promises of easy money, and find themselves desperately pushing products. Those at the top make a fortune, while nearly all new recruits wind up out of pocket, but the dream of financial freedom overrides all rational thought. As the economy takes a downturn I’m sure more people will say yes to their old school friend on Facebook.

Anushka Asthana
Host of the Guardian’s Today in Focus

The way that In the Dark combines investigative journalism with narrative storytelling is jaw-dropping. Season two – which looks at why Curtis Flowers, a black man from Winona, Mississippi, has been tried for the same crime six times – is not new, but it is the best series I’ve ever listened to. Its host, Madeleine Baran, along with producers such as Samara Freemark, don’t just dip into the story that they’ve chosen to follow, they live it. For this case, they head to Winona for an entire year, and then systematically take apart a case that had been made to look like it was bang-to-rights. What is particularly satisfying is to hear the consequences of their hard work, which don’t just affect the individuals involved but ripple out through the entire American justice system. It’s a masterclass in investigative journalism.

Nice White Parents.
Segregation nation … Nice White Parents. Photograph: Alexia Webster

Annie Mac
Host of Changes With Annie Mac

Nice White Parents is an intricately researched, five-part series on the segregation of inner-city public schools in New York, made by the same production company that brought us Serial. It’s so immersive: we are in the PTA meetings, hearing the conversations as they happen, and hearing how a divide can begin and widen within the school due to the force of white parents’ power. It’s also a brilliant education on the history of segregation in schools in the States. I loved the questions this series asks, and recognised so much of the patterns of behaviour in the state school my children attend in north-west London.

Alex Goldman
Co-host of Reply All

Last year, Jamie Loftus produced a great four-part podcast about joining Mensa as a joke, and ended up making a wonderful deep dive on both the history of the organisation and the misogyny rotting at its core. This year, she’s back with Lolita Podcast, a show asking one fundamental question: why has our culture interpreted this story as one about star-crossed lovers instead of what it’s actually about: a man grooming, abducting and sexually assaulting a minor? Loftus looks at the history of its publication, its film adaptations, failed attempts at a stage play, online “nymphette” culture, and more. It can be a difficult listen, but it’s so smart and thoughtful.

Mystery Show.
World of the strange … Mystery Show. Photograph: PR

Alice Levine
Co-host of My Dad Wrote a Porno

Have you ever wondered why there is no reliable account of the height of Donnie Darko’s leading man? No, me neither. But Starlee Kine is on hand to investigate “minor mysteries which can’t be solved by the internet”. And so, I found myself engrossed in the case of “how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?”. From lost belt buckles to inflammatory car numberplates, Mystery Show is a prime example of the ordinary made extraordinary. It is a logistical feat, with the yarns sometimes unravelling over weeks or months, and yet the production strikes a perfect balance between slick and DIY. The fact it only ran for one season is a tragedy.

Christopher Sweeney
Co-host of Homo Sapiens

Our Podcast is the queer version of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. So it’s only natural that my fave is Fortunately With Fi and Jane, a podcast by Woman’s Hour alumnus Jane Garvey and broadcaster Fi Glover. They’re such a laugh, it’s a wonderful friendship, totally unrehearsed, but it runs deeper than that; it’s two people being deeply honest about their lives, their flaws and the stuff they’re scared of sharing. I think that’s what podcasting is: finding a connection between two mates being really honest, while having fun.

Leon Neyfakh
Host of Fiasco and co-creator of Slow Burn

If you’ve become allergic to the emerging tropes of narrative podcasts – Ira Glass voice, marimbas, Serial-style process journalism, etc – try How to F# €K Up an Airport, a rollicking five-part series from Radio Spaetkauf about a doomed airport development in Berlin. Hard as it is to imagine a story about infrastructure being zippy and light on its feet, this podcast somehow manages to be playful and journalistically sturdy, while deviating in unexpected ways from the aesthetic norms that everyone else in the blue chip podcast world feels compelled to follow. There’s also just an embarrassment of little stories and bizarre facts here that you’ll want to tell your friends about – don’t miss the human fire alarms or the mold-destroying ghost train.


Karina Longworth, George the Poet, Clara Amfo, Kaitlin Prest, John Robins, Jamie Bartlett, Anushka Asthana, Annie Mac, Alex Goldman and Alice Levine

The GuardianTramp

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